Tag Archives: coronavirus

From My Friend Winn in Oaxaca: Inside and Out

This just came to my inbox. I can alway rely on Winn to report about what it’s like on the ground in Oaxaca. These are extenuating circumstances! I told her, “This is so beautiful. So stunningly clear. So eloquently expressed. I am in awe of your ability to write from your heart to say what you will. A reflection that expresses the feelings of many of us.” And, I asked her permission to post it here. She agreed.

24 July 2020

And life goes on … in the time of cholera, no, Coronavirus. We will all remember this time, and mark our milestones as “just before lockdown,” or “during our time at home,” or “once we could finally travel again,” certainly.

My time continues in Oaxaca. Been here since the first week of February. My phone app tells me I’m still booked to fly back to NM [New Mexico] on August 19, the first day that international flights are promised in and out of Oaxaca. But now, when I check for updates, it is with a shrug of the shoulders and a “we shall see what we shall see” attitude.

In my Jalatlaco house, I have my “entertainment stations.” There’s the comfy red chair with its lamp and a spot for the cup of coffee, for reading. (My pile of books-in-process right now includes Ta-Nehisi Coates’s The Water Dancer, Paul Theroux’s On the Plain of Snakes, and Jane Smiley’s Moo.) There’s the splayed-out cardboard duct-taped together to make a smooth flat surface and laid atop the twin bed in the downstairs bedroom, for puzzle-making. There’s the lawn chair in the driveway-garden area with a turned-over wooden box for the bottle of water, for playing solitaire or listening to podcasts or checking news, email, or WhatsApp messages on my phone. There’s the table for breakfast or playing Cribbage with Phyllis or more reading. There’s the other comfy red chair with remote controls and laptop close at hand for the hours of binge-watching (love those Korean series!) and dining alone in front of the TV. There’s the outdoor garden where I water and trim plants that are bursting forth in this lovely weather. And I just move among those stations throughout the day, after my morning walks out into Centro for necessities (mostly comestibles and cash). Upstairs, my stations are for daily-elementals tasks—toothbrushing, showering, laundry, and of course, sleeping.

The other day, my neighbor Judi drove me to Home Depot to get a new pump for the garrafon (the 5-gallon water bottles that everyone uses for drinking-cooking water). It was my first time in a car since Judi and I went grocery-shopping in early June, and only the third or fourth outing since mid-March. Never again will I take for granted the luxury of being able to drive wherever I want to go, and the feeling that everything I want or need is within reach because I can simply get behind the wheel and go get it or see it or visit it. Yes, of course, I could get a taxi, but they are high-risk ventures these days, possibly loaded with contagion, so I walk … and walk … or just stay home, where I have control and feel safe.

The other day, as I walked across Llano Park toward the neighborhood grocery store, I saw a lone man doing tai chi. An old man, moving with some stiffness but with beauty and tranquility. I slowed my pace, and then as we made eye contact, I Namaste-ed him and he back to me. The group of women with whom I’ve been doing tai chi in that park for some years now has not met since mid-March, and still cannot do so. Oaxaca is in code-red again, according to Mexico’s red-light/orange-light/green-light classification of Covid danger zones, so the yellow tape has gone up again around all the parks and plazas and no groups can gather in any public places. But a lone tai chi practitioner, or a walker, can duck under the yellow tape and proceed without hassle from the ubiquitous police, who are mostly a benign presence here. Even the lone runner I see often, who runs around that same park with seven or eight dogs—of all sizes and shapes—can get his exercise and make a little money keeping those dogs entertained and healthy, without hassle.

But oh, how I miss my tai chi ladies, mis Reinas de Tai Chi and our regular sessions, which give a sweet structure to my schedule. I miss seeing the families who come to the parks together. I miss the bounty and energy of the open-air markets. I miss the long, chatty coffee-dates with friends. And outings to nearby villages on market day or for a museum show or a festival. July is typically a riotous month in Oaxaca; it’s the month of Guelaguetza, with vendors and dancers and parades and fireworks all over town. But it’s been quiet this month, eerily quiet. The church in Jalatlaco, a block from my house, has been broadcasting music on Sunday mornings and then a loudspeaker mass, for the neighbors who are afraid to come to the church for services, but then the churchyard, typically a place for gatherings and food vendors and weddings or quinceanera celebrations, goes quiet again for the week. Only the morning bell of the garbage truck, the distinctive cries or sounds of the street vendors who pass by, the jingle of the gas truck, the barking of a neighborhood dog, or the occasional late-night bass-playing from a nearby house break the prevailing quiet.

I love it here, still, even in this long time of sequestration. I can stay safe here and feel strangely content. I send vicarious support to the Wall of Moms in Portland and other brave folks like them, to folks in the States enduring the shameless failures of the Orange one and his administration, to those out of a job or worrying about finances or the survival of their business, to my neighbors and friends in Taos and elsewhere. But here, in this time of solitude and introspection, and in the long run, I know that, if I (and we all) survive it, there will be value in what we are learning now.

Oaxaca’s EnVia Foundation Gives Out Masks

We know it takes a village to make a difference. And Oaxaqueños and gueros know how to do this. Last month I asked Jacki Cooper Gordon, who volunteers with EnVia Foundation (and is also president of The Oaxaca Lending Library), if she would receive a box of 100 face masks to distribute to them. Of course, she said. EnVia agreed to distribute them to the women they work with in villages throughout the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca.

Mask recipient, San Sebastian Abasolo

These 100% cotton masks were sewn by Sam Robbins in Columbus, Ohio, and shipped to Oaxaca by my son Jacob Singleton who received them in Huntington Beach, California. Sam is a quilter and had a stash of fabric. It was only natural that she coverted the cloth to masks, responding to our call, and sent along extra cloth.

Jacki received them at her apartment in El Centro and transferred them over to Viviana Ruiz, the EnVia managing director, for distribution to the pueblos.

Santa Maria Guelace mask wearers

Many of you know EnVia. They offer micro-financing to three-woman teams who want to start or grow a small business. After proving their success and ability to repay the first round of financing, they can become part of a cultural tour. That’s how EnVia provides funding for its loans — there is a cost to attend the tour and the funds raised are used to provide the loans. It’s a win-win because there is Zero Percent Interest on the loan. This is unusual in a climate where big box Mexican stores can charge over 80% interest to borrow to buy a stove or refrigerator, for example. Using this system, people can never get out of debt and there is no federal regulation on interest rates.

Wearing masks in apron-making village San Miguel del Valle

Jacki is a cultural guide. If you have gone on her tours, like I have, you know what an excellent resource EnVia is to many families in many small pueblos along Federal Highway 190. In the photo above, in the background, is EnVia van driver Norman, who helps with so much more.

To contribute to The Oaxaca Mask Project, click here:

Vivian sent us photos of women who were the recipients of mask in four villages. She will be giving the un-sewn fabric to local seamstresses to make up and distribute, too.

Red clay pottery makers in San Marcos Tlapazola

We will keep sewing and distributing masks until our funds run out or until there is no more need — whatever comes first. Let’s hope it’s the latter!

Words of Gratitude for Masks: Oaxaca Mask Project

Cristy Molina Martinez is my eyes, ears, hands and feet on the ground in Oaxaca. She is a teacher who lives in Teotitlan del Valle. She has been working to make and distribute masks throughout the Tlacolula Valley for the past two months. She writes me almost daily with updates.

We are making and distributing more and more masks as the virus spreads and is likely infecting many people, though there are no tests to prove it, unless, says Moises Garcia Guzman de Contreras in San Jeronimo Tlacochuhuaya:

People are only tested if they are exhibiting strong symptoms. By then, it will have already infected friends and family members, too.

Last night I got this message of thanks from Cristy, who is paraphrasing a Teotitlan del Valle woman who came to her house in search of masks:

“People are still coming to my house asking for masks. A woman came and told me, really please, let the people who are making this possible, say thank you, you are so kind and helpful for this problem. We need more people like you. She was really really grateful for the masks. ‘We are so grateful,’ she said.

“She took 12 masks and she was so happy. I know she will use them. Because she told me that two older people came to her house to ask where the masks were being given out. She was really thankful. I didn’t ask her name.”

To contribute, click here:

The woman who came for 12 masks, two for an elderly couple

“I am still working on getting masks made and distributed. Two people died last night. We have had eight losses. We don’t know the reason. Yesterday morning the president told the village that the market will close for a few days. We will just have market on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday now. We will see how this works.

“Yesterday, we gave the village president a document telling him we are helping with the cause. We continue to produce information materials and videos about prevention and how to use the masks.

“I took 120 masks and gave them to the president so he knows the project and if he needs more, he can come to my house and ask for more. We told him that the paper masks are only good for one use and are making garbage. He was really happy with this donation.

“On Sunday, I gave 30 masks to Alan Goodin for Santiguito. Rosario just finished making 200 masks and Matea will complete another 100 masks today. My friend in Macuilxochitl is handing out masks and the next 100 will go there!”

We could not do this project without Cristy. We could no do this project without YOU. We could not do this project without the mask makers and friends in Oaxaca who are helping to distribute. Thank you!

To contribute, click here:

Epidemiologists say that we must be wearing masks for at least 3-12 more months. I don’t know how long we can keep this project going — as long as we have support from people like you and as long as there is a need!

Donors Help Send Medical Supplies to Oaxaca Health Clinic

We branched out from masking making and distribution last week by raising funds from four donors to buy a Welch-Allyn vital signs monitor for the Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, health clinic. Village volunteer officials contacted me with this special need.

I reached out to readers and received immediate response from Kate Rayner, Toronto, Canada; Claudia Michel, Portland, Oregon; Boojie Cowell, London and Mexico City; and Deborah Morris, M.D., Coates, North Carolina. Debbie advised me on brand and helped make a selection from a hundred or so used models available on eBay.

The vital signs monitor was a big purchase, and we are so grateful to these four women for their generosity to be able to say YES, WE CAN.

This piece of machinery will give doctors the tools to check oxygenation and do continuous monitoring with accurate temperature and blood pressure checks, according to Claudia Michel, who is also an RN. Oxygenation is an essential reading for early detection of Covid-19. When oxygen levels decline, that is a sign there is illness. I have a portable pulse oximeter at home and use it regularly to monitor my own levels.

Mask woven by Arte Textil Orozco and sewn by Stephanie Jeronimo

To contribute, click here:

We also used funds to purchase gallons of hand sanitizer, isopropyl alcohol and two portable pulse oximeters for the village clinic to take into people’s homes. This is in addition to giving the clinic hundreds more masks to distribute as an official appeal to the village to wear them and keep social distancing.

Yesterday, Moises Garcia Guzman de Contreras picked up 100 more face masks in El Tule for the health officials to distribute to the people of his village, San Jeronimo Tlacochahuaya. The masks were the second order I placed with Arte Textil Orozco, the workshop that wove the cloth that was then sewn by Stephanie Jeronimo.

Since Phase II of the The Oaxaca Mask Project started on May 23, 2020, we have ordered, sewn and distributed 1,810 masks. This includes 100% cotton fabric donated by Patrice Wynne, Abrazos San Miguel, and more from Karen Nein in Eldorado, New Mexico.

Moto taxi driver accepts face mask funded by The Oaxaca Mask Project

We’ve sent money via Western Union to mask makers in Oaxaca, San Miguel del Valle, and Teotitlan del Valle. We are also using PayPal to send money because it is fast and direct for those who use it.

Rocio Arecely Garcia Lopez and husband Pedro Hernandez Antonio, Bordados Xime

Bordados Xime, a fancy apron-making workshop in San Miguel, has shifted over to making masks and we are supporting them. We paid for our first order of 100 that will be distributed to the residents of this Zapotec village.

Face masks from Bordados Xime, San Miguel del Valle

The map of Mexico shows RED. There is a high rate of infection everywhere. People are now asking for masks as infection rates rise in Oaxaca. Stay-at-home orders from the Governor are in place until June 15. We have orders out now for 500 more masks that have not yet been paid for.

To contribute, click here:

News this week is that markets are closed and will only be open on a rotating basis. (Some on a Oaxaca listserv are saying markets are closed for the next 10 days. I’m not there, so I don’t know.) Masks have been required for entry. Officials taking temperatures and requesting shoppers to use hand-sanitizer often.

There are official three-diagnosed Covid-19 cases in Tlacochahuaya. Our mask recipients on Sunday were taxi drivers, moto-taxi drivers, and the general public. Here, too, health officials were grateful to have the masks and participated in distributing them.

Moises, a Zapotec language activist who lived in Santa Monica, California and worked for Verizon before returning home to Tlacochahuaya, tells me that the real issue is testing for all of Oaxaca. “Testing is only performed when symptoms appear, but by that time there have been contacts, and it might be too late.” He is recording a video in Zapotec for his village to explain Covid-19, symptoms and prevention measures.” Testing is run by the epidemiology department of the state government, Moises tells me.

Mask made by Arte Textil Orozco and Stephanie Jeronimo in El Tule

Public health messages are essential for Zapotec communities of the Oaxaca valleys. Many of the older people, those who are most vulnerable, do not speak much if any Spanish, and hearing warnings in their indigenous language is essential.

Thanks to Alan Goodin, a resident of Santiguito (Santiago Ixtaltepec), who picked up face masks today from Cristy Molina Martinez at the crossroads. Alan will give them out to friends and neighbors who need them.

Meanwhile, we are doing what we can, and we know that mask wearing can reduce infection by as much as 80 percent. Masks don’t just filter air. They promote social distancing. Epidemiologists are telling us that this virus will not go away and that to stay safe mask-wearing will be part of life in the foreseeable future.

Now, we hear that Teotitlan is limiting funeral attendance to 10 people and has put up a blockade at the entrance to the village to limit access to people who don’t live there. Yes, there have been funerals. Few people believe they are Covid-19 related; some do. Without tests, there is no proof. We do believe that the doctors who asked for the vital signs monitor understand how this infection is transmitted and want every tool at their disposal for prevention.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for contributing. Thank you for caring.

Essay: Soothsayer of Next Moves

I’m taking a short hiatus from reporting on the Oaxaca Mask Project to share this essay on being in the time of pandemic and injustice.

Let me just put it out there.

This is not fun.

I scan the horizon for the human figure coming toward me. I watch their feet and bodies.  Body language is crucial now. I must anticipate next moves. Where will they turn next?  Will they continue walking straight toward me or make a side street turn. Is the path straight or deviate?  In this time of Covid-19 most don’t wear masks.

Let me just put it out there.

I’m 74 years old. I’m anxious. I want to walk, smell the freshness of mowed grass, wisteria musk, lemony camellias in bloom in the springtime of the South.  Furthermore, I want to choose my own carrots, lettuce and potatoes at the supermarket. I want cantaloupes just right, ripe, not hard. I want to inhale the aroma of ripe flesh, put my nose to the navel and swoon.  

These days, someone shops for me and I eat what they choose.

I still walk.  Walking is my meditation. On the streets of Durham I can still smell the fresh air, clean and pure. I forget the pain that surrounds me, the stress of an unseen disease, the stress of society filled with racial disparities and social injustices, the stress of leadership that embraces military crackdown and lack of compassion.  Here I am on the sidewalk, walking in circles for sometimes ten thousand steps and more. And, like citizens of many worlds, I must anticipate someone’s next move. 

As I scan, I talk to myself. Will they step off the sidewalk and go around me at the recommended safe distance of six feet?  Will they make a beeline toward me as if there was no care in the world, no danger of a hidden disease that could end my life? I wish I could be like them, not a care in the world, walking where they please with entitlement, purpose, and privilege.

I stop at a quiet spot on a busy street.  Cars zoom by. They are going somewhere. It’s almost business-as-usual.  I sit to rest on the edge of a raised vegetable bed constructed of raw pine planks. It’s a community garden of sorts.  Someone has named it a Victory Garden, a throwback to wartime. I guess we are in a war now, too, both visible and invisible medical and societal.  I sit among ten raised beds of beets, squash, tomatoes, chard, built to feed the immigrants, the sign says. The tomatoes are tied with twine, needing taming, now erect, reaching to a Carolina blue sky.  Yellow flowers give off the promise of future fruit. I wonder who will come pick and eat.

Most of the immigrants here are undocumented and wouldn’t risk showing up. A Black person might be accused of stealing and taken down with a knee. You can smell that tomato-ey plant aroma, pungent, astringent, sour. That smell we all know if we have grown a garden, the aroma that repels predators. Across from where I sit, a dwarf fig in a huge aluminum tub is ready to burst with fruit.  My feet are squarely planted on the finely ground decomposed granite path.  I get my bearings, alone here with the buzz of tires over pavement, a bass beat of repetitive motion.  Where are they going now in the time of Covid-19?  I’m always on the lookout for what’s next.

These are my days of anticipating next moves, the habits of others, their impulses, directions.  I become a soothsayer of next moves.  A block away I see a pair of figures. Man or woman, I do not yet know. Will they meander or stop all of a sudden in my path? Will they continue to walk as they peer down into the face of a mobile device, devoid of cognition for my presence in their path?  I cannot risk not paying attention.  I have to assume they could bump right into me. So, I stop. I step off.  I step aside, off the sidewalk into the bushes, or I take a wide detour onto the street, or I turn my back turn away from them. Wait for a moment or more to see where they will go next.  Sometimes, they stop dead in their tracks as if an apparition called to them to halt for no apparent reason. At that moment they could be too close to me for my comfort and I have to be prepared to move fast.

I always wear a mask.

Out there, I notice the person or couple or family that is twenty or fifty feet away. I must take care. Who else will?

It used to be I’d get angry, confront, call out, “move away, back up, don’t get close to me.” I’d spout, “Why didn’t you stop?” expecting others to be respectful and change their behavior.  I don’t do that now.

Now, I have my eyes opened, attuned to the moves of others, anticipating.  For now, I’m grateful to be alive, outdoors, breathing the air of springtime. Free.