Tag Archives: COVID-19

Living in a Sea of Sagebrush: Taos, New Mexico

It’s been two months since I left North Carolina and arrived in New Mexico, where life is more like Mexico than I ever imagined it would be. Spanish is a predominant language here. Indigenous Native American culture and artistry is powerful. Time moves slowly. There is no urgency and many people here say Taos means mañana. I am constantly reminded of the mantra told to me years ago in Teotitlan del Valle by my host family head Federico Chavez Sosa: Calma. Patiencia. Tranquila.

Life takes on a different meaning when the focus is on landscape and the whirl of city life is in the past. I’m utterly astounded by how the vastness of sky and horizon opens life to a defining purpose of expansiveness, the natural world, and infinite possibilities. Even as human life is finite, there is a sense of timelessness here that offers peace and solitude.

As I write this, a lone coyote dances through the sage brush traveling east to west toward the gorge. Only moments before, a white tailed rabbit came up to my patio door and peered in, ears and nose twitching in unison. A flock of magpies chatter on the fence posts. Small pleasures.

Out here on the Rio Grande River Gorge Mesa, I find comfort in budding friendships with people who are drawn here with similar vision, purpose, politics and lifestyle. I am also comforted by dear friends Karen and Steve who live a mile up the road from my rental house. I have known them for almost 45 years. She and I raised our children together, opened and closed a gourmet cookware shop and cooking school, remained constant and supportive. Their land has become mine. We walk the gorge rim trails, smell the sagebrush, look for Big Horn Sheep, comment on new construction taking shape.

This is a soul-satisfying place.

It is a small town. There is no Whole Foods. (There is Cid’s.) There is no shopping mall. My drive to town takes a good twenty minutes. One could say I’m isolated. And, this would be true, more or less. It is perfect for writers, photographers, creatives who find sustenance in simplicity. For my city fix, I drive 75 minutes to Santa Fe. I’ve been going regularly since I’ve had a steady stream of visitors. I’m not sure when the feeling of being on perpetual vacation will end.

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

I’m here because of Covid. Sequestered for over a year in my Durham, NC, historic renovated tobacco warehouse condo gave me plenty of time to reflect. I felt trapped in an edifice of impenetrable brick with a view to the high school across the street, electric lines above, and elevator access to the outdoors. It served me well before Covid when I was spending more time in Oaxaca. Was Durham where I wanted to grow older? The question of values kept coming up. So, while my decision to move here was, by many accounts impulsive, I realized I wanted direct access to nature and a long view. After spending a month in New Mexico in November 2020, even before I was vaccinated, I realized that life here could be almost normal even in the worst of circumstances.

That’s not to say, I wasn’t scared of making this move — leaving good friends behind, a network of the familiar, with the best medical care in the world at my fingertips. I lived in North Carolina for twenty-two years, the longest sojourn of my life except for growing up in California. Fear is powerful. It freezes us and keeps us from exploring. It is also liberating if we allow ourselves to move through it and have confidence in our ability to adapt and thrive in new circumstances. I also realize I have the vagabond gene in my family. I have lots of practice making change. This is learned behavior. Over the years I have pried myself out of my comfort zone. This propels me forward.

Still, I continue to wait. Buying land and building a home is a process and anxiety provoking. After months, we have still not broken ground because the county has not yet approved the building permit. Lots of moving parts. Lots of puzzle pieces to fit in place. The bank cannot finalize the construction loan until this happens. The site cannot be touched until the loan is signed. Infrastructure needs to be put in place. The road I will live on, Camino Chamisa, needs to be grubbed out. A trench needs digging to hold the lines for well water, electric and fiber. Poco a poco. This is the main reason I cannot get back to Oaxaca. I’m waiting for this to start.

Covid Bonus: being closer to family.

In September, my son and his wife-to-be will move to Albuquerque. This is a gift beyond my imagination. When I committed to buying land and making the move, this was a dream, not a promise. He has approval to work permanently from home, and we know now that home can be defined as anywhere! My sister and brother are in California. They will visit in August. Durham was not on their travel radar.

When will I get back to Oaxaca?

It’s Dark Sky here. I am star-gazing. The Milky Way and North Star provide no clues for me, although the ancients grounded their beliefs in such spectacular displays. I know for certain I will be in Oaxaca in mid-October to lead our Day of the Dead Culture Tour (three spaces open). Returning this summer depends on timing to certify the construction here. Time will tell.

I guess the next best thing to being in Oaxaca, Mexico, is being in Taos, New Mexico. They call it New Mexico for a reason!

Oaxaca’s Llano Park is Alive and Well: Travel Report from Winn Kalmon

Note from Norma: Like many of us, Winn Kalmon has a permanent residence in Oaxaca as well as the USA (or Canada). One of her favorite places to hang-out is Llano Park, which she describes here. We are far from back to normal, and may well never be, yet the transition to having a vaccine allows us to be cautiously optimistic about travel now. Winn returned to Oaxaca from Taos, NM, just a couple of weeks ago and gives us this report.

Travel Report from Winn Kalmon

In early March 2020, when I returned to Oaxaca after a trip to Chiapas with Norma and a group of fabulously interesting women, I decided to stay put in this wonderful city we all love. Then the Pandemic hit the Western Hemisphere. Oaxaca went eerily quiet as businesses and churches closed their doors, schools sent kids home, and people and vehicles disappeared from the streets. All international flights in and out of Oaxaca were canceled. Unwilling to layover in Mexico City where Covid was raging, I decided to quarantine in the Jalatlaco home that my partner Fred and I rent year-round. My only outings winnowed down to morning walks, when I would venture to nearby neighborhoods and poke through the produce at Pitico convenience store to see what looked edible for that day. Sometimes, I would sit on a bench at pocket parks Panuelito or Jardin Conzatti with my favorite street dog, Sam-Leona (she has many names, given by many people). Then I would scurry back home to spend the rest of the day alone with jigsaw puzzles, e-books, news feeds, and hours of movie binge watching. Getting together with friends over coffee or comida changed to digital connections through with Zoom and WhatsApp – our sole source of companionship. 

Just a short walk from my house, Parque Llano is a large community park that runs northward from Calle Berriozabal, between Juarez and Pino Suarez. Four blocks long and a block wide, the park is “guarded” by two lions at each corner, roaring from their high pedestals. Last year, during the months of the pandemic, the city’s precautions required that people stop visiting all parks and plazas. All group activities were prohibited. Our group of women who gathered together for tai chi three days a week, just vaporized. So did the regular Sunday zumba class and other gatherings. Pairs of friends or couples were asked by patrolling police to leave. All the vendors of food and edible treats folded up their carts and tables, removed their umbrellas and disappeared. Yellow tape went up around the entire perimeter of the grand park to prevent people from entering the grounds even for a solitary walk with their dog. Big signs were erected at the park corners. The yellow tape extended from the ankles of the roaring lions to the announcement that park visits were illegal. Parque Llano and its lions went quiet. Even the birds in the massive trees seemed subdued. Only the cicadas, screaming their announcement that the rainy season was on its way, could be heard in the silence.

That was the way it was, until mid-August, when the first international flight left Oaxaca, with me (and my neighbor Judi and friend Martha) on it. I finally went home to Taos, New Mexico.

Now, fully vaccinated, I have returned to Oaxaca and to Parque Llano, which has come back to life. The lions are roaring again as if to call attention to their fresh coats of gold paint, gaudily beckoning folks back. The yellow tape is gone. The shoeshine guys have reclaimed their spots and look at the feet of passersby to see if there is potential business. Food and drink vendors are in their usual spots. A zumba class is meeting again, and I even saw a salsa class by the south fountain and a tai chi class by the north fountain. My tai chi group has still not returned, but they stay in touch, and once all have been vaccinated, they will come back too. The walkers circle the park, with and without dogs, and nod at familiar faces as they pass. Dogs, whether street dwellers or leashed to an owner, check each other out and re-establish their hierarchy after the long year of absence.

As I stroll the park with friend Liz and then sit on a shady bench to chat, I am relieved to see that nearly every person is masked and maintaining social distance. This includes the guy who argues loudly with himself as he marches quickly along the paths. Families are returning. Kids are trying out their roller skates or getting a push from grandpa in tiny, kid-size electric cars. In the evenings, young couples pretzel around each other on benches—that activity didn’t change during this last year, it just went indoors or behind courtyard walls.

Parque Llano is alive and well, and welcoming once again.

Please contact me if you would like to contribute a Travel Report to Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.

Home to Oaxaca: Travel Report from Carol Estes

Norma’s Note: Carol arrived in Oaxaca a week ago after a one-year absence like most of us who go back and forth. I met her years ago in front of Santo Domingo Church when she had just arrived in Oaxaca to live permanently. (Covid proved to us that nothing is permanent — another life lesson.) Soon thereafter, she met her husband-to-be, David Levin and they were married in Labastida Park. When David died last year, Carol moved from Toronto, where David was getting cancer treatment, back to Texas to be with her children. Now, she has returned and is telling us about her experience!

Carol’s Return to Oaxaca: Guest Blog Report

By the end of January 2021, I’d received my second Pfizer vaccine. Like the rest of the world, I’d hunkered down and waited it out the best I could manage. When the world screeched to a halt, I had big plans to return to my home in Oaxaca in summer 2020. I was sitting on the benches by the Panuelito chatting with a friend in March 2020, when I first heard mention of the Corona virus, then blamed on beer.  Little did we know!

Like so many of us who made gallons of lemonade last year with the big ‘ole lemon plopped down in the midst of our lives, I did as well. Blessings mounted as the months meandered by. Life moved right along, at a different pace and with what felt like no control. I planned and dreamed, until finally…. on Tuesday, April 6, after a packing frenzy, I boarded the sleek little jet that would bring me home to Oaxaca. While I felt reasonably confident regarding my safety, I was not nervous, but  very cautious.

Fortunately my flights were not long since I live reasonably close to DFW that boasts a direct American Airlines flight into the Oaxaca airport. In both Lubbock and DFW airports, the staff practiced all the safety protocols we’ve become accustomed to. I saw no one without a mask on and only a few with their noses poking out as though their respiratory system operates differently from the rest of us.

I had no problem distancing myself in the waiting areas. I paid attention and managed spacing between me and those who were clueless, just like home. Of course compliance is relative, and the US is a big place with a spectrum of opinions and behaviors. No telling what someone will run into other places.

It’s been only one week today since I wheeled my suitcases into the old hacienda in Centro that is now my home. The last week flew by with nesting and connecting with dear friends. Most have been here throughout 2020, and the vaccine is just now being administered. Some have had one stab, and rumors are a second may happen the end of this week.

Businesses here practice all cautions. My favorite ATM has a woman posted in the small lobby who takes temperatures and squirts hand sanitizer coming and going. Most places have a tray on the floor with a puddle of disinfectant to step into, although that has been proven unnecessary. This practice is in many places. Most doors are marked “entrada or salida” and many have a rope across the entrance.

Las cubrebocas (masks) compliance has been likely 90%.   Bare-faced folks seem to be both Mexican and gringos, almost equally and all likely tourists or young adults.

Vendors are lined up along Allende running beside Santo Domingo, and the “hippies” that sell jewelry and political t-shirts, and posters are back in place along the side of the Graphic Arts Museum (IAGO). Other vendors are dotted down the Alcala toward the Zocalo, just like always. The blind musicians are in place as are the little kids screaming Cielito Lindo and begging. La Cosecha, the organic market, is open and a monitor limits the number allowed inside at any one time. I stood in line a bit until someone left. No social distancing here, and so I bought my produce and shuffled on out.

Last Monday evening I wandered to the edge of the Zocalo which seemed relatively quiet. The Frenchips  dude was in place, and little kids were zinging their light sabers in front of the Catedral.  A few vendors were set up, and of course, the balloon sellers. Saturday, I watched the bride duck into Santo Domingo, and the women guests for the wedding wobbling up Allende in their gravity defying high heels. We even heard a few fireworks Sunday evening. Slowly, slowly, life is recovering.

Sunday I met a good friend at Casa Oaxaca (one photocopied menu per table and a cute little paper bag for my mask), other friends at Zandunga (menu was accessed on my phone), and later in the week lunch alone at Los Cuiles, and La Levadura. Only Casa Oaxaca was very crowded, but spacing was comfortable. Of course, all of these are outdoor spaces. By the way, the food remains completely wonderful although prices have gone up a bit, just like in the States.

The people here remain enterprising and energetic. This is the land of hustle and strive.  Always I’m heartened and humbled by the spirit of these amazing Oaxacans. Our expat community remains in tact and just that – a community. It’s good to be here. I am most blessed in my dotage. When I board a plane, whether I’m headed north or south, I’m heading home.

All photos from Carol Estes. Thank you, Carol, for this contribution. If anyone else traveling to Oaxaca wants to share their experiences by writing about it, please contact me to consider publishing here. We are all interested in how things are faring on the ground so we can safely plan our return.

Three Steps Closer to Oaxaca

I now have a signed contract for the sale of my Durham, NC, condo after two months on the market. Patience is a test in so many ways. We have struggled, endured, survived this last year when many haven’t. I remind myself daily that this is a blessing and carry on.

Now I can begin my return to Oaxaca after I get packed and moved to Taos, NM. My Durham departure date is May 6, 2021 and I expect to arrive in the west by mid-month. Then, I anticipate going to my casita in Teotitlan del Valle for a few weeks this summer to dip my toe back in the water after being gone for over a year. Will it be safe by then? Safer than it was before, I expect. Mostly because I have been vaccinated.

Vaccine distribution in Oaxaca is still spotty. My friends in Teotitlan del Valle tell me they have registered to get a vaccine with the village administration. They have been promised availability and times to show up for the jab — and each time, this has been cancelled and rescheduled. We shall see how it goes today.

My goddaughter Janet tells me that the Oaxaca government says she will be eligible to receive the vaccine in March 2022. She is in her mid-30’s. That’s a year from now. Think of all the young people in Mexico who will not be vaccinated. Millions. Youth represents most of Mexico’s population! Here are the demographics.

Elsa tells me that she had two people cancel dye workshops last week because they got infected with COVID. They were foreign tourists. Not a good sign.

Last night, I shredded the notes I took last year about how to stay safe presented by Dr. Atul Gawande, public health physician. We were in a steep learning curve then. The danger now is in relaxing our vigilance, even with vaccine. In reviewing them, not much has changed from March 2020 to March 2021 about precautions:

  • Wear a mask that covers your face and nose
  • Stay 3-6 feet apart (later adjusted to 6 feet)
  • Use hand sanitizer liberally
  • Only meet outdoors

Those of us who have been vaccinated are feeling more adventuresome. My friend Winn is returning to Oaxaca for three months on April 7. My other friend Carol is there now. I am getting more requests for natural dye and weaving workshops. Our study tours are either full or have just a few places open. All signs point to recovery — physical, psychological, emotional, financial. But, I believe we must proceed with caution.

When I return to Oaxaca, I will wear a face shield, mask and use hand-sanitizer liberally, just like before. I will choose flights that minimize airport layovers. When I drive west, my gasoline and rest stops will be brief and equally protected. I still spray gasoline dispensary handles with alcohol!

As I begin to pack, there will be Oaxacan and Mexican treasures to send back into the world. Please stay tuned for items I will offer for sale in the next weeks.

With gratitude, Norma

Thank You! Goal Reached to Send Juvenal Home

Gifts that came in since I wrote last have taken us over the top and we reached our $3,000 goal plus more! In total, we have raised $4,055.25 so far. YOU are incredibly caring and generous. Juvenal’s family thanks you from the bottom of their hearts.

The family tells me that Juvenal’s body will be sent to Mexico City where he will be greeted by family members who will escort the casket home to Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, in a traditional funeral procession. Most of California’s governmental offices are closed, so it is a slower process than normal to get the paperwork approved for his exit and transport.

The first group of donors is listed HERE. Another BIG thanks to you!

And more thanks to those below who made gifts in the last few days:

Pam Patrie
Joseph Lockhart
Nena Creasy
Natalie Klein
Martin Ted Nelson
Robin Greene
Whitney Beals
Susanne Corrigan
Kathie McCleskey
Lisa Michie
Tom Tillemans
Cathy Platin
Felicity More
Emily Rubin
Tracy Hobbs
Hettie Johnson
Linda Mansour
Susie Robison*
Katharyn Rayner*
Vaughan Greene
Mary Anne Shaw
Kathryn Leide
Jennifer Brinitzer
Elizabeth Pomeroy
Christine Marshall
Carolyn Urbanski
Sheri Brautigam
Julia Erickson
Larry Ginzkey
Thanks to recent donors, February 16-18, 2021

Read about Juvenal Gutierrez Alavez from Teotitlan del Valle and why we are raising funds to send his body home from Los Angeles for a proper funeral in Teotitlan del Valle. Juvenal, a healthy man in his mid-50’s, died from Covid-19 alone in a San Diego hospital.

What Friends Say …

“Our hearts are grieving for all those who loved this beautiful and generous man. Thanks for coordinating this, Norma. Abrazos fuertes!”

“My heart goes out to the family. These are cruel enough times but being in a foreign country and isolated, he didn’t even have the comfort of his family with him. “

“It felt so good to help, especially in these challenging times … incredibly glad to help.  And thanks for organizing this effort on behalf of Juvenal and his family!”

“I want to help bring Juvenal home.”

“Much love and respect to all his family.”

“Rest in Peace in your home, Teotitlan del Valle, Juvenal.”

“I am so very sorry to hear about Juvenal. Tragic! Too many good people lost to this pandemic.”

“So perfect! Thank you, thank you!”

“Bless you for helping this beautiful family cope with their tragic loss. Please keep us posted about Juvenal’s homecoming.”

“Sad times. My deepest sympathy to the friends and family of Juvenal.”