As the United States braces for another, more extreme, onslaught of the Corona virus, so does Mexico.
When I drove down to Palomas on a Saturday in Mid-November, I was amazed by the absence of traffic in the streets. It seemed to me that there was only about one -tenth the normal level of traffic.
The rules imposed on people were more restrictive than ever. I heard from several people that there were fines for about anybody who was out on the streets after 7 p.m. But nobody I talked to knew how much the local government was charging or knew anyone who had been fined. It may have been a hoax.
Yellow tape was stretched around the entire central plaza for the first time to enforce social distancing. Customers can’t enter La Favorita Bakery – a woman takes orders in the doorway behind clear plastic sheets that hang down.
A young woman in a little grocery store told me, “The people are huddling in their houses. They’re afraid.”
Most of Palomas is poor. Unpaved streets are so gouged by enormous potholes that drivers often veer all over the street to avoid them. There are few street signs, a problem for someone like me who gets lost easily. Limping dogs stare at you for handouts.
But unemployment in Palomas has increased because of the quarantines. Workers who work in the maquiladoras in Juarez (mostly women) have been laid off, and women at the Mizcan America chile plant in Deming dismissed its workers in late October when they found out that over 40 workers, again mostly women, had tested positive for COVID-19. By this writing, many cars had returned to the parking lot.
The Pink Store has almost entirely ceased its operations. According to the manager at the Del Rio grocery and pharmacy, Sergio Garcia, sex workers at all eight brothels were laid off at the beginning of the quarantines in the spring.
Esperanza Lozoya has been feeding people around Palomas and the Copper Canyon for many years. She returned a couple of years ago to open her food kitchen in Palomas again. She said she and some volunteers have been preparing food for 40 people (the sick and elderly) a day, but with the recent emergency they are fixing eight meals a day because of the lack of resources. They are offering food to hungry children for the first time ever.
The director of the clinic in Palomas, Lina Carrasco, has talked to many of the families of people who passed, during the increase of COVID-19 virus in mid-October. From symptoms described by the families, she believes there have been only two coronavirus deaths in Palomas in this second phase.
This was a jolt to me because I’d heard people say that 14 had died.
“People are afraid to come here [to the clinic],” Carrasco said.
Because of this the sick don’t get enough diagnoses or treatment. She said recent counts show 51 people had died of the virus in the municipio or County of Ascension, which includes the City of Ascension, Palomas, and little towns between, since the second wave started.
The date of this writing, Nov. 15, is still in the early stage of the quarantine and the situation in Palomas will still be watched.
The Friday as I was finishing up my research, the grey skies of the previous days broke open to warm, sparkling sunlight.
Gradually women started putting used clothes out for sale in the brilliant sunshine and young children in groups of three or four started playing outside. I saw three children getting a ride in the back of a truck at the Taqueria Gamez, all without face masks, and I heard a car radio blasting nearby. Guys drove around in two vehicles that looked like go-carts.
In the interminable line of cars waiting to cross the border into the United States, I saw three guys selling things, sitting knee to knee in a little half-circle of folding chairs and sharing food, completely oblivious to social distancing.
One worried elderly woman understood my concern about the pandemic increasing.
“It might get stronger now,” She said, with a dark look on her face.
The alternations of depression and joy was hard to interpret. You can’t help but share the happiness they feel in this burst of sunshine and warmth that feels like healing.
The outcome of the town of Palomas’ quarantine will have to wait.
Donations to Palomas are essential in this time of crisis. Send check to Casa de Amor Para Niños at the Light at Mission Viejo, c/o Jim Noble 4601 Mission Bend, Santa Fe NM 87507. Info: 525-466-0237. Donations are tax exempt.
La Luz de Esperanza, P.O. Box 1866 Columbus nm 88029. Donations would be appreciated in the form of Walmart or Deming Pepper’s Supermarket gift cards.
Borderlines columnist Marjorie Lilly lives in Deming.