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.
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, I put out the question: What is happening is your Mexican town? My friend artist Lena Bartula, who lives full-time in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, replied. Lena is an activist artist who created a movement using indigenous huipils as an art metaphor for feminist strength, identity, oppression, the divine and hope. She is known as La Huipilista and coined the phrase, In Guad We Trust.
It’s no wonder that she is involved in the non-profit Amigos al Cien, helping to feed local people whose lives and livelihoods are interrupted by the coronavirus. This is a model we could all live by.
I share this story with you because in these days of extreme restrictions, there is sense of community and hopefulness for a future that will teach us how to be kinder and more giving, engaged. Here is what Lena says:
My housekeeper Maria hasn’t come to clean my house for three weeks. Maria didn’t want to ride the bus or leave her house, which I applaud and appreciate, so I pay her to NOT COME. Mexico News Daily reports that most expats around the country are doing this as well.
But she came yesterday to clean because I paid for her to take taxis both ways. My neighbor five doors down did the same thing, finally, because then Maria would only have to come out of her house for that one day. While she was there, I spent the day at the gallery so there would be no one to interface with. That’s how we handle social distancing. The gallery has been closed since March 13.
This morning she sent me a message that with some of the money we are paying her, she is buying rice and vegetable for the older people she knows that don’t have enough food and can’t go out. She is now supporting two families in this way. I told her how much I appreciate what she’s doing, because this is the way we will survive this. All of us helping each other / unos a otros.
Then she wrote back to say that she has now decided that she will invite her sisters to help her by pitching in to buy three dispensas, which cost 500 pesos (about $25 USD) apiece. She’s thinking of it as a challenge, and I believe she can do it because she has an independent spirit and a kind heart.
Dispensas are the packages or bags of staples that one can purchase for a family in need. It generally will consist of rice, beans, lentils, tuna and other canned goods, toilet paper, soap, etc. They are basic necessities that are “dispensed” to poor communities or families in times of crisis like this one. Since one dispensa costs 500 pesos. in this case she’s asking for 1500 pesos from the combined efforts of three sisters. I hope that makes sense.
Sometimes the dispensas are supplied by the government but also from NGOs. However, some families fall through the cracks. We have a good new Mexican organization that is doing fabulous work in this realm, called Amigos al 100 [Friends to the Hundreds].
[Note from Trish Snyder: Kudos to Amigos al 100 who started giving out bags of food on March 19, 2020. The first week they reached 200 families and are now reaching nearly 1000 of people in the poorest communities. Many of these villages are women and children whose husbands and fathers are in the States and not sending remittances because they have lost their jobs. To help out, folks can go to Paypal and send a donation to firstname.lastname@example.org, attention Guadalupe Alvarez.]
Maria doesn’t live alone. She’s a single mom with three children. But she regularly sees her mom, who while not elderly, does have health challenges.
Perhaps this is the kindness virus that will continue to spread in our community, where we will all look after each other. May we look for more ways to reach out, to connect one to another, and be sure that it doesn’t end when COVID does.
Big hugs, Lena
[Leave it to Lena to coin another phrase, the Kindness Virus!]
Also from San Miguel de Allende:
Patrice Wynne reports: Though there are people in the streets in the morning, it tapers off in the early afternoon and is dead at 4 pm. When we close Abrazos San Miguel every afternoon, it looks like this. [See photo below.] And thank you for doing this. Hope you are safe in your beautiful home and that Teotitlan Del Valle is safe from harm, Querida.
Gina Hyams reports: Hotels, restaurants, and parks are now closed in San Miguel de Allende, so tourism is definitely being discouraged by the government, but I haven’t heard of non-residents being refused entry to the city. Many grocery stores and restaurants are now offering home delivery.
Gina continues: regarding groceries, you can still shop in person, but it’s a very mixed bag re: masks, gloves, social distancing depending on where you go. I personally am sticking to small neighborhood tiendas where only a few people can shop at a time.
Norma’s notes: San Miguel de Allende is a well-established colonial Mexican town that has had a vibrant foreign-resident arts community since WWII when returning veterans could use the GI Bill to study art there. Today, the colonial town is has an active gueros community and is supported by tourism. They, together with Mexican locals, create and support model programs to help Mexican people and their animal spay/neuter rescue program is unparalleled in Mexico.
Gina Hyams adds: Thanks for this article, Norma. While it’s true that the foreign community contributes a lot to local philanthropy, Amigos al Cien and many other current neighborhood efforts to help people impacted by COVID-19, are led by Mexicans. Foreigners are supporting these initiatives, but they’re not the leaders.
San Pablo Villa de Mitla, a Pueblo Magico, has one of the most important archeological sites in the Zapotec world. It is a tourist destination along the Tlacolula Valley. Many visitors combine a visit to Mitla with the Sunday Tlacolula Market and a mezcal tasting in nearby Santiago Matatlan.
It is also home to my friend Arturo Hernandez Quero, an outstanding weaver who works in natural dyes on the flying shuttle pedal loom. He is also a traditional backstrap loom weaver, making gorgeous wool ponchos just as they were made centuries ago by men who took it up after the Spanish conquest.
Here is what Arturo reports about the virus, and how he and his family are doing:
Monday, March 30: Hello, Normita. I’m glad that you wrote to me. Life has changed. We are living in sadness and concern. We are afraid to get sick. There is a case in El Tule and a case here in Mitla. We are not going out to Oaxaca. I don’t know if we will return to normal like it was before, but for so many people they are living like it is normal now.
Thursday, March 22: Good afternoon, Norma. Thanks for your concern for us. As of today, everything is fine with the family. The city of Oaxaca is deserted. There are no sales or tourism. The archeological zones are closed, just as the schools are closed. Many people do not leave their homes. Prices are increasing like tortillas, eggs, bread and many other things. We don’t have a food shortage. It’s just that merchants are taking advantage of the situation.
We also have a water shortage. I think this is going to have negative consequences in the future.
For now, I have employment for the weavers who are working with me. We are doing some new innovations that maybe when this is over, we can sell. Our wholesale clients are not buying anything at the moment. The Textile Museum [where Arturo sells his work in the gallery shop] is closed.
We just want to be healthy for now. We don’t think there are any cases of corona virus in Mitla. We are washing our hands with detergent often.
It’s very, very hot here.
Take care of yourself, Normita. We love you very much.
We know the culture! We are locally owned and operated.
Eric Chavez Santiago is Zapotec, born and raised in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca.
Norma Schafer has been living in Oaxaca for almost 20 years.
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