The year-old pandemic is fraying the nerves of so many people. Children, though, are experiencing stress at an alarmingly high rate. They often don’t have the coping skills, and may not know how to effectively express what they are feeling, let alone understand the why behind the emotions.
The nonprofit Padrino Children’s Foundation based in Todos Santos now has two full time psychologists to help this vulnerable population; whereas a year ago only one was on staff.
“One of the first things we predicted is that we would see a rise in mental health,” Alejandra Peña Salguero, lead physician and medical director for the nonprofit, said. This is because those cases were increasing pre-COVID-19. “We increased the psychology team early in the pandemic. We are booked and there is a wait list.”
A triage system was developed to reduce the wait time. Urgent cases receive immediate attention. This could be someone who is suicidal or at risk of violence in the home or needs medical attention. That child will be seen that same week.
Peña said before the virus took hold medical needs were the primary focus. Now mental health tops the list. COVID caused isolation, particularly in teenagers, is causing depression and behavioral issues.
For the Padrino psychologists, Israel Navarro Maldonado and Jessica Avila Franco, their job is to meet with the child to assess what is going on and then address their individual needs. When the pandemic first hit services moved online. That was difficult with so many clients not having access to the internet. Then sessions were by telephone. The office was rejiggered and in the summer patients returned to in person appointments.
Domestic violence, Peña said, is the No. 1 problem and often the root of children’s problems.
“The kid is just the symptom. The reason is often what is going on at home,” Peña said. “Many parents split up during the pandemic, many lost relatives.” The instability and ongoing economic slump contribute to the family’s chaos.
For the child, it can start with misbehavior like not following orders, not listening, throwing tantrums. It’s beyond normal kid stuff and can escalate into aggression against a relative.
“Parents think we are going to treat the child and really it is the whole family we need to work with,” Peña said. “If the family is not willing to work, we have to try to help the child one way or another.”
Peña is particularly concerned with the children not going to school where they would interact with others on a daily basis. In Mexico school is taught via television as opposed to the internet because most households have a TV. Schools, in the past, were the primary place where social, mental and other issues were first detected. Parents might not know there is a problem until it’s a crisis.
This is a worldwide problem. School has gone remotely in many countries, isolation has become the norm, and socialization is missing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, from mid-March to October 2020, emergency rooms in the States reported a 31 percent increase in mental health issues for ages 12-17, while ages 5-11 with mental health troubles in the ER were up 24 percent compared to the prior year.
Peña wonders what will happen to the neurological health of kids after a year or more of isolation. Already fewer are getting childhood vaccinations, she said.
“For the public there is not a lot we can do. But we can lead by example by being kind to each other. There is lot of tension everywhere. A lot of people want to place blame. We need to be kind and tolerant to each other,” Peña said. While mental health can be a taboo subject in many cultures, it is even more so in Mexico. That is why Peña recommends when gringos hear their Mexican workers or someone in town talking about struggles, especially with their children, to let them know about the Padrino Foundation.
The dirt circle is where the stupa will be erected. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Seventeen crates containing specially carved granite are scattered about. Hay bales face a makeshift stage of sorts. Prayer flags flutter in the gentle breeze. Plants fill a circle of dirt that is outlined with gravel. Farms surround the larger area.
Welcome to the future home of the Enlightenment Stupa in Pescadero.
While the land has been blessed and the structure is ready to be erected, the stupa will not come into being until the lama is able to travel from Nepal to perform the ceremony.
This is what the stupa in Pescadero will look like when assembled. (Image: Rebecca Silva)
“A stupa brings stability, harmony and peace and all the positive traits of energy to the place it is built, to the community,” explained Loton Tashi. Tashi, as a monk and lama, is the director of the stupa compound in Pescadero. He is originally from Tibet, has taken a sabbatical in Bhutan, and been affiliated with dharma centers in Guadalajara and Mexico City for eight years prior to coming to Baja Sur. He has been involved with the local project since 2013; becoming director in December.
By definition a stupa is, “Burial mounds containing relics of the historical Buddha across the Indian subcontinent. Many were later developed into shrines or temple compounds.”
Stupas exist throughout the world, with several hundred erected in the United States and closer to 20 in Mexico, according to Tashi.
Tashi is the spiritual leader at the Pescadero stupa. While the dharma talks had to recently be suspended (again) because of the coronavirus, they will resume when appropriate.
“This place will become the center of learning, contemplation and meditation,” Tashi said. “This will be not just for Buddhists. It is not sectarian. It is for the whole region, for the world; it is for all.”
In November 2019, the ground where the stupa will be built is blessed. (Image: Bill Levine)
The original idea came from Rebecca Silva, who has donated the half hectare of land that is on the same street as Hierbabuena restaurant and Rancho Pescadero. In 1976 she was in Hawaii cooking for the 16th Karmapa, who Silva describes as a “walking Buddha.” “At one point he told me I would be building a stupa there in Baja,” Silva said. The Pescadero stupa is dedicated to him.
When the now 71-year-old Silva was 15 her mystic grandmother told her the tip of Baja would become a very spiritual place. That premonition is coming true.
“This particular stupa will be very rare because it was carved from granite in Portugal. It weighs 44 tons,” Silva said. The goal was to make it out of something that for hundreds of years will withstand hurricanes and salty/humid conditions.
It cost $56,000 to create, with shipping through the Panama Canal to Ensenada costing $10,000, and it taking another $10,000 to truck it from Ensenada to Pescadero. The money has come from donations. The spiritual teachings are that one person cannot pay for the stupa, but that is must be a community endeavor. A donor lent money to the stupa to get things to where they are today, with fundraisers helping to pay back that individual.
The stupa will be 7 meters high (nearly 30 feet), with a square base of about 5 meters (17 feet). It will be round as it goes up from the ground.
Loton Tashi is the spiritual leader at the Pescadero stupa. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Tashi describes the assembly as similar to putting Legos together. Each piece, though, has special meaning. The process will not be rushed, with every phase being blessed by the lama who will come from Nepal when the pandemic allows. Each layer will be filled with various items that represent things from the local area as well as historical pieces.
“Our teachers in Nepal and Bhutan will fill it up with relics,” Tashi said. “There are hundreds of thousands of enlightenment rules.”
Beyond the actual stupa, the goal is turn this land into a spiritual and retreat center where classes will regularly be taught, and people could stay overnight in future cabins. It will be a destination of sorts for those on a spiritual journey and those who might want to begin one. Meditation walkways and paths will be created.
“This is going to outlive all of us. This is going to be going on for centuries,” Silva said of the stupa.
Until your hostess or concierge in Mexico says it’s OK to flush the toilet paper, assume the garbage can is the place to put soiled toilet paper.
This can take some getting used to for people who for their whole lives have not given any thought to what goes down the toilet. It’s a big deal when there is no municipal sewer system or the septic system isn’t equipped to handle the paper.
In most cases it’s best not to flush toilet paper in Mexico. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Many public and private establishments have signs on the wall in Spanish and sometimes in English saying to use the garbage can. Even if there is no sign, that doesn’t mean you should flush everything. What’s in the garbage can will give you the answer to the flush or not flush paper question. Not all places have a can with a lid. While this may seem unsanitary to add your paper to the pile, the only other possibility is to drip dry—assuming that is an option.
Several large hotels have systems on site that can handle the paper. But don’t assume this is true everywhere. Better to not flush than to have it back up because it won’t just be paper that covers the bathroom floor.
Sometimes it’s the materials used when building the plumbing system that causes problems. The pipe between the toilet and street drain or septic system may not be wide enough to handle the paper. Sometimes the water pressure is not enough to force everything through the pipes.
Many buildings in Mexico are old—lots older than what one finds even on the East Coast of the United States. Not all have been retrofitted to be on the city sewer system, and even if they have been, there could still be infrastructure issues.
Septic systems are often small in Mexico, but they can be retrofitted. If it is large enough and paper has been kept out, it probably won’t ever need to be pumped out. Micro-organisms decompose the solid waste that settles to the bottom of septic systems, so it’s not like it’s sitting there forever piling up.
Another reason so many private septic systems don’t get full is that builders have directed only black water to go into the vault. Grey water, what comes out of sinks (other than one with a disposal), showers, and bath tubs often go onto the property to water plants. This means there is a whole lot less water going into the septic tank compared to a lot of residential properties in the U.S.
Medicinal marijuana became legal in Mexico in mid-January, and recreational use may not be far behind.
The Senate in November 2020 passed a bill legalizing recreational marijuana. It still needs approval by the Chamber of Deputies. That branch of the federal government has until the end of April to make a decision.
The Mexico Supreme Court in 2018 determined that banning the use, possession and cultivation of marijuana for personal use was unconstitutional. The court has given lawmakers extensions to devise regulations to legalize the drug.
If Mexico does legalize recreational marijuana, it would be the largest country to do so. Canada and Uruguay are the countries where it is legal today. Marijuana legalization is being watched worldwide. As of late last year the United Nations’ Commission on Narcotic Drugs no longer classifies medical marijuana as a dangerous narcotic, a label that had been associated with this form of cannabis for more nearly six decades.
Mexico is considering allowing anyone who is at least 18 to grow 20 registered plants, with a yield not exceeding 480 grams a year, which is a little more than 1 pound. Personal possession would be cut off at 28 grams, or about 1 ounce.
It remains to be seen how legalization will affect the drug cartels. However, those organizations have beefed up their illicit trade with fentanyl and crystal meth because of marijuana legalization in several U.S. states.
While a decision about recreation marijuana is eminent, officials have said it’s unlikely the new rules would take effect in 2021.
Sidewalk configurations in parts of Baja Sur can be confusing. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Walking in Baja can be dangerous. It has nothing to do with the people, but instead everything to do with the infrastructure.
Sidewalks, while they exist, are not built to a uniform scale. It’s a good idea to look down. Sometimes, though, it’s wise to look up because a power pole could be in the middle of the concrete.
It is common for poles to be in a sidewalk. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Sidewalks in Mexico don’t have to conform to any particular standard. Uniformity does not exist because it is usually up to the contractor on the project to build what he wants. This is the opposite of the United States where the Federal Highway Administration regulates sidewalk construction. Some rules in the U.S. include, “(A)dequate width of travel lanes, a buffer from the travel lane, curbing, minimum width, gentle cross-slope [2 percent or less], a buffer to private properties, adequate sight distances around corners and at driveways, shy distances to walls and other structures, a clear path of travel free of street furniture, continuity, a well-maintained condition, ramps at corners, and flat areas across driveways.”
Stairs may suddenly appear on a sidewalk. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Mexico could take a lesson from its northern neighbor. It’s so bad in some places in Baja Sur that walking in the street seems like a safer alternative. Though, based on statistics, Mexico streets are also not welcoming to walkers.
“Roughly 40 people die in traffic each day in Mexico, due to speeding cars, drunk driving, and a lack of traffic law enforcement. Its streets are the seventh deadliest in the world, according to the World Health Organization,” Bloomberg CityLabs reported in 2019.
Danger can presents itself on sidewalks in Baja, like this abrupt drop off. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
With taxpayer dollars being limited, it’s understandable ripping up current sidewalks and replacing them with better ones is not going to happen. Still, it would behoove the Mexican powers that be to put standards in place for new construction or when repairs are being made to roads or the actual sidewalks.
It would be near impossible to use crutches, a walker or wheelchair in parts of Baja because the sidewalks are that difficult to navigate. For the able bodied, they are not something to run on. It might just end with a foot or more drop or be jarring because of the steep dips at the various ingress/egress points.
On a positive note, when in a town these sidewalks make one slow down while walking and take in all the surroundings, so that’s not a bad thing.
Dillon Porter, right, plays Almustafa, while Mehry Eslaminia is Almitra in Teatro Pescadero’s first production. (Image: Provided)
When Broadway went dark, the lights came on at Teatro Pescadero.
Dillon Porter calls it “theater in the intimate, but at a safe distance.”
When he left New York City in March it had nothing to do with escaping. It was a planned trip to Baja California Sur to spend time with his parents and celebrate his birthday. Now he has no date to return to the United States.
The 37-year-old is the director and builder of Teatro Pescadero. The first production—Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet”—opened in early November and will go into at least the first part of January. He and Mehry Eslaminia are the two actors. As the music director, she created original songs for the production.
“We wanted to add music. She has an incredible voice, and she is a much better guitar player than myself,” Porter said. “I think music is very close to poetry, which lends itself to dance. I like to bring some pedestrian movement into every show I make.”
They met on his last night in New York, stayed in touch, and then decided to collaborate on this project. It’s quite a change for Eslaminia as well. Rehearsals had just started for “1776”—what was to be her Broadway debut.
Porter is used to directing large productions with more than 20 people, multiple costume changes, and an audience of more than 1,000 people. Those days are gone for everyone. Though they will return, for now he is content to bring people live performances on a smaller scale.
“When careers get put on hold it’s a large opportunity for the world to slow down and figure out what is important,” Porter said.
Dillon Porter built the theater from material on the land near Pescadero. (Image: Provided)
He writes, sings, acts, directs, is a filmmaker, a teacher, and an art lover. “If I am going to spend time memorizing all these words, they better be worth it,” he said, adding that the words he recites must have meaning to him.
While New York is his permanent address, Baja is in his blood. He went to kindergarten in San Jose del Cabo, and has spent at least three weeks a year in Baja every year. His parents, who hail from Oregon, have had property in the Pescadero-San Pedrito area for years. Last year they divvied up part of the property to their two children. It is on this land that Porter has created the theater.
He built the dome out of palo de arco. Bitter melon has been woven into the wood to make it look a bit like a bird’s nest. The theater in 24 feet in diameter and about 460 square feet, so it easily accommodates social distancing with an audience of six to 10. In “normal” times it could fit 30 people. For this performance, it’s possible multiple groups will be in the theater; all spaced apart from the other groups. This is with everyone’s consent.
Porter is in rehearsals with friends on a musical centered on Bob Dylan. It will be staged outdoors, with people sitting on hay bales. Eight years ago he did a performance about Walt Whitman in the nearby mountains that people have asked him to resurrect.
With the proceeds from this first show he hopes to build more domes on the property of different sizes to allow for others to be able express their artistic selves. Porter envisions (post-COVID) partnering with a university to host a festival of some sort. He’s a huge fan of Burning Man, the annual creative-artistic-cultural gathering in the Nevada desert. He wants it to feel like that without the electronic music; to have a focus on permaculture, zero waste, where writing workshops, poetry slams, and art installations take place, along with other creative forces coming together.
Four Water Ways Baja cartridges at a home in Baja Sur. (Image: Provided)
“Don’t drink the tap water” has been the mantra in Mexico for years. Water filtration companies have a much different message. They want people in private homes, at restaurants and hotels to be able turn the faucet on and imbibe without regret.
Barbara Manfrediz has been operating Water Ways Baja in Todos Santos for nearly a decade. In that time, she has installed more than 300 filtration systems in Todos Santos, La Paz, Los Cabos and La Ventana.
“I call them cartridges because they do so much more than filter out contaminants,” Manfrediz said of her product. “Each cartridge is in a specific order and does a different job.”
While the transplant from the United States worked in the legal profession prior to moving to Baja Sur, her education is in science. What led Manfrediz to the world of water was realizing she was enjoying all the wonderful local food, but the water was an issue. She made it her mission to fix the problem. She worked for another company prior to going out on her own.
Before opening Water Ways Baja, she did research, which led her to Charles F. “Chubb” Michaud. He is a world-renowned authority on water quality. He is her mentor and No. 1 consultant.
“I found out the only ethical way to treat water was to test it first,” Manfrediz said. This meant collecting water from all the public sources she would be working with. “We tested for over 100 contaminants. Based on the water tests we have specified technology to take care of that water.”
While she follows the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, sometimes she is even more strict. In La Ventana, on the East Cape, the water has high concentrations of arsenic. Manfrediz uses a complex system to ensure what comes out of the tap has no measurable amount of arsenic. The EPA allows some.
“I believe the reason our water tastes so good is because of the minerals. In the U.S. they remove the minerals,” Manfrediz said.
She admits her business model would not work in the United States because she refuses to conform to a one-size fits all approach. Each customer of Water Ways Baja has a specifically designed system based on their town and where they are on that city’s water line.
It’s a small operation with Manfrediz, her husband as marketing guru (a new website was just launched), a plumber, technician, and officer manager. Customer service, she said, is one of their strong points.
Water purification systems start at $500 and go into the thousands of dollars depending on the size of the property. Maintenance is required once a year, with inspection of the cartridges by the company. It can cost about $150 a year for replacement cartridges for an average home in Todos Santos.
What the customer gets is the knowledge that they can drink from every tap connected to the system. No need to schlep into town to fill a 5-gallon jug. No need to worry about cooking with “good” or “bad” water. It’s all good. Plus, the lime scale build-up in the shower is much less with this “good” water. For restaurants it means not having to serve bottled water and for hotel guests to be able to turn on the tap without worry.
For those needing to refill a personal water bottle, A Granel in Todos Santos and Mini Super Munchies in Pescadero have stations set up by Water Ways Baja.
The company donated the water system to the Palapa Learning Center in Todos Santos, which includes free maintenance forever.
Water Ways Baja is a member of the Water Quality Association, the International Water Association, and the American Water Works Association. With technology evolving and water itself always changing, Manfrediz said it’s important to stay at the forefront to know how best to serve current and future customers.
Alex Miro of Punto Verde brings a customer’s bin back to her. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
A mound of cardboard nearly falls over the 6-foot fence. It stretches about 75 feet into the recycling center and is several feet wide. It’s been sitting there for about three months.
Punto Verde recycling center on the southern edge of Todos Santos had been a dream of Alex Miro’s for years. In 2014, he secured the land and that summer the fundraising began to get necessary supplies to make the enter functional.
Today the center takes aluminum, tin, paper/cardboard, plastic, clear glass and some electronics. That means all wine bottles end up in the landfill, along with most beer bottles. Not all plastic is accepted, though tennis ball containers are OK.
The material is sorted into what looks like extremely oversized white tote bags. Eventually they will be hauled an hour away to La Paz.
According to the nonprofit’s website, “On average, Punto Verde makes about $100 per month from the sale of recyclables. Though, the trips to La Paz generally cost more than this. Punto Verde continues to follow its mission to reduce the environmental negative impact by providing an integral waste management.”
Non-paper recyclable goods pile up in Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
The pandemic has been brutal to the recycling industry. Many who bought recycled material stopped doing so and then the prices kept falling. Now the goods are piling up at collection centers here and elsewhere. With the demand for oil plummeting, it has meant the cost to make new plastic is cheaper today than to use recycled plastic. Fossil fuels are necessary for the creation of most plastics.
In Mexico, of the more than 100,000 tons of trash generated every day only 10 percent is recycled, according to the Mexico Daily News. In Todos Santos, people make a donation to the center for taking their reusable garbage. The amount is up to the individual, but should be calculated on the size of the load. A 50 peso donation is common; which is about $2.50.
Punto Verde has a Go Fund Me campaign going on to keep it in business. The goal is to be self-sustaining.
In the time the recycling center has been open, this is what been kept out of the landfill:
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