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.
“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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”