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.
You might think that a short post about taking an airplane to Oaxaca belongs in a Tweet or Facebook post. Federal elections will be held this Sunday, June 7, and this is wrecking havoc in Oaxaca. The Oaxaca airport was closed yesterday and news from friends there on the ground is that it is closed today, too. The CNTE teachers union Section 22 has shut down the airport and Pemex gasoline stations in and around Oaxaca. Access is limited.
This is a way of life in Oaxaca. We are never surprised, only discouraged that we have to find alternate routes, interrupt plans, do a work-around and accept. What I have learned from living in Mexico is patience and acceptance. As a visitor, that’s all I can do.
I arrive in Mexico City this evening. My plan is to take an overnight ADO bus to Oaxaca arriving tomorrow morning. This way, I’ll avoid the Oaxaca airport. I hope there is a taxi driver and enough gasoline to get me home and no delays along the way.
Friends from Oaxaca and Philadelphia are also scheduled to arrive into Oaxaca this evening by air from Houston. I hope it will be an easy day for them, too.
Yesterday, Mari and I worked together in Humberto’s studio to create this poster. The main image is a fine example of how you can make a photograph and then transfer the image to create an art collage. The small portrait at the top features a Carnival reveller.
The workshop allows you to focus on the medium you prefer to work in: photography, collage or painting. You can also experiment with any mix of the three, if you wish. Our two expert artist-instructors will coach and teach you every step of the way. Mari is an accomplished photographer who will share her tips and techniques. Humberto is an exhibited painter and assemblage artist. They have been teaching together for over five years.
Reduced price for Oaxaca visitors/residents who don’t need lodging!
Oaxaca is filled with art to inspire you. There are gallery and museum openings galore during this time of year. For Carnival, we take you to the village of San Martin Tilcajete to experience the festival first-hand.
Then, after the workshop, you have the option to join Mari for 3-Days in Puebla. If you can’t attend the workshop but want to come along or meet us in Puebla, you are more than welcome!
If you are in Oaxaca in February, we offer a special resident’s/visitor’s price that does not include lodging. Contact Norma Hawthorne for details and special pricing.
After hours of preparation, Eric and Janet hosted a free 3-hour after school workshop yesterday afternoon for Chatham County, NC teachers, for which they received in-service training credits from the school district. There were seven teachers. “The right people always show up,” I reassured them after a few expressed the wish that more would have participated. The workshop was included in the Grassroots Grant awarded to the NC Arts Incubator through Chatham Arts and the NC Arts Council.
We “set the table” with samples of hand carved fanciful wood animal figures, called alebrijes, that are brightly painted; a Francisco Toledo kite crafted from handmade paper; and miniature woven tapestries made with a hand-held cardboard loom. Another table spilled over with supplies teachers are familiar with: scissors, rulers, non-toxic paint, brushes, egg cartons, popsicle sticks, buttons, empty plastic bottles and metal cans, stencils of Zapotec rug patterns pre-cut from foam core board, strands of brightly colored and naturally dyed yarn, Elmer’s glue, plain brown wrapping paper, bamboo sticks, and string.
Several taught K-8 and covered art classes at every grade level. One mentioned that kindergarten art classes go for 25 minutes, and we marveled at what could be taught or experienced in a 25 minute class period. They were from all over the county, east to west, and said that Latino students 25% to 70% of the student population in their classrooms. One told the story about a student who spoke no English, but who created extraordinary art and inspired his classmates.
After a brief presentation about the history and art of Oaxaca, the teachers constructed their own hand-held cardboard looms, warped them with string, and proceeded to weave miniature tapestries with yarn connected to a popsicle stick with masking tape, that they could then demonstrate to students. Eric explained that this was a process he had taught to over 250 school children in Oaxaca with great success to understand the Zapotec culture and weaving techniques. Some finished quickly and created their own alebrije, cutting, painting and glueing pieces of cardboard, plastic, drinking straws, and foam packing materials together. Look, it’s an owl. See the bat flying through the dark sky. Another wanted to make a kite from brown wrapping paper and dowels, decorated with designs duplicated from the patterns of rugs hanging nearby. We talked about whether kites need tails in order to fly.
When it was all over, the teachers left satisfied and with instructions about how to construct the loom and kite, and Eric exclaimed, “pan comida.”
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.
Study Tours + Study Abroad are personally curated and introduce you to Mexico's greatest artisans. They are off-the-beaten path, internationally recognized. We give you access to where people live and work. Yes, it is safe and secure to travel. Groups are limited in size for the most personal experience.
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Dye Master Dolores Santiago Arrellanas with son Omar Chavez Santiago, weaver and dyer, Fey y Lola Rugs, Teotitlan del Valle