Tag Archives: coronavirus

Allhallowtide: The Sacred, the Sublime, and the Silly

By Brooke Gazer

When Hernán Cortés sailed for Mexico, he was seeking fame and fortune, but the priests who followed had a more challenging purpose. They wanted to save souls and gain converts for the Catholic church. Many Aztec rituals, like those surrounding the Death Goddess Mictecacihuatl, appalled them, but these practices were so deeply ingrained that some could be traced back to the Toltec Period (800-1000 CE). In Mexico, as in much of the New World, conversion would require compromises and one technique was merging existing native rituals with Catholic ones. With this in mind, they moved the festival of Mictecacihuatl from July to November, and incorporated Christian concepts.

The notion of rearranging festival dates and focus was not a novel one. In 609 CE, Pope Boniface IV created a day to commemorate holy martyrs. Two hundred years later, Pope Gregory IV moved and expanded it to include all saints. This three day celebration became known in Europe as Allhallowtide – October 31, November 1 and 2.

For traditional Catholics, November 1 is All Saints’ Day; it may also be referred to as Day of the Innocents or Little Angels. Catholics are encouraged to pray for martyrs and saints as well as deceased children, who are assumed to be innocent. November 2 is All Souls’ Day, when Catholics pray for the souls of everyone else, including those who may have gone to Purgatory and are awaiting entry to heaven.

Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is celebrated on the same dates, but in Mexico it bears little resemblance to what Pope Gregory IV originally had in mind. Deceased children are remembered on November 1 and adults on November 2. However, people are not praying for their souls to enter heaven; they are awaiting a reunion. Many traditional Mexicans believe that death is part of a continuing cycle, and that on this hallowed night, the spirits of their ancestors are able to walk among them.

Since the dead return at night, people begin sitting vigil the nights of October 31 and November 1. After dark, Mexican families gather at home in front of ofrendas (altars for the departed), and at the gravesite. They offer favorite foods and beverages while sharing stories about the deceased. It’s a joyful time, about celebrating the life of the person, not mourning their loss. One might compare this to an Irish wake, except that this is an annual event, and the spirits of the deceased are believed to consume the offerings left for them. Believers will tell you that the flavors are altered after the dead have inhaled their essences.

In addition to believing that a loved one may return to enjoy earthly pleasures, Mexicans have continued other indigenous practices. Marigolds, called cempasúchil from the Nahuatl (Aztec), were believed to awaken the dead. Graves and the altars displaying candy, alcohol, favorite foods, and small mementos, are heavily adorned with these distinct orange flowers. On a practical note, it bears mentioning that the pungent fragrance of marigolds repels ants, so that chocolate and other treats are not overrun by these tiny pests. Those ancient priests knew more than we give them credit for.

Candles also play a major role and cemeteries are brightly lit with hundreds of velas as families gather to welcome their loved ones back to earth. Candles are part of Catholic rituals that have merged into this festival and it is believed that the light from the flames helps to guide the spirit home.

If you have an opportunity to visit a cemetery in Mexico during this time, it is an awe-inspiring experience. People are proud of the artistry employed in decorating their loved one’s graves and will welcome you as long as you are respectful. Oaxaca is one of the most traditional states in Mexico, so it stands to reason that this is an excellent place to experience this spectacular celebration of life. Unfortunately, with COVID-19, this might not be the year to visit.

While not all Mexicans celebrate Día de los Muertos, most do – if only to respect their ancestors. It is a lovely ritual, like agnostics decorating a tree and exchanging gifts in December. Adorning a grave or an altar is way to remember loved ones and allowing ourselves to do this is a healthy tradition that we might all benefit from.

This holiday should not be confused with the festival that we call Halloween. Since they share the same origins, the date overlaps, but this is where the similarity ends. During the medieval period in Ireland and Britain, Christians and pagans gathered around bonfires on Allhallowtide to ask for God’s protection from the evil in the world. It became tradition to dress in costumes of saints and demons and act out battles of good vs. evil. Somehow when this antiquated tradition crossed the Atlantic, it was adapted into a frivolous candy fest for children.

Halloween pales in comparison to Mexico’s spectacle, seeming rather crass to those who never grew up with it. For a child, however, the allure of dressing like a kitten or maybe as Superman and filling a sack with free Chiclets, Reese’s Pieces and mini Hershey bars is irresistible. Even as far south as Huatulco, this American/Canadian tradition is creeping into the culture. Each year, I notice more kids roaming our streets and begging for treats. An interesting twist, however, is that in Mexico time has a different perspective, so that local kids have cleverly extended October 31 into a multi-night candy grab.

Brooke Gazer operates Agua Azul la Villa,
an ocean-view B&B in Huatulco.
http://www.bbaguaazul.com.

A Muffled Cry for Independence

By Kary Vannice

Several years ago, at midnight on September 15th, I stood misty eyed in the zócalo of San Miguel de Allende as thousands of Mexicans reenacted “el Grito,” the cry for independence that occurred in Dolores de Hidalgo in 1810, just 40 kilometers from where I stood. This famous “call to arms” to rise up against Spanish rule is acted out in cities and towns all across Mexico annually.

And this was exactly what brought tears to my eyes, the effect of thousands of Mexicans joyously singing their national anthem. I had never before felt that kind of national pride. My countrymen have long since turned their Independence Day into a commercial affair and an excuse to party with pyrotechnics. It has lost its meaning to capitalism and the almighty dollar. In all my years, never once have I experienced Americans singing the Star Spangled Banner in unison on the Fourth of July.

This year, once again, I found myself in San Miguel de Allende on el Día de la Independencia. But this year, because of COVID-19, it was a very different scene here, and all over Mexico. The town square was blocked off and police were posted at all the entrances. No one would be portraying “el Grito” in a public venue in 2020.

In Mexico City, where last year’s presidential address was nearly drowned out by more than 130,000 red, white and green clad revelers, the president’s words hollowly echoed off the facades of the Metropolitan Cathedral and surrounding buildings with only the local riot police there to hear them. Everyone else was watching the address from their televisions, safely at home.

Perhaps this is the highest demonstration of national pride, to put aside one’s own individual desire to take to the streets and celebrate en masse and instead stay home to protect others from a deadly virus that has yet to be fully understood or controlled.

For the safety of all, Mexicans did not come together by the thousands to celebrate their patriotism, but instead opted for a muffled “grito” from behind a cubreboca (face mask) in small groups or family gatherings, demonstrating that independence is not so much an individual ideal, but a collective one here in Mexico, more of an “it takes a village” approach than one of personal liberties.

Unlike its neighbor to the north, where individuals are being encouraged to gather in large public venues, with no measures of safety or control, to support the current administration’s bid to maintain office, Mexican officials are encouraging and enforcing social distancing and safety protocols to diminish the spread of COVID-19. And given the current state of affairs, it is essential that the public comply for the sake of the collective.

As of Independence Day, a reported 71,049 Mexicans had died of COVID-19. On September 24, just over a week later, that number passed 75,000,out of 710,000 confirmed cases. Yes, that’s a 10% death rate, the third highest in the world, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Research Center, despite the restrictions on large public gatherings.

The 10% death rate, coupled with Mexico’s being in the top ten countries with the most reported cases, makes it the 12th deadliest country in the world where COVID-19 is concerned, as reported by CNN Health (Sept. 24).

Why is Mexico suffering so much? There is much speculation, and some would say absolute quantifiable proof, to answer that question. On September 3, Forbes published an article by a Latin American-focused political analyst, Nathaniel Parish Flannery, who wrote “In Mexico, Covid-19 patients are dying because public hospitals are failing to save them. … According to Mexico’s publicly available epidemiological oversight database, only 20% of the country’s Covid-19 patients who died were intubated. An astounding 51,924 Covid-19 patients never received ventilator treatment before they died.”

He goes on to say, “the official death toll in Mexico is only a fraction of the real total. Tens of thousands of patients in Mexico never seek help, never get tested, and go unaccounted for.”

Flannery points the finger at the current administration for failing to manage the pandemic and for not focusing sufficient energy and resources on saving citizens’ lives.

There are few who would argue that numerous positive cases and deaths go unreported as millions of people in rural areas have little access to testing or adequate treatment if infected. It is likely that the true death toll will never be known.

Where does this leave the Mexican people? Well, quite frankly, bearing the brunt of responsibility to slow the spread of the virus themselves – which most are taking on willingly, as there were virtually no reports of any backlash to Independence Day celebrations being cancelled and the majority of Mexicans continue to wear facemasks in stores, on the street and especially in crowded areas.

If the government is indeed doing little more than handing down rules and regulations for the public to follow in an effort to stem the increasing death toll, individuals are left to shore up the public safety void by setting individual freedoms aside in deference to the survival of el pueblo.

It seems the “it takes a village” approach to overcoming COVID-19 may be Mexico’s best hope of celebrating el Grito in the town square next year and for years to come.

Editorial April 2020

“We found that trees could communicate, over the air and through their roots. Common sense hooted us down. We found that trees take care of each other. Collective science dismissed the idea. Outsiders discovered how seeds remember the seasons of their childhood and set buds accordingly. Outsiders discovered that trees sense the presence of other nearby life. That a tree learns to save water. That trees feed their young and synchronize their masts and bank resources and warn kin and send out signals to wasps to come and save them from attacks.”
― Richard Powers, The Overstory

We are facing harrowing times. Looking at the news each morning we wonder what devastation today will bring. The number of cases and deaths is mounting as coronavirus sweeps across the globe – affecting each country in turn, in a domino effect.

In Huatulco, tourists rushed to head home as governments issued travel warnings and encouraged people to stay inside. Businesses are heeding the call and temporarily closing their doors to protect employees and customers. The streets around the world are quiet. Each of us is glued to various screens for updates and connection.

We don’t know how long this will last or what the long-term effects will be as we realize just how fragile our normalcy is. There have been glimmers of hope, however, and testaments to the strength of the human spirit. The day Italians sang from their balconies filling the streets with joyful song, the number of videos being uploaded offering free classes, concerts and museum tours, shows just how important creativity is to the human experience.

There has also been a shift in our thinking, a need to think of the collective rather than the individual. The idea of working on preventing the spread by staying indoors – not to protect yourself but those around you. If there are repercussions to this world crisis, let this way of thinking remain. Let us carry it over into times of peace. Let us understand the limits of the boundaries we have created: race, class, status. The borders and boundaries we have erected in our desire to claim our identity. These are human-made divisions and if there is something we are learning from this crisis, it is that nature doesn’t care.

Nature will not be stopped by a wall or by how much money you have. As individuals, we are small and made smaller by thinking we stand alone – we are all in this together.

Until next month, stay safe.

Jane

What Change This Plague Might Bring . . .

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

On February 28, 2020, Mexico confirmed its first case of COVID-19, the infection caused by the latest coronavirus (there are many, and there will be more). On March 21, 2020, as this issue of The Eye closed, Mexico had confirmed 164 cases, and 2 deaths. The state of Oaxaca had 2 cases, both in the capital city Oaxaca de Juárez. Although it’s been suggested that the relatively low rate of confirmed cases is due to sluggish testing, and that in fact there may have been many more by mid-March, the government – including and especially President Lopez Obrador – has been reluctant to require, or even recommend, preventive measures as of March 21. No changes necessary.

From High to Low – Overnight

Not so here in Huatulco. The foreign tourists who populate Huatulco’s high season are taking the corona virus seriously as their governments started “calling them home,” Canada on Saturday, March 14, and the U.S. on Thursday, March 19.

Both countries issued a travel advisory, Canada putting out a “Level 3” and the United States a “Level 4,” the difference being that Canadians were told to “Avoid non-essential travel” and Americans were told “Do not travel.” In remarkably similar language, both countries urged their citizens to return home as soon as possible.

If you were already abroad “in countries where commercial departure options remain available,” you were to “arrange for immediate return.” If you did not do that, you had to be “prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period.” The advisories noted that countries with COVID-19 outbreaks were “closing borders,” mandating quarantines, and prohibiting non-citizens from entry “with little advance notice.” Moreover, it warned that airlines had canceled many international flights: “Your travel plans may be severely disrupted, and you may be forced to remain outside [the country] for an indefinite timeframe.”

Notice that the presumption of the travel advisories is that people had traveled by air. Neither government said a word about driving across the border. Neither government explicitly defined “essential.” Neither government explained that “closing borders” did NOT mean the border was actually closed – it was closed to everything but that undefined “essential” travel.

The online universe of English-language travel advice for Huatulco – and Mexico as a whole – went wild. Snowbirds, expats, and tourists, anxiously working on exit plans, tried to remedy the information deficits in the travel advisories. (Postings are from “On the Road in Mexico” and “Huatulco – What’s Up … Happening,” and have been edited for clarity.)

Asking for suggestions for friends en route to British Columbia but still in Mexico: “The room they booked in Tucson for tomorrow night has just closed. Now they are worried the rest of their trip [will be] CLOSED CLOSED CLOSED. Anything they should know that I can pass on to them?”
Reply: They are screwed.

Report from someone who crossed at Nogales: I heard the Mx. Border is closed today … Does this mean that Canadian gringos will have to ship their vehicles around the USA?
Query: Does anyone know if a Canadian would be allowed to travel through to reach Canada? Tried to call every number I can find and can’t get through.

Report: Tomorrow night. Land border shutdown begins. US/CDN.
Reply: Stop repeating this sh*t, you idiot.
Administrator (“On the Road in Mexico”): Name calling will not be tolerated … PLEASE and THANK YOU.

Report: Bill Gates told us about the Coronavirus in 2015.

Comment on a report of border crossing: Thanks so much for posting. The huge mass of mis-information has been frustrating and of no possible help.
Reply to comment: I don’t think any country will close a border to its own citizens! You are essential.
Another reply: Did you have to show your passports?

Query: Am I officially screwed if my return flight to states is on Wednesday (3/24)? I’ve been trying to contact my airline, but they’re busy and never answer.
Report: Sounds like people trying to get home from Mexico with West Jet are getting screwed. Westjet is trying to charge them anywhere from $500 to $1000 per person to change their flights … sad really.

As for Westjet, on Monday, March 16, the airline announced that, based on the Canadian government’s call to Canadians to return and its recommendations to control the coronavirus, it was suspending all flights as of 11:59 PM, Sunday, March 22.  On March 18, Westjet posted a list of 21 flights between February 12 and March 12 that had carried “guests who have tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19).”  On Saturday, March 21, Westjet posted that, “During this continued time of uncertainty, we’re continuing to bring Canadians home from around the world. Between March 23 and March 25, 2020 we will operate 34 repatriation flights from international destinations to ensure the safe return of WestJet guests and Canadians who remain abroad.”

On March 15, the administrator of “On the Road in Mexico” posted “New Rules, please limit posts on Corona virus, to verified information, no conspiracy theories, guesses, or race blaming, people are worried enough without adding to it with rumors and opinions laying blame.”

On March 20, a member of Huatulco – What’s Up … Happening, created a new Facebook site, “Repatriating Canadians and Americans in Huatulco,” intended to provide updated information.  “As we receive many comments and not always correct information, this site might help alleviate your concerns. We urge you to start referring to the information being posted here.”

With so few cases in Mexico, and none in Huatulco, people also contemplated staying in Mexico; on March 18, according to a post citing “the Mexican news,” Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced that “Any foreigners stranded in Mexico needn’t worry about coronavirus treatment should they contract it. President López Obrador said today Mexico will treat and care for any foreign patients with Covid-19 because medical attention is ‘a basic right.’ ”  Foreigners would receive “full protection and attention. If they are infected, we will take care of them here regardless of their country of origin because that’s universal brotherhood.”

Recall that just the day before (March 17), NBC News had reported that AMLO had been “ripped” and “slammed” for “disregarding his own government’s social distancing guidelines,” trusting to “luck” and his “moral strength” to combat the virus.  The post about healthcare for foreigners elicited strongly divided comments.

Comment:  Universal brotherhood and universal medicare.  Now that’s a powerful combination!  Way to go Mexico.
Comment:  Geez, guys, careful, saying it and doing it are two different things.

Comment:  Wonderful news!  What a Great Leader!!
Comment:  Wow!  That is impressive!  This is how it should be done right now everywhere.  People need to unite.
Comment:  They SAY what you want to hear. However, they are not staffed or stocked to help the masses of poor.
Comment:  Fantastic … GOD bless President Lopez Obrador!

Repost (March 20): “Mexico City Nurses hold a demonstration outside a Major Hospital to protest lack of supplies, training and support to battle Coronavirus.”

Query: How many ventilators in Huatulco?
Reply: I’m sure you’re going to get a ventilator inMexico.
Reply: I heard only 2 in the area from a friend whose husband has COPD. They have checked it out already and are on their way home.
Reply: Some say Mexico could become the next Italy, for lack of awareness. So be prepared!

And on March 20, right in the middle of it all:

Question: I was at Secrets in February and they had the best frozen margaritas! I think the bar tender was only using ice, tequila and Gran Marnier but was wondering if maybe he used bar lime or something else, because I can’t replicate it. It was the same recipe when we went into town and stopped for a drink. Anyone know the recipe?
Replies: So far, there have been 21.

And How Is Huatulco Responding?

Quick to appear was an online campaign on the theme, “Don’t cancel, change the date – Save Mexican Tourism.” In Huatulco, online advice from two residents was more on the theme of “Just go home.”

My heart is sad, better return everyone to Canada. I know what will happen, we will be too difficult. Huatulco lives on tourism; unfortunately, Huatulco does not have a hospital. This disease will come here … restaurants, hotels are thinking of closing. I think it [leaving] will be the best.

Please go home with your fear, do what is good for you, stop spreading fear … we live in paradise, find a physician to cure your mental illness, we don’t believe in fake news. Thank you, but no thank you.

And gone they are, the snowbirds and short-term tourists.

Several restaurants have closed, others have limited hours, and many are now offering takeout and delivery. Amigos de la Música canceled its March concert. The Mercado Organica de Huatulco has been suspended. The municipio of San Miguel del Puerto has closed access to all three major waterfalls, the zipline, and the cooperative eco-adventure business El Remolino. Service providers were requesting cancellation of events for the Fourth Friday of Lent (Samaritan Day, March 20); some events were held, including the traditional dances in Santa María Huatulco, but the municipio president, Giovanne Gonzales Garcia, reported that activities were curtailed, and no foreigners attended. There were fireworks, including the traditional “Burning the Castle.” That day, Huatulco hotels reported a 35-40% occupancy rate.

Schools were closed two weeks early, from March 20 – April 20, for the Santa Semana break. Santa Semana, the period between Palm Sunday (April 5) and Easter (April 12), is a major tourism event in all of Mexico. Apparently Cancun has upped its advertising and hotel discounts to try to entice national visitors to fill the emptied rooms, but Huatulqueño hoteliers predict a complete collapse of Santa Semana tourism. In Oaxaca, they have begun to worry about whether the 2020 Guelaguetza (July 20 – July 27) will take place.

And the Future?

One of the big changes in Huatulco lately – construction. Hotels, retail, and condos are popping up here, there, and everywhere. As can be seen in the number of abandoned, half-finished structures, though, construction depends in large measure on cash flow.

More serious is the possibility the pandemic will cause widespread health impacts; without sufficient preventive measures, which seem slow in coming in March, will Mexico’s generally solid health system be overwhelmed? While the health system for foreigners is woefully lacking, for Mexicans there’s a basic public healthcare system for low-income residents, a plethora of pharmacies, and a good number of hospitals and clinics.

Mexico’s health system does have some infrastructure issues, and the AMLO government has changed some fundamental processes. The hospital coverage is concentrated in urban/urbanized areas, so the size and quality of facilities in remote places isn’t great – these are precisely the places that will be wiped out if a single case appears. Since more than half of Mexican workers are self-employed in informal activities, they can’t readily stay home and self-isolate – basically another cash flow issue.

Implementation of AMLO’s changes to the public health system has been rocky, and whether the new insurance coverage for IMSS-Bienestar, called Instituto de Salud de Bienestar (INSABI), will work is debatable. Worst of all, analysts say INSABI will need a major cash infusion if COVID-19 services are to be covered. AMLO’s approach to spending money is not to spend it, in the name of “republican austerity.” The international Organization for Economic and Community Development (OECD) recommends that a country spend 9% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on health care. Mexico is one of only five countries that spends less – in 2018, Mexico spent only 5% of GDP on health care.

What will Huatulco be like when we come back? Will we all come back? ¿Quien sabe?