Avon And Then Some

"I gave at the office"

Those of us who grew up in the fifties or earlier recall Watkins, Fuller Brush, and if it was in a semi-rural community the milkman, iceman and bakery truck. Today in Oaxaca door-to-door sales and services continue to thrive, perhaps less so in the Centro Histórico apart from gas and water. But venture beyond and you’ll be amazed at the multitude of benefits available at our doorsteps…we have conveniences long lost in “modern society,” and yes, Avon.

It may not be surprising that in a society where food is so in our faces we have regular home delivery, at times more than once daily of tortillas, tamales, fruits and vegetables, and breads and pastries. On an irregular basis a young boy knocks with coffee by the kilo flavored with vanilla and the fruit of the mamey (ma-MAY) tree. Another day it’s an elderly woman with herbs. Then perhaps a teacher supplementing her income with weekend sales of large crispy fritters known as buñuelos, accompanied by warm liquid honey. The best of all foodstuffs are fried plantains in a steamwagon, carted in front of your residence, the purveyor awaiting your request that he top the styrofoam plateful with the richest of cream and perhaps sugar.

There’s much more that enables residents to hermitize themselves…a virtual home shopping channel at our doorsteps. Neighbors with from-the-home businesses knock to see if you can use new draperies or a shawl made by relatives in the Sierra, or perhaps a hand-woven reed garbage pail, sombrero or basket for dinner rolls. Men plying wares such as pillows, brooms and mops ring on occasion, at times with furniture strapped to their backs. Whenever there’s a new gadget in town, it seems to travel right from the landing dock to your doorstep….witness: the battery operated reading lamp that attaches to a book. . We even have the equivalent of the Encyclopedia Britannica salesmen of the 60’s, consisting of teams of youths dispersed throughout particular districts selling sets of educational books for supplementing children’s education, at $350 a pop.

On a different day the multi-pack battery vendor comes by, but beware, you won’t find an Eveready, Engergizer, or Copper Top. And of course with the Oaxacan almost obsessive sensitivity to the cost of electricity, how better to light up one’s day than to answer the door to find the neighborhood fluorescent bulb salesman. Even the odd oriental-style rug hawker has his route, perhaps not so surprising in a society saturated with tapetes from Teotitlan del Valle and where locals long for anything imported.

Where Christianity reigns, non-Catholic sects are making inroads, literally, with dark suited, starched white shirted Jehovah’s Witness attempting to convert. And if it’s not to feed the soul, then it’s the body that gets attended from the comfort of home. The Ministry of Health comes by on a regular basis to see if there are children five and under who require inoculation, on a subsequent occasion to check your cholesterol, and then a few months later to scrutinize water quality in your cistern and advise regarding improving same. And to further regulate the bodily functions of Oaxacans, and mind our water usage, the municipality comes a knocking with the offer to convert the innards of our toilets, free of charge, from regular flush mechanisms, to the new, optional 3 or 6 liter flush unit. Push the blue button for liquids and chrome-colored plastic for “lo demas” (the rest).And when the census people come by, they too are obsessed with body waste, asking how many toilets you have in your home. The young girl was taken aback, not when I answered “seven,” but rather in response to her next question as to how many full-time residents we have in the house: “Dos.”

I recall long ago feeling both comforted and as proud as could be when my mother would put a gold star in my sticker book after completing my assignments and chores. Here it’s government putting stickers on the front of my house to signify to the next employee coming by that I already “gave at the office.” No need to retain in the recesses of my mind that uneasy feeling that some day I will no longer feel that nurturing maternal comfort, since I’ll always have my big brother looking over me, the Government of Oaxaca.


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The Starkman Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast ( http://www.oaxacadream.com ) combines the best of bed & breakfast Oaxaca with a downtown Oaxaca hotel style characterized by service and comfort. Inquire about Alvin’s Oaxaca tours, completely personalized to meet your specific interests and passions. Alvin is the Oaxaca destinations expert for a major international travel website. Casa Machaya is a founding member of the Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast Association.