News from Oaxaca

13 September 2016

News from Oaxaca

               News flash! The Zócalo has been cleared for business!

               It’s September again, and school has started. Mostly. In August the splinter teachers union, here in the southern states, the Sección 22, doubled down on its marches, blockades, boycotts, and barrage of graffiti (much of it artistically sophisticated and intellectually puerile) asking that the government reopen negotiations with them (here called mesas de diálogo) and “respond” to their demands. The governments (federal, state, city) have frequently responded, of course, but they have refused to abrogate the education reform law in toto. “Respond,” in Sección 22 newspeak, seems to equate to “capitulate.” The union has been unwilling to discuss individual sections of the law, and the governments, after several attempts at dialog, have been unwilling to continue talking as long as the union holds the state’s economy hostage.

               They governments did, of course, capitulate on a couple of issues. After swearing that they would fire any teacher who missed three consecutive days without permission, and would dock the pay for any unexcused absence, they went ahead and re-instated all the suspended teachers and paid them for the time they were out protesting. Seems to me to be a time-tested strategy for insuring that threats not be taken seriously, and for encouraging behaviors that one would rather discourage. Don’t any of those folks have three-year-old kids?

Curiously, it was the federal legislature, not the executive, that voted, overwhelming, to create the reform law, but none of the unions’ ire seems to be focused on the legislative branch, or what seems like a straightforward democratic path to redress: elect new legislators sympathetic to your demands who will repeal the law.

               Amazing how the values and procedural traditions of our native cultures shape our views of other lands’ ways of doing things.

               Meanwhile, three weeks into the normal education cycle, most schools have started. I am seeing kids in uniforms when I walk in the morning

with Qualba. September 16, Mexico Independence Day, the anniversary of the famous “Grito de Hidalgo,” is nearly upon us, and the government(s) have used the calendar to open up public spaces for proper celebration of the holiday. The hundreds of vendors who had set up shop in the Zócalo were persuaded to leave, and the recalcitrant few were moved out at 1:00 AM by a contingent of local police in whose wake came the municipal sanitation staff and six enormous garbage trucks. They left a few symbolic awnings in place around the Zócalo’s central kiosk. A nod to “No, we are not choking off all vestiges of protest.”


               Monday Linda and I had to spend the morning in town for some medical stuff and Linda’s massage, so we decided to meet for lunch in the Zócalo. I got there first and sat on the steps on the side of the cathedral to listen to the marimba band that had set up under the laurel trees. Obviously a planned, not a spontaneous event, as three rows of folding chairs had been set up for spectators. On the stone walls that supported the raised planting beds of the Zócalo people sat eating their lunches and listening to the music. Moms with babies, Indian women from the villages around Zaachila, their long braids tied with blue ribbons, their embroidered aprons –an essential part of street wear for the Zapotec population—catching the light filtering through the plaza’s gigantic laurel trees. Shoes were being shined, popsicles dispensed. A couple of tourist families paraded by, their infants on their backs or toddling behind; families with school-age kids have long since returned to the States or Canada or France.


               [A curious sidebar: our friend Maryjane Dunn Whitener informs us that marimbas are mostly manufactured in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, by the DeMorrow company! Go figure.]


Every toe in the Zócalo was tapping to the music! The danzón is back! The danzón, traditionally early every Wednesday evening, in Oaxaca and dozens of other cities across Mexico, features a small orchestra playing a variety of dance rhythms for a couple of hours in a central plaza. In normal times, lots of people flock to the danzón. Monday a few people had come to dance to dance to a selection of traditional boleros and Beatles tunes. The dancers were old folks, mostly, which is our age or older, but with a smattering of young folks in their fifties, too. Some very, very elegant, as they waltzed or two-stepped on the flagstones in the dappled light. Some I recognized from the danzón a half year ago, before the Zócalo was choked with tents and clotheslines and taco stands.

               After our lunch in one of the café’s under the arcades that border two sides of the Zócalo, as we were heading back to the car, we watched crews of gardeners unload pots of flowers and shrubs to plant in the raised beds that border the Zócalo’s paths. It is as if the municipal government, after months of what appeared to most folks to be an abrogation of any civic responsibility, had decided to gallop back to normalcy. They have gated Calle Independencia, Oaxaca’s main drag, and the other streets bordering the Zócalo, and stationed groups of policemen at each of the gates to keep the occupying forces from returning. It stands to be seen if they will maintain the guard after Independence Day. If the Zócalo is still clear a week from today, and the balloon vendors have returned, we will know they have succeeded.

               Until next time, of course.


               Other news.

Here in Santa Cruz, along with the usual night noises —barking neighborhood dogs, clucking insomniac chickens, the late night tuctuc (three-wheeled motor taxi) bringing someone up the hill, and the odd firework or two— we have notice a rustling, or a scurrying, in the terrace roofs which, as blog-followers may recall, are constructed over a base of the local wild cane called carrizo. Time for the annual fumigation. We contracted with a company on the highway, they showed up on time (!), Linda cleared out the animals, put away all the foodstuffs and dishes, they put on their hazmat suits, puffed toxic smoke at the ceiling, and departed. Eight hours later the house, with all its windows open, was ready to reoccupy. We were pleased (disappointed?) to note that the rain of insect corpses was very light indeed.

Of course, nothing perturbs the arrieras, the leaf cutter ants. There are colonies of other ants that don't seem to want to eat everything we've planted. They are content to chomp on us if we walk by their areas blithely unaware of their presence.  We wouldn't call them fire ants (like in the tropical areas), but their bite packs a whallop. Linda is sporting several swollen bite areas on her ankles and legs. And there's another kind which seems to opt for the castle-like hole.

               It is the end of the rainy season, and the hills and our gardens are at maximum green, wrapping the house in a kind of green cloak. The change has brought out the butterflies, too. The swarms on our lantana flowers and the other blooms in the fringe of garden beyond our mini-lawn, looks like Grand Central Station at rush hour. At any given moment, a half dozen species with multiple representatives of each dart from flower to flower. We don’t have hoodoos, or fairy chimneys, but in addition to the butterflies we do have ant chimneys that rise to precarious heights. We don’t have bristly cellphone towers in Santa Cruz, but we do have bristly caterpillars. In fact, we have lots of things that we can’t identify in the photos in our nature books or on the web.


You entomologists out there, can you help?


David & Linda