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Kossacks are everywhere, and as a resident of Perote, Veracruz, Mexico, I thought I`d offer a view of what is happening here, the spot being investigated as swine flu ground zero. In fact DailyKos is directly responsible for my being here, as I`ll explain after the fold.

(Mandatory disclaimer: I am a Peace Corps Volunteer, not staff.  What I share here are exclusively my own views and observations, and do not represent official Peace Corps positions, policies, etc. I speak only for myself here.)

I attended a dKos meetup in DC at a time I was trying to find work in the non-profit arena. Despite my education and experience, the only looks I was getting were for entry level positions. Arriving early at the meetup, I decided to burn a few minutes by walking around the block, where I came upon the Peace Corps headquarters building. Long story short, they needed professionals with advanced degrees and lots of experience to join their Mexico program. I am now a Peace Corps Volunteer in the municipality of Perote, working to strengthen the link between environmental protection and sustainable livlihoods.

Perote is both a municipality and a town, with a total population of around 65,000. Though high in the mountains, most of the population and towns of the muni are spread along a valley, (or perhaps more accurately, a "volcano alley"), at about 8,000 feet msl. The highest point in the muni is Cofre de Perote with a peak at over 14,000 feet. It occasionally get`s snow.

The economy here is based mostly on timber, surface mining (for a mineral used to make cinder blocks), subsistence farming, and Granjas Carroll de Mexico, the pork producer that is by far the largest company in Perote. GCM, as it is known, has Confined Area Feeding Operations, (CAFO), scattered across the valley floor. Standing on the mountain at night, you can see clusters of white or yellow lights dotting the valley. The yellow light clusters are towns. The of white light clusters are GCM`s CAFOs. They are far more modern than the rest of Perote, which was founded eighty three years before Jamestown, VA.

My project is meant to establish a model demonstrating how sustainable environmental practices improve the economic benefits for forest-industry businesses. The idea is that such a model can be followed by businesses and business groups across Mexico, thereby improving both the environment and the economy.

Out and about

Things in the town of Perote are surprisingly normal. I`m happy to see that a high percentage of people are wearing masks. I suspect the percentage would be even higher, but there are no more available to buy.

• Schools and some government buildings, (e.g. the library and the cultural center), are closed until May 6th.
• A few businesses are staying closed.
• The general activity level in town is lower than normal. People seem to be staying home more.
• Among the people who are out, there appears to be a high level of awareness of good prevention practices, and many business owners appear to be requiring their staff to wear masks.

How I have chosen to respond

• I am just trying to set an example by modeling healthy behaviors: wearing my mask; not shaking hands, (I shake the wrist, which isn`t uncommon here), washing my hands often and thoroughly, etc.
• I gave out masks. I went through the central park where the food vendors set up their carts at night, and gave masks to all the vendors who weren`t wearing them already. A lot of folks saw what I was doing, so I think it brought attention to basic prevention. I also gave masks to various business owners, and to the library for their patrons before it was ordered closed.
• I talk about it. I make sure the people are aware of what is going on and what steps they can take to minimize the risk to themselves and their families.

I had a conversation with a supermarket owner who also happens to have an M.D. I asked him why he didn`t have a mask on. He started to explain about viral transmission and personal hygiene, but I interrupted him. I told him that as a business owner, (let alone and MD), he needs to be a leader in the community. Being a leader means setting the example, not just in words, but in actions. I gave him a stack of masks and asked him to be a leader, and to pass those masks out to his customers as well. He called his whole family over and told them what I said. They put on masks and started giving masks away while we continued to chat. I even got invited back for dinner on Friday.

The Peace Corps in Mexico

The Peace Corps has three missions, and only one of them relates to sharing my technical expertise. The other two goals relate to both sides of the cultural exchange taking place: Mexicans meeting an American as a neighbor and a co-worker, and folks back in the U.S. learning about Mexico from PCV`s, (Peace Corps Volunteers). Think of it another way: two thirds of my responsibility here is to experience Mexico outside of work, and share stories of my experiences with folks back home. Such as I`m doing in this diary.

PCMX is trying to establish a new model of working with the host government to support solutions higher on the problem chain. Almost all PCVs in MX are experienced professionals with advanced degrees. Most projects aren`t just to solve a problem, but rather to set precedents and establish models that can solve the same problem across Mexico. For example, my project works with a diverse group of 20 companies to make environmental protection part of their business process. There is a growing market for products that are recognized as part of the solution rather than part of the problem, so that is the kind of business group we are trying to be. If successful, businesses around Mexico will be able to follow our lead, using the same process. Over time, this could create a significant impact on both the environment and the economy.

What you can do

Don`t wait for the swine flu to reach your town before you prepare. By the time word got out in Perote, all flu medications, masks and anti-virus had been sold out across town. I was lucky because I had bought masks before the crisis came, so I had enough to give away.

But the question of how you respond to the potential pandemic is no different from how you should choose to respond to the many other crisis that are threatening our health and welfare. The answer is the same; decide to be part of the solution, then align yourself with that decision. It can be as simple as setting a good example in your choices and practices. Or it can be as radical as changing careers and joining the Peace Corps. Ah-hem. Regardless, once you have made the decision, every step you take to follow through is a step in the right direction. That means something.

The dKos community is helping align our national and personal priorities to reflect responsible, informed decision-making. So the fact that you are reading this suggests you plot somewhere on the solution continuum.

As a business person, I encourage you to make every purchase a reflection of your values by only buying responsibly produced goods and services. When there is money in being green, businesses become green. Be the market we seek to serve.

Finally, as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I encourage you to give serious thought to joining one of the national service programs. I cannot tell you how much I am getting out of my service here in Mexico, and my experience is far from unique. But the program here needs more retirees and mid-level professionals, which are not the traditional audience for Peace Corps recruiters. Add budget cuts, and the Mexico program could stumble simply from not being able to find enough volunteers. Two words Kossacks: free healthcare! Please put Peace Corps service on your radar.

I will head to an internet café to follow comments and answer questions for an hour or two. Thanks for reading. And thank you for getting me to Mexico!!!

(Mandatory disclaimer: I am a Peace Corps Volunteer, not staff.  What I share here are exclusively my own views and observations, and do not represent official Peace Corps positions, policies, etc. I speak only for myself here.)

Originally posted to Peace Corps Mexico on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 10:47 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  If you want to talk offline... (16+ / 0-)

    ...I can be reached at my username (without spaces), at hotmail.

    I will share this account with other PCV`s here so they can participate in future diaries.

    Peace!

    •  I had my own experience with (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Peace Corps Mexico

      the Peace Corps many, many years ago.  It was one of the most personally rewarding experiences of my life.
      Since then I have spent volunteer time with other organizations.  If a person does not have the time and commitment for a long term, many groups would be happy to have you, even for the week or two of your vacation.

      I second the diarist in saying that these are the experiences of a lifetime.  Every little bit you can do is so valuable.

      •  Thanks for that (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Aquagranny911

        I have a feeling my experience here will have a long term impact in both my career, and how I approach volunteerism.

        My sister in law was a PCV. She put it this way: "The volunteer always gets so much more out of the experience than the country." Of course we all hope to make a difference...but a difference as profound as that which we receive? Unlikely.

        •  Beautifully said (0+ / 0-)

          and my own experience exactly!  I know that I certainly got more from the experience than I gave.  It also kept me focused on volunteer work my whole life, even if I could only give a few hours of my time.

          Thank You for the reminder.  Please keep us posted about what you are doing.

  •  I heard a somewhat humorous story last night (12+ / 0-)

    on an NPR program. An American woman who is in Mexico City right now was talking about how she was walking around the other day and it was like a ghost town... she saw only two people out eating at a restaurant. Both had masks but, obviously, weren't wearing them. Finally, she came across a hot dog vendor closing up and she mentioned how empty the city seemed. He said, "yeah, it's like this every Sunday."

  •  Thank you for this informative (7+ / 0-)

    and reasoned diary. And thank you for joining the Peace Corps. Sounds like they got a winner.

    Best of health to you and yours. Good luck in your work.

    Only that day dawns to which we are awake... Henry David Thoreau

    by graycat13 on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 10:54:36 AM PDT

  •  Thanks for helping make the world better (7+ / 0-)

    And thanks for the report

    If this is coffee, please bring me some tea. But if this is tea, please bring me some coffee.

    by Muskegon Critic on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 10:57:30 AM PDT

  •  thanks for sharing.... (6+ / 0-)

    Appreciate giving us your unique perspective on this and good luck over there...

    Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom. Albert Einstein

    by ebbinflo on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 10:57:39 AM PDT

  •  Hello, Peace Corps Mexico, here's a question for (4+ / 0-)

    you...the masks?  We are reading and hearing yes/no/maybe, so what makes you so sure they are effective?  I've read no, they don't actually work, well not the dime store variety anyway/you have to have a good quality surgical type one to make a difference.  But if it prevents people from touching their mouths it must have some benefit, right?  Also, maybe a psychological benefit as well in that everyone feels calmer and as if they have some control over it.  But the hand washing is a better preventative, especially since during the incubation period (when most people don't realize they have it) there is no sneezing and coughing. It's confusing but that's the conclusion I've come to after reading everything I can about it.  BTW, thanks for your work! Wish I could've done Peace Corps myself.

    •  Masks help keep you from inhaling (7+ / 0-)

      air-borne droplets containing the virus. They're not 100% effective, but do help. More importantly, they help keep you and others from expelling droplets with the virus into the air around you. The question isn't so much, "If I do this, does it protect me?" It's "If we do this, does it protect us?"

      "I had seen the universe as it begins for all things. It was, in reality, a child's universe, a tiny and laughing universe." Loren Eiseley

      by cadejo4 on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 11:13:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Good points. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Catte Nappe, Fury, KimD, litoralis

      Since I am not a doctor, I will not try to address the efficacy of masks in preventing transmission. I am a big believer that the hygiene steps are great frontline protection, and that the mask may have it`s primary benefit in enclosed spaces such as buses.

      In my role here, the psychologic aspect of wearing a mask is important. I simply I believe I should model the behavior that is being recommended by proper authorities.

      I also feel that persons in roles of authority should model such behavior. But the president of the muni here felt that if he handed out masks to his staff while none were available in the store, he could cause a panic. So he prohibits use of masks for employees who aren`t sick. And he sends them home. I really can`t argue with his thinking. I would prefer though, that government employees wear masks in the pulled-down position, and put them into proper position when they enter enclosed spaces. He is working on getting more masks.

      •  where are you P.C. Mex. (0+ / 0-)

        more unsolicited excerpts
        Long story Long story short, again for the benefit of anyone I’ve bored to tears before (I’ve been told), he guessed correctly that the odds of a mid-life career change for me were not favorable; but he was incorrect that the coyote would have any more aptitude then the gringo, me.  Border security has come a long way.  He was stopped I think 6 times.  Any reporter out there, could tell this story better than me. I will mention that he was treated very well on the United States side, although he was warned that if he got caught one more time he’d spend significant time in jail.  (30 days)  He wasn’t interested in risking jail time, even if you get a warm cot and three squares a day on our side. Lack of water and poisonous creatures in the desert etc also figure into any calculations.

         Get your self kicked back enough times across the border and eventually some scum bag thief is going to roll you on the Mexican side.   Bobby (not his real name) was with one other person, waiting to re-group, when exactly that happened.  Since he fortunately had a few bucks to surrender, the bandito’s gun was only placed to Bob’s temple, and not in his mouth, like the penniless soul he was hanging with.  No point in hurting either one though, bad for business, so this businessman only fired his gun off in the air for dramatic effect.  
         
         I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I received an incoming long distance call on my cell phone from yet a different type entrepreneur in the Phoenix area, telling me he was my friend’s coyote and that everyone was safe and sound in the U.S.  All I knew then was that my friend went off to the border against my advice. This was about April or early May, and at the time I was daydreaming how we could bring down energy prices by releasing the strategic energy reserves slowly over a few years, as part of a grand compromise, with all sides agreeing on new offshore drilling, initiated by me, our future congressman.
         I’d have made a shrewd Representative because I wasn’t falling for this coyote bull crap, I watched "To Tell The Truth" when I was a young, plus I’m very cheap and don’t like talking long distance on my cell phone during the day, (I’d be a deficit hawk); most importantly though, I was never party to this contract between the Mexicans.  I did call this charlatan back on my time schedule, and had my initial suspicions confirmed when I asked another Mexican guy I know well, to talk for me, and nail down the facts.  It’s common knowledge to these honorable veterans of the border region, now living along side us here in Jersey, that evil doers will somehow retrieve phone numbers from pay phones on the Mexican side.
         Later I found out from my friend Beto (his real name), after he threw in the towel and was home, that a Mexican family of one fellow in his group, did get conned, and did pay $3000 to these lying sons of a bitches, (who were playing coyote); and that the real coyote, the real deal, the one who did the actual commerce in human cargo, warned about these low lives.
         To show you what a sweet and thoughtful guy my friend is, consider his actions over the next few days.  After getting wired just enough money from his family for the three day bus journey home; and since he otherwise had just the shirt on his back (no extra frills); my friend was more worried about how bad he smelled to the fellow bus travelers, than what was he going to do with the rest of his life.  He tried a sponge bath in a public restroom.  Now I could very well jump in here and describe these restrooms in great detail since I’ve been to Mexico several times in the past year.  However I’ve been told my writing stinks and now my sarcasm is getting a little thick.  If after all this,  I’ve raised any eyebrow’s, in a favorable way, and not as dread of another diary entry, then I beseech a reporter to beg his editor, to get the accounting department to bequeath some bucks , and someone get their ass (butt) down to Mexico with me!

    •  There are other (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Fury, Peace Corps Mexico

      groups such as Habitat For Humanity who would welcome your help for a few days or even a few hours.  No special skills are necessary.

      I agree about the masks but anything that calms the helpless panic is a good thing, no.

  •  keep the info coming, PCMX! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    3goldens, Fury, Peace Corps Mexico

    Your diary was super-informative and offered a much needed perspective, not only on the emerging flu situation in Mexico, but on service as a foundational principle of our new Democratic administration. Thanks for offering incentive and inspiration for all of us who want to do more. Cheers!

  •  Thanks for the eyewtiness report (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    OLinda, Peace Corps Mexico

    But what's with the masks? I keep hearing they don't have much, if any, protective capability. Maybe that's what the MD was starting to say before you interrupted and told him to be a leader?

    "People who have what they want are fond of telling people who haven't what they want that they really don't want it." Ogden Nash (on universal health care?)

    by Catte Nappe on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 11:07:21 AM PDT

    •  Here`s what I wrote Fury, above... (5+ / 0-)

      ...
      Since I am not a doctor, I will not try to address the efficacy of masks in preventing transmission. I am a big believer that the hygiene steps are great frontline protection, and that the mask may have it`s primary benefit in enclosed spaces such as buses.

      In my role here, the psychologic aspect of wearing a mask is important. I simply I believe I should model the behavior that is being recommended by proper authorities.

      I also feel that persons in roles of authority should model such behavior. But the president of the muni here felt that if he handed out masks to his staff while none were available in the store, he could cause a panic. So he prohibits use of masks for employees who aren`t sick. And he sends them home. I really can`t argue with his thinking. I would prefer though, that government employees wear masks in the pulled-down position, and put them into proper position when they enter enclosed spaces. He is working on getting more masks.

    •  Mask keep hands... (3+ / 0-)

      .... away from nose, eyes and mouth - if not by totally blocking touch, at least by reminding people who (like myself) are often rubbing their eyes, scratching their forehead, etc. without really thinking about it.

      So even if they aren't helpful in blocking all particulates or every small pathogen, they DO help by reducing the hand-to-face-to-doorknob... etc. stuff that can make a flu bug spread more quickly.

      REAFFIRMED as a second-class citizen since Nov 4, 2008!

      by Timoteo on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 12:03:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  two sides of a coin (1+ / 3-)
    Recommended by:
    Peace Corps Mexico
    Hidden by:
    Catte Nappe, mariachi mama, TheCid

    I'm about to cross into to Toronto to pick up my Mexican friend and help find a job.  Failing that I just may.........

    I've been going on and on about it in Diaries for week.  Call me a sockpoppet(?)  Who am I hurting with a little name switcharoo.  My diary from the other day.I'm in a public library in Buffalo will be crossing over in about one hour friend.

  •  Travel to mexico (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Fury

    So even at ground zero people are still not wearing masks.  It seems to me that this outbreak is no more prevalent then the regular flu and is different only in that it is ocuring in April/May and not Dec - Feb.  A little late in the game for flu, which from what I understand is less effective at higher temperatures and higher humidity.  

    Personally, I am traveling to Baja, Mexico this coming weekend and am not worried about it at all.  Until people start dropping dead at an increasing rate (its only like 5 a day right now), this is no big deal.  

    To the diarist, thank you for volunteering for the Peace Corps.  Keep up the good work!

  •  Just wanted to add my thanks (3+ / 0-)

    to those of others here who have expressed their appreciation for your perspective on things "on the ground" in Mexico as well as for the encouragement to become involved as volunteers.   Please keep talking with us and I encourage you to get your fellow volunteers talking with us as well---I would really appreciate hearing in more detail about the projects you are all working on.  For all that Mexico is a U.S. neighbor, I really know so very little about what what it's like there (outside of the tourist areas).  I would be very interested to simply learn more about your work as it's a side of Mexico we don't typically think or hear about, especially in the daily news cycle.  

    •  I would love to. Thanks for the encouragment. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      3goldens, Cory Bantic, Aquagranny911

      I love talking about my work, so I will be happy to discuss it in future diaries.

      I will also share this account with the other PCV`s here (there are about 60 of us here), so you can get a variety of perspectives. Most of the volunteers here are actually scientists. Many work in government offices in capitol cities.

      So keep an eye out for future posts, or just subscribe.

      Oh, and we really do need more volunteers here. The PC recruiting function is largely oriented towards recent college grads, so bringing in experienced professionals is a hard nut to crack for them. That`s not their fault. This program is just moving the Peace Corps approach in a different direction.

  •  Thank you -- good work, good diary. But (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Catte Nappe, Peace Corps Mexico

    can you answer a few questions?

    1. Have you been there all spring?
    1.  Are you aware of many deaths having taken place there?
    1.  Or people having been seriously ill (maybe sent to DF?)
    1. Or lots of people having been "kind of sick?"
    1. Are many people sick there now?

    In other words, can you give us some layperson's ground's eye view of what went on there, or is going on, from an epidemiological perspective?

    It would be really helpful, since the info from DF is so equivocal and incomplete...

    "So, Pal, now tell me: What did YOU do to help the least among your people?" "Well, ummm, Mr. God, Sir..."

    by lurkersince03 on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 11:18:55 AM PDT

    •  I can try, but it is just a laymans view. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      KimD, Aquagranny911

      We had a terrible flu season. March was overwhelming for the local clinic. I cannot say if any fatalaties resulted, or if anyone was shipped to more specialized hospitals, (most likely in Xalapa, the capitol of Veracruz, about an hour and a half downhill from here).

      I did see overt sickness in March, but am not seeing it now. My suspicion is that the hazard has mainly passed out of town now, but is ramping up elsewhere.

      From the tracking data I`ve seen, there are a lot of mixed messages. I wish I could give you reliable info, but I`ll have to suggest you use the linked dKos resources. The flu wiki is a good one, for example.

      I hope that helps.

      •  But not LOTS of deaths? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Aquagranny911

        You would have noticed that, no? You seem like a sensitive person, and would have noticed lots of mourners, people in black, etc.

        As a Ground-Zero source, could you ask your Grocer/MD friend?  I bet he would know.  And it might be really important information that is being overlooked...

        You might find my diary
        http://www.dailykos.com/...
        interesting.

        I suspect that the 150+ deaths in DF were the tip of an unknown iceberg composed of sick people who eventually recovered.

        If your town had lots of sick people, but few deaths, that would confirm this suspicion...

        "So, Pal, now tell me: What did YOU do to help the least among your people?" "Well, ummm, Mr. God, Sir..."

        by lurkersince03 on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 11:50:51 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Absolutely I would know, and so would you. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          silence, Aquagranny911

          150 deaths in Mexico City made the global news, and that is one of the largest cities in the world, (I think it is over 25 million people). So a lot of deaths in a small cluster of communities like Perote would be a statistical outlier, and cause a huge response, (as the sicknesses in La Gloria id, in fact).

          That said, I have only read one confirmed case of swine flu here...but that seems odd. Regardless, the UN health team from Rome is on coming to look at it in depth. I`ll post another diary when I know more. I do not want to repeat rumors...this isn`t the traditional-media here ;)

  •  I really enjoyed reading your personal (2+ / 0-)

    account.Do you also write? I loved the imagery of the lights. I've been watching the Mexican news. Closing the restaurants will affect people. Keep us posted.

    ""If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy." JAMES MADISON

    by isabvella on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 11:56:28 AM PDT

    •  Thank you. I aspire to write, but... (0+ / 0-)

      ...well, I struggle with it. It took me two full days longer than intended just to post this diary, so I`m glad you enjoyed it. The lights piece all most got edited out...

      And yes, there is no way an event like this doesn`t have an enormous economic impact. The only upside of that, is it tends to force responsible agencies to take a hard look at what they could have done better.

      Of course there is enormous downside too. Especially when such a large percentage of the world has so little room for error economically. I mentioned the subsistence farmers...if they miss a growing season due to weather anomalies, they starve. They are doing everything they can just to stay alive. And that isn`t unique to Mexico, or to farmers.

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