Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My Neighborhood and Swine Flu

It's day two of the quarantine or whatever you want to call it. I've had a lot of people writing me, asking what it's like to be in the belly of the beast, though, really, we're more in the knee, somewhat below all the action.

I'll begin by saying we live outside the immediate town center, about a mile or so to the northeast. Here, it's been quiet. A little too quiet. There are far fewer gas trucks blaring their "Oaxaca" song and dragging chains behind them. The old vocho that chugs around with a megaphone on top, announcing "Tortillas! Tortillas!" has not been making its circuit. No such luck with the orange truck, though, Steve's nemesis, that has a tape reeling over and over about fresh oranges from Veracruz, juicy and sweet, fresh for your juice, for your kitchen, from Veracruz. Hardly a nieve ice cream pushcart, announced by a honking horn.

The real absence, though, is the children because, no matter what block I'm on in Oaxaca, from the busiest highway to a random dirt road, there's kids running, backpacks slapping their backs, mommies carrying impossibly big babies (rare to see a stroller or even a baby pack) and the constant laughing, shouting and crying that goes along with all of it.

So I was surprised to find our Tuesday street market on in my neighborhood, full of vendors, but very few customers. The customers that were there were not crowding the prepared food booths as much, but there was still quite a bit of trying on shoes and examining designer knockoff purses. Some vendors and customers wore blue or white face masks, but most did not.

As I walked from here to the west side of the town center yesterday afternoon, about a 45 minute walk, I noticed that, as I approached the tourist part of town, more businesses were open.

I passed the ADO first class bus station and saw a mobile vehicle parked at the doorway, stocked with medical equipment and staffed by people wearing face masks. There was a small satellite dish atop the vehicle, generating, I believe, a wireless signal, because the medical staff had laptops. People were standing at the tables and gathering pamphlets and flyers. Just a few feet away, inside the bus station, the tourist information kiosk was open for business.

There was a big book fair on in Llano Park, with probably five times as many vendors as customers, but that could have been the hour. On a tree was nailed a forlorn paper sign: zumba class was canceled. To think that the only person who bothered to notify people of a closure was the teacher of the outdoor zumba class. Here, too, there was a mobile health vehicle.

I cut through Conzatti Park, where there were no teenagers making out, a major shift in the park demographic. From there, I walked on the outer edge of the grounds of the Santo Domingo cathedral, past the open doors of the Oaxaca Spanish Magic language school. I peered through their courtyard and spied two people semi-dozing on patio chairs--not magic, but not an infernal hell of a pandemic, either.

I arrived at La Biznaga restaurant, where I was meeting friends. The staff all wore face masks. There was only two tables occupied, but one was filled with young Mexican hipsters, drinking cocktails. Only one had a face mask, loosely hanging around his neck.

By the time we left La Biznaga, a couple hours later, the quietness was more noticeable. By 7pm or 8pm, Oaxaca usually wakes up. Stores reopen after siesta, restaurants start filling up, bars open their doors. None of that was happening. It started to feel like...Portland, Oregon, after 9pm, not a late-night kind of town for the most part.

Today was equally mellow, though we snuck out to the park and found a couple kids on swings and two teenagers, skateboarding while wearing face masks. It was so laid-back around here that I was honestly surprised when I found out the WHO raised the alert level to phase 5.


mighty jo said...

yikes. i hope you havent seen as many zombie movies as i have been subjected to. better probably to be reminded of portland than raccoon city! stay positive. take care. (i apologize for my dark sense of humor)

Serena said...

Are you a zombie movie fan? I recently joined a facebook group called real friends kill friends who are zombies.