"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Oaxaca Trip (Bad Timing)

It's been three full years since we returned from our year in Oaxaca (for more about that trip, see my sister blog, www.newtomexicanlife.blogspot.com). Three years is a long time in the girls' lives - they were children of eight and nine when we returned and now they are young ladies of eleven and twelve. Their memories of Oaxaca are hazy - especially Paloma's, who is the youngest - and their fluency in Spanish has taken a few giant leaps backward.
Therefore we were very happy to be able to plan a fairly long trip this summer - six weeks. We are supposed to leave on Friday. Back in February or March, there was a short period of time when airfare was very cheap. It was so cheap that we decided to fly all the way to Oaxaca, instead of flying to Mexico City and going the rest of the way by bus, as we usually do. Mama was ecstatic that we would be bringing her grand babies back to her, and the girls were delighted at the prospect of seeing their cousins. In fact, since they are so grown up now, we thought we would let the girls stay at Tia Temy's house with their cousins, and Homero and I would stay at Mama's house, fifteen minutes away by car. Maybe we'd even be able to get away for a three-or-four day trip, all by ourselves. 

Then this happened:
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Fires set by protesters to block the road

And this: 

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a truck carrying chickens set ablaze and used to blockade the highway

And this:

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civil unrest in Nochixtlan

The perennial dispute between the branch of the teacher's union known as section 22 and the federal government has once again flared into violence, as it has been doing every couple of years since at least 2006. This particular exacerbation is probably the worst since that time. Eight protestors have been killed by police, and there are fires and marches and blockades and rocks being thrown and molotov cocktails being tossed and batons swinging all over town.

Blockades are nothing new, and for the most part have been traditionally seen as nothing more than annoyances - inconvenient, yes, but a legitimate tactic nonetheless, like a strike. In fact I would venture to say that most Oaxacans view blockades and strikes with a kind of grudging admiration: "these people have guts" sort of thing. If it weren't for these people putting themselves on the line we'd all be ground under the heel of the imperialist oppressor. At worst, a blockade is met with a resigned shrug.

That changed, however, at least among the people I knew, a few years ago when the teacher's strike dragged on so long that schoolchildren missed almost a half a year of school. Those who could afford to sent their children to private schools. Those who couldn't do that had to miss work to care for kids or else leave them at home alone. Blockaders were so inflexible that a woman died in an ambulance that was not allowed to cross the blockade to the hospital. Tourism shrank away to nothing and many jobs were lost.

This time looks to be pretty bad. But it's so hard to judge without being there. A friend of mine who lives in the city center says that the blockades are so bad that grocery stores are running out of food. He said all he could buy at the local market was potatoes, yams, and cucumbers. Mama, on the other hand, just returned from a trip to Tuxtepec and said her bus had no trouble with blockades and that the stores in her neighborhood are perfectly well-stocked. She and my siblings-in-law are pooh-poohing the situation and say that we ought to come down as planned. In three days.

Here is a case where differing cultural expectations can be glaring. When I expressed concern to Homero that there might be a blockade on the road leading from the airport to the city, so that we might be stuck at the airport with no way to get to mama's house, he waved off my fears.

"The blockades are only stopping vehicles," he said. "you can walk around. It's only a few miles."

Somehow, the idea of attempting to traverse "a few miles" of terrain like that in these photos - a terrain littered with tire-fires, riot police, dead chickens, and rock-throwing youth does not inspire confidence. Especially when I imagine having to do it in 90 degree heat, with young children in tow,  dragging all our luggage. I know those Oaxaca highways and even at the best of times they are not suited to those little plastic suitcase wheels.

Thus far we have not been able to contact the airline. My brother suggested that given the situation, the airline would probably waive the change-date fees. Maybe - IF we could get ahold of a human. But really, what good would that do? Who knows when the situation will be any better? Homero spent an hour attempting to contact the customer service department of AreoMexico and only succeeded in soliciting the information (from a computerized voice) that the change-date fee is $250/ticket.

I think we will go. Nothing is ever as bad as it looks on the news.

But I'm bringing a carton of Cliff bars in my carryon.


Maven said...

We do a lot of travel (to India, the Caribbean etc) and the one thing we always do is spring for traveler's insurance just in case of things you've described.