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In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.  — Anne Frank

Last night, I watched the pleading (and currently homeless!) mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Carmen Yulín Cruz, BEG the U.S. government for more help following Hurricane Maria, which has devastated this U.S. territory.  Power may not be restored to the island for months, hospitals are without medicines, and people are dying.  This morning I awoke to news that the U.S. president, up bright and early in the luxurious comfort of his New Jersey golf club, had taken to Twitter to personally attack San Juan’s mayor.  Why?  For doing her job!!!  I was both livid at the Twit-in-Chief and incredibly sad for Puerto Rico.  Where is the understanding?  Where is the empathy??  Where is the humanity???

And then I read my Mexico City based friend, Cristina Potters’ latest Mexico Cooks! blog post.  Cristina, thank you SO much for reaching out to and translating the words of “Al” — this is what humanity looks like.  With Cristina’s permission, here is her post:

Mexico City Earthquake :: We Interrupt Our Regular Programing…

At 11:00AM on September 19, 2017, the 32nd anniversary of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, the nation as a whole took a few moments to sound its earthquake alarms as a test run for city residents to practice precautions, and as a memorial to the many, many thousands of people who lost their lives in Mexico City that day so long ago.  The earthquake alarm is arguably the most shocking sound in this city where I live.  There are 8000 alarm speakers set up, one in every neighborhood; one of them is just on the corner, only one door from my apartment building.  The horrible and unmistakeable sound–alerta sísmica alerta sísmica alerta sísmica, accompanied by unspeakable sirens–comes directly into my home office window.  As 11:00AM approached, I steeled myself and warned the cats; the alarm went off as scheduled, stopped within a minute or so, and we all breathed a sigh of relief.



Two hours and fourteen minutes later, all hell broke loose.  A massive earthquake, 7.1 on the Richter scale, shallow and with a nearby epicenter, crashed into Mexico City with no warning.  Due to its proximity, there was no time to sound the alarm until the quake had already started.  As is usually the case, the neighborhood where I live and the neighborhood nearest me were hardest hit.  There are geological reasons for that, but no need to elaborate on those now.  Parts of the whole city sustained serious damage; at last count, about 50 buildings collapsed, thousands more are in danger of collapsing, more than 400 people lost their lives, and thousands more are seriously injured.



On September 24, a young Mexico City woman whom I do not know used social media to express her thoughts, feelings, and experiences as she volunteered with an earthquake relief effort day.  I contacted her and asked her permission to translate her writing into English and publish it here.  She calls herself “Al” and she asked that I not publish a photograph of her.  She says she’s not a writer, although in my opinion she most definitely is.
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“Yesterday I spent six hours helping at Ground Zero on Calle Escocia, in the Del Valle neighborhood of Mexico City. I had stayed overnight at my parents’ home, and got up at 6:30AM. My mother made breakfast for me while I was getting ready, and then I lined up to go to the place where volunteers were to gather.



Those in charge explained to us that we women were to pass empty buckets to the Mexican army, who were going to fill them with rubble and then pass them to two lines of men who were behind us, pressed up against the walls. The army was to move any metal, glass, furniture, and other more dangerous objects. They knew how inexperienced most of us volunteers were and they didn’t want us to run any risks.



In order for us to go in, they gave us equipment—helmet, gloves, vest, and face masks. They used permanent markers to write our name, a contact number, and blood type on our arms. They vaccinated us against tetanus.

And then we went into Ground Zero in silence, our cellular phones turned off. Right after a 45 minute delay due to the scare of the second earthquake [Saturday 23 September, a 6.2 aftershock from the earthquake on September 7, 2017], the army immediately put us to work. We had to wait while Civil Defense made sure that it was safe to go into the building.



My eyes could not believe what they were seeing: I had never seen a collapsed building, never thought how a structure so strong and solid could become a mountain of rubble and memories. The “line of life”, as we called it, began its work, and we put thinking aside in order to be able do our job.



While we were actively working, other volunteers continuously offered us donated water, electrolytes, candies, tamales, and hard-boiled eggs. We volunteers preferred not to eat; we just took candies and left the food for the army and the engineers. Doctors came through continuously, asking if we were feeling all right, putting drops in our eyes, and helping people out of the building if they looked over-tired.



Passing buckets, even the big paint-bucket size ones we had, seems simple, but after an hour I felt blisters on my hands and cramps in my shoulders. I knew I was not the only one tired when buckets began to drop from the hands of other volunteers. Some shouted, “Be careful! Those could break!” The men tried to make us feel better, saying we were doing great work.



Meanwhile, we tried to concentrate so as not to delay the work as we watched pieces of other people’s lives go by: shoes, photographs, chairs, clothing, blankets, pictures from their walls. Objects that they surely obtained from their own efforts and dedication, and now they are nothing. A wheelbarrow, thrown aside by the masonry workers who were removing bigger pieces of the wreckage, grabbed my attention. In the wheelbarrow was a set of brand new drinking glasses, still in their wrapped box.



As the women at the head of the ‘line of life’ withdrew, those behind them advanced. I came closer to the head of the line, and suddenly I saw a car among the ruin of the building’s parking garage: a bright-red Nissan Sentra, undamaged. Nevertheless, the garage entrance is blocked, so the car will never get out unharmed.



Nobody is taking selfies, nobody is playing music, no one talks, no one makes jokes or acts lazy. Respect is tangible. The entire area is filled with mourning. Yesterday, workers here rescued a pug dog and a cat, which tells us that there is still the possibility of life among the rubble. If we do our work efficiently, it could make the difference between life and death….”  [Please read the full article HERE — I warn you, there may be tears, but you won’t be sorry!]

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In Oaxaca city, while nerves remain on edge, life is going on as usual with only a few signs of the recent earthquakes:  Buildings years ago labeled “inmueble en mal estado” (property in a bad state) now sport yellow caution tape, as does Templo De La Virgen De Las Nieves, which has a huge crack along one of the bell towers.  And, on my block, a plywood retaining wall has been erected to contain a wall that collapsed back in 2012.

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Those atrapada (trapped) by the September 7th and September 19th earthquakes have mostly been rescued, though réplicas (aftershocks) continue daily, especially in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region — still in the 4 to 4.5 on the Richter Scale (though not felt in Oaxaca city).   Damnificados (victims) and escombros (debris) are all that remain in the hardest hit areas but tens of thousands of people are being forced to live in the streets.  To add insult to injury, they must cope with torrential downpours and flooding from this very long and destructive rainy season.

Fundraising events are being held and centros de acopio (collection centers) have been set up to gather donations, with countless volunteers traversing damaged and dangerous mountain roads to deliver supplies.  The need is massive!

HOW YOU CAN HELP:

Como Ayudar – A large international list of information and links regarding assistance and distribution of goods to help those affected by the most recent earthquakes in Mexico.

How To Help The Earthquake Victims In Mexico City, Morelos, Puebla & Oaxaca – List of organizations collecting monetary donations, compiled by Mexico City based food writer, Nicholas Gilman

In addition, a couple of friends have asked me to publicize small organizations they are working with:

Help to San Mateo del Mar, Oaxaca, Earthquake Victims – Norma Schaefer, of Oaxaca Cultural Navigator, is getting the word out on the earthquake relief efforts of cultural anthropologist Denise Lechner and medical doctor Anja Widman.

SER Mixe – An indigenous organization serving the Mixe people in the Mixe region of Oaxaca; recommended by Margaret Macsems, general manager of Khadi Oaxaca.

*** Words in red type have become hardwired in my brain — new Spanish vocabulary I wish I didn’t have to learn under these circumstances.

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Late afternoon and middle of the night thunder, lightning, gusting winds, torrential downpours, and gentle showers — the rainy season has arrived and appears to be hanging around.  This is good news, as there has been an Historical Drought in Oaxaca.  What a difference a month makes…

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Goats scrounging for food in Teotitlán del Valle – May 3, 2017

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Streams have begun running in Teotitlán – June 6, 2017

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Cerro Picacho and surrounding mountains have already turned green – June 6, 2017

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Splashes of green now dot the rocky landscape at La Cuevita in Teotitlán – June 6, 2017

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A green Teotitlán del Valle with a dam that is filling is a beautiful sight

This is good news, as this is an agricultural village and state.

 

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Along with much-needed rain and sparkling green cantera, tropical storm Beatriz also brought the one-day-a-year appearance of chicatanas (aka, tzicatana, tzicatl).

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What, you might ask are chicatanas?  They are giant flying ants that emerge with the first rains of the season — and by giant, I mean about 4 cm from the head to the tip of the wings for the females.  (As in much of the insect world, males are smaller and wingless.)  Known by the Nahuatl long before the arrival of the Spanish, they were mentioned in the 16th-century Florentine Codex which talked about the tzicatana living below ground and cultivating fungus to eat.

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By this morning, the rain had stopped and when I returned from an early errand, I found chicatanas — queens (wings) and soldiers (wingless with vicious front pincers) — crawling around on my terrace and balcony.  There were probably many more earlier, but I had been in a hurry and hadn’t noticed.  By 10:30 AM they were gone.

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Oh, and have I mentioned that they are a delicacy and a great source of protein?  I’ve had chicatana salsa and chicatana mole several times.  Below is Mole de Chicatanas I sampled during the Mole Festival in 2014.  It’s from the Sierra Sur region of Oaxaca and made with chicatanas, pork ribs or loin, chile costeño, peanuts, and much more.  It was yummy (and I was a picky eater as a child!), so I had it again at last year’s festival.

If you won’t take my word, check out this Bizarre Foods episode set in Oaxaca.  (Chicatanas start at 1 min. 40 sec.)  By the way, these are the dreaded leaf-cutter ants.  However, it is the much smaller workers who can strip a tree overnight and are the bane of gardeners here.  At least their queens and soldiers are good for something!

Post script:  On a somber note, tropical storm Beatriz also brought flooding, mudslides, more downed trees, collapsed roads, and a current death toll of three.

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Rain has been falling in the city for over 24 hours, as Tropical Storm Beatriz slowly moves up Oaxaca’s coast and up and over Sierra Madre del Sur mountains.  According to the National Hurricane Center, “over a foot of rain is possible in Mexico’s Oaxaca state through Friday with isolated amounts up to 20 inches possible.”

At various times in her past, because of the native green stone used to construct her buildings and pave her sidewalks, Oaxaca has been known as la Verde Antequera — the Emerald City.Oaxaca letters in front of Santo Domingo

Walking through the streets on a rainy day, it’s easy to see where she got her nickname.

While Beatriz may be causing headaches on the coast, the campesinos (and all who depend on them) in the Valle de Oaxaca, are rejoicing.

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A word to the wise, be careful what you wish for…

After almost two weeks of 90º+(F) temperatures, late this afternoon lightening flashed, thunder rumbled, gusty winds replaced still humid air, and on Tlaloc’s command, torrential rain and hail pounded Oaxaca city.  Water began coming in closed doors and windows, plants and chairs overturned on the terrace, an empty concrete bag flew up and over a ten foot fence and across the forty-five feet of my terrace landing at my doorstep, and power went out for almost two hours. 

This evening, at Casita Colibrí, plants have been righted, chairs have been retrieved and stacked, and flooded floors have been mopped.  However, in other parts of the city, there are reports of trees and power lines down, massive flooding, and a roof collapsed at Central de Abastos.   Initial news reports (en español):

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This year’s “like it used to be” rainy season has brought Morning Glories climbing their way to my doorstep and adding a little color to an otherwise grey morning.

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Obviously, I’m not the only one who enjoys the green of their heart-shaped leaves.

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The rainy season has come and with it, the emergence of chicatanas (also known as, tzicatanas) — a pre hispanic insect delicacy in this corner of the world.  My first experience with these giant “flying ants” was at the Oaxaca airport five or six years ago, where I was greeted with, what can only be characterized as, an infestation.  They were flying through the terminal, crawling on the floor, and being chased by toddlers to teens, as adults watched in amusement.  Since then, I’ve come to know and even love these little critters — especially in salsas and mole.

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Two years ago, I awoke to my own infestation on the terrace.  However, yesterday morning only a lone female chicatana put in an appearance.  Darn, just when I’d actually considered gathering them up like these children and attempting to make chicatana salsa!

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Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn’t it a pity
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city
All around, people looking half dead
Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head…

Weather

Two and a half months of 10º F above average temperatures.  This is getting ridiculous!!!

 

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Today, Santo Domingo de Guzman served as a backdrop to the red/orange of the Flamboyán trees (aka, Delionux regia, Tabachín, Poinciana, Árbol de fuego) that line her front entrance.

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Their fiery brilliance provided a much-need antidote to the malaise brought about by two months of temperatures in the nineties (Fahrenheit) almost every single day.  I can assure you, this is NOT the norm.  However, today it’s only 86º F — as the Weather Underground forecast announced, “much cooler” than yesterday!

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We had spectacular electrical storms Sunday and Monday nights, with thunder rumbling continuously, lightening flashing in all directions, and torrential rain.  And, today, I awoke to a rare early morning downpour — 8 inches of pergola runoff collected in my buckets.  Noticias, the Facebook group Bloqueos y Accidentes en Oaxaca, and Reportes en Oaxaca, Mexico all show major flooding throughout the city from this morning’s surprise.

This morning's view of Templo de San José and Basilica de la Soledad.  Where did Monte Albán go?

This morning’s view of Templo de San José and Basilica de la Soledad. Where did Monte Albán go?

All of this has me asking, is this the beginning of an early rainy season?  Then, there is the report from Conagua (Mexico’s national water commission) that, due to El Niño, there could be a significant increase in the number of Pacific Coast hurricanes this season.  Hmmm… it looks like we may be in for a bumpy and wet ride!

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Last week, while in Mexico City, I paid my respects to Tláloc, the Aztec rain deity, both at the Templo Mayor and Museo Nacional de Antropología (National Anthropology Museum).

Templo Mayor, Mexico City

Tláloc — Templo Mayor, Mexico City

I’m now back in Oaxaca and, for the third day in a row, Tláloc is making his presence known.  And, rain is in the forecast for the next several days.

Fragments of a Tláloc brazier - Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City

Fragments of a Tláloc brazier — Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City

Thunder is rumbling and, out of the corner of my eye, I see flashes of lightning to the east.  It may be the “dry season,” but Tláloc is speaking and we are listening.

Pot with image of Tláloc -- Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City

Pot with image of Tláloc — Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City

Perhaps drought-stricken California might want to build a temple to this supreme god of the rains — not to mention, institute mandatory water rationing!

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Rows and flows of angel hairP1060825

And ice cream castles in the air

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And feather canyons everywhere

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I’ve looked at clouds that way.

Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell.

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View from my son’s deck, Monday afternoon in upstate New York…

Snow and bare trees

View from my deck, Wednesday afternoon in Oaxaca…

San Felipe Neri, zócalo trees, mountains

What a difference 48 hours and 2000+ miles makes.  Ahhh, it feels good to be warm again!

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Finally over the flu, I flew to the east coast, arriving along with an arctic cold front.  Brrr… it was -14ºF early yesterday morning!!!  However, here on a frigid New York Friday…

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And, there on a sunny Tlacolula Sunday…

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A splash of red to liven up the day.

* Mural by Tlacolulokos.

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