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.
My goddaughter Janet Chavez is coming to Durham on April 26 and will drive west with me to Taos, New Mexico. I call this bringing Oaxaca to me! I’m excited because this will be her first road trip across the USA. We haven’t seen each other for over a year and there is a lot to catch up about. Janet is a linguist. She is tri-lingual and then some, speaking Spanish, Zapotec, English and a smattering of other Romance languages. She also gives presentations about preserving indigenous language and culture, helped develop an online Zapotec talking dictionary, and is affiliated with Haverford College.
Janet is also bringing rugs her family makes from hand-carded wool and natural dyes. (See feylolarugs.com) This includes medium and large sizes. Purchase now and Janet will bring your rug with her and ship from Durham, NC, next week before we hit the road. Remember, these are one-of-a-kind and all dyed with natural dyes — plants and cochineal. At Fe y Lola Rugs, they make all their own dye pots and color the churro wool yarn skein by skein. It is a slow production process. All sales go directly to the family! You are buying direct from the master makers.
We encourage you to purchase now since Janet may not bring all rugs shown with her, only those that sell in advance. Please purchase by Saturday, April 24.
To Buy: Please email me email@example.com with your name, mailing address and item number. I will mark it SOLD, send you a PayPal link to purchase. We will calculate shipping to your location from Durham, NC (a big savings), and send you an invoice for the total. Please DO NOT SELECT buying goods or services at check-out. We also accept Venmo and Zelle. I can send you a Square invoice (+3% fee) if you don’t use PayPal. All sales final.
Our family is a four generation lineage of weavers and natural dyers from Teotitlan del Valle, a Zapotec community in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. Our rugs are one-of-a-kind, with complex designs that blend tradition with innovation, setting the standard for beauty and quality. At Fe y Lola, we tell stories through threads.
Twenty years ago, Fe y Lola took a risk and decided to focus on producing high quality wool rugs on a small scale. They invested in a sustainable weaving process that does not include toxic chemicals such as sulfuric acids and anilines, that are very dangerous for one’s health as well as for the environment. By conducting research on natural dyes, experimenting with local natural dye materials, and most importantly, rediscovering and re-learning ancient Zapotec natural dyeing techniques, they began to develop an exclusive palette of natural colors and combinations. Along the way, they had the opportunity to learn from and share knowledge with other natural dyers and weavers from all over the world, enriching their comment to their work and customers.
Norma’s Notes: I have lived with this family on their land in Teotitlan del Valle since 2005. Back then, I saw that what they were doing was extraordinary and unheralded. Over the years, they have continued to produce some of the best tapestry weaving in the village and are noted for their innovative color combinations, density of woven fiber, and rich, all natural colors. Supporting them in their efforts to become more well known has been my passion over the years because I admire their commitment, tenacity, creativity, and talent. Now, I get to watch how the children, who are now adults and the next generation of weavers, continue in the ancient traditions of their family and culture. Their rugs have added joy to my living space for all these years, without fading or discoloration.
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.
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.
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