Tag Archives: COVID-19

A Oaxaca, Mexico Visit. Should You Go?

This is a rhetorical question. One I ask myself daily these days. All recent reports point to NO. The city (and state) ebb and flow between Orange (caution) and Red (STOP). Right now, the governor has declared Code Red. The Covid-19 euphemism for DANGER.

Here is what Alvin Starkman, owner of Oaxaca Mezcal Educational Tours, wrote yesterday:

“Thinking of or have plans to visit Oaxaca this Muertos [Dia de los Muertos], or have friends in that category? If you haven’t figured it out by now, know that this morning’s paper confirmed that for the city, no cemetery visits, no parades or comparsas, no cultural events like tapete [sand paintings] or altar displays, no culinary events, no costume contests, etc, etc, etc. The city includes San Felipe del Agua. Other cemeteries include San Miguel, Ex Marquesada, and all the rest. This morning my San Marcos Tlapazola comadres (women friends) told me the same holds true for Tlacolula. I suspect XOXO (Xoxocotlan) will follow suit (let’s hope so), and I think I have already posted about Santa Maria Atzompa. Stay home and come next year (assuming it’s more or less behind us by then).”

All my friends, extranjeros and locals, are hyper-vigilant. They are guarded, distanced, masked when they go out, and mostly stay home except for careful food-shopping forages. But, they report many mask-less tourists and locals.

Most tell me they believe this situation will continue for quite some time.

I’ve been floating the idea of returning to Oaxaca in January. As each month passes, I push the time farther out. Many of us who live in Oaxaca either for most of the year or during the winter months, are struggling with making a decision.

Kalisa, ever mindful of health safety, reminds me there won’t be a vaccine by January. Yep. I realize that. We are all dealing with: How much risk is acceptable? We know the consequences.

Kalisa reports that “The numbers will continue to rise or stay at this already alarming rate. Tourists are roaming the streets and the villages, restaurants are open, Oaxaca is back to Orange, but it has no meaning. Tourists and many locals simply are tired of masks and rules.”

Yes, we have Covid Fatigue. We want this to be over. Now the news reports include promises of several vaccines that may be available in the spring. There is no reporting yet of their effectiveness.

Someone claimed yesterday that this Covid-generated tourism decline now is more severe than what occurred during the 2006 APPO strikes in Oaxaca. I disagreed. So did Alvin, who says:

“It is actually less significant now than 2006 in terms of numbers of tourists. For Muertos week in 2006 hotel occupancy was 3%. I forget the numbers I heard a couple of days ago, but it’s somewhere around 20% right now, so will increase as the month progresses. I suspect it will climb to about 70% because people just don’t get it.”

I recall that the APPO strikes had a negative economic impact for at least five years. It took my artisan friends many years to recover. Visitors didn’t come because they were afraid.

Many of us are still afraid. But the fear is associated with a deadly virus we cannot see. Too bad those who are transmitters don’t light up like a Halloween Jack-O-Lantern.

As I think about ways to return safely — from flying to quarantining, I also think about access to excellent health care should I get sick. I’m told by a close Zapotec friend that there is a short supply of oxygen and many hospitals just can’t get their hands on it. Have difficulty breathing? Then the answer might be, Too bad or I’m sorry.

Are we better off staying put and deferring our return to Oaxaca for a while? What do you think?

As for celebrating Dia de los Muertos, let’s make our home altars to honor our own loved ones. Let’s also remember and honor the over 212,000 individuals in the USA who have died from this disease, as well as those in Mexico and around the world.

This won’t mitigate the loss but it will give us pause to think about the meaning and value of life, and what we can do to protect ourselves and others.

A polychrome figure, perhaps from Oaxaca

Covid Diaries: A Lazy Writer’s Notebook

This is a test. To see if you are interested in reading and, if you wish, contributing to a blog journal/personal essays about life and experiences living through Covid Times. A chronicle, so to speak. It’s something I’m thinking of doing now. Probably not here, but in a new blog.

It’s the end of August. We have been at this for months. Five months. I know what I’ve been doing. Hiding. Searching out isopropyl alcohol. Fighting boredom and isolation. Sewing masks. Canceling tours. Trying to find meaning and purpose in the hours between waking up and going to sleep.

I’ve thought about writing in the last months but haven’t. What is there fresh to say? We are all doing our best to cope. Some of us have children or grandchildren at home. Some of us are out of work. Some of us have lost loved ones, family and friends to this virus. Some of us live alone. Some of us are just fine, just maybe.

Some of us have gained weight. Don’t sleep. Feel helpless. Others are finding purpose and beauty in butterflies and roses, a fresh air picnic under blue skies, growing a garden and harvesting its bounty. Yes, even a Zoom call with sister or son. Who knows the next time you will see them?

I’ve made the transition from being angry at everyone who goes mask-less and walks too close, to accepting that the only behavior I can change is mine. I walk. Sometimes I walk miles. It’s a great stress reliever. And, I encounter people on the city streets where I live. I make a wide detour as they come my way. Put my mask up.

I’m settling into this, but it still feels unsettling. And, it feels like its finally time to write about it.

What do you think? Do you want to talk about this? How are you doing? If we write it, will you read it?

Since I’m not in Oaxaca now, I don’t have that much to write about life there, so this Oaxaca Cultural Navigator blog has been short on content in the last few months.

Are there enough masks for Oaxaca?

I ask myself this question every day as the level of risk reported by the Oaxaca government moves fluidly back and forth from orange to red and back again. Confusing? Yes. And, in the informal economy small shop owners and street vendors are determined to do business, regardless of the risk. Restaurants have opened. Who can blame them? Not me. There is no safety net in Mexico for the impoverished. And, it is disappearing here in El Norte, too, as the U.S. Senate stonewalls on a new aid package.

Farmer in San Pablo Huitzo stays safe in one of our masks

The virus continues to rage. Mexico has the third highest outbreak in the world. We all want life the way it was. It’s not going to happen any time soon. So, we may as well settle into this as the way it’s going to be for a while.

There are slivers of good news out there.

From San Pedro Ixtlahuaca, Puente director Isahrai tells our Food for All partner Rachael Mamane that 50 of our masks were delivered to the Red de Amaranto Mixteca council for distribution to farmer families in the Mixteca communities. Isahrai participated in a meeting of the group where mask wearing do’s and don’ts as well as advice on care and washing were shared.

Puente gives mask wearing and care instructions to the farming council

Alvin and Arlene Starkman’s goddaughter Lucy just finished her medical school education and has been assigned to do her public service in the village of San Jose del Chilar IMSS health clinic. This is the public health service. Lucy will distribute our masks to the 700 (+) (-) people in the village, which is in Oaxaca’s Cañada district. The closest town is San Juan Bautista Cuicatlan.

At the San Jose del Chilar IMSS health clinic

And, also thanks to Alvin, my son Jacob is the proud wearer of a Mezcal Educational Tours cap and face shield. Please note that we all know for maximum safety, one must wear a cloth mask under the shield. This photo is merely for demo purposes. Jacob is now officially part of the Mezcal Educational Tours Covid19 Fighting Brigade! P.S. That’s an agave plant on the cap, not another botanical.

The Mezcal Educational Tours Covid-19 Fighting Brigade

As long as there is a need, we will continue to sew and distribute masks and ask for donations. Let me know if you need masks in Oaxaca and if you want to donate.

If you are inspired to give to The Oaxaca Mask Project, click here:

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.

Fight, Flight or Hide: Danger, Covid-19, A Rant

North Carolina rates of infection are on the rise. We are in the Bruised Red, Uncontrolled Category. This is alarming. We may not be in the Top 5 outbreaks in the Southern States, but we are inching there. Wherever we are, whomever we are, we are at risk. And, in the face of what we perceive as danger, our normal response — according to the mental health experts — is to either run away or fight.

These days, many of us are also in hiding. I should be in hiding because I’m a fighter with a loud voice. No amount of precautions help me. No mask wearing. No frequent washing and using hand sanitizer. No six-feet of social distancing. Mostly because others don’t adhere to the guidelines.

NC Governor Roy Cooper extended Stay at Home Orders on July 16 to August 7, 2020. This includes:

WHEREAS, in Executive Order No. 141, issued on May 20, 2020, the undersigned urged that all people in North Carolina follow social distancing recommendations, including that everyone wear a cloth face covering, wait six (6) feet apart and avoid close contact, and wash hands often or use hand sanitizer; to reduce COVID-19 spread.

I made a mistake today. I went food shopping mid-Sunday morning to the Harris-Teeter supermarket in my Durham neighborhood. Why? I promised to help a friend.

Most were behaving pretty well. Everyone was masked. I stopped to allow people to pass me and made a wide swing around others when there was space. There were definitely more people in the store than at 8 a.m. on Mondays and Thursday, The Senior Hour.

In Produce, I hovered around the potatoes, onions and squash eyeing the best before touching. Okay. I’m not Speedy Gonzalez. A late 20’s-something (hard to tell with the mask on) swooped in three inches from me to pick an onion.

Excuse me, he said, as he reached in front of me, body leaning in my direction.

I said, incredulously, What are you doing? You are supposed to stay six feet away!

I said Excuse Me, he said, and turned his back on me, setting off.

Excuse me doesn’t cut it, I screamed through my mask. Do you think he heard me. I kept shouting, You are supposed to stay six feet away.

He went to another aisle, stone faced. I noticed he had a very short cropped haircut, shaved close to the neck. I wondered if that meant anything.

How dare you? I continued across the expanse of strawberries, peaches and blueberries, as if that would help lower my anxiety. Everyone else stayed far away.

I’m scary, right. I scream Stay Away.

Now, I’m smarter than this. I should know better than to go out food shopping on Sunday, when Duke students are starting to return, when the weekend habit of procuring vittles is ingrained in many.

There would have been any number of online choices: Instacart has been a delivery mainstay with choices such as Sprouts, Fresh Market and Durham Food Co-op. I have also shopped for pick-up at Harris-Teeter and at Whole Foods. I reconciled my decision based on some specialty needs for my friend.

Meanwhile, I must forgive myself, do better to calculate risk and remember to #stayinhiding and #staysafe and depend more on available services. I must stay conscious.

Life depends on it.