Tag Archives: COVID-19

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.

Phase II, Oaxaca Mask Project, Starts Today

COVID-19 cases are rising in Oaxaca and the villages. This week’s news reports closures at Abastos Market (Central de Abastos), the huge central food distribution center in Oaxaca city due to high rates of disease. People are testing positive in villages in the Tlacolula Valley. Concern is rising. Demand for face masks is stronger. We must continue to respond. Thousands are at risk. No time to sit back and take a break!

Donate Today: Please Share

If you gave earlier, please consider making another gift. If you haven’t yet given, now is the time. The need is still with us.

New Oaxaca Partnerships

We have formed distribution partnerships with:

  • Food for All A Oaxaca-based collective of farmers, chefs, drivers and citizens in Oaxaca, Mexico, providing market boxes from farm to table, founded by Rachael Mamane, James Beard-nominated chef.
  • Puente Works with food producers and micro-enterprises in vulnerable Oaxaca communities to maintain production and economic solidarity
  • Cafebre A Oaxaca city coffee bar that roasts and distributes artisanal beans from independent growers in the highlands
  • Mama Pacha Chocolate A small Oaxaca workshop that makes rich and nutritious chocolate without agrochemicals, promoting a fair economy for cacao bean growers

Each of these organizations will take our masks and distribute them to those in need. The partnership allows us to go deeper and wider with more urgency!

Urgency: We are out of masks in Teotitlan del Valle. People are coming to Cristy’s house to ask for masks. Please help!

Use a face mask in all public places

With help from Food for All‘s Rachael Mamane, our point person, we will be able to get more masks quickly into the hands of farmers, consumers, fruit and vegetable vendors, taxi fleets, and others.

You are key to this project’s continuing success. Right now, we have commitments to make 300 more masks this week and need to pay for them! We want to provide a steady source of face coverings for the near future.

Few have an income source in Oaxaca now and people cannot afford to buy masks. They can barely afford to buy food!

We also continue to work with Cristy Molina in Teotitlan del Valle, where she organizes seamstresses to make masks for us. These are the masks that we will give to Rachael for distribution. Cristy my essential partner who volunteers to protect her village and her neighbors.

Cristy gave our last 100 masks to Macuilxochitl villagers, where cases just diagnosed

Sewing Masks Provides Income

Our strategy has changed. We now want to focus on sending funds to Oaxaca seamstresses for mask-making. This provides an important source of income when all other work has evaporated. We are grateful for all the masks made by friends in the USA up to now. We found that the cost to ship to Oaxaca is better spent providing income to seamstresses there.

Sections of Central de Abastos Market closed for the next two weeks

To keep up-to-date with Oaxaca Covid-19 statistics, please use the Municipio de Oaxaca Facebook page. I am told, however, that actual data is lagging and cases may be as much as 20% higher than what is reported. Hospital beds are filled to capacity. This is what it takes to get people’s attention, unfortunately.

Cristy Molina designs public health messages to create awareness

Another key person whose help we value is Alvin Starkman, Mezcal Educational Tours, who says that masks are direly needed at Abastos — and he feels safe with his N95 and protective shield going there to distribute face coverings!

Alvin Starkman with N95 mask, protective shield and 6 ft. pole

Oaxaca Cultural Navigator: What will the future hold?

This is a big question as we try to live in the present and get through each day. One reason I turned my focus to creating The Oaxaca Mask Project, I have come to realize, is that it is a perfect distraction to keep me busy and helpful. I can think about NOW, not what will be.

Note: We will likely start the project up again in the next few weeks. Janet Blaser, a journalist who lives in Mazatlan, interviewed me yesterday for Mexico News Daily. The mask project story will likely appear in the next 10 days. We will begin accepting donations again then, ordering masks to be made, and giving them to people in need.

I started the project soon after I arrived in Huntington Beach, California, for what was to be a one-week visit with my son on my way to Durham, North Carolina. I was there for two months. Now, I’m in NC, just out of quarantine. My plan was to be here until the end of May and then return to Oaxaca for the summer. Now, who makes plans?

Meanwhile, the news came yesterday that Traditions Mexico is closing after 20+ years of operation. They set the bar for many of us who lead cultural journeys and tours in Oaxaca and Mexico. I want to acknowledge Eric Mindling’s passion, heart and generosity for opening doors to indigenous artists and communities over the years and send well wishes to all who have been part of his adventure.

Yes, COVID19 will take its toll in many ways.

On the Southern California coast, April 2020

What we have come to rely on will be no more. The familiar and the dependable will be no more. Life has changed and will continue to do so. We grieve the losses and must take comfort in making positive next steps.

We want to do more than survive! We want to thrive. We want to be with family and friends. We want to explore. For most of us, this is impossible now. I suspect that this will be the case over the next two years.

This got me to thinking about our own Oaxaca Cultural Navigator situation amid this virus and attendant path of destruction. We are a small operation. Tiny, actually. It’s mostly just me. I dream up the programs, organize them, contact the artisans I know and love, handle the bookkeeping, and make arrangements to ensure quality. Now, there is nothing to do but wait.

This is also about others. It impacts the artisans I work with in the villages. It impacts the local experts who provide the cultural guidance I rely on at the Oaxaca coast, in Chiapas and Michoacan, and yes, in Kyoto and Tokyo, to create a rich experience for our travelers. What will it be like for them who depend on people like us to appreciate their work and support them?

We have canceled the Japan textile study tour. We have canceled the Oaxaca Day of the Dead study tour. We are waiting to see about the December writing workshop and the programs set for early 2021. We read that there will probably be a surge in virus infections this fall.

When will we be be able to resume?

If you don’t travel for a year or two or even more, what will that mean for you? How will you make your future travel choices? Where will you go first and next? Will Oaxaca Cultural Navigator be starting over then? What will our collective future hold? Will we ever regain the confidence to travel on a plane or in a van with ten strangers?

Friends here and there are asking me: When will you return to Oaxaca? How long will you be in North Carolina? When will we see you next? My best answer is: I don’t know. Maybe September. Maybe October. Vamos a ver.

Right now, we must be focused on staying healthy and safe. It is difficult to know what the future will bring. Let’s take a deep breath and carry on.

The Oaxaca Mask Project Report #8: Big Thanks!

Taking a short break! Project will resume in June 2020.

This is our Interim Report for The Oaxaca Mask Project. I’ve been focused on making and distributing cloth face masks in Oaxaca, Mexico, and surrounding villages since mid-March.

We have accomplished so much! We did this together:

  • Made and distributed 2,480 masks
  • Raised $6,320 USD from 116 separate donations*
  • Received gifts ranging from $10 to $500
  • Employed seamstresses and weavers to make masks in Oaxaca City, San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Teotitlan del Valle, Tlacolula de Matamoros, and San Agustin Etla
  • Shipped 675 masks made and donated by USA seamstresses via DHL to Oaxaca villages
Arnulfo Lazaro Bautista family, Teotitlan del Valle

Special thanks to Oaxaca mask-makers for their talents, speed, creativity and dedication:

  • Rocio Bastida Cruz, San Felipe del Agua, Oaxaca
  • Rosario Lazo Lazo, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca
  • Malena Jimenez, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca
  • Rocio Mendoza Bazan, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca
  • Inez Lopez Hernandez, Tlacolula de Matamoros, Oaxaca
  • Cheri Verber, Patzcuaro, Michoacan
  • Beatriz Raymundo Camacho, Telarcito Lindo, Oaxaca
  • Armando Sosa, San Pablo Villa de Mitla
  • Alfredo Hernandez Orozco, Santa Maria el Tule
Karen Nein sewed 200 masks for San Martin Tilcajete

Big thanks to USA mask-makers for donating their labor and/or materials to the project:

  • Hollie Taylor Novak, Chapel Hill, NC
  • Karen Nein, Eldorado, New Mexico
  • Sam Robbins, Columbus, Ohio
  • Claudia Michel, Portland, Oregon
  • Susie Robison, McCloud, California
  • Shuko Clouse, Los Angeles, California
  • Yumiko Wilson, Los Angeles, California
  • Barbara Kuhns, Arizona
  • Katharine Jennings
Cristy Molina, getting masks to Teotitlan del Valle, Tlacochahuaya + Mitla

These are the folks who volunteered to make it happen on the ground, getting our masks into the hands of and onto the faces of the people, in the city and far-away villages:

  • Kalisa Wells, Oaxaca and Teotitlan del Valle
  • Cristy Molina Martinez, Teotitlan del Valle
  • Alvin Starkman, Oaxaca
  • Eric Ramirez Ramos, Tlacolula de Matamoros
  • Gail Pellett, San Agustin Etla
  • Kari Klippen-Sierra and Rudy Sierra, San Andres Huayapam
  • Jacki Cooper Gordon, Oaxaca
  • Luvia Lazo, Teotitlan del Valle
  • Dave Crosley, San Felipe del Agua, Oaxaca
  • Gabriela Morales Cruz (Morac), San Jeronimo Tlacochuhuaya
Zapotrek’s Eric Ramirez covers Tlacolula market vendors

And, to all our 116 donors, to whom we are blessed with their generosity. THANK YOU. You made it possible for Oaxaca people to stay safe and healthy. Donors are from Canada, Mexico, Guatemala and the USA.

  • Kate Rayner
  • Claudia Michel
  • Diana Huber
  • Martha Sorensen
  • Elaine Saunders
  • Wendy Sease
  • Deborah Mersky
  • Susie Robison
  • Mary Earle
  • Jacob Singleton
  • Susan Barkoff
  • Diane Manning
  • Marla Jensen
  • Nancy Craft
  • Ellen Benson
Kari and Rudy got masks to Huayapam public health clinic staff
  • Robin Greene
  • Gloria Yeatman
  • Sandra Wilcox
  • Maureen Parker
  • Catherine Johnson
  • Anne Damon
  • Barbara Beerstein
  • Phyllis Milder
  • Nancy MacBride
  • Lynda Nelson
  • Laura Renger
  • Natalie Klein
  • Sunnie Hikawa
  • Chris Clark
  • Sam Robbins
  • Julia Erickson
  • Dennys Eymard
  • Kay Michaels
  • Carolyn Urban
  • Lisa Michie
Alvin Starkman got masks to San Marcos Tlapazola
  • Lynn Nichols
  • Gail Barraco
  • Gail Pellett
  • Lesa Porche
  • Shuko Clouse
  • Kajal Patel
  • Janet Waterson
  • Lian Brehm
  • Mike Bronn
  • Phil Schlak
  • Beverly Oda
  • Winn Kalmon
  • Elizabeth Pou
  • Irene Keaton
  • Bitty Truan
  • Barbara Garcia
  • Erin Borreson
  • Kathryn Leide
  • Leslie Roth
  • Holly Ziretta
Gail Pellett got masks to San Agustin Elta taxi-drivers
  • Heather Leide
  • Elizabeth Rosen
  • Joan Anyon
  • Elizabeth Pomeroy
  • Christine Bourdette
  • Linda Mansour
  • Frances Fine
  • Laurie Landau
  • Barbara Oseland
  • Dorothy Hermann
  • Kathryn Kasimor
  • James W. Johnston
  • Jennifer Becker
  • Karen Soskin
  • Salima Khakoo
  • John O’Connor
  • Tamsie Hughes
  • Pamela Esty
  • Katharine Jennings
  • Rita Schweitz
Drew Vogt and Casa de Kids got our masks, thanks to Kari and Rudy
  • Cathy Platin
  • Elizabeth Cauthorn
  • Makiri Sei
  • Diane Winters
  • Karen Hembree
  • Holly Taylor Novak
  • Annie Johnson
  • Susanne Corrigan
  • Virginia Dunstan
  • Marsha Smelkinson
  • Janet Lowe
  • Madelyn Smoak
  • Sheri Brautigam
  • Marla Jensen
  • Virginia Bartley
  • Ben Dyer
  • William Watts
  • Sue Bramley
  • Jill Bennett
  • Eshkie Zachai
  • Tom Sheeran
  • Craig Watts
  • Julie Kaspar
  • Kathleen Smith-Wenning
  • George Young

*Note: Some gave more than once!

Norma sends LOVE with mask made by Sam Robbins

Gail Pellett, former NPR journalist, writes from San Agustin Etla:

“Oaxaca has some of the lowest official numbers for infections, largely because of the indigenous villages and their community controls, Usos y costumbres, etc.  The Sierre Norte villages spinning out from Ixtlan and Gaelatao have no or very few numbers.  Some 200 indigenous villages have locked themselves away from commuters from the city of Oaxaca and elsewhere.  They check temperatures, spray cars, etc. including our own, San Agustin Etla, which is not so indigenous anymore, but a mixed bag of inhabitants, but still working on the communitario system.  At our checkpoint a gun thermometer is put to your forehead, your address checked, your business entering, your car sprayed with disinfectant, especially collectives and taxis.”

We will continue to monitor public health in Oaxaca and her villages to see if we need to start-up again. I was told today that the health minister is warning Oaxaqueños to expect an increase in disease this October. Yesterday, May 19, a covid19 case was announced from Maquilxochitl, the village neighboring Teotitlan del Valle.

As we say in Mexico, Vamos a Ver.

Stay safe. Stay healthy.

The Oaxaca Mask Project Report #7: Donate by May 15

Tomorrow, May 15, 2020, we are accepting last donations for the time being to make and distribute masks to Oaxaca and the villages. I’m taking a break until we see if there is more demand. Thanks to all who responded earlier this week to The Last Push post! Many of you made second and third gifts!

We still need several hundred dollars more to pay Oaxaca mask makers for orders in progress and complete mask shipments. Thank you for making a gift. Please use this link:

We started this project on April 15, 2020 — one month ago!

www.paypal.me/oaxacaculture

Alert: I just received a notice from Cristy Molina Martinez that the Oaxaca government has announced that they cannot accept any more COVID-19 patients at Oaxaca’s specialty hospital. They are at capacity!

Cristy Molina Martinez has been our right-hand person in Teotitlan del Valle. This morning she received a shipment of masks from Portland, Oregon, from Claudia Michel. Claudia made an in-kind donation to the project by purchasing and shipping masks at her personal expense.

Cristy Molina Martinez in traditional Teotitlan del Valle traje

Cristy will take masks to San Jeronimo Tlacochuhuaya where graphic artist Gabriela Morac will distribute them in her hometown. Some will go to San Pablo Villa de Mitla where doll maker Armando Sosa is redirecting sewing efforts to mask-making. He will use our masks as a pattern, and we will send him funds to also make masks to give out to villagers and taxi-drivers. .

Print by Gabriela Morac https://moracgabriela.wixsite.com/gabrielamorac

Gabriela closed her studio in downtown Oaxaca shortly after the invasion of COVID-19 and returned home, staying safe and selling online.

We have two other mask shipments in transit. Another 100 masks are going today to San Martin Tilcajete from Karen Nein to Taller Jacobo y Maria Angeles. The famed maker of alebrijes, ceramics and curator of a sustainable copal forest has a vast network of friends and relatives who are wearing our masks.

Karen Nein with masks for San Martin Tilcajete

Early this week, Alvin Starkman, Oaxaca Mezcal Educational Tours, took 60 more masks, made and donated by Rocio Bastida Cruz and Dave Crosley (contact them to order in Oaxaca), to villages where he has mezcal-making friends. Alvin says,  “I have been assisting distributing to several of the mezcal villages over the past few weeks. The good folks at Mezcal Vago (Judah Kuper & Dylan Sloan) have most recently agreed to distribute a bunch to the villages where their mezcal is produced, to the growers, jimadores, palenqueros and their families, especially those older / with pre-existing conditions, in Sola de Vega, Candelaria Yegolé, Miahuatlán and Tapanala. Thanks guys (and gals). Let’s keep ’em all safe.”

Yesterday, I shipped 100 masks made by Sam (Frances) Robbins from Columbus, Ohio, for Cristy to deliver along with fabric that Rosario Lazo will sew.

100 masks made by Sam Robbins

Jacki Cooper Gordon received 150 masks from us for EnVia Foundation to give to the women (and their families) in the villages who are recipients of their loans.

The Casa de Kids with Drew Vogt

The Episcopal Church in downtown Oaxaca has our masks, too. So does the health clinic in Huayapam thanks to Kari Klippen-Sierra and Rudy Sierra. Kari just told me she made contact with and gave 50 masks to Steve Friedman with Seeds of Hope in Zaachila, an organization that works with impoverished people who live in and around the dump there. She also gave 30 masks to Drew Vogt from Casa de Kids. They work with children, often orphaned, to help them get through school.

In Santa Maria El Tule, I am working with weaver Alfredo Hernandez Orozco who is making us 100 masks. They should be done by early next week. Then, we will figure out who needs them most, who will get them out to people, and will wear them!

Alfredo Hernandez Orozco Mask, handwoven
Alfredo Hernandez Orozco mask, interior — muy comodo!

As of today, we have contracted for, shipped and distributed almost 2,500 masks, and received almost $5,000 in funds. This does not include gifts of masks made by friends of the project which I will tally as in-kind gifts in my final report.

I want to do a special call-out to Kalisa Wells, who has been the central point person in Oaxaca Centro. She coordinated receiving and distributing masks made by Beatriz of Telarcito Lindo. Kalisa also connected me with Armando. She has a million (just kidding) of his dolls. She is a fan.

Kalisa Wells with Armando Sosa, Tlacolula Market

If we keep going, we will need to raise more money to fund the project. Cristy and I are assessing need and should know more in a couple of weeks. Everyone has been so generous. What is your will?

Handmade doll by Armando Sosa, San Pablo Villa de Mitla

During this intensive one-month project to get our Oaxaca friends protected from coronavirus, I have been gratified, ecstatic, overwhelmed, discouraged and tearful with the joy of so many people stepping forward to help. I have felt like a mask-jockey, juggling where to distribute masks available immediately to those who want and need them immediately, waiting for more to be ready and re-deployed.

Thank you for trusting me with your gifts to make this project happen. Thank you for your willingness to sew. Thank you for your effort to bring masks to people who will wear them. Thank you for trying to bring masks to the people when they reject the offer of help.

We can only do the best we can, one step at a time. For now, we will wrap this up …. unless someone else wants to step forward for a while!

Sending love from Command Central, Durham, North Carolina

Friends ask, When are you coming back to Oaxaca? My best answer is, I don’t know. As with most things these days, we are driven by the virus and much is to revealed and it is too soon to know. They say, no one vaccine will protect against the many iterations of this scourage. My intention is to continue to shelter-in-place, take walks, eat healthy, Zoom with friends and drink MEZCAL.

Abrazos fuertes.