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Back to Oaxaca

Autumn, 2000


We  safely returned to our apartment and our neighbors. Vendors in the market remembered me. I took up again the chore of identifying the trash bell, the water bell, the gas horn, the shout of the man who sells oranges.

      The electoral revolution has happened. Many ordinary people in Oaxaca light up with enthusiasm bordering on glee, although I see no actual changes. The daily scene persists: on Wednesday a demonstration in front of the Chamber of Deputies, with several hundred men traveling by "covered wagon" pick-up trucks, demanded health services, roads, education and potable water. As usual. No women were present among these Zapoteca shrimpers. They rested in Llano Park on benches and perched on fountain rims to eat packed tortillas, and drink water from the three-liter red plastic containers I associate with gasoline. They waited quietly for the end of the legislative day to collect their banners and depart on the three-hour return trip.


We reacquainted with the city, strolling at the end of the rainy season with umbrella and sunglasses along the street panorama of paint-peeling buildings, repaired buildings, earthquake damaged walls, some graffiti on new walls, some old adobe walls worse than before. Beggars seated on green stone sidewalks. They're mostly women.

      We heard it was a very wet summer, although I fail to grasp what could be wetter than daily rain in the rainy season. It proved to be great growing weather; our landlady's efforts in the patio produced hundreds of feet of flowering vines, draped across roof and walls. In the twilight yesterday I thought I saw bats, but our friend claimed they were birds. This friend is actually someone we've known for about two hours; an idealistic young photographer who lives in the building between Henrique's internet cafe (5 pesos per half hour) and Doña Estella's pan dulce (2 pesos each). If his professional eye says they were birds, I’ll trust him.

      I rounded out our first week with marketing; the Friday outdoor market made for a compulsive hunter-gatherer.

      Soon we jump back into the socio-political hunting and gathering -- today's headline reports the arrest of two generals for narco-trafficking. Another story was "sorrow" expressed by a different general, for the army's role in Chiapas: "We didn't want to be there but it was our constitutional duty." I’m glad the general feels sad. It makes him so human.

      We scan the papers for daily hoopla about Fox; it's not much different than the USA. Nor was the farewell address, a State of the Union piece President Ernesto Zedillo delivered on the evening of September 1 to the Mexican Chamber of Deputies. Zedillo recounted Mexico's economic improvements, reform of the Constitution, overcoming the huge debt resulting from Salinas' thievery, improvements in roads, health, education, the magnificent peaceful election. As one clever commentator said afterwards, he managed to explain everything his administration did except why they lost the election. Listening, I too heard Zedillo trumpet his numerical successes, but I also credit him: whatever he may have done or not done the past six years, the grand finale was a secret ballot, instant announcement of the victor, and a visible, if momentary turn to democracy - how else could these commentators be commenting? Another sneered that Zedillo failed to mention PRI corruption, the Acteal massacre, the increased gap between rich and poor, and like that. Well, why should he? It was his farewell party.

      Fox, who offered the same criticism, travels pillar to post explaining how he's going to make the new democracy real, quickly solve the Zapatista problem in Chiapas, and be all inclusive in his administration. Pablo Salazar mentioned that he doesn't expect a total troop withdrawal, just back to pre-1994 strength.

Our landlady’s  husband is one of the electorally gleeful. I asked him about changes in his business, he reports none. And yet! And yet! Forty percent of Oaxaqueño men work in the United States. Many rural towns resemble ghost towns, with only the elderly, women, and children hanging on. And yet! George says three Oaxaqueños die daily crossing into the US. And yet! Pedro smiles and smiles.


The landlady finally rented the apartment behind ours, in our pink-flower-draped patio. She's charging gringo rental rates. Oaxaca is on its way up. Flags adorn the city for September, Independence month. I ran into the basket vendor Antonio and shook his callused hand. He waits for tourists who surely will come. To my patio sign for English Translation came a film-maker, he’s making a documentary about undocumented Mexicans working on a horse farm in Kentucky. I accepted the task.

      True to Oaxaca magic, we met on the street a Oaxaqueñan couple we know, whose business provides flags and balloons for festivities. They invited us to dinner. More exhilarated faces, they and other friends, who are lay Catholics with Maryknoll, working here among the poor. The balloons are stenciled VIVA MEXICO.  Four little girls scampered around pretending to be dogs and barking high sharp little girl barks. George made plans to go with our host to visit prisoners in one of the deplorable Oaxaca jails. I plan to talk more with our hostess about her study of the Hindu Chakras. Every body has its pressure points, for relieving pain, for curing the whole, for releasing joy. Balloons and smiles often can't suffice.

      In four years Oaxaca will elect a new governor. PRI or not? Stay tuned...



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