I met a lovely woman, Marlena Maduro Baraf, through my publishers She Writes Press. She and I decided that, periodically (once a month if we can do it), we would post each other’s blog. Marlena was born in Panama and now lives in New York City. Her blog is called Breathing in Spanish. I encourage you to take a look at it. On our last phone conversation we were comparing the vaccine roll-out–France vs New York. Here is her latest blog:
When we fly somewhere D does this anxiety bit…walking around all night. Last night he didn’t sleep, insisted we must leave at 8 sharp for our 10:30 appointment in Queens—45 minutes by GPS. We’d tried the New York State website just pastmidnight. We googled “NYS find your vaccine” and plugged in our zip code. We scanned through the listings
Westchester County Center (closest), 0 Jacob Javits Convention Center, 0
Jones Beach, Jones Beach?, 0
Aqueduct Raceway, where is that? Jan 18, 3; Jan 25, 54!
Spaces evaporated like bursting bubbles. D got a spot on the 25th. Had to book me on the 26th.
I grew up near a racetrack in the bushes in Panama City. Our house was surrounded by tall grasses, lizards, snakes, and serenading frogs. My little brother, sister, and I liked to push through the bushes to the outermost curve of the hipódromo to hear the rushing sounds of hooves on dirt and watch the jockeys in brilliant colors fly on their horses. At dinner time one night, we heard shots in the distance. They were coming from más allá, más allá, by the racetrack!Papi turned on the radio. After a while we heard that our president, Jose Antonio Remón Cantera, had been shot while watching the races. I can still feel the rush of excitement—and the worry. Who did it? Is he dead?
D is doing the driving. Highway onto highway. As navigator, I look out for the Lefferts Blvd/Aqueduct Raceway exit, but we miss the sudden onramp to the Raceway Casino, so we continue ahead while our GPS circles us back. The place is desolate—roadways, miles of cement, an occasional building. Orange cones lead us to a sign that reads “vaccines.”
A soldier waves us through to parking in the vast expanse. We walk to other men and women in rumpled camouflage who examine D’s appointment sheet and driver’s license. Three weeks ago we watched on our tv as thousands of National Guard soldiers assured the safety of our Capitol and capital city. Can they feel the gratitude in my heart?
We pass tiny statues of jockeys. Inside are rows of booths for betting and strings of seats facing the track on the other side of giant windows. The “Big A,” a year-round racetrack, is holding live racing without fans—but there are no horses in sight. In 1973 the champion racehorse Secretariat paraded for the last time at the Big A. Pope John Paul II said mass for 75,000 people in 1995. And now vaccinations.
Win, Exacta, Trifeta, or Pick 4. We approach a betting booth to check in. D cracks a joke. The check-in guys laugh and counter with theirs. People under masks, that’s all we are. Tomorrow’s forecast is snow. Will they vaccinate me today?. A young Hispanic woman with a shirt that says SOMOS Community takes my ID and my appointment printout to a supervisor. Within ten minutes it’s done. No rigid bureaucracy; instead, basic human competence and good will.
Table 7. The nurse asks for our names to which D answers, Donald Duck. She takes mini histories–previous allergies, reactions to vaccinations…. I go first. The prick is like the prick of a very thin mosquito. Who is paying the gargantuan cost of this day? The state alone? The work day is 7 am to 7 pm, 500 doses per day, the nurse explains. Enters the number of our Pfizer first dose on a small card, with return date for the second dose in 21 days. A weight we’ve been feeling since March begins to lift.
We left home at 8:22,
arrived at Aqueduct parking, 9:22.
rest at assigned benches 15 minutes
left racetrack, 10:02.
D and I feel sleepy in the afternoon and the day after. We talk about the pleasure of even brief interactions with real people, the individuals entering our data into computers,the National Guard, other guards—all kind and efficient. We feel a deep sense of gratefulness. A glow—even—of love.
Remón Cantera who earlier had been Panama’s Chief of Police and had ousted several elected Panamanian presidents did die on that fateful afternoon at the races. I was nine at the time. It was the first time I understood the finality of life.
In the United States, each (of fifty) states develops its own criteria for prioritizing vaccinations, generally based on protecting the most vulnerable. New York is vaccinating Groups 1A and 1B: people in the health professions, people over 65, mass transit workers, firefighters, grocery store workers in contact with the public, and teachers. As is true most everywhere in the world, there are not enough vaccines.
In poorer communities here—deeply affected by the illness–people don’t have easy access to the internet or transportation or hours off from work. New York and other states have begun programs of door to door visits to assist people. The state is about to open a vaccinating facility in Yankee Stadium for residents of the Bronx (only) with large numbers of low-income communities. Rhode Island has prioritized neighborhoods that have been hardest hit by the disease. Rich and poor countries have different access to the vaccine. I’m afraid we’ll experience a new category of have and have nots in the world for a very long time.
But there is hope. New vaccines are being developed and approved surprisingly quickly. Let’s take care of ourselves and one another. News changes daily.
Marlena Maduro Baraf is author of the memoir At the Narrow Waist of the World, available where books are sold.