Firefighting no longer solely a man’s job in Mexico

Firefighting no longer solely a man’s job in Mexico

While safety has always been of utmost concern for first responders, during this pandemic rushing to the scene of any incident comes with a more cautionary approach to ensure no one’s health is compromised.

Griselda Sotelo, commander of the Volunteer Fire Department of Pescadero, is responsible for the 16 firefighters who work for her. Neither she nor any of the bomberos are paid. Because of the deadly virus their lives are even more at risk each time they respond to a call.

Griselda Sotelo with the Pescadero fire department in Baja California Sur was the first woman to lead a Mexico fire agency. (Image: Pro Paramedicos)

“Things have changed a lot because it is more difficult to help because you always have to be aware of having adequate protection and the utmost care to keep yourself safe, taking care of yourself and others,” Sotelo said of what it’s been like since March.

Being a volunteer agency, as many are in Mexico, it can be difficult to get the necessary equipment to do their job in normal times. The government doesn’t offer much in the way of help. And these are anything but normal times. Pro Paramedicos has stepped in to be a conduit between financial donors who are mostly expats and nine area paramedic teams.

Pablo Ahuja and doctor Xchel Palafox formed the group March 31, the same date the first two COVID-19 deaths were recorded in the state. “Originally the project was formed to gather donations to buy PPE (personal protection equipment) for nine local paramedic teams who had none,” Ahuja said. In addition to Pescadero, the other agencies that are being helped include: Las Pocitas, Bomberos La Paz, Protección Civil de La Paz, Grupo Calafia in La Paz, Bomberos Todos Santos, Protection Civil Los Barriles, Grupo Torres in Los Planes, and Grupo Sierra in El Sargento/La Ventana.

“One of the greatest challenges is keeping PPE available because the prices continually rise and local scarcity of different items interrupts the supply chain,” Ahuja said. “Our greatest accomplishment to date is that not a single one of the 120 plus paramedics we equip with PPE has become COVID positive.”

Pro Paramedicos is a group of volunteers without any paid staff. It has expanded its reach by providing PPE to the three hospitals in La Paz with COVID wards, and to eight community health centers. More than 500,000 pesos ($22,000-plus U.S.) worth of PPEs had been distributed in six months.

While COVID is always a concern, car accidents remain the No. 1 call for the Pescadero firefighters.

The 51-year-old Sotelo is well known in this Baja California Sur community. In 2007, she became Mexico’s first commander of a fire department. Today there only two women with this title in Mexico.

Griselda Sotelo, third from left, with her crew. (Image: Pro Paramedicos)

Sotelo’s route to this job was a bit circuitous.

“When I was a child and was rescued by a firefighter, from there it was always my dream,” she said.

Her family was living in La Paz when Hurricane Liza struck in fall 1976. To date this is the deadliest hurricane to blow through the state. When a dam broke it flooded Sotelo’s neighborhood. She was with her parents and three siblings when their vehicle started to float away in the rising flood waters. That’s when they were rescued and that’s when the then 7-year-old knew what she wanted to be when she grew up.

Sotelo’s childhood was not easy. Living in a cardboard contraption never is. Despite financial struggles, she was a giver when it came to animals. This trait continues as she works to save the local turtles. She started helping turtles in 2004 at a time when people were still routinely eating turtle eggs. Once Sotelo learned about these wild animals she started educating others. She calls it a passion and that “it is the food of my soul.”

Even though she took her initial first aide course at age 18, her life went in a different direction when she got married at 22. It was in 2001 that she moved to Pescadero where her mom was living. Sotelo was 33, divorced and had three kids.

What she likes to tell people is “it is never too late to pursue your dreams because nothing is unattainable. Seek your mission in life and take advantage of your talents with dedication and effort. There will always be a reward.”

She with others started Patrol 64 Preservation and Rescue in 2007 at her home. The 64 is in reference to the kilometer marker off the highway. It is now known as Bomberos Voluntarios de Pescadero. “We realized the high rate of car accidents in our community. For this reason we decided to enter our training as firefighters by vehicular extraction.” This was after going to the fire academy in La Paz.

There is no normal day for her or her charges. “It depends on the day; there are days in which you have to work from dawn until you go to sleep and others in which it is a very quiet day,” Sotelo said.

Three of her four children, who range in age from 22 to 29, have followed in her footsteps in becoming firefighter/paramedics.

While the donations from Pro Paramedicos are a literal life saver, the volunteer crew in Pescadero needs so much more.

“We currently have an ambulance and a small fire truck operating. When we started we only had an ambulance and a team eager to learn and help,” Sotelo said. She would like the command center to be some place other than her home, a fire truck in better condition, rescue equipment and a basket, another ambulance, and more training for the volunteers.

How to help:

Pandemic underscores need to bridge digital divide

Pandemic underscores need to bridge digital divide

COVID-19 has exacerbated the digital divide. Those who do not have internet and the devices to use it are falling even further behind.

While so much of the news has been about how those in K-12 are struggling with virtual education, the reality is it’s also impacting students in higher education, job seekers, and employees.

The Washington Post last month hosted a webinar about the digital divide. Two of the main speakers were Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Fla., and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. They agreed a bipartisan solution needs to be found to deal with the issue. It will also take the public and private sectors to work on this together.

“A lot of this is an affordability issue, not just infrastructure,” Shalala said.

Even when high speed internet is available, it doesn’t mean a person can afford a phone, tablet or computer to use it on. If they have a device, then the issue of paying for the internet connection comes into play. This is why some districts have set up hot spots at the campus and on school buses. That only works if a student takes the bus or has time to hang out after school to do homework or someone to drive them to school that night to tap into the internet.

“The educational divide is widening. Education is the foundation to having a better life,” Rodgers said.

Investments have been made so schools, libraries and hospitals have internet, but it’s not the same as having it at home.

“There are regions I know of in my district where laying fiber is cost prohibitive so we need other technology like television,” Rodgers said. She spoke about Microsoft working with the FCC on a pilot project to use the white space on televisions for internet connectivity.

For some who can afford the internet and have multiple devices, they are learning they don’t have enough bandwidth to service everyone in the residence working and going to school. Rodgers acknowledged with three kids at home doing remote learning, that her internet connection has been strained.

Access to the internet is an issue for rural areas as well as for people living in urban areas. The problem strikes poor areas the hardest. While a particular job may not require the internet, applying for it probably does. Most services are online as well, from unemployment, to government help, to telemedicine.

A study released last fall in the Journal of Applied Philosophy said free internet should be a basic human right. According to the World Wide Web Foundation, “Internet access is affordable if 1 gigabyte of data costs no more than 2 percent of average monthly income; currently some 2.3 billion people are without affordable internet access.”

The late John Lewis called the internet the civil rights issue of the 21st century.

Mexico helping with ongoing toilet paper shortage in U.S.

Mexico helping with ongoing toilet paper shortage in U.S.

Don’t squeeze the Regio! The what? Regio. It’s one of several brands of Mexican toilet paper that have been showing up on shelves at U.S. retailers.

Mexican brands of toilet paper are on some stores shelves in the U.S. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

When the pandemic first hit in the spring stores in the U.S. could not keep toilet paper in stock. Sales were up more than 100 percent in March compared to 2019. While the supply has improved, manufacturers in the United States are still struggling to keep up with demand. This left retailers scrambling to satisfy customers’ basic needs—something to wipe with.

Mexico toilet paper companies have come to the rescue. Regio, Hoteles Elite, Daisy Soft, Petalo, and Vogue have been seen at stores throughout the U.S. It’s not just Mexico helping out. TP companies in Canada and Trinidad and Tobago have also sent product to the States.

According to Statista, people in the United States use the most toilet compared to other countries. “On average, an American can be expected to get through 141 rolls of the stuff per year, equating to roughly 12.7 kilograms.”

Once U.S. brands can catch up, expect the international products to disappear.

Ballot in the mail; vote for Ballard, Creegan and no on Measure S

Ballot in the mail; vote for Ballard, Creegan and no on Measure S

Voting by mail is safe and easy. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s done. I’ve voted. Now the waiting game begins.

I doubt the outcome of the presidential election will be known Nov. 3 after the polls close. All the mail in ballots will delay that process.

I would guess most local elections will be known that night. In South Lake Tahoe two City Council seats are up, along with two for the water-sewer district, and a measure that would increase the local sales tax to be the highest in the region.

I voted no on Measure S. It would increase the sales tax from 7.75 percent to 8.75 percent. The city is being so disingenuous with voters in saying the money will go to fire protection. The truth is the money can go wherever the city wants it to go. With two new councilmembers coming on board after the election because the incumbents are not running, there is no guarantee the newbies will choose to allocate the new revenue (estimated by the city to be $5.4 million annually) toward public safety. The city manager has been on board since May, so he has no track record with constituents. There would be no sunset on this additional 1 cent tax. The city would have to put a measure on a future ballot asking voters to rescind the tax hike for it to go away.

The city has been crying poor for years. What has it been doing to prepare for the reduction in transient occupancy tax because of the voter initiated changes in vacation home rentals? Why weren’t there furloughs during the onslaught of COVID-19 when recreation facilities, the campground and other services were not offered, or when the snow stopped flying and there was nothing to remove from the streets? Where is the accountability of the spending of the excess reserves?

Don’t ask me or anyone else to pay more when you haven’t done your job or sacrificed.

As for the council candidates, I voted for Stacey Ballard and Cristi Creegan. While I don’t know either of them well, I know enough that the reasons they are running are honest, with no hidden agendas. I doubt I could ever find a candidate I agree with 100 percent. For instance, Creegan is for Measure S. Still, both women are honest, hardworking people who will have the best interest of the city at heart when they make a decision. I also believe both will be able to work well with the three remaining council members in order to have a cohesive government body.

As for the South Tahoe Public Utility District board, I voted for David Peterson for the full term and wrote in a friend who once wanted to be on this board. For the unexpired term, Shane Romsos got my vote.

It’s time for Brynne Kennedy to be our voice in the House of Representatives.

When it came to the state initiatives I looked at the endorsements of publications I respect. I added those thoughts to my research to come up with my own selections.

For those wondering if their ballot made it to the appropriate elections department in California, go here to register for updates. Nevada voters may do the same by registering online here. Remember, voting by mail is not dangerous or full of perils like fraud. I’ve been doing this so long I can’t remember when I last voted in person.

U.S.-Mexico border issues rooted in corruption

U.S.-Mexico border issues rooted in corruption

The wall between the United States and Mexico is not keeping everyone out. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While migrant caravans have slowed during the pandemic, the pilgrimages have not ended. People still want to flee their countries for the United States, with traversing through Mexico being a large part of their journey.

On Sept. 30, the documentary “Blood on the Wall” was released on the National Geographic Channel. Five days before its debut, award-winning directors Sebastian Junger and Nick Quested spoke with Ishaan Tharoor of the Washington Post live online. The filmmakers’ goals were to explore how corruption, the drug trade, and misguided policies have contributed to the current migration crisis in Mexico.

“If you can’t deal with corruption and the rule of law, you won’t make any sizable or meaningful changes,” Quested said. The corruption is on both sides of the border.

Junger called Mexico one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Soldiers are working for the drug cartels. The drug cartels are also in the business of human trafficking. Migrants sometimes have no choice but to be mules for the cartels in order to secure a guided trip through the desert into the United States.

Guns are coming to Mexico via the United States; then used by the cartels. Gun laws are not being enforced on either side of the border.

The directors employed mostly Mexicans for the film crew, with the theory they would be better at telling their story. The shoot was broken into three sections—the caravan, Acapulco, and the cartels.

Junger and Quested gave some of the migrants cell phones to use as cameras. This, they believed, would be less intrusive than a big camera, and would get people to act more natural. One woman shot footage of herself as she did drugs, and begged for food and money.

“In showing the reality of migrants and narcos we wanted to show they are people like you and me,” Junger said.

He said it’s impossible to separate narcotics, migration and politics, while also pointing out it is necessary to understand how the United States has supported various Central American regimes.

“That legacy of the last 40 years of interference has led to the issue of mass migration today,” Junger said.

In the film a person says, “Just because we are migrants doesn’t mean we are bad people.” This is a statement so many in the United States can’t come to grips with. It takes a willingness to be educated about the issue, to want to understand why people are leaving their homes in search of a better way of life. It’s not about wanting to freeload in the United States. After all, many immigrants end up paying more than $750 a year in income taxes.

Colonoscopy can be a life saving exam

Colonoscopy can be a life saving exam

My stomach was gurgling before I finished the 16 ounces of liquid. Before I could wash it down with the prescribed 32 ounces of water I was in the bathroom. And so began the prep for my colonoscopy.

This was my fourth time to undergo this procedure—all at Barton Memorial Hospital in South Lake Tahoe, all by doctor Dan Norman. Unfortunately, when I return in five years he will be retired. I remember the first time I had this done it was shortly after I had been fired as managing editor at the Tahoe Daily Tribune for refusing to blur the lines between editorial and advertising. I still harbored hostile thoughts about the publisher. It turns out these two men went to college together. To this day I wonder what I said while I was sedated.

The prep for colonoscopy is usually worse than the exam. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I started having this exam when I was 40 because my dad had colon cancer. He is one of the lucky ones, in that it was caught early and he lived many years after the chemotherapy. Among cancers, colon cancer is second behind lung cancer as the top killer of people in the United States.

“However, more than one‐half of all cases and deaths are attributable to modifiable risk factors, such as smoking, an unhealthy diet, high alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, and excess body weight, and thus potentially preventable,” according to the American Cancer Society.

An alarming statistic is that the number of people younger than 50 who are diagnosed with colon cancer is increasing. Fifty is the usual age men and women should start having routine colonoscopies, though some groups now say to begin at age 45. ACS says symptoms of colon cancer include:

  • A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days.
  • A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that’s not relieved by having one.
  • Rectal bleeding with bright red blood.
  • Blood in the stool, which might make the stool look dark brown or black.
  • Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain.
  • Weakness and fatigue.
  • Unintended weight loss.

Fortunately, all of my colonoscopies have been clean. What made this last one different was that I did it without being sedated. The in-take nurse talked to me about this option, telling me about her experience. Knowing I would have an IV so the drug could be requested on demand helped make me decide to try it. Plus, I’ve had more than one cavity filled without the use of Novocain, so I knew I could handle some degree of pain.

Being a bit squeamish at times when it comes to medical things, I was not about to fixate on the screen showing my innards. When I did glance up it was gross and fascinating at the same time.

I had been warned that when the device went around the corners this would be the most painful. I verbalized my discomfort. A nurse put pressure on my stomach, which helped. At one point someone said my blood pressure had dropped to 43, which is when I was told to take deep breaths. I did so into my mask, trying to stay calm as this device made its way through my intestinal tract. At 80 percent done and my moans getting a little more pronounced I was asked if I wanted the drug. No. I could do this. I knew I needed to keep breathing and try to stay calm because that would make the whole process easier on me and the doc.

I survived—no drugs. This meant I had the rest of the day to do what I wanted. Normally the anesthesia knocks me out for the day and sometimes makes me a bit loopy into the next day. I’m quite the lightweight with drugs and prefer not taking them. I was tired that afternoon, and certainly hungry.

The new prep was better than what I used last time. It was not covered by my insurance, but was worth the $128. Part of the formula was taken the night before, the second dose was ingested early morning the day of the procedure. In the past all of the liquids were consumed the night before. This time I also could not eat anything other than liquids on the day before the exam. I lived on water and vegetable broth that day. It meant having less to clean out and that I would be even hungrier when all was said and done.

The bottom line, pun intended, is that if you haven’t had your colonoscopy, do so. With drugs, it’s completely painless. It could save your life.

VOTE — whether it’s by mail or in person

VOTE — whether it’s by mail or in person

I take voting seriously. Not only is it a privilege of being a citizen of the United States, I believe it is everyone’ civic duty. It is important on the local, state and federal levels.

In addition to actually casting a ballot, people need to be informed about who and what they are voting for. Knowing a person’s party should not be enough reason to vote for her or him. There are qualified and unqualified people in each party who may or may not represent your beliefs. Then again, I have been registered undeclared for years because neither of the two main parties do it for me.

One thing that will be different about the Nov. 3 election is that more people will be able to vote by mail. This has to do with states changing regulations based on the pandemic. So many people don’t want to be in crowded places to risk contracting the virus. It’s estimated that at least 83 percent of voters will be able to mail in their ballots this fall.

Because of COVID-19 California, Nevada, Vermont, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., are mailing ballots to all registered voters. States where an excuse is required to receive an absentee ballot include Texas, New York, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Indiana. In all other states it’s possible to get a mail-in ballot. Still, it is possible to go to the polls or drop off the ballot on Election Day.

Even before the pandemic hit, five states conducted all elections by mail. They are Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah. Oregon has been doing it the longest—since 1998. California, Nebraska and North Dakota allow counties to determine if an election is mail-in only.

Plenty of misinformation has been circulating on social media and via news outlets about the dangers of voting by mail. It’s safe. The fraud is a fallacy. It’s the same method the president uses to vote. The Trumps are registered to vote in Florida. They most recently voted by mail in March 2020. In 2018 he voted absentee with a New York address. The Pences are registered in Indiana. Politicians voting by mail is not new or unusual.

In fact, the whole concept of voting by mail is not new. The practice started during the Civil War. To this day hundreds of thousands of people in the military vote by mail. People who live oversees vote by mail.

The U.S. Postal Service this month mailed out postcards explaining the vote by mail process.

In California and Nevada (and other states) it is possible to request a permanent absentee ballot. I did years ago. I can’t remember how long I have been voting absentee, which is the same as voting by mail. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s different. I like taking my time to mark the ballot. I also like sending it in early. I’m doing my research now on local issues so I know how to vote.

However you choose to vote—just do it!

California dates:

  • Oct. 19—Deadline to register to vote online or by mail.
  • Oct. 20-Nov.3—Conditional voter registration for those who missed the above deadline. These ballots are processed after the elections office completes the voter registration verification process.
  • Oct. 5-Nov. 2—Early voting. Dates and hours are up to individual counties.
  • Every active, registered voter living domestically will be mailed a ballot no later than 29 days prior to Election Day.
  • Military and overseas voters will be mailed their ballots 45 days before Election Day.
  • Fill out this form to vote by mail.

Nevada dates:

  • Oct. 6—Deadline to register to vote by mail or in person. (However, it is possible to register on Election Day in person.)
  • Oct. 29—Deadline to register to vote online.
  • Oct. 17-Oct. 30—Early voting. Dates and hours depend where a person lives.
  • Expect absentee ballots to arrive the first week of October.
  • Oct. 20—Last day to request absentee/mail-in ballot.
  • Questions about absentee voting, call 775.684.5705.
Mexico top silver producing country in the world

Mexico top silver producing country in the world

While silver accounts for only 5 to 8 percent of Mexico’s gross domestic product, for several years the country has been the leading producer of this metal.

Silver has been part of Mexico’s history for more than 500 years. In the late 1800s several mines existed in Baja Sur California, with El Triunfo being one of the more well-known towns during the boom. Now it is a tourist destination with a silver museum that is worth visiting.

Cleo Reed with her silver choker and turtle pendant bought in Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Today, mining in Mexico is all about the mainland. In 2019, 6,300 metric tons of silver were mined in Mexico. This was 180 metric tons more than what came out of the ground in 2018. Predictions are for the numbers to keep increasing because the country has the largest reserves of silver in the world. With these numbers, it’s not surprising the largest silver producing mine in the world is in Mexico. This is the Fresnillo mine. It’s about 360 kilometers or 223 miles due east of Mazatlán. Mexico exports about 70 percent of the silver that it mines.

Silver shops can be found throughout Mexico, including in Todos Santos and Los Cabos. In Guadalajara, the stores are grouped together in blocks, making comparison shopping easy.

Gold, zinc and copper are other metals Mexico is known for. In 2017, the value of exported gems and special metals was $7 billion (U.S.), making it the 13th largest exporter in the world. The United States claims the bulk (81 percent) of the exports of these gems and metals from Mexico.

Besides jewelry, silver is used for flatware—thus the name silverware, other kitchen products, ink, water purification, electronics, photography, pharmaceuticals, clothing, batteries, plastics, mirrors, and for antibacterial uses, along with other applications.

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