I must confess it is difficult to be away from Oaxaca for so long. I have peripheral news to give you about daily life other than what we all read. I’m in the same boat as you … depending on others to tell me what’s going on!
Mostly, it’s the same story. The Orange Light is now on. Which means that businesses are opening up and people are back on the streets and in the markets — except for those who are disbelievers. It’s important now to continue to question the common sense of business as usual, here or there. (Name your location.)
Kalisa tells me that she is still in hiding for the most part, and stepping cautiously and quickly in and out of Benito Juarez Market. Most of our guera friends continue to isolate, wear masks and keep distance when out and about. My family in Teotitlan del Valle is doing the same.
About the Photo Above: On the left is Alvin Starkman’s goddaughter Lucina. He and Arlene have been supporting her education for many years and she has just finished medical school. She will be taking 60 of our masks to a remote village (TBD) where she will do her public service at the end of the month. Kalisa has a repository of our masks that she keeps on hand to give to those in need. Alvin and Lucina picked them up the other day.
We continue to make and distribute masks.
A friend told me the risks in the villages are still high and people are dying, especially the vulnerable elderly. Numbers, I’m told, are in high double-digits, for some villages where commerce is a way of life.
Still accepting gifts. To contribute to The Oaxaca Mask Project, click here:
We continue to make and distribute masks, albeit as I said earlier, at a slower pace. But, your gifts continue to be welcome.
I am working on a new project.
Soon, I will receive a shipment from a remote Oaxaca coastal village. The women there grown their own cotton and use natural dyes to color it. They formed an outstanding 16-member cooperative, but they have no Internet presence — no knowledge of technology and limited marketing savvy. I will help them sell during this time of scarcity.
The box contains a dozen beautiful hand-woven textiles fashioned into garments that are a perfect weight for summer. Here in North Carolina, it’s been over 90 degrees and this will continue for another couple months. Clothes that breathe are essential for this climate and many other parts of the USA.
I will post photos and prices here as soon as the box arrives.
I left Oaxaca on March 12, 2020, for what was to be a two-month return to the USA, first to visit family in California for a week, and then to check on my North Carolina apartment. I landed in Los Angeles to see my son and brother, with a plan to visit my sister in San Francisco next.
On March 15, the California stay-at-home order started. I was with my son for two months in a one-BR apartment. In the beginning, I ordered face masks for us as we walked in the wildlife preserve wetlands along the Pacific Ocean in Huntington Beach. Then, I turned my attention to Oaxaca.
What could I do to be useful to help the place I call home for most of the year? That’s when I decided to start The Oaxaca Mask Project to offer face coverings FREE for anyone in need. This was accomplished with help from many Oaxaqueños and gueros who live in and remain in Oaxaca. From April 14 to today (July 3, 2020), I have raised a bit over $20,000 USD through 283 individual gifts. We made and distributed 3,223 face masks throughout the city and villages.
At the request of the Teotitlan del Valle Community President and the Public Health Committee, we purchased and mailed a high-quality vital signs monitor, and donated funds to purchase pulse oximeters, gallons of alcohol and hand-sanitizer. The vital signs monitor helps assess blood oxygen levels as a way to detect covid-19. I asked for designated donations for the very costly monitor and received gifts from Kate Rayner, Claudia Michel, Dr. Deborah Morris, and Boojie Colwell.
My thoughts are always with Oaxaca regardless of where I am physically located. I continually plug into the public health information to know how our people are doing, and to also help me determine when I will return. I should have been back by now. My plan was to be in my Teotitlan del Valle casita by the first of July. Now, there is no certainty about much and my first concern is to stay safe and have access to excellent medical care, should I need it: Ojala!
I’d like to tell you a little more about the project.
We employed mask sewists in Oaxaca City, Santa Maria El Tule, Tlacolula de Matamoros, San Pablo Villa de Mitla, San Miguel del Valle and Teotitlan del Valle, providing a needed income, in some cases sending 100% cotton fabric when none was to be procured. We sent mask-making instructions and a pattern in Spanish. We crafted the language for hand-tags to be attached to the masks to instruct wearers on use and care. We depended on amazing volunteers on the ground to help with distribution: Kalisa Wells, Alvin Starkman, Cristy Molina Martinez, Kari Klippen-Sierra, Moises Garcia Guzman de Contreras, Gail Pellett, Malena Jimenez, Rachael Mamane, Alan Goodin, Eric Ramirez Ramos, Luvia Lazo, Jacki Cooper Gordon and Samuel Bautista Lazo.
We also relied on help from friends in the USA, Canada and Mexico who made masks and sent fabric in late March and early April to jump-start the project. Janet Blaser wrote about the project in Mexico News Daily, too. That helped spread the word and raise more needed funds.
These folks put masks (often repeatedly) in the hands of market vendors, shoppers and villagers in the city and far-flung villages. We covered faces in San Marcos Tlapazola, Santiago Matatlan, San Dionisio, San Jeronimo Tlacochahuaya, San Andres Huayapam. San Agustin Etla, San Martin Tilcajete, Santiago Ixtaltepec and more. With help from the Episcopal Church, we covered faces of people who glean from the Zaachila dump. We covered faces of women entrepreneurs who work with EnVia and taxi drivers and farmers who work with Puente and the healthy food-sourcing project Food-for-All. We got masks into the hands of at risk-youth from Casa de Kids, and IMSS doctors and nurses in two Oaxaca hospitals.
This project has preoccupied me for the last months. I am waiting now for Oaxaca to move from Code Red to Code Green (semiforo system of measurement), as are all of us. We want to return, to live, to visit, to support artisans, and to freely enjoy all that beautiful Oaxaca has to offer. Oaxaca is not ready for us yet. We will go when it opens up. Most importantly, we wish for the health and safety of all our friends.
When will I begin to offer textile tours and workshops? My best answer is, I don’t know. Life now is an improvisation and we are all getting used to it.
*Note: The Oaxaca Lending Library is collecting accounts from members and friends about how we are dealing with Covid-19. This essay was my contribution.
To see more photos, search Oaxaca Mask Project on the site for prior posts.
Lots to report since the last time I wrote about The Oaxaca Mask Project.
The recent 7.5 earthquake in Oaxaca eclipsed news about Covid-19 last week. Fortunately, in the city and surrounding villages, damage was light. The quake was centered near Huatulco along the Pacific Coast, where indeed, some villages suffered.
This week, the Welch-Allyn Vital Signs Monitor arrived in Teotitlan del Valle, a Usos y Costumbres village. Armando Gutierrez Mendoza, a member of the village health care committee, took it to Municipio President Andres Gutierrez Sosa, who received it — our gift to them. Señor Andres sends his thanks to all of us!
Here are photos of the committee opening and using it at the public health clinic.
Four donors made this vital signs monitor possible: Kate Rayner, Claudia Michel, Boojie Colwell and Dr. Deborah Morris.
A special thanks to Larry Ginzkey who organizes Hoofing It in Oaxaca hiking group. His group of hikers collected and donated $250 USD for The Oaxaca Mask Project.
If you live in Oaxaca or the pueblos and you want to receive and distribute masks to those in need, please let me know: email@example.com
Rachael Mamane from Food for All took 70 masks to Jorge Toscani who is part of a Oaxaca taxi fleet. He told us that they disinfect the taxis regularly and has distributed our masks to all 15 drivers for themselves and passengers. She also took 150 masks to Puente. Rachael is looking for a contact in Ocotlan where she thinks there is an on-going need for masks.
Mama Pacha chocolate is some of the best in the world, I think. It is tempered, which makes it so smooth and creamy — fine eating chocolate rather than the Oaxaca chocolate we know for making the hot drink!
We continue to send masks where requested. We had another request from Macuilxochitl for an additional 100 masks, so Cristy took them over there.
Cristy’s cousin Catalina Martinez, who operates the folk art gallery WA’HAKA, has organized a food pantry in Teotitlan del Valle to help 50 older people. We gave her 80 masks to distribute.
We are slowing down as requests for masks subside. Lately, we are waiting to sew and distribute based on whether we hear there is more need. So far, we have made and distributed 3,119 masks.
I’ll give you more tallies of what we have accomplished in coming days.
Berle Driscoll is moving from New York City to Florida this week. She wrote to ask if we could use more fabric for Oaxaca mask-making — she had a lot of unused cloth! It’s hard for me to turn down an offer like this. I received two boxes yesterday and will consolidate to include colorful elastic cording I will donate to the cause.
Kari Klippen-Sierra has helped immensely. For the past two months she has worked with us to get masks to families and the health clinic in San Andres Huayapam, where she lives with husband Rudy Sierra. She has also made sure that two non-profits operated by the Episcopal church to help at-risk families receive masks. She repeatedly picks-up and distributes!
Yesterday, Oaxaca government announced that the use of face covers is mandatory throughout the city, that all public squares, where the greatest number of infections occur, will be sanitized, and that police will enforce social distancing to prevent concentrations of crowds. They continue to encourage isolation.
This is good news for Oaxaca.
More face masks are needed. I just ordered 100 masks to be made and mailed to Oaxaca. I am organizing a distribution task to give the masks away starting in the public markets and with street vendors and customers. We have created hang tags for each mask that will explain in Spanish why it is vital to use the mask to prevent the spread of infection and save lives. My goal is to enlist helpers to distribute the masks in Oaxaca and the villages. We will need hundreds of mask and funds to pay local people to hand them out.
Please help me support this effort and make a gift to my PayPal account, designating that it is for the Mask Fund: paypal.me/oaxacaculture or open PayPal, use Send Money to Friends and Family, for oaxacaculture.me
Last week, Erich Hansen (you met him at the chef’s party with Kalisa) and I spent about 2,000 pesos at Sam’s Club to buy rice, beans, and oil. We delivered it to Martha Canseco Bennetts – CEI Board Chair and owner of Becari Language School. She delivered it to CEI.
Families also need cash donations in order to afford transportation into Oaxaca. Some of the supported students live 2-4 hours away. Getting in to Oaxaca for donations is quite a journey.
Resources for Giving and A Cry for Help in Oaxaca
SiKanda.org Solidaridad Internacional Kanda (SiKanda) AC is a Oaxaca non-governmental, and non-profit organization. It was founded ten years ago with the mission of facilitating and leading participatory processes of harmonious and sustainable development to improve the quality of life of people in Oaxaca, Mexico. They are raising money to feed vulnerable families during the COVID-19 crisis. Donate via PayPal from their home page.
PuenteMexico.org works with 30 communities in the Oaxaca Central Valleys and Mixteca to grow and distribute healthy food, develop sustainable agriculture programs, and provide public health education. They support over 16,000 people. You can donate here.
Huacal is a food basket delivery service created by Sirilo and Oaxacking that sources food from Abastos Market, packs it into weekly portions, and distributes it now to those in need. It costs 350 pesos to feed a family of 4 each week. You can donate here.
Tlayudona is organizing an effort to create high-quality reusable masks to donate to local hospitals and clinics in Oaxaca. We are looking to create a sustainable effort that will supply local medical personnel with much-needed masks. At the same time, this project will provide living wages for several of Tlayudona´s hosts who no longer have work because of the pandemic. We ask that you donate what you can to support this effort.
How to feed impoverished people has always been a challenge in Mexico. Now, with the ravages of coronavirus destroying fragile infrastructure, street corner businesses, and tourism that feeds Oaxaca’s economy, needs are even more acute. Here are a few stories about people rising to the occasion to help.
FaceMasks and Distribution
Getting masks is one thing. Distributing them to Oaxaca friends and people in markets or on the street is another thing. Explaining in Spanish how and why to use the masks in public is essential for public health education.
For a start, Kalisa Wells ordered 50 face coverings from Patzcuaro for distribution in Oaxaca. They arrived today. She announced on Facebook that “They are here at my place in the centro, ready for pick-up.”
She says, “The Mujeres Mágicas are a group of low income women in Pátzcuaro who have been taught to sew and sell high quality products to help support their families, increase their self-esteem, and gain lifetime skills. The changes in their lives and those of their families have been phenomenal. As their shop is closed now and they are in quarantine at home, they are sewing pleated protective face masks from double fabric with elastic ear loops. They can be washed dried, and are reversible. For only 30 pesos each [$1.26USD], you can purchase these masks for everyone you know and help empower women at the same time.
“For more in-depth information about the Mujeres Mágicas, please visit their Facebook page, Pátzcuaro Mujeres Mágicas. They need donations and can receive them in dollars or pesos via PayPal.
The problem is that many local women do not feel at risk. Kalisa plans to hand some out to people she meets on the street, but this necessitates explaining the importance of using the mask — in Spanish, which fortunately, Kali speaks well.
Shannon Sheppard says, “The masks will probably help protect us and others from the droplets/spray (cough, sneeze, breath) coming from the wearer. If we all wear masks, we protect each other.
Cheri Verber says, “Education is everything. Those who are distributing the masks in Pátzcuaro are native speakers who explain to people exactly how they can protect themselves and everyone with whom they come in contact.
I suggested adding hang tags in Spanish to explain how to use and why it is important just in case the giver doesn’t speak Spanish.
This message is from Jesi Jello, a founder of Friendly Food Donations.
“Hello, everyone! ❤️ My partner Erick Garcia Gomez and I have just created a Paypal account to receive direct donations that will go toward the immediate purchase of produce from local farmers.
“All donations go directly to supporting small local vegetable farmers who will deliver a month’s worth of produce directly to the door of the most vulnerable people and families in the different communities surrounding Oaxaca City, Mexico.
“The donations consist of generous amounts of fruit and vegetables with staples like eggs, beans, rice, and cooking oil.
“All money goes toward the purchase of food directly from the farmers and all food goes directly to the door of those who need it, no price inflation.
“My partner and I started this so that we can be 100% certain that no one is profiting and that all money goes directly to feeding people in need. We are also more likely to get donations from our own personal connections, clients, friends, and family this way…. There is so much poverty here, I say we need all the help that we can get. This is my personal effort to help people and I am just sharing it in case someone is back in their country and wants to reach out and help people in Oaxaca.
“We are opening a donation account in case we are able to reach even more vulnerable people and families. We have been doing our research through the people we know and have our own personal and confidential list of families who are presently suffering, who have no money or food. We will not be taking any profit for ourselves.❤️ Donation link is: http://www.paypal.me/friendlyfood ❤️ Please Share ! ❤️”
Help forMonte AlbanStreet Dogs
Earlier this week, Norma received this message [below] from Mark Allen Brown asking for help to care for street dogs on the road to Monte Alban. Norma immediately referred him to Merry Foss in Teotitlan del Valle who runs TeoTails, Tanya LaPierre who volunteers with APA OAX the Oaxaca animal rescue and sterilization organization, and Rebecca Durden Raab founder of Friends of Megan Animal Rescue. They responded quickly. Please help; you can make donations directly.
Here is what Mark wrote:
There are 15 to 20 abandoned dogs along that short climb to Monte Alban. They’re usually grouped into 2 packs; they include puppies and old dogs.
I’m on a bicycle. It’s the only transportation I have. But every day for the past couple of weeks I’ve cycled up there carrying as much water and food as I can. It’s never enough. I notice other people are aware of the problem and help, but all the help combined is not enough. I will worry about them if I were to miss a day.
I would like to see the population reduced.
All of the dogs are well mannered, most are kind, appreciative, and loving. They clearly have been with families and will make great companions.
Some of them need to be fixed. I’m willing to pay for that.
I’m also willing to support a number of the dogs with their medical issues and food while homes are found.
I rent an apartment in Oaxaca and cannot keep any dogs myself. I intend to stay here long-term, but as soon as the pandemic has passed, I’ll be traveling for several months.
Can you tell me of any organization, or better, any person who can advise on this matter or help me with it? I know nothing of Facebook or Instagram.
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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Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC has offered programs in Mexico since 2006. We have over 30 years of university program development experience. See my resume.
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Dye Master Dolores Santiago Arrellanas with son Omar Chavez Santiago, weaver and dyer, Fey y Lola Rugs, Teotitlan del Valle