3 Kings Day at Coco’s house:

For a few years now, we have been minor patrons of what may be one of the most unique and appropriate charitable efforts taking place here in the city of Oaxaca. “Casa Hogar Hijos de la Luna” (Shelter for For the Children of the Moon), otherwise known as Coco’s house.

Coco is the wife of a doctor, with a few children of her own. While they are not rich, by any means, they do have a reasonably sizeable piece of land, some of which they have turned into apartments (some rented out, some lived in by family members), with lots of room left over for the Casa Hogar.

Coco takes in the children of prostitutes and others who are essentially homeless, and gives them a stable and nourishing place to be. The arrangements are strictly voluntary, and the amount of time that the kids spend with their mothers varies depending on family circumstances. Casa Hogar is not an orphanage. It’s a shelter, and the children stay only as long as the parent permits.

[Bill, a volunteer from Boston, gives her a choice of bats with which to attack the pinata. She’s thinking…]

The whole thing has grown like a snowball, from a few kids at first, to as much as 30. Everyone in Coco’s family is involved, and there is a growing cadre of volunteers, both local and visiting.

We attended, along with many others, on the evening of January 6, Epiphany, otherwise known as “Thre Kings’ Day”: the traditional day when children receive their Christmas gifts. Tamales are served, and a pinata is battered to pieces until all the candy and cookies inside are yielded up. The kid in the masthead photo is lining up his loot.

Gifts are distributed, which the kids take into another room to watch a dvd while the adults are served a “rosca”, a ring of bread and dried fruit. Inside are several “baby Jesus” figures, and those who get a piece with one in it are supposed to pay for a party on February 2, Candelaria.

[This slugger has already drawn first blood and she’s going for more.]

If you would like to know more about Casa Hogar, write to Cicely Winter at cwinteroax@gmail.com


It isn’t just the Mormons:

We used to joke about the Mormons: “at least, you can see them coming”. We wrote about evangelicals in the context of their effect on social traditions such as “Tequio”, the practice of performing shared work for the common good of the village or town, usually on Sundays, a day when most Protestants are forbidden to labor. Issues like this have torn some villages apart, with forced exile for the evangelicals.

As time has gone on, charimatic Protestant (and, to a lesser extent Catholic) sects have made more and more converts, particularly among the indigenous, and non-Catholic churches in the city appear to be thriving. INEGI, the government department of statistics, estimates that there are millions, and that the number is growing steadily.

When I first got here there was a big scandal about the Summer Institute, an organization ostensibly dedicated to translating the Bible into native languages, having taught psy-ops and psychological warfare techniques to their volunteers before sending them out to convert the heathen. The government closed it down, and deported all the personnel they could find.

There was a guy in my first Spanish class who wouldn’t talk much about what he was doing here. It later turned out that he was the state “facilitator” for the Baptist missionaries in Oaxaca. He has a house in a very residential neighborhood with a big ham radio antenna attached. It was his job to see to it that the missionaries were kept supplied with everything from Bibles to visits from born-again doctors and dentists; all very quiet, as befitted the circumstances at the time.

Since then, the evangelicals, represented by a council of organizations, successfully lobbied then-President Carlos Salinas to get many pro-Catholic, anti- evangelical laws loosened, allowing them more political clout; and the Summer Institute eventually came back to Mitla.

In the more than 15 years that have followed, some pretty interesting phenomena have occurred on the religious front: there is a buddhist temple in Oaxaca, for example, and a mosque in San Cristobal, Chiapas, which also is rumored to have a small Jain community. One result is increased activity among charismatic Catholics, encouraged by the Church, and a recognition of the concern that the once-predominant religious body is worried about the inroads being made into their congregations.

Recently, I read a set of testaments written by followers of Minister Louis Farrakhan, who had traveled along the Pacific coast of Oaxaca, from the Costa Chica (the area near the border of Oaxaca and Guerrero), as far south as Chiapas. in search of enclaves of afro / mestizo Mexicans, handing out books from Mr. Farrakhan’s publishing house. According to their writings, they had a warm welcome wherever they went, and they came back home feeling uplifted from their experiences.

[Three kings with mail slots just under their belts. They are in the Stamp Museum. You can buy special stamps in the museum, and affix them to envelopes containing whatever message or request you might like to make of these rich and powerful potentates.]

Muxhies debate adoption:

Any same-sex couple can go to the center of everything (Mexico City) to get legally married. In the Istmo (isthmus of Tehuantepec, the area south of Oaxaca city where the mainland is narrowest) traditional “capital” of those men – not all are gay – who practice a transvestite life style, some are thinking about what comes next..

According to a recent account published in the daily “Noticias”, the Muxhie group “Naxhiely”, centered in the city of Ixtlan, is in the midst of an internal debate over whether to make the issue of adoption by same-sex couples a priority lobbying effort in the coming year. At this point it appears that the group is fairly evenly divided between those who see the right to adopt as the next battle in their struggle for complete equality, and those who counsel that marriage is one thing and child raising quite another.

On another level, it is argued that having same-sex marriages recognized in the D.F. is not enough; that the effort to make every state conform should be the first priority.

[This fantasmagorical super-sized creation by Arrazola alebrije maker Artemio Ibanez Ramirez was one of a dozen or more of his works on display at the ex-government palace cum museum on the south side of the Zocalo.]

Inflation? What inflation?

As the president of the Republic, Felipe Calderon, and his Treasury Secretary Herbert Carstens, appear much in public these days to reassure their citizenry that everything is just fine; that they need not fear more economic jolts; the Secretariat for Economic Development has run the numbers and concluded that the total package of “reforms” the administration has proposed, if adopted without change, would result in a massive 30% rise in the “basic market basket” of all Mexicans.

Included are increases in the prices of gasoline, cooking gas, public transportation, basic grains (and therefore tortillas) and the value-added (sales) tax.

Fortunately for the average Juan, the congress and some of the agencies appear to have regained their senses, and many of the increases have either been postponed or broken down into increments. However, it is clear to us and many of our friends who shop in the neighborhood “mercaditos” (one-square-block covered markets) and the IMSS store that the cost of living is increasing at a brisker pace than it used to.

Meanwhile, the Peso remains weak and is likely to get weaker (the Treasury recently revealed that a massive selling of dollars for pesos had not been enough to stop the slide, although it did appear to slow it down quite a bit).

[Early evening strollers along the east side of the Zocalo.]

Stan the prognosticator:

It’s the last edition of the volume once again (we go from year 14 to year 15 with the next Newsletter), and time to evaluate my ability as predictor of the future. The record, is, as usual, a mix of hits and misses; far too may to list here; but here are a few for your consideration:

**While I have generally gotten the trend right (weaker), I have never come close to an exact amount for the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the Peso. Although it came closer to my predicted 15-to-1 this year than in the past, the last time I went to the ATM I got 12.7. I think I’ll wait awhile before I make my next prediction for the end-of-the-year Peso.

**Unfortunately, I underestimated the amount of chaos and disfunction that the Oaxaca state university (UABJO) would suffer this past year. Local newspapers are describing the main campus as a no-man’s-land, totally under the control of roaming bands of extortionists and thieves: most recently, a gang of young hooligans invaded one of the science departments, and systematically robbed staff, students, and equipment. The very small department of languages, in which several friends teach, has been battered by a violent struggle between two factions for the Director’s position (read: control of the $$), resulting in one assassination so far. The few people we have reached refuse to talk about it at all. Recently, an independent survey of university level institutions in Oaxaca showed that the general quality is going up, and several schools were named. UABJO was not even mentioned.

[Lining up to do a dance, in the Alameda park in front of the Cathedral. Does anyone know where they are from? I forgot to ask…]

**Ulises looks to be able to finish his term as governor as I predicted. He has accomplished this largely through the strong national support of the PRI, for which he has been raising (literally) untold amounts of money being stashed away for the 2012 presidential election. Mostly through his “public works” projects (construction being a notorious way of skimming), and diversion of federal funds meant for other infrastructure projects (Ulises refuses to reveal how the funds have been disbursed; claims it’s a “security” matter), he has become a large (if clandestine) contributor to his partys next Presidential candidate (likely to be Enrique Pena Nieto, present governor of Mexico state).

By the time his term is up, however, so will the jig: at the very least, the smell of corruption – not to mention his brutal handling of the 2006 uprising, will prevent him from becoming his party’s presidential candidate in the future; and the possibility of criminal prosecution (after he steps down) still hangs in the air. My prediction? Ulises will retire a billionaire in another country, and then will slowly be rehabilitated, as was one of his heroes, Carlos Salinas.

**The Centro de Abastos market, largest in the state, is in a total state of chaos at the moment. Earlier this month, the leader of the largest of the dozens of gangs and sub-sets that divide the turf up was assassinated, precipitating a free-for-all fight for both spaces and tribute. The most affected area at the moment seems to be outside of the south-west corner, where the buses from the other side of the Atoyac stop on their way to downtown and the northern suburbs.

So, once again this year, my advice is to enjoy the exotic and well-stocked Abastos; and to keep your ears and eyes open.

[Artemio has said that he “dreams” the figures. Other artisans have told me that they do, too.]


**Faced with an organized and increasingly aggressive opposition from the small-tour operators, ADO has backed off their intention of providing tourist transport from Oaxaca city to Monte Alban and Mitla. They have decided instead to raise their cross-country bus fares by 4 to 4.5 percent to “make up the losses”.

**For the second year in a row, the Mexican treasury has taken out insurance on the price of oil. Last year, they bet that Mexican export oil would fall below U.S.$70/bbl, and recouped 4 billion dollars on their one-billion-dollar premium. This year, they are betting another billion that it won’t fall below $U.S.59