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We are still here! Covering Faces in Oaxaca

I must confess it is difficult to be away from Oaxaca for so long. I have peripheral news to give you about daily life other than what we all read. I’m in the same boat as you … depending on others to tell me what’s going on!

Mostly, it’s the same story. The Orange Light is now on. Which means that businesses are opening up and people are back on the streets and in the markets — except for those who are disbelievers. It’s important now to continue to question the common sense of business as usual, here or there. (Name your location.)

Lucina and Kalisa with 60 masks

Kalisa tells me that she is still in hiding for the most part, and stepping cautiously and quickly in and out of Benito Juarez Market. Most of our guera friends continue to isolate, wear masks and keep distance when out and about. My family in Teotitlan del Valle is doing the same.

About the Photo Above: On the left is Alvin Starkman’s goddaughter Lucina. He and Arlene have been supporting her education for many years and she has just finished medical school. She will be taking 60 of our masks to a remote village (TBD) where she will do her public service at the end of the month. Kalisa has a repository of our masks that she keeps on hand to give to those in need. Alvin and Lucina picked them up the other day.

We continue to make and distribute masks.

A friend told me the risks in the villages are still high and people are dying, especially the vulnerable elderly. Numbers, I’m told, are in high double-digits, for some villages where commerce is a way of life.

Still accepting gifts. To contribute to The Oaxaca Mask Project, click here:

We continue to make and distribute masks, albeit as I said earlier, at a slower pace. But, your gifts continue to be welcome.

Representative weaving examples from new project

I am working on a new project.

Soon, I will receive a shipment from a remote Oaxaca coastal village. The women there grown their own cotton and use natural dyes to color it. They formed an outstanding 16-member cooperative, but they have no Internet presence — no knowledge of technology and limited marketing savvy. I will help them sell during this time of scarcity.

Photo by Ana Paula Fuentes

The box contains a dozen beautiful hand-woven textiles fashioned into garments that are a perfect weight for summer. Here in North Carolina, it’s been over 90 degrees and this will continue for another couple months. Clothes that breathe are essential for this climate and many other parts of the USA.

I will post photos and prices here as soon as the box arrives.

Made by hand, indigo and wood bark fine gauze blouse

Continuing Thanks from The Oaxaca Mask Project: Alvin Starkman and Eric Zapotrek

We continue to make and distribute masks, although at a less frenzied pace! This week, Alvin Starkman from Oaxaca Mezcal Educational Tours picked up 60 masks from Kalisa Wells in El Centro. He gave 20 to folks he knows in San Dionisio Ocotepec. Villagers in San Pablo Guila asked Alvin if he could get them more masks, so he brought 20 there, too. Twenty more will go toa small village TBD where Alvin’s goddaughter, La Doctora Lucina, will do her servicio social.

Mask recipients in San Dionisio Ocotepec made by Telarcito Lindo

We had funded the making of 100 more masks in Tlacolula de Matamoros under the supervision of Eric Ramirez, the English-speaking owner of Zapotrek. Eric is a knowledgeable adventure guide who has a superb knowledge of history and archeology, among other things. Early in The Project, he asked how he could help. He identified a seamstress who needed support. We sent money via Western Union.

We make masks, pay the sewists, and give the masks to those in need for FREE. The project is funded by donations.

Eric handing out masks in Tlacolula

This week, Eric gave more masks to vendors and customers in the Tlacolula Market.

Now, Oaxaca has gone from Code Red to Code Orange, using the traffic-light (semiforo) system of identifying the severity of C-19 spread. Many of us think this is done for the reason of boosting the economy, not because the disease risk has diminished.

Masked recipients in Tlacolula

Kalisa reports that on her masked forages to the Benito Juarez market, most are now wearing masks inside.

In the barbecue dining section, Tlacolula Market

But, we can see in Tlacolula that the story is different. There are still maskless vendors and shoppers. It’s no different there than it is in the USA. Some people want to protect themselves and others. Many are “non-believers” as if mask-wearing was one form of religion.

Still accepting gifts. To contribute to The Oaxaca Mask Project, click here:

Sewn masks with hang tags for use and cleaning

Here, in my own Durham, NC, apartment condo building, where there are 90 units in a historic downtown repurposed tobacco warehouse, despite the signs, many are not wearing masks in public spaces. It is so frustrating and I find myself getting angry at the mask-less who ignore the printed and email messages that masks are required in the public spaces.

What are their excuses when I ask, Where’s your mask?

The mask-less in Tlacolula

Oh, I left it in my car. I forgot. It’s in my apartment. I just went out for a quick errand. Oh, it’s in my pocket. I was just out for a bike ride. Or, it’s dangling around their neck. What to do? Steer clear. Make a wide arc around them. Take a deep breath.

Tortillas and bread, Tlacolula Market

Meanwhile, all over the world, rates of infection are increasing, deaths are on the rise, and I’m still scared and being super cautious.

Tia (left) and Butch, taking it easy in Teotitlan del Valle

And, I’ve been worried about my dogs. But, they are well-fed and cared for by my host family in Teotitlan del Valle. Mostly, I guess, I’m missing them — our daily walks in the campo with the vast landscape of mesquite and cactus, purple mountains casting shadows on the valley, the green of summer rains. You know that smell of rain when everything is fresh.

When will I be able to return? A gnawing question that has no answer.

Please tell everyone you meet to wear a mask! Stay safe. We are in this for the long-haul.

Covering Faces: Oaxaca Mask Project Summary*

I left Oaxaca on March 12, 2020, for what was to be a two-month return to the USA, first to visit family in California for a week, and then to check on my North Carolina apartment. I landed in Los Angeles to see my son and brother, with a plan to visit my sister in San Francisco next.

On March 15, the California stay-at-home order started.  I was with my son for two months in a one-BR apartment. In the beginning, I ordered face masks for us as we walked in the wildlife preserve wetlands along the Pacific Ocean in Huntington Beach. Then, I turned my attention to Oaxaca.

What could I do to be useful to help the place I call home for most of the year? That’s when I decided to start The Oaxaca Mask Project to offer face coverings FREE for anyone in need. This was accomplished with help from many Oaxaqueños and gueros who live in and remain in Oaxaca. From April 14 to today (July 3, 2020), I have raised a bit over $20,000 USD through 283 individual gifts. We made and distributed 3,223 face masks throughout the city and villages.

We covered 5 de Febrero taxi syndicate faces, Oaxaca

At the request of the Teotitlan del Valle Community President and the Public Health Committee, we purchased and mailed a high-quality vital signs monitor, and donated funds to purchase pulse oximeters, gallons of alcohol and hand-sanitizer. The vital signs monitor helps assess blood oxygen levels as a way to detect covid-19. I asked for designated donations for the very costly monitor and received gifts from Kate Rayner, Claudia Michel, Dr. Deborah Morris, and Boojie Colwell. 

My thoughts are always with Oaxaca regardless of where I am physically located. I continually plug into the public health information to know how our people are doing, and to also help me determine when I will return. I should have been back by now. My plan was to be in my Teotitlan del Valle casita by the first of July. Now, there is no certainty about much and my first concern is to stay safe and have access to excellent medical care, should I need it: Ojala! 

The entire fleet of drivers took masks

I’d like to tell you a little more about the project. 

We employed mask sewists in Oaxaca City, Santa Maria El Tule, Tlacolula de Matamoros, San Pablo Villa de Mitla, San Miguel del Valle and Teotitlan del Valle, providing a needed income, in some cases sending 100% cotton fabric when none was to be procured.  We sent mask-making instructions and a pattern in Spanish. We crafted the language for hand-tags to be attached to the masks to instruct wearers on use and care. We depended on amazing volunteers on the ground to help with distribution: Kalisa Wells, Alvin Starkman, Cristy Molina Martinez, Kari Klippen-Sierra, Moises Garcia Guzman de Contreras, Gail Pellett, Malena Jimenez, Rachael Mamane, Alan Goodin, Eric Ramirez Ramos, Luvia Lazo, Jacki Cooper Gordon and Samuel Bautista Lazo.

We also relied on help from friends in the USA, Canada and Mexico who made masks and sent fabric in late March and early April to jump-start the project. Janet Blaser wrote about the project in Mexico News Daily, too. That helped spread the word and raise more needed funds.

Rachael Mamane helped us get these to Jorge Toscani, fleet chief

These folks put masks (often repeatedly) in the hands of market vendors, shoppers and villagers in the city and far-flung villages. We covered faces in San Marcos Tlapazola, Santiago Matatlan, San Dionisio, San Jeronimo Tlacochahuaya, San Andres Huayapam. San Agustin Etla, San Martin Tilcajete, Santiago Ixtaltepec and more. With help from the Episcopal Church, we covered faces of people who glean from the Zaachila dump. We covered faces of women entrepreneurs who work with EnVia and taxi drivers and farmers who work with Puente and the healthy food-sourcing project Food-for-All. We got masks into the hands of at risk-youth from Casa de Kids, and IMSS doctors and nurses in two Oaxaca hospitals. 

Everyone in the fleet was proud to wear a mask!

This project has preoccupied me for the last months. I am waiting now for Oaxaca to move from Code Red to Code Green (semiforo system of measurement), as are all of us. We want to return, to live, to visit, to support artisans, and to freely enjoy all that beautiful Oaxaca has to offer. Oaxaca is not ready for us yet. We will go when it opens up. Most importantly, we wish for the health and safety of all our friends. 

When will I begin to offer textile tours and workshops? My best answer is, I don’t know. Life now is an improvisation and we are all getting used to it.

Best wishes,

Norma

*Note: The Oaxaca Lending Library is collecting accounts from members and friends about how we are dealing with Covid-19. This essay was my contribution.

To see more photos, search Oaxaca Mask Project on the site for prior posts.

Taxis have been vectors of disease spread from city to village

Celebrating Father’s Day–With Flowers and Masks!

First, a bouquet of flowers for all the dads out there — past, present and future!

Flowers from McGraw Farms, delivered this morning by soon-to-be-dad Bret McGraw

The Oaxaca Mask Project is percolating along. We have made and distributed 3,110 masks so far throughout Oaxaca, and continue to do so.

Kari gives masks to Juves family in San Andres Huayapam

This week Kari Klippen-Sierra will take 150 masks to two IMSS hospitals (public health) in Oaxaca for doctors, nurses and staff. She also gave masks to her village veterinarian who rides around town on a scooter, and to the Juves family. She sends thanks to Dave and Rocio for meeting her for mask transfer.

Mama Pacha chocolate makers use our masks, too

Alan Goodin continues to distribute masks to Santiago Ixtaltepec where he lives. We have provided almost 100 masks there.

Yesterday, I talked with Jacki Cooper Gordon using Facebook video messenger. She tells me that Envia director Viviana asked us to provide funds to seamstresses in the villages Envia works with sew more masks to distribute. They may need 200 or more.

Rachael Mamane has gotten masks into the hands of Cafebre coffee roaster, Mama Pacha chocolate makers, Oaxaca taxi drivers, and to the Puente farmers cooperative.

Oaxaca city taxi drivers receive masks made by Rocio Bastida

The Teotitlan del Valle public health clinic received the vital signs monitor on Friday, June 19, that we shipped 10 days ago. They have promised to send photos with the doctors using the equipment.

I have just sent more money to Eric Ramirez in Tlacolula to make and distribute more masks, since the need is still acute.

Rachael Mamane picks up masks from Rocio Bastida and Dave Crosley

If some of our distribution channels sound repetitive, well, they are! We continue to give masks to the people who continue to tell us they need more! And, we are happy to do this as long as funds are in the bank! We are getting low, so if you are so inclined, please help.

To contribute to The Oaxaca Mask Project, click here:

A pile of 100 masks made by Rocio Bastida.

Still, the virus has not yet peaked in Oaxaca. It’s the same story throughout Mexico: I hear this from friends in Ajijic and Chapala, in San Miguel de Allende, in Mazatlan and Puerto Escondido.

Our Teotitlan mask wrangler Cristy, has made them available at this gallery

And, here in the USA, we know that mask-wearing has become polarized and politicized while the virus also continues to run rampant.

Please wear your mask outside your home, and ask your family and friends to, also.

Thanks for all your help.

A Letter and A Story: The Oaxaca Mask Project

First, the letter I sent to our most recent donors yesterday — people who made gifts over the last two weeks. Read on for a story from Kalisa Wells about giving out our masks on the streets of Oaxaca.

Dear Friends,

Your gifts over the last two weeks topped us off at receiving over $10,000 USD since Phase II of The Oaxaca Mask Project started on May 23, 2020 from 162 donors. We have made and distributed 2,710 face masks and more are in the making. Oaxaca is at the height of the Covid-19 outbreak. Sadly, very sadly, we have seen Oaxaca mortalities rise and our artisan villages are also very vulnerable.

Gifts of masks for San Miguel del Valle

So, the masks have helped immensely as we give them to people who are going to funerals and to public health clinics and markets, and just going about their every day lives. Staying at home, sequestered in houses, is difficult for the most disciplined of us to do! Yet, we know survival is dependent on it along with constant public education. We are working on that through the public health clinics in Teotitlan del Valle, Tlacolula de Matamoros, Santiago Ixtaltepec, and San Jeronimo Tlacochuhuaya. We have friends on the ground in each village who are helping us with mask distribution and education!

Welch-Allyn vital signs monitor

In addition, this total amount raised includes a gift to Teotitlan del Valle of hand sanitizer, alcohol, small portable pulse oximeters, plus a used Welch-Allyn vital signs monitor that clinic doctors requested. They have an urgent need to accurately test blood oxygen levels, temperature and blood pressure there. Four donors made this possible: Kate Rayner, Claudia Michel, Dr. Deborah Morris, and Boojie Cowell. 

To contribute to The Oaxaca Mask Project, click here:

What else can I tell you?  We have masks going to vulnerable at risk people who live near the Zaachila dump and orphan children via the Oaxaca Episcopal Church, thanks to Kari Klippen-Sierra. Moises Garcia Guzman de Contreras is translating health messages and making videos in Zapotec for Tlacochahuaya. Cristy Molina Martinez continues to do the same in Teotitlan.  Alan Goodin has taken up the cause for Santiguito, where he lives. We provide important income to seamstresses in El Tule, Oaxaca, Teotitlan, Tlacolula, Mitla and San Miguel del Valle. Jacki Cooper Gordon gave 100 masks to EnVia foundation who distributed them to women they support in Tlapazola, San Sebastian Abasolo, Santa Maria Guelace, and San Miguel. We sent extra fabric, too, so one of their seamstresses with use it for masks. Another 100 masks made by Rocio Bastida will go to Rachael Mamane, FoodforAll.mx, today, who will get them to taxi drivers and farmers who are part of Puente.org

Tlacolula market vendor with mask

I don’t know when I will return to my beloved Oaxaca. All my friends there tell me the cases are rising and the health care system is overloaded. I’m hoping for November this year, but I have no plans yet. When will Oaxaca Cultural Navigator resume our textile tours and programs? Quien sabe? I don’t know.

Meanwhile, I must do what I can to stay healthy in this time of covid-19. I must do what I can to elect a responsive government,  and support justice for Black America.  I will continue to focus on doing the right thing. 

Thank you for joining me. Thank you for caring for Oaxaca. Say safe and healthy.

All my best, Norma

Now this from Kalisa Wells, also from yesterday, during her 12,685 step walk around Oaxaca with our blogger friend Shannon Sheppard:

Preparing fresh, organic tortillas on the comal


“I love these walks, giving out the surprise mask for the very deserving people out there working for a few pesos on a Sunday. I put one of the last two masks I have in a plastic bag as we set out. We were way beyond Xochimilco (north of Niño Heroes de Chapultepec). We passed a señora making tortillas on a comal. She was in a dark entry way to her home, a step down from the sidewalk. She was older and was wearing a paper mask.

“I asked her for 10 pesos worth of tortillas. She had been making and putting them in a basket under a cloth, but for my 10 (that’s one peso each), she insisted on making them fresh, right then and there.

“I carry a clean tea towel in my bag, perfect for piping hot tortillas! I gave her the 10 pesos and your mask. She hesitated, not really understanding. I said it was a gift. You would have thought I gave her a diamond. She examined it, the workmanship and a nod of appreciation and thanks. It made my day!

“This is why I live in Mexico.”

The best corn tortillas, organic, criollo