light to Oaxaca?
use most of those shirts?
First-time travelers to Oaxaca, as well as return visitors
and snowbirds, can all help to improve the financial lot of
many struggling residents, aside from simply visiting the
city and spending.
Its a fact that tourism has indeed returned to the central
valleys of the state of Oaxaca. But as a result of the current
(2008-09) US economic crisis, so have many Oaxacans: Oaxacan
immigrants, documented and otherwise, had previously been
eking out a modest existence north of the border, often wiring
money back to their motherland on a regular basis to help
out parents, children and extended family members in need.
With fewer available jobs, the people flow has now been reversed.
Oaxacans are coming back to their native soil. The economic
implications are twofold:
1) There are now more Oaxacans vying for work which continues
to be a scarce commodity.
2) With fewer Oaxacans working in the US, less money is being
Many hotel and B & B guests arrive with two suitcases
one filled with their clothes and toiletries, which
fits snuggly inside a larger one. The latter is used for the
flight back home, to pack up purchases such as rugs and other
textiles, black pottery and a variety of different ceramic
pieces, alebrijes, and more traditional fine art. That larger
suitcase need not be brought down empty. Those who have already
been sensitized to Oaxacas economic plight sometimes
ask what they can bring to leave behind, filling their second
piece of luggage with used clothing, pencils and pens, T
shirts and caps with logos of their local sports teams, and
much more. And then there are the travelers with young children
who recognize that by the time the next summer arrives in
their hometowns, the kids will have outgrown virtually everything
theyve brought down for them to wear. Here in Oaxaca
they find new homes for shoes, shorts, jeans, dresses and
Within less than an hours drive from downtown Oaxaca,
townspeople in marginal communities subsist on tortillas,
beans and rice, with meat and poultry reserved for only the
most special of occasion. Medical clinics and dental facilities
are often stocked with inadequate equipment, instruments and
supplies, and schools lack books. Even the brightest students
and those with the most drive and desire are denied the opportunity
to complete their secondary education because the cost of
transportation to attend high school in the larger centers
is prohibitive relative to the means of their families.
Every visitor to the city of Oaxaca has the potential to
make a significant contribution to the economic amelioration
of residents of towns and villages in the central valleys,
apart from buying handicrafts and art.
We all have much more clothing than we need. Just look in
your closet or in that chest of drawers in the basement. You
might even find your daughters old pair of eyeglasses
from two prescriptions ago, useless to you but invaluable
to a downtown optometrist with ties to villages with children
whose parents have no money to buy glasses. Dig out that gift
from your mother-in-law --- the sweater thats far too
gaudy, or the T shirt she brought for you on her trip
to Turkey three years ago, still in the plastic wrapper. Do
you really think that as you get older its realistic
for you to actually start exercising as you did before, and
that youll actually lose that paunch and fit into those
size 32 jeans? How long do you think it will take for those
shirts with Saturday Night Fever collars to come back into
style? Here in Oaxaca theyve never gone out of
The reluctance to personally distribute what you can no longer
use is understandable. Certainly filling up a couple of green
garbage bags in the course of your annual spring cleaning
and then taking them to the local clothing drop box is easier,
and the anonymity which comes with it is somehow preferable.
It precludes any possibility of that feeling of discomfort
that often results from directly confronting differences in
economic status. But for those Oaxacans in need, all contributions
are welcomed and tremendously appreciated.
Bring whatever you can. And if youre not a packrat,
there are other ways you can help:
1) Ask your neighbors and relatives. Theyll be happy
to use the new-found closet space.
2) If youre a medical or dental professional, search
the shelves in your storage cabinet for instruments that have
become obsolete for your state-of-the-art practice.
3) If youre a manufacturer with over-runs, or wholesaler,
jobber or retailer with stock that you just cant move,
consider packing up whatever will fit into that extra suitcase.
Not knowing what to do with it once you land in Oaxaca is
certainly a legitimate, but not insurmountable concern. Again,
there are several options:
1) The manager of your hotel or B & B might assist in
distributing clothing to members of his cleaning staff who
in all likelihood are of extremely modest means, or might
suggest that some items be given to one of several local charities
such as Estancia Fraternidad or Casa de La Mujer.
2) If you plan to tour some of the craft villages, your tour
guide or driver might be able to assist you, although residents
of the more popular and consequently successful towns such
as Teotitlán del Valle and San Martín Tilcajete
might not be the ones to whom your generosity should be directed.
Consider spending part of a day getting away from the more
traditional tourist sights, perhaps venturing into the hills
and tiny communities, the inhabitants of which are predominantly
campesinos. This affords an opportunity to see first hand
the modest lifestyles of most Oaxacans and experience the
real Mexico. Your chauffeur should be happy to
accommodate, and you can distribute goods as and to whom you
3) Drop your donation by the Oaxaca Lending Library on Calle
Pino Suarez. Its volunteers are involved in a number of outreach
4) Contact me and Id be honored to come by your accommodations,
pick up whatever you have, and ensure that it goes to good
Regular visitors to the city and the numerous returning snowbirds
are afforded an even better and easier opportunity to help.
Consider leaving your entire Oaxaca wardrobe and all your
toiletries in Oaxaca, permanently. Remember, you still have
more than enough to wear at home, and already having bathroom
items awaiting you upon your return to Oaxaca can be quite
convenient, especially in light of airline restrictions regarding
sprays and bottles.
Pack it all up in a few boxes, or better yet buy an inexpensive
chest of drawers to store your belongings, like I did about
a dozen years ago when I was a frequent visitor to the city.
Toss in a few bars of soap or pieces of cedar to keep it all
fresh smelling. Then impose upon one of your Oaxacan or expat
friends to keep it for you in a closet, corner or storage
room. For your subsequent visits to the city all youll
be bringing down will be two suitcases filled with treasures
for those in need. And remember, with all that Oaxaca has
to offer shoppers, craft collectors and art aficionados, theres
never a risk that youll return north with empty luggage.
Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast ( http://www.oaxacadream.com
and Arlene Starkman are passionate about Oaxaca. They endeavor
to retain their reputation as proprietors of one of the best
Oaxaca bed and breakfasts, Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast
). Casa Machaya, a founding member of the Oaxaca Bed and Breakfast
Association, combines the attributes of quality Oaxaca hotels,
with the characteristics of a more progressive and personalized
Oaxaca lodging style: owners are on site 24 / 7 (its
and our home), always available
to guests as their personal resources, and willing to go that
little bit extra to ensure value-added service.
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