Tag Archives: COVID-19

Travel Now to Oaxaca Poses Big Risk to First Peoples

I’m writing this because a recent WhatsApp conversation among friends focused on how to respond to people who plan to go to Oaxaca this winter. I’m writing to ask you to think about your own travel plans there and urge you to reconsider.

The map of Covid-19 cases has exploded across the USA in the past two weeks. Numbers have increased 77%. Only the east and west coasts are maintaining orange and we don’t know how long that will last! The vast interior of the country is RED. The increases are alarming. We need to be alarmed! And, if we are tired of Covid-19, I get it. I am, too. If we live where it gets cold and snowy, I get that, too. Even in North Carolina, we have bitter winter. We want to go where it is warm and comforting.

We have covid fatigue. We want life to be normal. But, it isn’t!

But, here are some things to consider — and reconsider — if you have plans to be in Oaxaca this winter:

  • At least 25% of Covid cases are asymptomatic. Are you willing to get tested before you go to know for sure that you are not a disease carrier?
  • Most Covid-19 tests are not 100% accurate.
  • What will you do to protect yourself when you get to Oaxaca? Can you forgo traveling to indigenous craft villages to meet local artisans? Can you stay away from special events (if there are any)? How will you choose to eat and sleep and travel locally with safety?
  • While the NY Times reports that air travel can be safer than going to the supermarket, that’s only while you are on the plane exercising all necessary precautions. Getting to airports, layovers, and traveling to your destination poses huge risks.

Native People are at higher risk!

We need to be socially responsible. Going to Oaxaca is NOT like going to Florida, but there are similarities as both are Snowbird Destinations. The alarm bells are ringing. I am ringing them because I care about and have concern for the indigenous people of Oaxaca. The state has one of the highest indigenous populations in Mexico. Health disparities are extreme. Indigenous people have huge chronic health issues: diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and respiratory illness. Covid infection presents an extraordinary life and death risk to them.

What is our own responsibility in disease prevention and control here?

It’s likely that most U.S. travelers to Oaxaca will go from high-count virus states. While I’m here on lockdown in Taos, New Mexico, and just read that the Navajo Nation has a raging Covid-19 outbreak, I extrapolate the similarities. All New Mexico pueblos have been closed to the public since March 2020. It’s off again, on again in Oaxaca.

We have a cultural and social responsibility to indigenous people to help protect them by NOT GOING. First Nation peoples are particularly vulnerable because of the underlying conditions I outline above. Moreover, their access to adequate healthcare is limited. Their suspicions of government provided healthcare programs is well-documented. If we are thinking about going, what are the consequences to native people?

Are we taking on the posture of Colonialism, thinking only of our own desires, wishes, wants, values? Are we thinking about the impact we may have on others?

Think about the conquistadores who brought Euro-diseases of smallpox, measles, influenza to the New World and decimated native populations. Is it any different now? What entitlements do we have in this moment where the disease is rampant in the USA and so few people are adhering to the basics of protection for self and others?

If you do go, are you willing to stay put, to not explore, discover and meet people? What will the quality of your travel experience be during this time? Remember, hospitals are not prepared to treat you should you get sick in Oaxaca.

Are you willing to forgo your own comforts and stay home for a few months or more until a vaccine is within reach for most of us?

Do you agree or disagree? Why?

Vaccine Hopes for 2021 Oaxaca Return

I’m sitting in a room on the precipice of the Rio Grande River Gorge in Taos, NM. Today begins a two-week statewide lockdown ordered by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. I am in the vacation home of lifelong friends who have been in my protective bubble for months in North Carolina. We will shelter in place together for the next two weeks before I return east.

Rio Grande River Gorge, Taos, NM

The scene in front of me is an expanse of southwest desert landscape dotted with scrub oak and tumbleweed. The gorge cuts through this landscape like a knife, making a deep incision where the river runs deep before it spills out into the flatter plain further south between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. In this distance, I see snow-capped mountains rising from the 7,000 foot plateau.

Ever hopeful, this morning, I wrote to my friend Carol with a proposal to meet in Oaxaca. When? Quien sabe?

Then, almost immediately, Scott’s Cheap Flights sends me a promising message: We can be optimistic about 2021 travel plans based on successful preliminary results reported by the New York Times. Pfizer-BioNTech has entered Phase 3 vaccine trial. Moderna is also reporting promising early results. Inovio moved from Phase 1 to Phase 2 clinical trials, and a vaccine from OncoSec Immunotherapies has been approved for Phase 1. There is hope for 90-94% effectiveness!

Here, out in the northern New Mexico wilderness, my activities will be limited to daily hikes and the day-to-day world of living indoors, cooking, eating, drinking, sleeping, staying healthy.

Governor’s Palace, Santa Fe Plaza

This news gives me pause to think about how and when we will return to Oaxaca in 2021. I’ve recently written that soon I will begin planning for our 2021 Day of the Dead Folk Art Study Tour. It’s important to focus on the future. I’ll announce this program in early December after I return to NC. We will still need to be cautious, wear masks, use sanitizer and wash hands liberally. But this news give us a sense of renewal that life will resume to some degree of normalcy in late spring or early summer 2021.

Ojala. God willing!

Borat Says: Go to Oaxaca! NOT. Covid Rages.

Sasha Baron Cohen’s film, The Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan parodies, in part, the lack of leadership that was required to prevent the spread of Covid-19. I found it telling, hilarious, offensive and an indictment of the USA. If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean.

Sasha Baron Cohen makes good use of the NOT Joke. Example: Time to Go to Oaxaca. NOT.

On board Southwest flight to ABQ

Mexico is NOT faring much better than the USA. And, Oaxaca is on the cusp of turning RED again on the traffic signal scale of measurement. Cases are rising exponentially there, too.

I was thinking about returning to Oaxaca in January. However, my Zapotec family in Teotitlan del Valle recommends I do NOT come back just yet.

Masked up with my sister Barbara in Santa Fe, NM

Here is the question I asked: IF I were to return and IF I contracted Covid-19 while there, where is the best place to get treatment. I was told the best treatment in Oaxaca is at the Hospital San Lucas, though it is the most expensive private hospital. All costs are out-of-pocket.

Me and my sister, almost twins. NOT.

The public health office announced on November 4 that in two weeks Oaxaca will be pretty close to having all hospital beds occupied in both public and private hospitals due to the celebrations and thousands of tourists who came for Day of the Dead.

The only other option to Hospital San Lucas, I’m told, is to go to the IMSS public hospital. They keep reporting lack of beds, lack of equipment for intense therapy, and lack of pain medication. It is not looking good. And, last week, Teotitlan del Valle appeared on the official list of contagion again.

I was hopeful before I received this news, but not now. If anyone is planning to return to Oaxaca, please think again. Go to Oaxaca? NOT.

My Oaxaca family is sequestered, staying home, staying safe. This is the same for most of my USA and Canada friends who live there permanently.

Santa Fe, NM train station

Now, why did I even entertain this thought of return? Because I just completed plane travel from Durham, NC to Santa Fe to have a reunion with my sister. Now, I’m in Albuquerque to see my son Jacob who drove here with his partner Shelley from Los Angeles. Then, I’ll be in Taos staying with friends through Thanksgiving. This is as close as I’m going to get to Mexico for a while, I fear.

On the plane, I wore an N95 mask, a face shield, gloves. I was armed with Clorox wipes, alcohol spray and hand-sanitizer. I took a window seat (I read somewhere this was the safest). No one sat in the middle seat. I ate and drank nothing in-flight. All passengers were REQUIRED to mask-up. Flight attendants were diligent about that. I thought that if I could do this safely (and it appears that I have), I could safely attempt plane travel to Oaxaca. YES, likely. But once I get there, then what?

My sister wearing her safety gear for departure

It seems that Day of the Dead was a super-spreader event for Oaxaca. If you are a vacationer, we recommend that you stay home. The health care system in Oaxaca, should you need it, is not equipped to treat you.

Enough said.

Autumn colors at Abiquiu, NM — glorious cottonwoods

As for 2021, I will begin planning for our Day of the Dead Folk Art Study Tour in October and announce it in January. In early 2022, we will return to the Oaxaca Coast and Chiapas for textile study tours. We are keeping fingers crossed that most of us will be vaccinated for disease prevention and life will go on. Yet, we aren’t sick of this, are we? NOT.

Chili peppers. Essential Southwest + Mexican ingredient

A Oaxaca, Mexico Visit. Should You Go?

This is a rhetorical question. One I ask myself daily these days. All recent reports point to NO. The city (and state) ebb and flow between Orange (caution) and Red (STOP). Right now, the governor has declared Code Red. The Covid-19 euphemism for DANGER.

Here is what Alvin Starkman, owner of Oaxaca Mezcal Educational Tours, wrote yesterday:

“Thinking of or have plans to visit Oaxaca this Muertos [Dia de los Muertos], or have friends in that category? If you haven’t figured it out by now, know that this morning’s paper confirmed that for the city, no cemetery visits, no parades or comparsas, no cultural events like tapete [sand paintings] or altar displays, no culinary events, no costume contests, etc, etc, etc. The city includes San Felipe del Agua. Other cemeteries include San Miguel, Ex Marquesada, and all the rest. This morning my San Marcos Tlapazola comadres (women friends) told me the same holds true for Tlacolula. I suspect XOXO (Xoxocotlan) will follow suit (let’s hope so), and I think I have already posted about Santa Maria Atzompa. Stay home and come next year (assuming it’s more or less behind us by then).”

All my friends, extranjeros and locals, are hyper-vigilant. They are guarded, distanced, masked when they go out, and mostly stay home except for careful food-shopping forages. But, they report many mask-less tourists and locals.

Most tell me they believe this situation will continue for quite some time.

I’ve been floating the idea of returning to Oaxaca in January. As each month passes, I push the time farther out. Many of us who live in Oaxaca either for most of the year or during the winter months, are struggling with making a decision.

Kalisa, ever mindful of health safety, reminds me there won’t be a vaccine by January. Yep. I realize that. We are all dealing with: How much risk is acceptable? We know the consequences.

Kalisa reports that “The numbers will continue to rise or stay at this already alarming rate. Tourists are roaming the streets and the villages, restaurants are open, Oaxaca is back to Orange, but it has no meaning. Tourists and many locals simply are tired of masks and rules.”

Yes, we have Covid Fatigue. We want this to be over. Now the news reports include promises of several vaccines that may be available in the spring. There is no reporting yet of their effectiveness.

Someone claimed yesterday that this Covid-generated tourism decline now is more severe than what occurred during the 2006 APPO strikes in Oaxaca. I disagreed. So did Alvin, who says:

“It is actually less significant now than 2006 in terms of numbers of tourists. For Muertos week in 2006 hotel occupancy was 3%. I forget the numbers I heard a couple of days ago, but it’s somewhere around 20% right now, so will increase as the month progresses. I suspect it will climb to about 70% because people just don’t get it.”

I recall that the APPO strikes had a negative economic impact for at least five years. It took my artisan friends many years to recover. Visitors didn’t come because they were afraid.

Many of us are still afraid. But the fear is associated with a deadly virus we cannot see. Too bad those who are transmitters don’t light up like a Halloween Jack-O-Lantern.

As I think about ways to return safely — from flying to quarantining, I also think about access to excellent health care should I get sick. I’m told by a close Zapotec friend that there is a short supply of oxygen and many hospitals just can’t get their hands on it. Have difficulty breathing? Then the answer might be, Too bad or I’m sorry.

Are we better off staying put and deferring our return to Oaxaca for a while? What do you think?

As for celebrating Dia de los Muertos, let’s make our home altars to honor our own loved ones. Let’s also remember and honor the over 212,000 individuals in the USA who have died from this disease, as well as those in Mexico and around the world.

This won’t mitigate the loss but it will give us pause to think about the meaning and value of life, and what we can do to protect ourselves and others.

A polychrome figure, perhaps from Oaxaca

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.