Living  |  See all articles tagged health perspectives social-issues or in region Oaxaca, Oaxaca

Flying to Oaxaca at Christmas time

Stan Gotlieb

An Imported Santa

A latecomer brought by TV and consumerism from El Norte, this Santa, with his reindeer made from local tree branches, was greeted with a mixture of awe and nervousness by the children on the plaza in front of Oaxaca's Cathedral. Photography by Diana Ricci

'Tis the day after Christmas, and all through our house people are blowing their noses, clearing their throats, and emitting small groaning noises. The Tourist Flu has descended upon us.

The reason we call it the Tourist Flu is that it comes to us on the airplanes, and is delivered to our doors, the tables in the Zocalo and the Lending Library, by the hapless and blameless individuals who have been trapped therein.

I mention this because I want to clear up two misconceptions. The first, I have shared with the vast majority of residents: that visitors bring their sicknesses with them and infect us. The second is held by visitors: that the source of their infirmity or infection, seemingly contracted as soon as they get here, was already here, and lying in wait for their arrival. I have since come to realize that neither of these commonly held beliefs is true. In fact, the airplanes themselves are the culprits.

Hermetically sealed tubes, perfectly suited for incubating scurrilous infections and viral plagues, the modern airplane goes everywhere, picking up passengers indiscriminately. The air conditioning system is a closed one, recirculating the contaminated air endlessly. The foam rubber seats are a perfect medium for preserving inimical microscopic animales. Think of an airplane as a kind of giant flying petrie dish.

Armed with this insight, I grabbed a bus the other day and rode out to the airport to talk to the proper authorities about this situation. The first problem I ran into was defining "proper". I asked for the maintenance department, and was introduced to a jolly fellow carrying a small toolbox sitting back against the outside wall in the shade.

"What is your job?", I inquired. He said he was there in case a wheel needed to be changed. "Isn't there anyone else, in case of other things?" I asked. Of course. "Who?" Some fellow who lives in Mexico City. "But that's an hour away." Yes, but he is afraid to fly. He comes down on the bus. "But, that is a long delay." Well, these things are supposed to be taken care of up there. "Oh."

Guessing that I should have asked for "cleaning" rather than "maintenance", I correct my mistake and am directed toward a pleasant looking middle aged woman in a simple cotton shift, wearing rubber gloves and six inch spiked heels, carrying a bucket.

"Do you clean the planes?" I inquire. Si. "What exactly do you do?" I sweep the floors, empty the ash trays, straighten out the seat covers, pick up the blankets and pillows, put new covers on the pillows, and store everything in the overhead bins. "Do you know about the germs?" Si, but there is not much I can do. They do not furnish me with the proper perfume with which to spray.

I thank her, and head back for town. I think about talking with my travel agent, but give up the idea. I think about writing to the airlines, but imagine the answers I would get: "...on advice of counsel, may not comment on your unproven claim that our equipment may in some circumstances contribute to possibly detrimental health problems for persons unknown, thus opening up a liability position for our company which is both undeserved and unquantifiable. Thank you for flying Air Influenza."

In the meantime, the worst effects appear to be over. We are all out of bed, and able to negotiate the vast distance between the kitchen and the living room with a minimum of dizziness. It only takes us five minutes to regain our strength so we can get out to the patio: we are clearly getting better. And, best of all, now that the Christmas crush is winding down, we should be able to stay relatively healthy until Holy Week.

In spite of the danger that tourists pose, we certainly do not resent their coming here. They provide lots of entertainment for us, and beaucoup bucks for our neighbors. Besides, it doesn't matter how we feel, they will come anyway -- so we might as well relax and enjoy it. However, I do have one suggestion: take a deep breath before you board, and hold it.

If you have comments or suggestions for Stan, you can contact him at:

Published or Updated on: September 1, 2000 by Stan Gotlieb © 2008
Contact Stan Gotlieb
All Tags