Observations this week with UNESCO in town
So, five and half weeks in and Oaxaca is now feeling pretty much like home. I have my favourite cafes, people I like to buy street food from, vendors I say hi to each morning and favourite areas to walk. I am also starting to get a routine together which makes me feel a bit more purposeful, and like a local. UNESCO rolled into town this week for their annual conference (which is held in a different UNESCO city each year) after much preparation by the city officials. As I mentioned, many many buildings in the centro area were repainted and refreshed over the last couple of weeks.
Another thing that happened is that the police presence got ramped up this week. We now have 4 types of police in the city; the traffic ones, the city ones, state ones and federal ones. They don’t seem to be scrapping over jurisdictions as far as I can tell, but it’s still unsettling for me – unaccustomed to seeing anyone holding machine guns up close.
Some provide a presence just standing on streets or by attractions whilst some ones drive laps of the city – seemingly all day – in a ute with two in the front and an officer standing watch in each corner of the truck tray; dressed head to toe in dark blue. They carry machine guns of some description (which is as good as my gun identification gets) and the truck ones are even decked out in helmets and bullet proof vests. As I walk home I see them off duty and standing on the sidewalk in small groups eating – it must be a relief to get off the back of the truck and out of the heat.
Another thing the officials have done while UNESCO conference participants are in town is to ban all sidewalk vendors – everyone from the girl on the corner near my Spanish school who sells homemade sweets and nuts, to the elote (eh-lo-te) and helado vendors beside Santo Domingo, to the caravan which sells (the best) ice cream parked alongside Llano park.
This removal has made the locals quite angry as these small businesses are part of the community and part of living in Oaxaca. In the mornings people get their breakfasts made (literally) by women using makeshift kitchens housed in the hatchback of small cars.
Everyone has their favourite street food vendor for meals and snacks and the people who travel in from the smaller towns to sell shirts, bark paintings and ceramics on the streets have not come in this week.
One enterprising local was so angry about this blatant sanitation that he hired a car and a megaphone and spent an entire afternoon competing with the gas truck (Bwwaaaahhh gas Oaxaca! Bwwaaaaahhhh) riding around Oaxaca yelling “Oaxaca son mentirosos” (Oaxaca are liars).
The conference finishes up tonight and so by Monday I think the city of Oaxaca will return to its usual state of being. I definitely prefer normal Oaxaca to the sanitized version. I love all the colour and variety offered by living here – with all types of street vendors and only 2 police branches – traffic and city. I think I am becoming a local.