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.
I hesitate to reblog this post from Casita Colibri because it portrays the ugly underbelly of Mexico. It is not the perception of Mexico that I like to convey. I’d rather talk about the beauty of Oaxaca and the mastery of her artisans, as would most of us who call this home for part or all the year.
Yet it is real and about real people. At the same time, would-be visitors are afraid to travel here because of news like this. And, at the same time, the new United States Congress is purchased by Koch Brothers monied interests and elections take on a new and different meaning about representing the voice of the people.
I will leave it to the reader to come to his/her own conclusions.
I have been driving around for hours trying to get through the roadblocks that have closed the three major highways leading into the city of Oaxaca, Mexico.
Jacob and I set out from Teotitlan del Valle well in advance of our three-thirty lunch reservation to meet our friend Aline on the rooftop terrace restaurant at Casa Oaxaca. When we get to the Microplaza shopping center in Col. Santa Lucia on the Carretera Nacional–the Pan American Highway that runs through Oaxaca — all traffic stops.
I see taxis and trucks parked perpendicular across the road. Cars are making U-turns and driving down the wrong side of the road to retreat. Everything is at a standstill.
Bloqueos, as these roadblocks are called, are a way of life here. They are political expressions that convey the discontent of many: teachers, taxi and truck driver unions, bus unions, students and others who believe they have no other voice. Please note: This is not a political commentary, complaint or endorsement of this process. It is a description of events. Just Google protests in Mexico to find out more.
These types of manifestations are a civil right in Mexico, protected by the constitution. They are scheduled in advance and announced on Twitter to usually start and end at a specific time. Today, I had no idea this was going to happen and neglected to read any notices. I now know better.
After following a string of cars and taxis around and through small villages for almost two hours, believing they know a way around the bloqueos, all we find are dead-ends. There is no way to get to the city.
I call my friend Abraham, a taxi driver from Teotitlan del Valle, to get the latest news about the bloqueo. He says all roads will be closed until at least seven at night. When in doubt, always call a reliable source!
I remember Caldo de Piedra, the stone soup restaurant on the outskirts of El Tule on the Mex 190 business route. I had just traveled to San Felipe Usila, the Chinanteco source of this fantastic fish stew made with either fresh red snapper or tilapia. So we make a U-turn and head back in the direction from which we started hours earlier.
Fortunately, the restaurant is open and they prepare it exactly the same way as they do in the mountain village far from the city. We linger over the stone soup, comfort food. It is only five o’clock. And, then, fortified, we attempt the bloqueo again. It is Eric’s birthday party and we want to get to the city.
So, we park in line at the bloqueo, waiting for it to open up. I turn the engine off. About an hour-and-a-half later, I hear engines start and cars move. Someone approaches me. I offer a donation to get through.
We arrive at the party almost five hours after we start out. Just in time and before the surprise party gets underway! Feliz cumpleaños at Eric. Y gracias a Elsa por una fiesta grande.
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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