We have cried this week. There were seven (7) funerals in Teotitlan del Valle, two on one day. There are cases diagnosed in neighboring villages and towns. For every published case diagnosed, the multiplier is eight (8) for the underrepresented numbers. If five (5) cases are known, the likely total is 40. The curve is no where in sight.
Mexico’s health care system is in disarray. Upon taking office, President AMLO (Lopez-Obrador) started dismantling the system to reorganize. There is little PPE and health care workers are taxed. The New York Times reports today that 25% of Mexico’s coronavirus cases are health care workers.
In all this, we are hopeful that the masks we offer FREE to people will mitigate the spread of disease in the Oaxaca valleys. Thank you for your generosity, your big heart and your gifts.
It takes a village to protect a village. You and I do this because we have a connection to people and place. We do this because we respect the creativity and hard work of Oaxaqueños. We understand. Thank you, again!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
James W. Johnston
Holly Taylor Novak
*Note: Some gave more than once!
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.
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!
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 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. .
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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?
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!
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.
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