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The headline in NVI Noticias announced, despite an increase in COVID-19, the federal government declared that, as of tomorrow, Oaxaca will move from semáforo amarillo (yellow traffic light)…

Art by Berza and ARCH on the Calle Constitución side of El Tendajón.

… to semáforo verde (green traffic light).

Mural signed by Hiko in Barrio de Xochimilco.

Inquiring minds are wondering if the downgrading of COVID-19 risk has anything to do with the upcoming elections on June 6.

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Tuesday night, Kalisa and I ventured out on another vaccine reconnaissance mission and found the number of people planning to spend the night in line wasn’t nearly as long as the night before. Ruling out sleeping on the sidewalk, we agreed to give it a try early Wednesday morning.

Route to the vaccine.

We rendezvoused at 6:15 AM, set off to find the end of the line, discovered it was already a block and a half longer, reassured each other that we can do this, and joined the line. Armed with reading material, we set our stools down and prepared to wait for our first jab of the Pfizer vaccine. Eating wasn’t a problem, as vendors regularly came by with food and drink and Mercado IV Centenario was only a few steps away. As for the “call of nature,” public bathrooms are available at the Mercado and Jardín Socrates nearby and a few businesses along our route had signs reading, “Baños 5 pesos.”

7:33 AM – After 1 hour of waiting on Independencia.

We froze for the first 3 hours in the morning. The temperature was in the low 50s (Fahrenheit) and we both were wearing sandals, short sleeve cotton blouses, and only had cotton rebozos (shawls) to keep us warm. The vaccinations were scheduled to start at 8 AM but our line didn’t start moving until 11:30 AM. It turns out, they gave the people in line on Morelos a number when they stopped vaccinations at 5 PM the day before, so they got first priority, along with anyone in a wheelchair.

2:07 PM – Entering the Plaza de la Danza.

One of the enjoyable aspects of our ordeal was getting to know our neighbors in the queue. Like most, they were sons, daughters, and grandchildren holding places in line for elderly relatives. This is the ethos of Oaxaca! Once the sun rose above the buildings and began beating down on young and old, we all sweltered in 80+ degree (F) heat. Despite bringing sun hats, Kalisa and I succumbed to purchasing umbrellas from one of the vendors going up and down the line. Another enterprising vendor was selling plastic stools, but since we had brought our own, he ignored us.

2:32 PM – Post vaccination arrival in observation area.

Once the line actually started moving, it only took 2 hours to get to the Plaza de la Danza, where our paperwork was processed, we got the vaccine, waited in an observation area for 15 minutes, and then left for home. 7-1/2 hours, door to door.

2:44 PM – Post vaccination debriefing.

We were lucky, as they ran out of vaccine by 3:30 PM and Thursday’s vaccinations at the Plaza de la Danza were canceled. More is supposed to arrive, but no one knows when. As for our second dose, we were told they will announce via media when it will be offered AND promised to be better organized. Keep your fingers crossed!

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The headline in this morning’s newspaper read, “Without strategy to avoid crowds, vaccination against COVID-19 begins in Oaxaca.” Here in the greater Oaxaca de Juárez metropolitan area, there are 11 vaccination sites, distributing 23,090 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to people over 60 years old who have registered on a federal government vaccine eligibility site. Because I am a Residente Permanente (official permanent resident), I also was able to register last month. The vaccinations are scheduled to be given today, tomorrow, and Thursday, from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM and my plan had been to walk over to the Plaza de la Danza, my designated site, at 7:30 this morning.

Given it’s only a block away, early last night my neighbor and I walked over to scope the set up out. Boy, were we in for a shock — masses of people already lined Avenida Morelos, the street leading to the Plaza de la Danza.

The young man above looking at his cell phone, sitting on a stool in front of the School of Fine Arts, was number one in line. He arrived at 8:00 AM yesterday — 24 hours early.

Looking at the photos, I’m sure you are thinking, those people in line are awfully young looking to be over 60 — and you would be correct.

The overwhelming majority of people who were camping out on the sidewalks of the city were holding places for their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, and maybe even neighbors who were too old to spend the night on the streets.

The two guys in the foreground below were the last in the line on Galeana near Trujano at about 8:00 PM last night, though a couple more people were approaching as I was taking the photo.

The line snaked along at least six blocks. And, no, I did not join last night’s vigil. I will be patient, check the progress of the line a couple of times a day, and wait comfortably at home. According to a representative from Oaxaca’s Secretaría de Bienestar (Ministry of Welfare), there are enough doses for those registered and, should there be a need, they will get more. ¡Ojala!

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You may remember the beautiful hat tree I commissioned from the San Martín Tilcajete workshop of Jésus Sosa Calvo. In these mask-wearing times of Covid-19, it has taken on a new function.

No longer serving as a place to hang my hat or market baskets, it now holds my collection of cubrebocas (face masks).

In case you are wondering why there are seven of them hanging on the tree, each KN95 mask is labeled with a day of the week, so I can rotate them.

New function following fabulous form!

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Semáforo amarillo (yellow traffic light), we hardly knew ya. According to this article, due to the resistance and indiscipline of the citizens to maintain prevention measures, as of Monday, September 14, Oaxaca is back in the Covid-19 semáforo naranja (orange traffic light) — meaning a high risk of contagion. Alas, this does not come as a surprise.

As previously mentioned, the semáforo designation is based on ten criteria by the federal government. However, it’s my understanding the implementation is left up to states and municipalities, which means concrete answers as to what this entails is fuzzy — to say the least! Color me orange with big eyes and clenched teeth.

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Beginning tomorrow, Oaxaca’s Covid-19 status moves down to Semáforo Amarillo (yellow traffic light) — meaning that in the state of Oaxaca one is now at medium risk for contracting the virus. The methodology used by the federal government to go from one color traffic light to another has expanded and is now based on criteria having to do with case numbers, reproduction rates, percentage of positivity, hospitalizations, hospital occupancy rates, and mortality percentage per 100,000 people. However, judging from comments on the Facebook page of the Servicios de Salud de Oaxaca (Oaxaca Health Services), it’s a controversial move (my translation):

  • With so much infected and now we are going to yellow traffic light?
  • They are not real figures, many towns do not appear [on the case list] even though there are new cases.
  • Covid is still active, the only thing that changed is that they gave you permission to go out and look for it.
  • It makes a whole economic political show without caring about the health of the Oaxaqueños.

According to the government’s corona virus website, yellow means all work activities are allowed and public spaces can be open — albeit all activities must continue to be carried out with basic preventive measures (masks, hand hygiene, social distancing) and consideration for people at higher risk. However, it won’t mean the reopening of schools; that has to wait for the green light.

In the meantime, I am thrilled with my new Covid-19 themed clay sculpture by Concepción Aguilar, a member of the iconic Aguilar family of potters from Ocotlán de Morelos. It was a “thank you gift” from the Support for the Folk Artists of Oaxaca, Mexico fundraising effort. The artisans are an integral part of the specialness of Oaxaca. Make a contribution, if you can!

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What can I say?

I am so…

With…

From yesterday’s walk, the walls seemed to read my mind.

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If you are out, about, and going to the mercados in Oaxaca in the last couple of months, you may have seen a clever contraption like the one below set up outside the Independencia entrance to Mercado IV Centenario. Where did they come from? Who made them? And, why? After a little research, I discovered this is a project of La Cosa Buena, “a social enterprise and nonprofit empowering Zapotec and Mixtec communities in Oaxaca to preserve their storied artistic traditions through social initiatives and equitable cultural exchange.”

Manos Buenas COVID-19 is a project that is supplying hand washing stations throughout the state of Oaxaca. Why? Because 30% of Mexico’s population lives without potable water — and that makes the frequent hand washing necessary to help prevent the spread of the virus extremely problematic. Not to mention, according to the project’s website…

“Indigenous communities are nearly three times as likely to be living in extreme poverty and are more likely to suffer negative outcomes from infectious diseases. Many Indigenous communities in Oaxaca are already impacted by malnutrition, pre-existing conditions, and lack access to quality healthcare.

We work with several Indigenous artisan communities in rural parts of Oaxaca. We are actively helping our community during this crisis by building and distributing Hand Washing Stations. 

Requiring only wood, rope, soap, and a container of water, they are inexpensive and easy to build. The icing on the cake is the involvement of local artists to bring an artistic aesthetic to these utilitarian and necessary structures. The one below is at La Cosecha and is decorated by one of my favorite arts collective, Tlacolulokos.

And there is more! In addition to the building and distribution of the hand washing stations, the Manos Buenas project is developing graphic and multilingual public health campaigns to insure information and resources re Covid-19 are available in the many languages of Oaxaca’s indigenous communities.

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Back in April, I received a message from my hometown library with the request, Help us tell the story of what happened during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mill Valley. A light bulb turned on, my brain went into librarian/archivist mode, and I thought, we should do that here in Oaxaca. What better way to bring the Oaxaca Lending Library community, both here in Oaxaca and those currently scattered around the world, together and provide a venue to share thoughts and feelings, document daily life, and unleash creativity. And, when this nightmare is over, the OLL will have joined an international effort by public and academic libraries, archives, historical societies, and museums to preserve slices of life from this historic time for future community members and researchers to ponder.

Thus, we formed a small committee, met remotely, and issued our own call for submissions. Members and friends, be they here or there, have been asked to submit photographs, stories in prose or verse, and videos. The response has been beyond my wildest dreams and I invite you to view the most recent edition of Archiving the Pandemic in Oaxaca: How will this time be remembered? The contributions are revealing in a variety of happy, sad, challenging, generous, and talented ways.

July 30, 2020 – Calle de Adolfo Gurrión at 5 de mayo, Oaxaca de Juárez.

The project is ongoing; alas, the pandemic’s end is not in sight. However, my heart is lifted in seeing, reading, and sharing experiences with my Oaxaca Lending Library community and knowing we are part of an international effort to help shape the telling of a community story.

(ps) The QR codes on the image above link to the following articles exposing issues medical personnel are facing battling the virus in Oaxaca:

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After only two weeks of semáforo naranja (orange traffic light), as of yesterday, the federal government ordered the State of Oaxaca back to semáforo rojo (red traffic light) in the ongoing battle with Covid–19.

To tell the truth, the move to orange had many of us scratching our heads. Closely following the data released by the state health department, we wondered if Oaxaca really was experiencing a downward trend in the four metrics used to move from one traffic light to another: numbers of new cases, hospital occupancy trends, current hospital occupancy, and percentage of positive cases.

As for cubrebocas — a misnomer, if there ever was one for reasons to follow: Sunday’s stroll about town revealed 15% of people not wearing masks; 50% wearing them correctly; 35% wearing the “cubreboca” ONLY over their mouth, just like the name implies. In Cuba they are called “nasobuco,” indicating they need to cover both nose and mouth — a much better name, methinks!

By the way, according to Richard Grabman over at The Mex Files, “85% of Mexicans are wearing masks in public, compared to 67% of people in the US.”

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Does anyone remember the Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First?” baseball routine? If not, check out the link — it’s still pretty funny and, at least to me, speaks to the confusion regarding news of Oaxaca beginning to lift the “quédate en casa” orders.

Mexico is using a stoplight system (Semáforo) to illustrate the COVID-19 risk of spread, with rojo (red) being the highest level of contagion, thus only essential services allowed to operate and people instructed to stay home. Oaxaca is still at red and for the past three months, in addition to closed museums and canceled church services, shuttered restaurants, hotels, businesses, and street stalls have been the norm.

IMG_9836_crop

However, given much of the state’s population relies on the informal economy and there is essentially no social safety net, economic hardship pushed the governor to announce on Sunday a reopening of businesses (albeit with restrictions on capacity, mask wearing, etc.) beginning July 5. Then on Monday morning, merchant leaders announced they would be reopening on July 1.

No matter if it’s July 1 or 5, I’m continuing as if nothing has changed. You will not find me dining in restaurants, shopping for a new falda (skirt), or browsing in art galleries. And, according to an article in today’s NVI Noticias, some of the hoteliers are not one hundred percent on board, either. The (translated) headline read, “We could go bankrupt, but we are not going to expose lives while the light is red.” With this accelerated reopening, it’s no doubt going to get worse before it gets better. So, to all the people who are anxious to visit Oaxaca, I continue to say, “For your safety and the safety of Oaxaca, please stay away until the light turns green.”

Update: In an extraordinary session yesterday (July 1, 2020), the city council of Oaxaca de Juárez unanimously voted to to extend the restrictions and preventive measures against COVID-19 while the light continues to be red.

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This morning’s headline in NVI Noticias: Oaxaca revive pesadilla de los sismos en lo más álgido de la epidemia por COVID-19 (Oaxaca relives the nightmare of earthquakes in the height of the epidemic by COVID-19). I wasn’t in Oaxaca for the 8.1 earthquake September 7, 2017, so I don’t know what it felt like. However, I still have vivid memories of experiencing the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area. As scary as that one was, yesterday’s 7.5 temblor was definitely more violent and lasted longer.

The good news is I, my neighbors, and all my friends in Oaxaca are okay and the city sustained mostly minor damage. However, there is much devastation to roads, homes, and other structures closer to the epicenter near Huatulco. And, saddest of all, the death toll is now up to seven. For a more complete report, with dozens of photos, click on the article, Suman siete muertos por el terremoto.

Two months ago work stopped on the roof and bell tower of Templo de San José — due to virus restrictions on construction sites. This morning, workers returned to check out earthquake damage.

This, and the state of Oaxaca’s coronavirus statistics, like most of Mexico, continue to rise precipitously. And, unfortunately, many of the hospitals near the quake’s epicenter sustained damage. (Click on image to enlarge.)

Side by side statistics: June 19 and June 23. Grey=cases notified; green=negatives; orange=suspected; red=confirmed; turquoise=recovered; black=deaths

Oh, and did I mention, we have had massive rain storms the last two nights? We are all wondering what is next, locusts?

Yikes, look what I found on my screen door this morning! At least in Oaxaca, we know what to do with chapulines (grasshoppers) — toast them on a comal with lime and salt. They are a great source of protein. Yummm…

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Dear friends and lovers of Oaxaca,

While the areas where you live may be loosening up on Covid-19 precautions, Oaxaca is not. Cases and deaths continue to rise at an alarming rate and, as a result, a few days ago the governor instituted a ten-day shelter-in-place order. Masks are mandatory in public, we are not to leave our homes except for groceries, medications, or medical treatment, limits have been put on bus service, and the hours and days of the mercados have been significantly reduced.

Photo from Facebook page of the Mexican Dreamweavers

While tourism provides the economic life-blood of Oaxaca and restaurants, hotels, and artisans would welcome your business, the people and medical infrastructure cannot afford the Covid-19 virus that might come along with you and your dinero. Oaxaca is one of the poorest and most indigenous states in Mexico and, as a result of poverty and inadequate health care, it has high rates diabetes and heart disease — both high risk factors for coronavirus mortality.

While right now you can only dream about coming to Oaxaca, there are ways you can help. You can join those of us living here by financially helping out your Oaxacan friends, by donating to your preferred hotels and restaurants, and by placing an order with your favorite weaver, carver, or other artisan. Buying mezcal futures from traditional mezcaleros is even an option — and the bottles will be waiting for you when next you return.

While I have no place to wear it right now, I bought this beautiful rebozo (shawl) from the Mexican Dreamweavers. Patrice Perillie, the Dreamweavers’ Director, knew I’d been admiring and wanting one for years, so she recently contacted me to (gently) suggest that ordering one now would have a greater and much-needed financial impact on the cooperative’s members. It is made from brown coyuchi cotton, yarns dyed with indigo, purple tixinda, and red cochinilla, and woven by Amada Sanchez Cruz on a backstrap loom. Isn’t it stunning?

 

From the Mexican Dreamweavers “About” page on Facebook”

In the community of Pinotepa de Don Luis, situated on the Costa Chica of Oaxaca, artisans of Mixtec origin, masters in the art of weaving on back-strap looms, weave beautiful cloth that they use in different types of dress. There is the posahuanco which is a type of skirt of pre-hispanic origin; the huipil, a tunic dress used for special occasions; and the reboso, a shawl used by the women both for warmth and to carry things, including their babies!

The women weavers of this community have formed a cooperative called “Tixinda” which has over 60 women, both young and old, who are passing down the 3,000+ year old tradition of spinning and weaving from one generation to the next. In addition to producing their traditional dress, Tixinda also produces table linens, bed linens, throw pillows and bags, using both traditional and contemporary designs.

To view the Mexican Dreamweavers inventory and to buy, click their Facebook Shop
For more information, please contact Patrice Perillie, Director:
Telephone USA – (212) 629-7899
Telephone Mexico – (954) 102-1792
Email – mexicandreamweavers@hotmail.com

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The “quédate en casa” signs and announcements are ubiquitous in Oaxaca — and apparently dogs are heeding those orders to “stay at home.” Like their humans, some are using the time for rest and relaxation.

Others are working from home.

And still others are chafing at the bit and can’t wait for the restrictions to be lifted so they can go out and play!

Though Mexico hasn’t yet flattened the Covid-19 curve, the government announced yesterday that beginning May 18, “Municipalities of hope” — those towns without any coronavirus cases and that don’t border any towns with confirmed cases, will be permitted to reopen their economy, public spaces, and schools.

For an English language simulcast of Mexico’s Covid-19 Daily Briefing, where detailed information is relayed and announcements like the one above are made, click HERE. If you miss the live 7:00 PM (CDT) broadcasts, the briefings are archived and available from the same site. By the way, note the respectful demeanor exhibited by government officials — quite a contrast to “you know who.”

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It’s official, face masks (cubrebocas/tapabocas) are mandatory. At today’s press conference, the governor of Oaxaca announced the steps the state government is taking now that Mexico has entered Phase 3 of its Covid-19 emergency plan. I must say that I was impressed by the visuals as I watched — reporters, the governor’s team of experts, and even the governor at one point were modeling good mask behavior.

And, street artists have been plastering the walls of the city with mask-wearing messages.

A medical masked Batman says, “stay in the house” — by the artist, Yescka.

Former Governor of Oaxaca and beloved former President of Mexico, Benito Juárez rocking a mask.

Not sure this couple is practicing proper mask protocol, not to mention, sana distancia (physical distancing) — by artist Elise Rubin.

Unfortunately, this last image represents what I have observed in my wanderings through the empty streets of the city. On today’s outing to my neighborhood produce truck and then to various tiendas (corner stores) in search of mineral water, eggs, and butter, at least 30% of the people I encountered were not wearing masks. For the most part, it’s not because they are not available. They are selling for ten pesos each (40¢ US) and there are numerous projects making and distributing free cloth masks, including those spearheaded by my amiga Norma Schafer over at Oaxaca Cultural Navigator. I brought a couple of extra masks with me and offered one to the gal at the produce truck, but she declined, saying she already had one. I responded that it was really important that she wear it, but she just shrugged. It’s frustrating!

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