La Fiesta de la Vacuna

It wasn’t my intention to join the line. Curiosity was my draw. I’d heard, as many of us here in San Miguel de Allende had, at the last minute, that first doses of the coronavirus vaccine would be administered in a number of locations over the course of three days, the first day being Friday, March 19th. And one of those places would be my favorite nearby park, Parque Zeferino, where I often go for walks anyway.

So I walked there that Friday to see. Unlike other people, smarter than I, who had arrived at their chosen location before dawn (it was first-come, first-served, I learned), I moseyed over in late morning, after I’d met my self-imposed deadline of publishing that week’s new WOW post, “Seeing” (www.bonnieleeblack.com/blog/seeing/).

What I saw was a single-file line that wrapped three-quarters of the way around the periphery of the vast park, outside of the park’s gates, with no terminus in sight. It appeared never-ending, forbidding.

But I also saw, near the end of that line, an acquaintance named Sallie Kravetz, a photographer and poet active in the literary community here. Originally from Baltimore, Sallie has been living in San Miguel for twelve years, she told me, but she’d never visited the new Zeferino park. She had just arrived by taxi to get her vaccine, with her Mexicana housekeeper, Rosa, to give her a hand.

Sallie on line at Parque Zeferino

“This is like a fiesta de vacuna!” (vaccine party), Sallie announced gaily, signaling her readiness to stay the course. So, having nothing else better to do  that day, I, too, decided to get in line and stay the course. Seven hours later, Sallie and I got our first shots, and we agreed it was well worth the wait.

Throughout that day, I found Sallie’s can-do attitude contagious. “Think of all the times we’ve all had to wait for long stretches at the airport when our flight has been delayed or cancelled,” she said. “This” (she swept her hand to indicate the breadth of the park) “is a beautiful place to be. And it didn’t require a plane ticket!”

The interior of the park, closed to park-goers that day

A lot has been written in the local press and social media in recent days about the success of this first coronavirus vaccination drive, so my experience doesn’t count as “news” for readers in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. But since this blog is read by hundreds of people all over the world, and since Mexico often gets a rather bad rap from those who’ve never ventured here, I’ll share my experience of that day, in the hope that it might make readers feel as if they were here with me.

It was a beautiful day – spring-like weather, sunny but not too hot, with a gentle breeze. The people in line – I’m guessing 97 percent Mexican and the rest us gringos – were ebullient. Although there was no singing or dancing, no mariachis or tequila (no alcohol beverages at all), the overall mood was so upbeat it did seem like a fiesta. Sally was right. Everyone appeared to be overjoyed to be finally getting a life-saving vaccine against this worldwide plague.

We learned that one thousand Pfizer vaccines would be administered in Parque Zeferino that day, under the big-top tents set up by the state of Guanajuato’s Secretaría de Salud (secretary of health). When one of the young staff came by to give each eligible person in line a number, Sallie’s was 810 and mine 812. At that point we knew we’d made the cut.

The person between Sallie and me, number 811, was a sweet, young Mexican woman named Estefanía, who was holding a place for her abuelita, (grandma), who was too old and infirm to stand in line for the duration.

Estefania wearing one of the face masks she makes and holding a water bottle reading, “Vaccination is your right…”

After a while, Estefanía and I got to talking (in Spanish, I’m proud to say). On her phone she showed me her artwork: She makes cubre bocas (face masks) with line drawings on them (such as the drawing of the Parroquia in her photo above) and sells them in the mercado de artesanías. She showed me photos of her family, too – her grandma, her mom, her dad, her two brothers, and her tio (uncle) — as well as her cat and two dogs. She showed me a floor plan she’d drawn for a house, which is now being built.

I soon realized that all of the younger people on the long line were either accompanying or standing in for an older relative (these first vaccines were only being given to people sixty and above), who would be brought by other family members later, when the line got close to the vaccination destination. This struck me as a very Mexican thing to do – to look after their elders in this way.

The interior of the park was closed to park-goers, but it was sometimes possible to sit on the ledges of the outside walls. The line moved along slowly but steadily. No one pushed or shoved or complained. Many had brought umbrellas to use as protection against the sun. Others brought light folding chairs. Almost everyone amused themselves from time to time with their smart phones.

One section of the line

At one point someone came around and offered everyone a bag containing a banana and an apple. Twice we were all offered bottled water, with a label on it that read: “La vacunacion es tu derecho! La salud no debe ser usada como propaganda politica.” (Vaccination is your right! Health should not be used as political propaganda.) Impressive.

Then, at last, in the late afternoon, as our shadows grew long on the sidewalk, we reached the gates (“Pearly Gates,” Sallie said) that led to the tents where the administration was happening.

The long shadows at 5 o’clock
At the gates

Inside the tents, after having our temperatures taken, we had to provide ID (I showed my permanent residence card), get our blood pressure checked (I was told mine was really good), and give our addresses and contact information before actually getting the shot – which was quick, easy, and painless. Then we had to wait for about 20 minutes before we could leave, just in case we were to have a negative reaction.

Everyone at every stage of this process was respectful, professional, patient, and kind. The whole operation was smooth and extremely well organized.

Under the big tent

My second shot should be in about three weeks, I was told, in “este mismo lugar” (this same location). In this same beautiful park. Wonderful. (I’ll bring an umbrella next time.)

To quote my friend and neighbor Suzanne Bacon, who was ahead of me in line, “It was a joyful experience no matter how long. Everyone was cheerful and the staff did a great job. Thank you, Mexico!”

22 thoughts on “La Fiesta de la Vacuna”

  1. Bonnie Dear, you are such an eloquent spokesperson for the beauty, the humanity, the generosity, and the creativity of Mexico and Mexicans. I loved reading this story and thinking of you opening and opening to the moment that lasted 7 hours! Love you, Be

        1. And this last week of March would be perfect for you, Be, because the jacarandas are now in full bloom, and the weather is not too hot. Mark your 2022 calendar! — xx

          1. Good to know, Bonnie! I will definitely mark that in my calendar. Ellie wants to come next year, too. We’ll just do a reprise of our foiled plans, although I think I may look for a different place next year.

  2. I had the very same exhilarating experience at IMSS, a quarter mile away. No where near as pretty as Zeferino; our line paralleled a major entry into the city. Yet the vibe was uplifting with expectation and gratitude. You could see the smiles beaming underneath sombreros and behind cubre bocas. I coined the phrase “Pfizer Festival” and think it would make a great T-shirt.

  3. I am happy to be quoted! It was such an uplifting experience and so Mexican! What better place than our neighborhood park which has a stunning view of the spires and domes of the center of San Miguel. VIBA Mexico!

  4. Given how dysfunctional Mexico can be given that it is not really a First World country and we have had so many false promises I could not stop smiling after my shot on the second morning. On Friday I had arrived shortly after 8 at the parking lot location where the line reached to infinity and beyond and I realized I could not stand for that long in the heat of the day. Next morning a sainted friend went to the sports center in early morning and held a space for me and my equally physically challenged neighbor. We arrived at 7:30, the line was way shorter, got in and out, went for breakfast and I was back home by 11 am. On both days I saw the National Guard deliver the vaccine with soldiers holding rifles at the ready. Mexico rose to the challenges and exceeded expectations. I am still smiling and thrilled to be living here. VIVA Mexico!

    1. Ah, Toni dear, I’m so happy to learn your vacuna story! Yes, Viva Mexico! And, yes, I was going to mention the National Guard soldiers too. Someone told me they were there to prevent any bad guys from stealing the vaccines. Well, it worked! Glad to know you’re vaccinated AND smiling. — xx

  5. Dear Bonnie, I’m so glad you documented this wonderful day in your special way. I plan to forward it to friends in the US who will be interested as they struggle with the various online registries trying to get their own shots. I can’t think of another time that getting a shot in the arm brought such joy to so many! Gracias, Alice

    1. Thank you, dear Alice, for your kind words — and for sharing this post. I feel so strongly that Mexico deserves high praise for their vaccination efforts, and I’d love for the world to know.

  6. Dear Bon,

    What a beautiful place for a vaccination! I received my first shot the day after you in a motel function room, but I couldn’t be happier that we have both been vaccinated.
    I hear on the news that Mexico has been hit hard by COVID, but I’m reassured by your experience that they are dealing with this terrible pandemic. I hope being fully vaccinated will result in reduce stress. I have my fingers crossed.

    Love,
    Paul

  7. Hi Bonnie: Your blog is right on and captures well the experience of our Fiesta de la Vacuna. I enjoyed hearing my quotes played back in print and every word was true even the part about waiting at airports.

    The “brigade” (as the teams are labelled) were amazingly kind, patient, and cheerful. What wonderful representatives for Mexico. Next round let’s go together in the a.m. before a fresh, frozen shipment of Pfizer is needed. That way we won’t have to wait for the shots to defrost. (Not complaining, just something to reminisce upon).

    Thanks Bonnie for your words and your company.

    Sallie Kravez

    1. Sallie! So good to hear from you and to know you like the story of our vacuna day together. Yes, I agree; let’s get our second shots together earlier in the day, as soon as we know the date. Fiesta de la Vacuna, part II!

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