As we speak, Janet is at the Puebla, Mexico airport. A testimony to her good judgment, she searched the United Airlines website and found that they offer flight service from Puebla to Houston. So, on Tuesday night, I changed her ticket from a Oaxaca departure to a Puebla departure today. Fortunately, I used air miles so there was no charge! I expect she will arrive tonight. The Oaxaca airport is still closed; flights are canceled. According to Chris Stowens, Oaxaca The Year After blogger who is also trying to get out, United has informed customers that they can rebook leaving next week. That was not an option for us. We are set to leave Durham on May 6 and Janet is scheduled for a covid vaccine tomorrow morning at Duke University.
Janet bought two seats on the four-hour bus ride from Oaxaca to Puebla. Another smart move so she wouldn’t have to sit next to anyone. She sent me a photo: Fully masked with a face shield covering her from hair to neck! But she made me promise not to publish it! You can only imagine.
Okay. Now, back to packing.
Want to read more about Oaxaca blockades and the teachers’ disruptions? Click here.
We know them in Oaxaca as bloqueos. These are the blockades that interrupt life, create havoc, close the airport and cancel flights, shut down commerce and generally, make life miserable for many. They are the political tool of unions used to negotiate with the government. History points to this strategy as largely unsuccessful, yet the practice continues and the general population suffers. This is not a gringa rant, but a fact of Oaxaca life. Live there. Visit there. Depend on teachers, taxi drivers, garbage workers, etc. to voice discontent through blockades. One year, I spent three hours trying to get to an appointment in Oaxaca City from Teotitlan, only to give up and turn around in frustration.
I wanted to title this blog Travel Interruptus. Why? Because my goddaughter Janet Chavez Santiago was to fly to North Carolina on Monday, April 26, to help me pack, bring some rugs she had pre-sold, and drive with me to Taos, NM, her cheerfulness and good company designed to keep me alert on what will be a week-long road trip. But an email came in during the early morning hours: Her flight was canceled.
I turned to Clandestine Oaxaca Appreciation Society Facebook Page to see what was going on. You want to know all things going on in Oaxaca? Join this page. Easy answer: Bloqueos. No easy solution. It’s election time and the government is in a do-nothing mode. You want to read more about blockades in Oaxaca and the history of the Normalistas Teachers Union Seccion 22, go to Google. May is protest month in Oaxaca. Travelers beware.
We changed Janet’s flight to leave on Thursday. My friend, Dean Michaels, Oaxaca Eats owner, was stuck in Mexico City, took at bus back to Oaxaca, thankful he was fully vaccinated.
Yesterday, Tuesday, it didn’t seem like the situation was improving. The airport is still blocked and flights are still being canceled. We decided to take our own diversionary tactics. Janet will get to Puebla overland and fly from there.
As foreigners, we are not permitted by law to actively engage in the politics of Mexican life or we risk that our visas are revoked and we are sent back to our countries of origin, never to return. The Oaxaca teacher’s strikes have been going on for the 16 years I have been in Oaxaca, and long before that. I don’t see an end to it. It is a way of life that we all have to figure a work around for.
Remember 2006 and the years of Zocalo encampments. Early on, I was sympathetic. I was raised in a family of teachers and my dad was a strong American Federation of Teachers AFL-CIO supporter, active in the Los Angeles County teacher’s union, who went out on strike. My brother became a teacher and recently retired after a 30-year career. It seemed natural then, to embrace the grievances as legitimate. Over the years, much has been revealed however, about coercion, financial mismanagement, off-shore bank accounts and more.
This situation is different from the teacher/union culture I know in the USA.
People in the Oaxaca valley have eaten locally grown corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, poultry and fruit for centuries, long before the term locavore came into existence. The farm-to-table movement in the United States is one example of eating fresh food produced within 100 miles.
Weighing beans, Teotitlan del Valle Market
During the years I lived on an organic farm in Pittsboro, North Carolina, and shopped at farmer’s markets (a habit I formed early in my adulthood), we learned to eat around the seasons. I read somewhere that this is one of the healthiest things we can do for our bodies.
One by-product of the CNTE Section 22 Teacher’s Union strike in Oaxaca is the intended or unintended consequences of returning to locally grown food. The blockades are preventing the big box, semi-trailers filled with imported goods from entering Oaxaca to deliver their loads to Walmart, Soriana and other giant retailers like Coca-Cola.
Magdalena with corn husks to prepare tamales
I’m reminded of the signs in Pittsboro, NC when I visit: Shop Local. I’m sure you see this where you live, too.
In conversations around town, I’m hearing a mixed bag of blessings and complaints. Everyone loves Walmart, yes?, because of low prices. Others say local Oaxaca city markets like Benito Juarez, Abastos, Sanchez Pascuas, Merced stock everything they need and it’s important to support local merchants so they stay in business.
Organic corn, dried on the cob, ready for planting
Yet others are inconvenienced because they can’t get a particular variety of yam, brand of toilet paper, or giant coca-cola bottles for less.
There has been a strong movement here against genetically modified corn promoted by Monsanto. I have wondered whether the blockades of the big retail semi-trailers aren’t just an extension of that.
Quesadillas with fresh corn tortillas hot off the comal
I hear that by privatizing education, doors will open to international conglomerates to sell, at a profit, sugary drinks and snacks to school children, whose families are already at risk for diabetes and diet-influenced diseases.
Here in Teotitlan del Valle, I do all my food shopping locally at the daily market. Then, fill in what I need at the Sunday Tlacolula market. Yes, they sell toilet paper and paper towels there, along with all the cleaning supplies one needs.
I wonder if this blockade isn’t a good thing to help us raise our awareness for how much and what we need in comparison to who provides it for us. What we eat is important. We have asked the question: Who makes our clothes?
Now, it’s time to ask again here in Oaxaca: Who makes our food?
Yesterday, the fields next to me were plowed and planted with corn. Native indigenous corn, not genetically modified. I know that’s good.
You might think that a short post about taking an airplane to Oaxaca belongs in a Tweet or Facebook post. Federal elections will be held this Sunday, June 7, and this is wrecking havoc in Oaxaca. The Oaxaca airport was closed yesterday and news from friends there on the ground is that it is closed today, too. The CNTE teachers union Section 22 has shut down the airport and Pemex gasoline stations in and around Oaxaca. Access is limited.
This is a way of life in Oaxaca. We are never surprised, only discouraged that we have to find alternate routes, interrupt plans, do a work-around and accept. What I have learned from living in Mexico is patience and acceptance. As a visitor, that’s all I can do.
I arrive in Mexico City this evening. My plan is to take an overnight ADO bus to Oaxaca arriving tomorrow morning. This way, I’ll avoid the Oaxaca airport. I hope there is a taxi driver and enough gasoline to get me home and no delays along the way.
Friends from Oaxaca and Philadelphia are also scheduled to arrive into Oaxaca this evening by air from Houston. I hope it will be an easy day for them, too.
Why We Left, Expat Anthology: Norma’s Personal Essay
Norma contributes personal essay, How Oaxaca Became Home
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Dye Master Dolores Santiago Arrellanas with son Omar Chavez Santiago, weaver and dyer, Fey y Lola Rugs, Teotitlan del Valle