When the Spaniards came here, they brought wheat.  They virtually wiped out the ancient native staple known as amaranto.  In the last few years, amaranth has been making a major comeback.  Last Saturday, we attended “Amaranth Day”, held around the kiosko in Ciudad Canteras park.

Amaranth comes in dozens of genuses and hundreds of varieties, and is practically drought-proof.  Its leaves cook up just like Spinach, but have more minerals and vitamins, and it’s seeds contain more protein than corn.  The seeds can be made into soup just like lentils or beans; ground up into flour; consumed like cereal (it is referred to as a “pseudo-cereal” crop).

Puebla and Morelos states grow more amaranth than Oaxaca, but a non-profit organization named Puente is promoting more amaranth growing, processing, and sales here.  We found out about this from Pete Noll, who works for Puente.  He used to work for CORAL, an organization that fits deaf children with hearing aids and helps them to hear and speak Spanish.  That’s where we first ran into him, many years ago.

Puente has a web page in English at  Check it out.  It’s really quite a story…

[one of the many varrieties of amaranth]

Ciudad de las Canteras:

Amaranth day was held in one of Oaxaca’s lesser-known treasures.  Cantera is the green stone from which many of the early post-conquest buildings were built.  One of the quarries, which was mined out, is now a park, which extends from the new international highway down to the soccer stadium on the old international highway.  There is an arboretum of sorts, a lake, an amphitheater, and the kiosk where the Amaranth event was held.

In the almost-20 years we have lived here, the park has sometimes been allowed to go to seed, but this year it’s trim, clean, and free of vendors.  On a sunny day, it sparkles.  It’s very much a “family” kind of place, and a good place to go to get out of the big city noise and bustle, though it’s right in the middle of the city.

A follow-up on health care:

Since the last Newsletter, a raft of questions have come in, and the death of a relatively young woman (Nancy Bridger) has gotten me thinking more about medical emergencies and how to handle them, particularly if your Spanish is weak – or if you are unable to communicate at all.  This is probably the first installment of a series of what I hope will be practical advice from many others as well a yours truly.

As I have said before, I am fortunate enough to enjoy the services of an excellent medical advisor / helper; someone who wants me to feel better, or at least to accept that which cannot be changed.  Not everyone shares my view, as you would expect; many “permanent” residents have other doctors to whom they are fiercely loyal.

There are also lots of “tourists” here.  They are in a new place, far from their medical support system; they often speak little or no Spanish; they may or may not have a cell-phone (let alone a house phone), but don’t know whom to call in an emergency, or what to say to whomever answers.

[This youngster is dressed in the “traje” (costume) of her native village. We think she came from the Mixe region in the mountains east of Oaxaca city…]

Mind you, I have been here almost 20 years, and I only recently got a recommendation for a reliable ambulance service.  If Dr. Z happens to be out of town when either Diana or I has an emergency – or at least an urgent problem – whom do we call?  If I were hit by a bus, and unconscious, where would I end up?  If I had an open wound while unconscious, how would I communicate my fatal penicillin allergy?    The answers are both simple and complex, but let’s start with a few basics.

**Do you speak Spanish?  If not, have someone you know translate those things you want known about you into Spanish.   Here in Oaxaca, most doctors know enough English to understand things like “heart” and “arm”, but maybe not things like “cramp” or “it hurts sometimes, then  it goes away”, but that’s not the kind of stuff I mean: pointing and grimacing goes a long way; and of course there are a lot of cognates, like valve / valvula and stomach / estomago.

What you need translated are your medical history, any medications you are taking, any chronic or frequently occurring illness; the kinds of things that your doctor and hospital at home know all about: allergies, surgeries, diseases (such as rheumatic fever, or measles) that you have survived; etc.  If you have a copy of your latest lab work, or anything that is being monitored, bring that along too.

**You don’t need a U.S. – educated doctor.  By now, you’ve met enough of them to know that they come in all levels of competency, anyway.  You do need a good one, though, and we’ll talk about how to find one later.

Remember that speaking good English has no necessary relationship to practicing good medicine.  Right now, suffice it to relate a supposedly true story:  a fellow living down here developed a heart condition that was urgent, rare, and serious.  He didn’t think he could find the right doctor and hospital in Mexico.  He took the next plane to MexCity, and then to Houston, was admitted to one of the more prestigious hospitals, where he was kept stabilized for two days: until the world-renowned surgeon who specialized in his problem could arrive from Monterrey, Mexico.

**Many folks think that Mexico is still a place where you can buy anything you want over a drugstore counter.  It just ain’t so, Joe.  Not anymore.  Prescriptions are needed for antibiotics, for instance; some common cold remedies are unavailable because they contain “precursor” chemicals used in methamphetamine or cocaine labs.  Most blood pressure medications are available over the counter, as are most common pain relievers; the stronger stuff will require a scrip.  There are lots of generics available; in fact there is a giant chain of pharmacies that sell virtually nothing but.

**Wearing a “medical alert” bracelet or dog-tags (there are a couple of shops near the army base that will make one up to say whatever you want) that lists your allergies and your necessary meds (Coumadin comes to mind) is a pretty good idea.  I don’t have one, but on doctor’s advice I will have one in the next week or so, and I’ll tell you how that works out.  I bet you can find someone near you or online that could do the job.

**There are a lot of medical laboratories in Oaxaca.  Some are better than others, but all of the ones that are in the areas you are likely to be staying in should be fine.  Often, doctors will refer you to labs that they trust, and most hospitals have their own lab, so that takes some of the guesswork out.

This is the view from near the top of the park.

**If you are staying for a short time, in either a b&b or a hotel, they will have a doctor whose services they use.  Since they are in the business of getting customers to return, their suggestions will probably be fine.

**If you are staying for a longer time, then you will want to make your own arrangements.  We’ll cover that in a little bit.

**You may have a clause in your health insurance policy or HMO that allows for repayment of medical expenses incurred in Mexico.  Be aware that collecting can be difficult.  For example, Diana had some work done down here, presented her signed invoices, and was rejected because they did not contain the U.S. procedural codes for that service.  If you have many extra minutes to wait on hold, it might be worthwhile to find out what your carrier needs before you come down.

**Taxis are generally faster than ambulances in Oaxaca.  Acquire telephone numbers for both.  If you are in distress, and ambulatory, call your doctor first.  Make sure you have his cellphone number.  Many doctors will not hesitate to make a house call, and if he or she can’t get to you, will call ahead to the clinic / hospital to which you have been sent, so that they will be ready to receive you.

If all this is making you wonder if you shouldn’t go to Kansas City instead of Oaxaca, stop and think for a minute.   Aside from the fact that they mostly speak English there, would you not still have the same problems?  This is not meant to scare you, it’s meant to help you avoid problems that you might otherwise encounter.

[There are lots of little nooks and crannies in the park, and this is one of them.]

There’s lots of good information available on the internet from the AMA to the CDC to sites specifically referring to whatever… about what to take with you, what to expect, etc.  Don’t take my word for it.  Check it out and form your own opinion.  Just because I’ve been on this bus for 18.5 years, doesn’t make me any less of a Bozo.  Having said that, I’m now going to go ahead and give you more advice…

Oaxaca is about a mile above sea level (think Denver).  There are some heart and some lung conditions that act up more, the higher you go.  Ask your doctor.

There are forums on Oaxaca on the internet, where you can ask others for advice on whether you can get treatments or medications you need.  Use them.  Someone is bound to have had, or to have known someone who had, whatever it is you are concerned about.  Tribal knowledge is at your fingertips.

If nothing else works, and you still have some questions you need answered –even if you are already here –  I am available to subscribers: send me an email, and a phone number if you have one.  We have Skype and a U.S. phone number.  Diana prefers to write, I prefer to talk, but we both can do either…

If you are here, you can find lots of people to give you advice about just about anything at the English Lending Library.  Ask more than one person, though: everyone has an opinion…

Finally, I solicit your recommendations (where they differ from mine), favorite sources of information, and your criticism.  Health matters is meant to be a serious conversation, and your experiences, rumors, resources, and advice could be an important part of the weave.

[This Mexican version of the didgeridoo is devised from a mezcal plant grown near Oaxaca.]


**Atzompa tomb site is open, but you can’t drive in.  The walk from the road to the site is said to be steep and rocky.  Is it worth the effort to get there?  That probably depends on your age and vigor…

**Rumor has it the new rules are being implemented over at the Migration office.  I hope to have visited and become informed about what to expect by the next Newsletter…

**The rainy season appears to be over, as attested to by Diana having moved the wooden table from its seasonal dry storage to its place of honor in the outdoor, uncovered patio.  Cultural activities are picking up.  Snowbird season in Oaxaca…

**A Oaxaca Center has been opened in L.A., and others are being planned.  I understand that they will be staffed with actual Oaxacans, who will be providing assistance with help and advice in a variety of problems common to expatriates, including things like what their rights are, where to apply for this or that, retrieval of documents that they otherwise would have to return home to obtain, etc.  About time, say I: in many of the cities in California, people identifying themselves as “Hispanics” are in the majority…