Tag Archives: face masks

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

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

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!

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.

Oaxaca Face Masks for the Good

In the despair that has gripped the United States of America in the last week that peels away once more deep-seated and unresolved racial disparities and undue police force that plague us, I have found succor in focusing on The Oaxaca Mask Project. These times demand us to be proactive to make change for the good however we can, wherever we are living now and where we come from.

I am deeply grateful to all who have contributed and those who still plan to. We continue to welcome your support.

The Oaxaca Mask Project Phase II started May 23, 2020. Since then, we have raised $8,830 USD from 134 donors. Eight seamstresses are employed and have made 1,410 masks to date.

To contribute, click here:

By the end of this week, we will have given over 500 masks to the Teotitlan del Valle public health clinic operated by the village and underwritten their purchase of gallons of isopropyl alcohol, hand sanitizer and pulse oximeters (used in the detection of Covid 19). Thanks to Cristy Molina Martinez and Samuel Bautista Lazo for their help to get masks into the hands of village leaders and to connect me to Armando Gutierrez Martinez, a health committee member.

The village tells me they need a portable Welch-Allyn vital signs monitor to buy used/refurbished in the USA and ship to them. I’m seeking a $700 donor to help us buy this medical equipment to ship to Teotitlan del Valle. Contact me: norma.schafer@icloud.com

IMSS doctors and nurses with our masks

I’m also happy to report that Alvin Starkman from Oaxaca Mezcal Tours got 100 masks into the hands of doctors and nurses at the Oaxaca public hospital IMSS. They did not have sufficient PPE and they were required to purchase same at their own expense. These masks were made by Rocio Bastida Cruz in San Felipe del Agua.

Karen Nein, from Eldorado, NM, sent high quality 100% cotton fabric to Kalisa Wells in the Centro Historico who got this to Beatriz at Telarcito Lindo in El Tule, where she and her staff are sewing 200 masks to be at the ready for those who ask us.

In San Jeronimo Tlacochahuaya, Moises Garcia Guzman de Contreras, a Zapotec linguistic activist and head of the cultural center, gave 100 masks to their village health officials to distribute to market vendors and shoppers. They have asked for 150 more for taxi and bus drivers, and others.

Teotitlan del Valle president receives over 400 masks for villagers

Patrice Wynne, owner of Abrazos San Miguel, contributed enough cotton fabric of their design for us to sew 400 masks. The box will arrive in Teotitlan del Valle via DHL this week. We are grateful.

I’m talking with Bordados Xime, a family operated apron-making embroidery workshop in San Miguel del Valle, just outside of Tlacolula, to sew masks for their village. I am guiding them on design and we will compensate them for what they make, of course!

Armando Sosa, a doll maker in San Pablo Villa de Mitla, continues to make masks for us, too. This gives him and his sister much needed income during this time of economic stress.

Kari Klippen-Sierra is getting masks to community service organizations through the Episcopal Church, and has given masks to Alan Goodin to distribute in Santiago Ixtaltepec, where he lives. Alan is helping a family who lost everything in the Abastos Market fire, too. We are planning to designate the next 100 being made by Alfredo Hernandez Orozco in El Tule to Alan.

Beatriz at Telarcito Lindo marks mask pattern on Karen’s fabric

We will continue to work with Rachael Mamane, Food for All, and her connections with puente.org, an organization of organic farmers in the Oaxaca valley and Mixtec region.

It’s hard for me right now to think about when our textile tours will start up again. I hope, as our travels are curtailed, that you keep Oaxaca and Mexico travel with me in your dreams!

Stay healthy! Stay safe! Saludos, Norma and The Oaxaca Mask Project