Turning Up The Heat

April 12, 2020

This past Thursday morning was when the manure hit the ventilation system. That was the day Mexico’s health ministry let it be known that while the national count of Covid-19 cases was officially still under 3,500, the reality was probably around 26,500. A low level of testing, and delays in getting test results, was affecting the national tally, so this was their best guesstimate.

Within hours the mayor of our town of Tepoztlan had sent police to the town’s entry point from the freeway that comes from Mexico City. Anyone not from this locality was turned back. Further, the main square in town, the zocalo, was sealed off, so people wouldn’t hang out there as they usually do.

A short while later, I discovered local residents had taken vigilante action, and had blocked the only road into my village. It helps that I’m part of a visible minority, and they knew I was a local resident and let me through. Oddly, I have no ID that has my current address on it. So, as often happens here, I had to trust to people’s nosiness (they know who I am better than I know them), plus their goodwill, to get me through.

Robin's barricade photo.jpg

The barricade on the way into our village. (Photo: courtesy Robin Rainbow Gate)

Others were refused admittance. And since farmers have things like machetes, and aren’t afraid to use them for non-agricultural purposes, there wasn’t much argument.

The next day, I tried to buy a garafon or large bottle of drinking water. Every store in the village had been cleaned out, and there was no certainty about when re-stocking would happen. One little store had somewhat smaller bottles, so I bought two of those to last me till mid-week.

Finally, people had gotten religion.

But it wasn’t all common-sense and community well-being. One small town 20 miles from here had a minor riot when people protested against admitting patients with the virus to their local hospital. They actually threatened to burn down the facility if this happened, fearing the disease would be imported into their community.

In other places, nurses have reported being abused in public, for the same reason. This isn’t just a Mexican thing, I found out, and some stores and banks in Quebec are refusing to serve hospital personnel. “You’re heroic in what you’re doing, but stay away from me.” It’s understandable, but depressing at the same time. Any problem has a solution. How about a sign reading “Please wear a mask in here, ’cause even if we love you, we’re a bit scared of where you work,” for example?

The effects of the epidemic have become apparent by degrees over the past few weeks. The town was getting progressively more deserted, and my next-door neighbour, a cab driver, has been home a lot. Face-masks are finally starting to show up, and I’m seeing more ads for restaurants offering home delivery. The little cafe in our village that closed three weeks back is now offering coffee and a limited selection of meals on a take-out basis.

Mexico’s President, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has been consistently unhelpful. After giving Bolsonaro-ish bad advice for weeks, he ordered many industries deemed inessential to shut down for a month, while demanding that company owners continue to pay the staff. I’m no rabid free marketeer, but I do understand basic economics. And we all know shutdowns can be extended.

First the breweries were ordered closed, and they complied: then they were told they could re-open. Then, they were again deemed inessential by the Health Ministry. Who’s in charge here? That depends on what you mean by “who” and “in charge.”

The best estimate right now is that Mexico’s wave of infections will peak by the month’s end, or maybe at the start of May. The very warm weather in this part of the country is probably minimising the count, but it hasn’t, as many people hoped, managed to stop the disease.

Social cohesion in general, however, seems solid right now, at least if we don’t count the attacks on nurses. Last night our village, which has a speaker system on its church, broadcast instructions in Spanish and English, issued by the local mayor. They were sensible and fair, given the circumstances, and the inclusion of expats who are predominantly English speakers was heartening. Even if their federal government is a dubious enterprise, I still maintain my support and gratitude to Mexicans as a people.


Muddling through

March 20, 2020

We’re into the rumour season now. Yesterday, I was reliably informed that while the combi microbuses would continue to operate, taxis would come off the streets. Also, all the restaurants and hotels in town were to close by Monday

Today,Gabino my neighbour, who drives a cab for a living, says he’s heard of no such plan. The restaurants are taking some steps, one having closed, and another I went to yesterday (daring fool that I am!) was spacing out its tables so our small group couldn’t get too close to each other. But shutting down hotels and restaurants in a town that lives off tourism would of course push hundreds of people into destitution. Which doesn’t mean it won’t happen. But right now, it’s unlikely.

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Tepoztlan in carnival season. Even on a regular Sunday, the place is this full of visitors.

One article I’ve read (there’ve been scores, at the least) points out that governments are all proceeding on their way here on the basis of rather limited information. Additionally, I suspect, elected officials charged with doing something are, unfortunately, doing “something,” rather than doing useful things. I do wonder if many of them have ever actually looked after kids when a bug is raging through a classroom, and parents learn fast about infections and how they spread. I suspect not.

At the same time, regular people are bombarded with far too much information, and we can’t organise it. When our electrical power cuts out here, as it often does in the stormy rainy season, we think about food in the freezer spoiling if it lasts too long. Otherwise, we accept that there’s no internet, that we have to break out the candles we keep on hand, and so on. We can organise the information, and organise ourselves. With this, there’s too much information to prioritise, much of it contradictory or unclear, and that doesn’t help.

Should I isolate? I do much of the time, anyway, thanks to my lifelong membership in the Dedicated Introverts Society.

Should I avoid other people? Only to a limited extent, because friends are very useful in a crisis. I ran into one this morning, and we pretended to shout at each other from 10 feet apart, in a spontaneous street-comedy routine. No doubt such scenes have been replicated around the world. But she and I don’t live far from each other, so if one of us gets the bug, the other would be the one to bring food or supplies to the afflicted person’s door, because there’d be no official body to aid us.

Mexicans are loath to abandon physical greetings, and I feel like a gringo party-pooper by refusing to hug or shake hands. It is, though, is a sensible step, like heavy-duty hand washing, even if it doesn’t offer very much protection. Like flimsy face-masks, which are starting to show up in town, such refusal does a little something, and the little somethings might make the difference.

But the truth is, most people here aren’t going to do a lot to protect themselves or  – the real point of quarantining or isolating – protect the community as a whole. Mexico’s official case tally is around 100, but since you have to travel a long way to get a test, that figure is doubtless misleadingly low. All of us, natives and expats, are largely trusting to God (in some form), sunny weather, and fresh air, to get us through. Plus luck.

Some people have gone back to their home countries, but a lot of us are gambling that the odds of safety are a little bit better here than in the US, Canada or Europe. People won’t do a lot more, not for now. And maybe not later.