Monthly Archives: August 2020

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.

Las Sanjuaneras Huipiles are Here! Shop Open!

Las Sanjuaneras huipiles are here! Below are 14 beautiful pieces. On July 29, 2020, I posted the first batch of huipiles and we sold-out on the same day! Thank you for supporting this incredible cooperative of weavers from San Juan Colorado, Jamiltepec, Oaxaca on the beautiful Costa Chica. You can read more about them by clicking on the link above.

SOLD OUT! Next group arriving in 3-4 weeks.

To Buy: Please email me with your name, mailing address and item number. I will mark it SOLD, send you a PayPal link to purchase and add $12 for cost of mailing. Please be sure to select Send Money to Family and Friends!

Note: All measurements are in inches. Width is across the front (one side). Please double for circumference. Length is shoulder to hem. Most necks have an 8″ opening from shoulder to V.

First come. First served. First email in gets first choice.

SOLD. #1. Andrea. Wild marigold with iron oxide bordado. 37″ w x 44-1/2″ L. $345
SOLD. #2. Maria Lucia. Mahogany, nanche, banana, indigo, 31w x 29L. $265.

These textiles are airy and gauzy. They drape beautifully. Even though they are wide, they are beautiful flowing works of art. In summer, wear with a tank top or bra. In winter, layer over a long-sleeve T-shirt or dress. The texture and colors are delicious, just like the natural dye materials used.

SOLD. #3. Camerina. Mahogany, beets, avocado, wild marigold. 31w x 30L. $265.
SOLD. #4. Camerina. Indigo, beet, mahogany, marigold. 31w x 38L. $285.
SOLD. #5. Camerina. Guava, iron oxide, indigo. 34-1/2w x 34L. $325.

The cotton is all locally grown in small plots, hand-picked. The cotton is rolled inside palm mats and then beaten with sticks to soften it. Women sit cross-legged to take out the debris, pods and seeds, caressing each cotton ball as they work. A few women are experts using the malacate or drop-spindle used to make the thread. This is a laborious process. All the threads used in these garments are made this way.

To Buy: Please email me with your name, mailing address and item number. I will mark it SOLD, send you a PayPal link to purchase and add $12 for cost of mailing. Please be sure to select Send Money to Family and Friends!

SOLD. #6. Brisaida. Indigo, guava, iron oxide. 37w x 30L. $265.
SOLD. #7. Camerina. Indigo, banana, mahogany. 31w x 26L. $265.
SOLD. #8. Rufina Nicolas. Mahogany, banana, natural. 30w x 34L. $310.

A back-strap loom is warped with this cotton. Then, the weft is woven into the warp threads. The designs are achieved using a weaving technique the Mexicans call bordado. These designs are not embroidered, but actually woven into the garment — a technique weavers know as supplementary weft. Often, as with some of these, the rayas or stripes add diversity to the design and an opportunity for color variegation.

SOLD. #9. Aurora. Wild marigold, indigo, banana, iron oxide. 34w x 32L. $240.
SOLD. #10. Camerina. Indigo, mahogany, banana. 30w x 33L. $240.
SOLD. #11. Andrea. Oak, marigold, indigo, natural. 33w x 29L. $265.

Before the loom is warped, the weaver will decide on the primary color of the piece, along with what colors to use for the patterning. She will take the raw white native cotton and dip it into dye baths she has prepared herself from native plants. Weavers here use wild marigold (sempesuchitl or pericone), mahogany bark (caoba), oak bark (encino), avocado leaves and dried fruit (aguacate), indigo (añil), beets (betabel), guava (guayaba), nanche (a fruit), and baby banana pulp or banana tree bark.

SOLD. #12. Aurora. Beet, marigold, iron oxide, banana. 37w x 36L. $285.

To Buy: Please email me with your name, mailing address and item number. I will mark it SOLD, send you a PayPal link to purchase and add $12 for cost of mailing. Please be sure to select Send Money to Family and Friends!

SOLD. #13. Cleotilde. Oak, avocado, indigo, nanche. 37w x 31L. $240.

Sometimes these may be prepared in an iron pot to yield a dulled color or gray that results from the iron oxide chemical reaction. The plant world is in your huipil!

SOLD. #14. Brisaida. Mahogany, marigold, indigo. 32w x 29L. $345.

Thank you very much for your caring and support. We all appreciate it!

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Arrived: New Box of Oaxaca Huipiles

I promised it would give you advance notice about when I received this next shipment of 14 huipiles from Las Sanjuaneras, San Juan Colorado, Oaxaca. The box arrived today! Please keep a look-out for when I will post them for sale. It will likely be on Friday, August 21, 2020 or Saturday, August 22, 2020. Stay tuned!

Only 14 pieces because this is all by hand, limited production. Slow fashion.

The story behind receiving these huipiles: Camerina, the cooperative leader, and Ana Paula Fuentes send me photos and I select the ones I think you will most like. Camerina packages them up and takes them to the nearest town, Pinotepa Nacional, to mail to her daughter Edivigus who lives in Oaxaca. Edivigus had a few to add to the shipment. She found a Maria’s cookie box, put the textiles in a plastic bag, carefully sealed the box and sent it to me via Estafeta.

14 pieces of artisan-made huipiles, thread made by hand using a drop spindle

Estafeta is a domestic Mexican trucking company. Their shipping prices are very reasonable, however it takes two to three weeks for the package to arrive in the USA. When it gets to the border, what happens? They have an agreement with UPS Ground to transfer international packages to the Brown Trucks and get them to their destination. Very efficient, I think!

All natural dyes, hand-woven on a back-strap loom, native Oaxaca cotton

For the next day, I will hang and steam press each garment. Then, I will take the photographs and measurements. I’ll identify the weaver and which natural dyes are used for each piece. I’ll then post each photo along with the descriptive information here. It may be Friday or Saturday before I am able to complete everything.

Natural dyes include wild marigold, indigo, mahogany, beets

These are unique, one-of-a-kind hand-woven textiles made by one of the finest Oaxaca cooperatives. Since there are only 14 pieces I am offering for sale, please be sure you check back in the next few days so you don’t miss out!

Fragile cookies. Handle with care. Don’t step on the box.

Thank you for your support of this deserving group of women and for Oaxaca. All best wishes, Norma

More Masks Needed for Oaxaca: Will You Help?

So many of you have been very generous with repeated gifts since we started the Oaxaca Mask Project in April 2020, as soon as covid-19 reached Oaxaca and started to spread. Requests for masks continue. The need now is more in the remote villages than in the city, I’m told. Will you consider us again in giving support to Oaxaca?

Puente gave our masks to Mixtec farmers

We ordered the making of 400 masks today from your gifts! Thank you!

Late last week, Alvin Starkman from Oaxaca Mezcal Tours, who has been an immense help distributing masks, wrote this to me after I asked the question, Does Oaxaca need more masks?

Actually, more masks are indeed needed, so if anyone wants to participate in the program, contact Norma Schafer to donate so we can get more produced. I am mentioned regarding distribution in San José del Chilar. I just learned last night from Lucina, doctor in charge of the health clinic in the village, that word has gotten around that she is giving them out to those in need, so much so that some people are coming to the clinic and feigning injury just so they can get a free cloth mask. So we need more for the Cañada district of the state.

Drivers use our masks when delivering Food For All orders

We are down to zero masks to distribute! We have had some funds come in over the last couple of weeks and I have asked for another 100 to be sewn right now for distribution. Still, we can use many hundreds more. It takes a bout a week to cut and sew 100 masks. We have sewists in villages waiting for our contact to sew more. Can you help us do this?

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

Many of you are keeping up with the semi-foro (traffic light) system of virus spread alerts in Oaxaca. The state continues to move back and forth between red (stay home) and orange (proceed with caution). Green is not in sight. Many of us believe that orange is in place to keep the informal economy functioning, otherwise people will starve. There is not less virus than there was before! Mexico is third in the world for virus spread and the health system cannot handle the number of cases.

Our masks covering medical staff at Oaxaca’s IMSS hospital

We will also provide masks for Friendly Food Donations. Here is what founders Jesi Jello and Erick Garcia Gomez say: Hello Friends! We are looking for mask donations here in Oaxaca City for our upcoming food deliveries, many people in the communities we donate food to do not have a mask or they do not have one that properly protects their nose and mouth. Often they have 2 amongst a family of 7 people.

And, this came in from Tanya LaPierre in Oaxaca who volunteers with local communities and is an active leader in an animal rescue/spay and neuter clinic.

Norma, I am contacting you about getting masks to San Isidro Roaguia. I will be doing a fundraiser for food basics for the village, and no one there has masks.

I replied to Tanya, yes, of course, we will make and give you as many masks as you need!

Mask wearing family, Teotitlan del Valle

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

Of course, this promise to make masks depends on the generosity of our readers. I know many of you have given and continue to do so. Will those of you who haven’t yet, will you please consider supporting our effort.

With deepest thanks,


Friendly Food Donations

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: