I just discovered Instacart. It’s an App. I create the shopping list. Someone else goes to the store. I stay safe inside. I pay with my credit card. The shopper delivers the goods to my doorstep within hours after ordering. No more bare cupboard. It’s a miracle. And, I’m still safe and healthy, isolated, and needing a distraction.
So, I made some beautiful black clay pottery beaded necklaces this week. The beads are hand-rolled, individually formed in San Bartolo Coyotepec, Oaxaca. The artist, Adelina Pedro Martinez, is from a famous family that works in traditional high-temperature pit firing, fueled by wood. I have four necklaces to sell, listed below.
In addition, I brought with me filigree and amber earrings, a finely embroidered blouse, and an assortment of other lovely pieces made in Oaxaca and Chiapas.
Thankfully, the USPS is operational, so I can package these up and get them to you within a reasonable time from my sequestered place in Southern California. I’ll ship USPS Priority Mail.
How to Buy: Send an email to email@example.com and tell me the item number, price, your name, mailing address. I will send you an invoice to purchase with a PayPal link. The total cost will be the item price plus $12 USD mailing cost.
A note about the black clay pearls: Each pearl ball is formed by hand. The stringing hole is made by hand while soft with a stick. When leather-hard, they are polished with a stone. Then they are baked in a wood-fired pit oven. Each pearl, therefore, has blemishes and irregularities, which make it an unique object of handmade beauty. If you are looking for perfection, these are not for you!
#11 and #12 are handcrafted in Santo Domingo Pueblo, New Mexico by an outstanding craftsman who hand-cuts gemstones and inlays them on shell. These include onyx, mother-of-pearl, coral, turquoise and sterling silver. Selling for less than what I paid for them.
There’s a war out there. The enemy is invisible. The outcomes can be devastating, especially for those with underlying health issues. Diabetes is the number one killer in Mexico. In Oaxaca, among the poorest states in the country, diabetes behavioral research (2016) points to how people with the disease will turn to traditional folk medicine for cures, bypassing Science.
Governor Alejandro Murat said on March 25, 2020 that social distancing and closures were in effect, while he announced a new, fast test for the virus. Orders are in place for four weeks to isolate. This is promising news!
Yet, it is clear that Sana Distancia — Social Distancing — is not an overriding concern among most Oaxaqueños.
I thought about our two cultures:
Oaxaca, the place in Mexico I know best, which is family centric, clustered, mutually dependent and mostly poor. People here cobble together an income based on buying and reselling. They depend on the small market economy. They buy at Abastos or Tlacolula markets or Walmart, bring food and supplies to their villages, and resell at a small profit, often just making a few pesos on each transaction. There is no government support for these enterprises. In a cash economy, these transactions are invisible. How else would they feed their families? They share what they have with family members. Money, food, housing, water and resources are part of the collective good.
Huntington Beach, California, the place I am now in isolation with my son in his small, one-bedroom apartment. We laughed this week, when he reported to a friend that he never thought his mom would be his roommate for the foreseeable future. I smiled. His girlfriend understands.
I must remind myself that Mexicans pack families of six or more into spaces this small. This is hard for us. We are a culture of independence and personal freedom. We like our space. We guard our privacy. We do what we want, go where we want, work in cubicles, separate. We are dispersed from each other. Families live in a diaspora, on opposite coasts. Our family units are small. Many of us live alone. Many of us are savvy tech users and use social media, Skype and Zoom. We are now ordering food online and have it delivered. We are working online if we didn’t do it before. We are organizing Zoom Happy Hours. [I’m going through my two bottles of mezcal quickly.]
There is not much credit card usage in Oaxaca. People don’t trust banks. They hoard and hide cash, if they have it. People buy everything with cash. Delivery service? I don’t think so. Where does the cash come from? Tourism, for the most part. And, now there is none of that.
Small puestos on the streets have not gone away. Those still working, and there are many, cluster at food stands where vendors prepare tacos on-the- spot. Food prices have escalated. Ours have, too, but we have a government bailout coming, of sorts. So in a couple of weeks, there will be checks in the mail for many, though not the most vulnerable! None of that in Oaxaca.
In Oaxaca, my guero friends who live there permanently are careful and cautious. They are keeping up with the news. A few, like Carol, chose to stay in Oaxaca, rather than returning home to South Carolina. She is in a six-person compound and no one goes outside.
Kay and Dean Michaels, owners of Oaxaca Eats, report this to me:
Hope you are doing well. We’re fine. Like many, watching waaaaayyyy to much Netflix and eating way too many carbs!! I think we, alone, are keeping Boulenc in business. 🙂
We ventured out today (both of us wearing masks and armed with anti-bacterial gel) to Immigration to update our new home address from our recent move. We only have another month to do this, so thought sooner than later was better. Macedonio Alcala [the tourist walking street] was deserted all the way to the Zocalo with only a few places open. Miniso is obviously an essential business, as it’s doors were open. And, we were surprised to see a tejate vendor in front of Mayordomo Restaurante which is still open.
The Zocalo seemed busy, but if was hard to tell from Independencia. I’m sure it’s a different scene south of the Zocalo. There were huge lines at many banks stretching for more than a block. Those waiting for Banorte [bank] on Garcia Vigil were lined up down Calle Morelos to Alcala. People were NOT practicing sana distancia. However, on Independencia at Santander, people were practicing textbook distancing while waiting in line. Oaxaca has marked it’s first COVID death.
Upstairs at the Immigration Office, we were required to have our temperatures taken before we could sign in. One “laser-like” point to our forehead and voila – a perfect 36 and 35.5. We were in. There was one person in the office and he took all of our info, completed it, and then called us in to sign. We were off and on our way to Boulenc where they have now installed strips of yellow tape in front of their display cases so patrons won’t get to close to said food or employees. Kinda of like looking at art at a museum. 🙂 With our bags full, we made a slow trek, in full sun, back home with a brief stop at Ahorra Pharmacy for a personal-sized bottle of antibacterial gel. They only allow one per person.
We got water last night so our tinacos [water tanks] are full and life is good!
Kay and Dean
As with everything I write, I caution us to NOT JUDGE but to understand. Poverty breeds urgency and fear. There is a lot to be fearful for in Oaxaca. Where will the food come from? How much will it cost? Who in my family will get sick and die? But most are not educated beyond the 8th Grade, and understanding the science of this disease is difficult. Systemic issues will only magnify during these times — for all of us. As we know, the USA response to public health has been slow and inadequate. There is a lot for us to be fearful for here, too.
As always, thanks for reading. Stay Healthy. -Norma
San Pablo Villa de Mitla, a Pueblo Magico, has one of the most important archeological sites in the Zapotec world. It is a tourist destination along the Tlacolula Valley. Many visitors combine a visit to Mitla with the Sunday Tlacolula Market and a mezcal tasting in nearby Santiago Matatlan.
It is also home to my friend Arturo Hernandez Quero, an outstanding weaver who works in natural dyes on the flying shuttle pedal loom. He is also a traditional backstrap loom weaver, making gorgeous wool ponchos just as they were made centuries ago by men who took it up after the Spanish conquest.
Here is what Arturo reports about the virus, and how he and his family are doing:
Monday, March 30: Hello, Normita. I’m glad that you wrote to me. Life has changed. We are living in sadness and concern. We are afraid to get sick. There is a case in El Tule and a case here in Mitla. We are not going out to Oaxaca. I don’t know if we will return to normal like it was before, but for so many people they are living like it is normal now.
Thursday, March 22: Good afternoon, Norma. Thanks for your concern for us. As of today, everything is fine with the family. The city of Oaxaca is deserted. There are no sales or tourism. The archeological zones are closed, just as the schools are closed. Many people do not leave their homes. Prices are increasing like tortillas, eggs, bread and many other things. We don’t have a food shortage. It’s just that merchants are taking advantage of the situation.
We also have a water shortage. I think this is going to have negative consequences in the future.
For now, I have employment for the weavers who are working with me. We are doing some new innovations that maybe when this is over, we can sell. Our wholesale clients are not buying anything at the moment. The Textile Museum [where Arturo sells his work in the gallery shop] is closed.
We just want to be healthy for now. We don’t think there are any cases of corona virus in Mitla. We are washing our hands with detergent often.
It’s very, very hot here.
Take care of yourself, Normita. We love you very much.
The last four snowbirds left this morning. Four of us remain, says Kalisa Wells, who has a home in San Diego and spends most of the year in Oaxaca. She lives in a large apartment complex the residents call Holy Crespo in the historic center of Oaxaca, within sight of Basilica de Soledad. Soledad is the patron saint of our city.
I asked Kalisa to be my eyes and ears on the ground for this issue. Here’s what she says.
Today (March 25, 2020) was very quiet. It is early and it’s Wednesday, and for sure there are less people. There are kiddies’ fun rides set up in the Zocalo now. It wasn’t there last week. South of the Zocalo, there are lots of permanent vendors set up, and ALL the stores and businesses were open. All the churches are open, as are all the small family-style restaurants.
I’ve not been north of the Zocalo for some time. [This is the tourist area along the Andador Macedonio Alcala, the principal walking street.]
There is a long line at the bank and everyone is standing close together. The Santander [bank] on the corner across from the Cathedral has reopened with multiple ATM machines. I was the only customer. Be assured, I don’t talk to anyone or touch anyone. I’m home now and all scrubbed up!
My life in the city is tranquil, and always has been. I focus on solitude, nature, cooking, reading, studying, listening to Beethoven in the mornings. I cherish this kind of existence. Right now, I’m reading The Great Influenza by John M. Barry.
My concerns? That Trump has many followers and this will not just magically go away, even with him not being re-elected.
What am I afraid of in Mexico? The same thing; that the leaders have self-interests and the poor people will be further trampled on, maybe without knowing it. I read from many gueros living here the concern for the poor, the daily wage earner. What can she or he do? The billionaire government of Mexico must step up and feed the people … no one should be living as they have left them even before the virus.
My friends who live in the same building are respecting our distance. That’s the only way we can protect ourselves now.
Tomorrow, we will hear from Mitla weaver, Arturo Hernandez. Then, I will re-evaluate if I continue on this thread or shift to another topic. Tell me what you think and want to hear about.
Here in Huntington Beach, California, my son Jacob and I talked this morning about narcissicist-sadistic personality disorder as described by Eric Fromm and related to our nation’s leader. He is a creating a national reality show in which states and health care organizations compete for scarce resources, deriving pleasure in watching who will lose and who will win. I cried. Feeling helpless is just one step away from feeling hopeless. Time to re-read Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning.
This is my 14th day of extreme social distancing after flying from Oaxaca to Orange County, California, through Houston. So far, no symptoms.
I’ve just subscribed to Heather Cox Richardson’s Letters from an American. You might find it valuable. Thanks to Mary Davis and Margaret Sherraden.
Meanwhile, here’s a message from a physician that could make you cry. I did. It’s what prompted me to call my senators. Share, if you wish.
The CDC is recommending hospital staff use bandanas when masks run out. Hospitals are asking the public to sew masks. Here is a physician responding:
Please don’t tell me that in the richest country in the world in the 21st century, I’m supposed to work in a fictionalized Soviet-era disaster zone and fashion my own face mask out of cloth because other Americans hoard supplies for personal use and so-called leaders sit around in meetings hearing themselves talk. I ran to a bedside the other day to intubate a crashing, likely COVID, patient. Two respiratory therapists and two nurses were already at the bedside. That’s 5 N95s masks, 5 gowns, 5 face shields and 10 gloves for one patient at one time. I saw probably 15-20 patients that shift, if we are going to start rationing supplies, what percentage should I wear precautions for?
Make no mistake, the CDC is loosening these guidelines because our country is not prepared. Loosening guidelines increases healthcare workers’ risk but the decision is done to allow us to keep working, not to keep us safe. It is done for the public benefit – so I can continue to work no matter the personal cost to me or my family (and my healthcare family). Sending healthcare workers to the front line asking them to cover their face with a bandana is akin to sending a soldier to the front line in a t-shirt and flip flops.
I don’t want talk. I don’t want assurances. I want action. I want boxes of N95s piling up, donated from the people who hoarded them. I want non-clinical administrators in the hospital lining up in the ER asking if they can stock shelves to make sure that when I need to rush into a room, the drawer of PPE equipment I open isn’t empty. I want them showing up in the ER asking “how can I help” instead of offering shallow “plans” conceived by someone who has spent far too long in an ivory tower and not long enough in the trenches. Maybe they should actually step foot in the trenches.
I want billion-dollar companies like 3M halting all production of any product that isn’t PPE to focus on PPE manufacturing. I want a company like Amazon, with its logistics mastery (it can drop a package to your door less than 24 hours after ordering it), halting its 2-day delivery of 12 reams of toilet paper to whoever is willing to pay the most in order to help get the available PPE supply distributed fast and efficiently in a manner that gets the necessary materials to my brothers and sisters in arms who need them.
I want Proctor and Gamble, and the makers of other soaps and detergents, stepping up too. We need detergent to clean scrubs, hospital linens and gowns. We need disinfecting wipes to clean desk and computer surfaces. What about plastics manufacturers? Plastic gowns aren’t some high-tech device, they are long shirts/smocks…made out of plastic. Get on it. Face shields are just clear plastic. Nitrile gloves? Yeah, they are pretty much just gloves…made from something that isn’t apparently Latex. Let’s go. Money talks in this country. Executive millionaires, why don’t you spend a few bucks to buy back some of these masks from the hoarders, and drop them off at the nearest hospital.
I love biotechnology and research but we need to divert viral culture media for COVID testing and research. We need biotechnology manufacturing ready and able to ramp up if and when treatments or vaccines are developed. Our Botox supply isn’t critical, but our antibiotic supply is. We need to be able to make more plastic ET tubes, not more silicon breast implants.
Let’s see all that. Then we can all talk about how we played our part in this fight. Netflix and chill is not enough while my family, friends and colleagues are out there fighting. Our country won two world wars because the entire country mobilized. We out-produced and we out-manufactured while our soldiers out-fought the enemy. We need to do that again because make no mistake, we are at war, healthcare workers are your soldiers, and the war has just begun.
Elsa is a family member. She is my goddaughter, married to my godson Eric. I’ve known her for 14 years. She is pure Oaxaqueña, born and raised in the La Noria section of the city. In addition to hearing from people who look like me, aka foreigners, I think it’s important to take the pulse of locals, too. We are moving without a compass through this very serious time of navigation with an enemy, COVID-19, a virus we cannot see, touch or feel until it touches us.
As with others, these are the questions I asked Elsa along with her answers:
Norma: Are you going out at all?
Elsa: No, I am staying at home. Eric is going to Chedraui to buy things. The person who lives in and helps in my mother’s house is going into the market that is close to us, just once in a week.
N: What is your experience overall?
E: I am worried because not many people in the beginning were taking restrictions abut this virus. People continue to work.
N: Why did you decide to stay at home?
E: Because my mom is alone even when my brother came every day to see her. She won’t leave the house because she is worried about her dogs, and also about leaving the house alone.
N: What are you observing?
E: I see now that people are trying to take more restrictions about washing hands etc… There are no tourists, but people from Oaxaca continue going to the market to buy stuff etc. The other important thing is that police are on the streets asking to people to go home and not to stay in parks, etc…
N: What are people telling you about corona virus?
E: Well, that it is a virus that comes from China and the best way to avoid it is wash your hands, don´t touch your face, and try not to go out of the house.
N: What is worrying you most?
E: We don’t have the health infrastructure. Doctors say that many hospitals don’t have masks, glasses, equipment, etc. And I am very worried for my mom, Eric’s mom, and my grandma.
Also the worst for this virus is coming in these next weeks and I am scared about it. I hope everything is fine, and that nobody that I know dies.
And for me the other thing I am worry about it, is my work! We depend on the tourism and what I am reading is people won’t travel maybe until October. I continue working to dye fabric and cotton yarn, and maybe I can ship some of it.
And how are you Normie? I have Santiago at home, so I can’t answer fast because I am trying to play with him more than usual. Eric told me that you are staying with Jacob. That was the best decision.
Elsa’s dad died last month from pancreatic cancer, within a year after he was diagnosed. She is worried about her mom, recently diagnosed with diabetes and her mother-in-law, who is also diabetic. They are at risk, as is her over-80 year old grandmother. Eric works for a progressive organization that closed their doors early last week, and he is now working from home. Their two-year-old son, Santiago, like many others his age, wants social interaction and stimulation. We can magnify Elsa’s story a zillion times around the world.
As for me, I’m in Huntington Beach, California with my son Jacob who forbids me to go into any store. Our physical shopping is now down to once a week. He goes. We sanitize. Online is how we manage the essentials now. Just like you!
A Note About Grief from Sarah Resnick, owner of GIST: Yarn & Fiber, who says it much better than I ever could. I believe we are all grieving for our freedom, a way of life we took for granted. Elsa is grieving the death of her father magnified with the fear she has for her loved ones with compromised immune systems.
And this is what Mexico is doing. Thanks to Jenny Brinitzer for sending this my way:
Why We Left, Expat Anthology: Norma’s Personal Essay
Norma contributes personal essay, How Oaxaca Became Home
Norma Contributes Two Chapters!
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Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC has offered programs in Mexico since 2006. We have over 30 years of university program development experience. See my resume.
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Dye Master Dolores Santiago Arrellanas with son Omar Chavez Santiago, weaver and dyer, Fey y Lola Rugs, Teotitlan del Valle