The sun is shining in Oaxaca on our band of 15 medical and 11 nonmedical volunteers as we spend a relaxing afternoon soaking up the sights and flavors of this beautiful city. Our overnight flight went quite smoothly even though it felt like we walked halfway to Oaxaca to catch our connecting flight in Mexico City.

Gladis Castellanos de Rivas, president of Rotary Club “Guelaguetza,” greeted us at the airport with a cast of helpers to ferry us, our luggage and 30 large, heavy boxes of medical supplies to our hotel. The eager beaver customs officials were ensuring a thorough accounting of boxes. Each of us claimed one medical box to accompany our personal baggage as we lined up to press the button. Green light, you breeze through; red light, they open the box for inspection.

We discovered that our schedule had been changed so that our screening clinic will be held on Sunday with surgeries to begin the next day. That means we’ll be off to a rather relaxed start to the mission as our hostesses take us sightseeing tomorrow, including a visit to the Zapotec and Mixtec ruins at Mitla.

Our van ride to the Hotel Parador San Miguel was delayed as the drivers consulted on a route that would bypass the teachers’ strike that had shut down traffic on the usual route. Our circuitous route took us on dirt roads through the campo, past farmers tilling their fields walking behind horse-drawn plows. Once at the hotel, most of us headed for the dining room where it was hard to choose which typical Oaxaqueña breakfast to try.

A cool breeze was blowing the cumulus clouds across the brilliant blue sky and I took a walk over to the zócalo to hang out and people watch. The dozen or so shoe shine vendors were quite busy and I became very self conscious of my dirty shoes. Judging from the shiners’ brisk business, it must be terribly rude to be seen in shoes where you can’t see your reflection in the leather.

The women of the local Rotary Club are hosting us for dinner tonight at a restaurant so I had to take immediate action. For 12 pesos, just under one dollar, Jesus spent 20 minutes transforming my sorry excuses for foot covers into a most respectable pair of rich brown shoes. It didn’t take me long to use up all my rusty Spanish but we had a delightful conversation and the comfortable perch was perfect for people watching.

While this may be a leisurely beginning, we are all well aware of what lies ahead and we’re quite eager and excited to begin changing the lives of the children we’ll treat. Let the work begin.

Jerry Meshulam
Photojournalist-Oaxaca 09