Update One Year On: A Home for Juan Manuel

You ROCK! Your generosity has made a tremendous difference in the lives of two wonderful Mazatleco men in need. Thank you very, very much!

Juan Manuel, Don Rodolfo, Dianne and Greg

Last Christmas 85 families contributed to building a small but precious “little blue house” for Juan Manuel and Don Rodolfo. The building and furnishing process took several months and loads of love, but I want to report to you that the two gentlemen are living in their new home happily and healthily! 

Thank you and bless you!!! Your year-end love for others and gifting to those less fortunate has made a huge difference in their lives. Rodolfo and Manuel are incredibly proud to own their own home. Below I share with you a video message from them, thanking the donors from the bottom of their hearts and wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

After we began the house project, Don Rodolfo suffered a cerebral hemorrhage that caused partial paralysis in his face and left arm. He suffers great pain, on and off, in the damaged hand. Juan Manuel, his son, was blind and had lost a leg when we started. Shortly after we gave them the home in March 2021, Manuel had to go on dialysis twice a week for 4-5 hours each time. These were major health setbacks for each of these two gentlemen, yet they continue joyful, grateful and optimistic. The gigantic key we gave them when we handed over the keys to the house, engraved with their names, still proudly hangs on the front door. Inside the home is very much a home: family photographs, books, and daily necessities all have a place in the tiny yet comfortable space.

Just last week Rodolfo used the leftover blue paint to redo the exterior of the “little blue house” (Adolfo’s dream color, a play on Frida Kahlo’s beautiful home in Coyoacán). He added a white line around the perimeter, which is a very charming addition; it really makes the periwinkle jump out. Our son’s girlfriend’s father gifted them a couple of papaya trees and a guava, which have grown strong and born them much fruit. They are now very proud gardeners who were recently gifted a lime tree as well. The trees provide shade to the house and back patio, which Rodolfo has covered with a tarp to provide additional shade. Someone generously donated a used washing machine to them, which they located on the rear patio, but it does not work properly, so Rodolfo washes clothes and bedding by hand on the exterior washboard we installed. With his paralyzed and painful hand that is far from easy. They’ve strung clotheslines on the back patio and have a chair on the front porch. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

You may remember that we received a solid wood trundle bed, which has proven to be absolutely perfect for the space and their lives. Juan Manuel sleeps on top, and Don Rodolfo folds up a plastic chaise lounge and once that is out of the way he pulls out the trundle in order to sleep at night. 

The younger son gifted them a beautiful large wooden armoire that locks; that is where they now keep their clothing and valuables. They received a donated, used television and miraculously have SKY TV! The television is invaluable to Juan Manuel, as he listens to news shows throughout the day. It seems the 350 pesos-every-two-months that they pay for electricity includes the television signal as well. The sad thing to me is that we didn’t install a conduit for the cable, so Rodolfo had to drill a hole through the previously water-tight concrete wall. Live and learn.

While we installed a water heater in the home, deeming it a necessity given Manuel’s health needs, they have been using cold water only. Rodolfo told me they have only the one propane tank, and it currently supplies the cooking stove; the tank doesn’t have a splitter valve. With the cold temperatures having arrived, it would be so nice to get the water heater working. They have not been using the microwave we bought them back when they still lived in their rental home, because the electrical current in the invasion/squatter colony is not strong enough to power the oven. Manuel’s brother is keeping the microwave until they are ready to have it. 

Over the summer Juan Manuel and Rodolfo had to move out of the little blue house to live with the younger son and his family for six weeks or so. It made for extremely crowded and uncomfortable living conditions for everyone involved. Manuel’s doctor said it was imperative that he not sweat, or the dialysis port would become infected. We had installed a ceiling fan and gifted them a floor fan, plus the windows and doors all open, but our efforts weren’t enough to keep the home cool. There is insufficient electrical current to power an air conditioner. This is a problem that will arise again next summer. Though by then the area may have official metered electrical service, making an A/C and microwave possible.

Each time I visit, both men are warm, smiling and welcoming. They struggle to pay for dialysis, which costs 700 pesos each session plus the 200-peso cab fare to get to the General Hospital and back (1800/week total). They are overjoyed when we bring them despensas/food stuffs. This Christmas they are hoping for some new clothes and a few toys for Rodolfo’s two grandchildren/Juan Manuel’s niece and nephew; Rodolfo told us that his younger son, Manuel’s brother, lost his job four months ago and is now working at one that pays only half what he made previously. Brandon Giovani is nine years old and love to play with toy cars and pistols.

Sofia Beatriz is four and enjoys dolls, jigsaw puzzles and coloring books.

My main purpose with this article is to thank you for your generosity. We truly have a wonderful community here in Mazatlán. Thank you! Should you wish to again help Juan Manuel or Rodolfo in some way (donation towards dialysis, help with propane tank splitter or washing machine, toys for the grandkids or clothes, shoes or food for the two men), please let me know (dianne@vidamaz.com, What’sApp 669-122-8962). I can help you get it to them or pick it up and get it to them for you. 

Here’s wishing you a wonderful holiday season and a blessings-filled 2022! Stay healthy and happy.

Excellent Getaway!

I don’t know about you, but Greg and I have been really feeling Mazatlán’s growing pains lately. The traffic has gotten horrendous, especially on the weekends. Remember when we used to say you could go anywhere in town in 20 minutes? Not anymore. Yes, if you live downtown and just walk around there, you’re ok. But there is much more to Mazatlán than those dozen blocks. The noise has also gotten nearly untenable. I LOVE parties, music, and people having fun. It’s one of the best things about this beautiful town: the joy of its people. But when a motorcycle, RAZR or auriga blaring awakens you from deep slumber at 3 or 4 am every night of the week, and your dinner guests can’t have a decent conversation on your terrace, well, not so much.

So, for our anniversary, I was looking around for a quiet, romantic place the two of us could celebrate and enjoy some peace and quiet—something close to home. Boy did I ever find it! We have fallen in love with Toninas Ecological Boutique Hotel.

Toninas is on the beach in Celestino Gasca, just over an hour north of Mazatlán on the toll road (just north of Las Labradas and south of Cruz de Elota). What attracted me to make the reservation were its proximity, apparent serenity, the modernity of its finishes (I’ve stayed in eco-lodges that were glorified campsites), and the beauty of its architecture and environment. Each of these surpassed our expectations. And, a big bonus, we feel we have found new and extremely interesting friends in Camila and Enrique, the owner/managers. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Arriving at the resort, we unpacked our luggage into Bungalow Cardenal and of course headed straight to the beach. Yes, we live on the beach, but we couldn’t wait to see this one. To our delight, even though it was 3:00 in the afternoon, there were two oyster divers just leaving the water and packing up to go home. Sell us some oysters? Sure! Saul was happy to shuck us a dozen. OMG! They were HUGE and oh so sweet!!!! I paid him 100 pesos for the pleasure and enjoyed them raw that evening and again the next day in an omelet.

Heading back into our home for the next three days and two nights, we took our time to check it out. What first jumped out at me were the wonderful lamps made my local artist Luis Valenzuela. These absolutely gorgeous light fixtures are made with recycled materials—driftwood and rope! I also very much enjoyed the international artwork on the walls. I learned that Enrique and Camilla both worked in the foreign service and were stationed in such places as Paris, Beirut, Beijing,Bogotá, London and Hanoi. They met and fell in love in Rabat, Morocco. No wonder the artwork in the cabañas is so eclectic!

The architecture of the cabañas and the main communal palapa that I had admired online did not disappoint. Our one-bedroom rock and stucco bungalow with terrace had a direct view of the ocean and sunset from the sliding doors in the living room and the window in the bedroom. It was very well built by local contractor, Manuel Valenzuela. Comfy couches lined the natural wood walls. The kitchen is part of the great room with the living and dining area; our dining table was bar-height with stools. Our bedroom had two double beds and plenty of room to put luggage and our things. The best part of the cabaña, however, is the bathroom! Unlike so many eco-hotels, this one has running water (hot and cold – both with great pressure) and a flush toilet right there, in your unit. Best of all? You open the glass shower door to step outside into your own private rear patio garden, where you can shower amongst the flowers and under the sun or stars! Your excess shower water irrigates the plants.

While our cabaña had an awesome dining area, we ate both our breakfasts out in the palapa. The large central palapa has quite a few seating areas, including easy chairs and cocktail tables, dining tables and chairs, hammocks and hammock chairs. It overlooks the pool and jacuzzi as well as the beach. There is a walkway leading down from the pool and palapa area to another couple of smaller palapas also overlooking the beach (where we enjoyed sunset drinks), and a short staircase from them down to the beach itself. From the property it is an easy walk to restaurants, to the fishing boats or into town. Restaurants are also more than happy to deliver.

Below is a video of our interview with Enrique and Camila, the two terrifically talented and interesting young people who run Toninas. If you’re wondering if they enjoy what they do, just look at their smiles!

AMENITIES
Toninas is an ecological resort. The toiletries are all high quality, eco-friendly products from Däki Natural. There is a huge garrafón of drinking water in every cabaña, so no need to use those horribly polluting plastic water bottles. Each cabaña has a compost box, which delighted my soul. The three-part swimming pool is absolutely gorgeous, with a jacuzzi, wading pool and lap pool. The two of us put it to very good use! Water for the saltwater swimming pool is taken from the ocean, filtered to purify it, and eventually returned back to the ocean cleaner than it left; a win-win for everyone! Before construction of the pool began, Enrique and Camilla met with the local fishermen and received their blessings. In a nod to creature comforts, there is wifi throughout the property, mini-split air conditioners in the living and bedrooms, a Smart TV in the bedroom, a generous refrigerator and terrific induction stove in the kitchen, and as mentioned above, very hot running water. 

MEALS
Toninas supplies pool towels as well as a stocked kitchen: coffee, the coffee maker, a blender, dishes, cutlery, glasses and cups, pots and pans, bowls, knives. Greg and I took ingredients for our breakfasts that we prepared there and very much enjoyed leisurely mornings. While Enrique has plans to have a restaurant on site, currently you need to order in, go out or cook. Thus, be sure to take the food, snacks and drinks that you want. Celestino has quite a few markets and of course sells beer, but if, like us, you want some special wine, champagne or whiskey, best to bring it with. 

Our bungalow did not have wine glasses or a bottle opener; I’m confident that Enrique and Camila will happily supply both if you need them. They have scoped out the good restaurants in town and are happy to share their recommendations with you; be sure to ask. Greg and I do not recommend La Esmeralda, which, sadly, is right on the beach north of the property. Pescado zarandeado is popular here, as are ceviche, shrimp, aguachile, and oysters. Just a note, though: here they make zarandeado with mayonnaise and mustard, quite different than what we are used to in Mazatlán.

The couple is intent on promoting local talent and ecologically sustainable development. They told us all about the wonderful couple who have formed a marine turtle sanctuary, and the awesome group of empowered, joyous women who run the restaurant Celestina. 

ACTIVITIES
We spent three days and two nights just chilling: beach walks, morning and evening swims, leisurely conversations, reading, sunset cocktails, and some wildlife and astrophotography, of course. The beaches here are very nice. Toninas is on a bay, but a very open one, so the surf is strong. I took some photos of the cool dunes and rock formations on the beach, as we don’t see that here in Mazatlán. If we had stayed longer, I would have hired a panga to take us down to Las Labradas. I’ve always disliked that bumpy road leading to this world heritage zone and arriving by boat would be quite enjoyable. If you like to mountain bike, I’d urge you take your bicycles as Enrique has mapped a few wonderful routes. Greg wished his knee was healed as there’s a lot of good place to run. I’m guessing you could also go horseback riding; we saw quite a few horses. In season the Celestino community releases baby turtles, thanks to the turtle sanctuary. You can also arrange to go fishing, there is incredible bird watching, and Toninas has a couple of stand-up paddle boards (SUPs) and kayaking.

The first night of our stay was the lunar eclipse, the so-called “Super Flower Blood Moon Eclipse” of 2021. We were very grateful to set our alarms to wake us up at 2:30 am, as it was a thrill to watch the moon gradually darken, until it turned red and the Milky Way splashed brightly and completely across the sky from west to east! As the morning dawned, the Milky Way dimmed, and the moon regained her sheen. What a night to remember! And of course, being as it is so quiet there, we had no problem sleeping a few hours after the celestial show was finished. A few days later I had the pleasure to see that the astronomers at NASA published my lunar eclipse with Milky Way shot! Bless you, Toninas!

DETAILS AND PRICING

One Bedroom Bungalow (4 people maximum)


Two double beds, wifi, smart tv, stocked kitchen, dining area, living room, terrace, garden bathroom, air conditioning. 

Prices:

• 2499 pesos/night during the week, 3094 weekends with 2 night minimum

• High season Jul 15-Aug 22 and holidays: 3094 pesos/night during the week, 3500 weekends

Two Bedroom Bungalow (8 people maximum)

Same as the above but each bedroom has two double beds and there are two private bathrooms.

Prices:

• 4700 pesos/night during the week, 5794 weekends with 2 night minimum

• High season Jul 15-Aug 22 and holidays: 5794 pesos/night during the week, 6700 weekends

Double Room (4 people maximum)

Toninas also has an option of a simple room for 4 people maximum with mini fridge, stovetop, coffee maker, bathroom, terrace and ocean view. You will be renting just one of the rooms of the two-bedroom bungalow.

Prices:

• 2200 pesos/night during the week, 2800 weekends with 2 night minimum

• High season Jul 15-Aug 22 and holidays: 2800 pesos/night during the week, 3200 weekends

CONTACT

Toninasmexico@gmail.com, +52-667-489-8883

Mon-Sun 9 am – 7 pm

Camila and Enrique both speak English very well (and French and a few other languages)

Easy Social Distanced Day Trip

During the day on New Year’s Eve I was going stir crazy, an all-too-frequent condition during this pandemic, sadly. Just after noon I asked Greg if we might go for a drive. We headed south towards Villa Unión, past the old textile mill to Walamo, winding around and eventually getting to Caimanero. Once we got there we had a picnic on the malecón, then turned around to head home as the sun was already beginning to set. Why did it take us so long, you might ask? We had originally set out for Agua Verde, a town we never reached.

Well, as you probably well know, yours truly loves her camera. First of all I had to take photos of all the cool vehicles and riders we saw along the road, from a couple of guys carrying a propane tank, to others with a big piñata for that night’s fiesta, to pickups and dump trucks and bicycles with migrant workers commuting home from the fields. Click any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The landscape out that way is just magnificent. The ocean, of course, but the farm fields and palm plantations with the Sierras as a backdrop make for some incredible views. There are farm animals everywhere, particularly horses and cows, and I was fascinated with all the birds of prey we came across. There are huge, gorgeous haciendas and more humble homes, in addition to all that migrant labor housing. You’ll see fish and shrimp farms as well. It’s a great half- or full-day trip if, like me, you are needing a breath of fresh air and some safe social distancing. We didn’t get close to any other human all day. 

Most of the farm workers were being shuttled home by the time we got there—early quitting time on New Year’s Eve—but there were some people working in the fields. The most heartbreaking for me were the families out there with the children. I know very well that it’s best that migrant parents have their kids with them, as it’s dangerous leaving them alone in the absence of school or child care. But it wrenches my heart to see them working the fields, despite the huge smile on this little girl’s face (note the bag of produce she’s just picked on her back).

The other heartbreak for me was a pair of young men who were spraying in the fields while working barefoot! I am not sure if they were spraying fertilizer or pesticide, but I sure did wish they had eye gear, ventilator mask, long pants and footwear. Still a gringa at heart, after all these years.

I’ve saved my two favorite experiences of the day for last, of course. The first was my virginal visit to a pineapple farm! I grew up in the US Midwest, and am well familiar with the sweet, aphrodisiacal smell of a strawberry field. A pineapple field has much the same effect! The air was heavy with the honey-like smell of these delicious treasures. The fields were gorgeous, and I was amazed by the baskets that the workers put on their backs to harvest the pineapples. I can not imagine how heavy they are when filled! While the workers had already retired, a few full baskets remained in the fields, so heavy that I couldn’t even budge them.

My final delightful experience of the day was meeting two guys plowing a field—again barefoot—with horses. I was so happy to find them! Last spring when Danny and I visited Puebla state we met two young men doing this. The morning sun, however, backlit the guys and the photos did not show off their labor as I had hoped. This time I was lucky that the setting sun perfectly lit their hard work.

I know it’s a challenge during COVID-19 to socially distance, but a drive out into the country, and some walks around sparsely inhabited areas, can be a huge sanity infuser. Enjoy!

My 60th Birthday Photo Safari

c6e6553c-6d3e-4031-a5f7-58555357393fWe all curse COVID every chance we get. That wretched virus has hurt so many in so many ways. I was one of the lucky ones: so far it has only robbed me of the 60th birthday African photo safari that I was so looking forward to. Greg and Danny, however, arranged an amazingly marvelous and surprise substitute.

On my birthday I received a gift-wrapped safari hat and binoculars. Hmm… Then I opened a box with a laminated ticket from the local arboretum (photo above). It was for an African Photo Safari on Saturday morning at 10. What in the world could it be? The arboretum doesn’t have animals, especially not African ones. Both of the men in my life were mum; it was to be a surprise.

e9913795-cd24-4fbf-9c77-f2a90df4c9aaOn Saturday morning I packed up my camera gear and put on my sunscreen, and we went to the park. Upon arriving we suddenly started hearing sounds from the savannah! What?! Turns out the sounds were coming from a wireless speaker in Greg’s backpack. Next, Danny’s phone dinged with a text message.

“Hello, Dianne, and welcome to our private safari tour. My name is Ubiyaongashalita and I will be your guide today.”

What? No group tour? This was all planned by my two incredible dudes???!!! That professional-looking laminated ticket was a fake?! Was there really a guide? Or was Danny making this all happen? How exciting! And confusing. I sure did feel loved. And a bit skeptical…

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Just like I imagine a real safari to be, the animals weren’t just waiting around like in a zoo; we needed to know their habits and habitats and search to find them. The guide instructed us via text how to locate each animal on our tour. How cool! The clues were very helpful, e.g.,

“The first animal we will look for is the monkey, a tricky animal that does not respect human laws and is always looking to steal their food.”

 

There was a nearby community garden, so I knew that monkey would be in there. But what was I looking for? A stuffed animal? My husband and son acting like monkeys? I had no clue. The first animal, therefore, was by far the most difficult to find. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

It turns out the animals I was looking for were those one-to-two inch tall kids’ toys—far from easy to spot in a huge park! More clues followed, such as:

  • “The alligator hides deep in the jungle where there are a great variety of plants, and it ‘bathes’ in lakes and lagoons.”
  • “Gorillas, being our cousins, can be very ‘handy’ using tools and making shelters.”
  • “I think now you are ready to meet the king of the jungle. He likes to rest in the shade of trees on the savannah.”
  • “The cheetah hides in bushes next to flat land. This way the cheetah can wait till an animal comes close, pouncing and sprinting after it.”
  • “Now let’s look for the brave rhino. His tusks are sharp as ‘steel,’ a ‘monument’ to strength. Rhinos can tip over cards with ease.”

To give you an idea, the alligator was in a birdbath in the middle of a flower garden; the gorilla was on a fence post in front of the tool shed; and the rhino was on a steel statue of something tipped-over. Some of the clues contained puns—that’s when I knew that Danny had written them: “Rhi-no you are loving this tour” or “The meerkat is so small we ‘meerly’ missed it!” It turns out Danny had visited the park the night before after work and placed the animals there. How did no one that morning pick up any of my treasures? I was amazed that they were all still right there, hidden in plain sight!

To get the shot I had to lay on the ground, kneel, stretch really tall, get dirty and sweaty… the photography bit was definitely realistic. Fortunately I did not have to run away from anything chasing me!

Another extremely cool aspect of the safari was that it included sightings of the Big Five: the leopard, lion, African buffalo, elephant and rhinoceros! All five in a single morning; can you imagine? Greg had very resourcefully purchased a coin for each of the Big Five animals. In the video below he presents me with the Rhino coin from Zambia.

The safari was a whole lot of fun. One of the biggest joys was watching the reaction of the people who were also enjoying the park. “What’s that sound?” “Did I hear an elephant?” The kids got so very excited! “Daddy, I hear a stampede!” Quite a few of the kids got jealous, though, which made me feel bad but was also pretty humorous: “Mom, I want a toy zebra like she just found. Let’s find some for us!”

The final animal on the safari was the elephant. The clue included these words: “In my village we commemorate the elephant with a dance, usually done in pairs. You and your husband should try it.” Of course the elephant was on the base of a statue of two dancers! Below is me doing the happy dance as I receive my final coin. Geek alert!!!  😉

After the safari we went to the only African restaurant that we could find in the Urbana-Champaign area. It was really good and the air conditioning was most welcome, too.

I still hope to make the trek to Africa and participate in a photo safari. In the meantime, however, I’ll be busy putting together a shadow box of my animals and coins! Bless you, men! I do love you dearly and am so very blessed that you are my family!

Helping During the Crisis

Collaborators

The great news today? With your help we were able to purchase 50 sets of medical grade hooded and booted coveralls, along with N95 certified medical grade face masks and nitrile gloves. This is one month’s worth of gear for two doctors or nurses, and they will go exclusively to medical staff attending COVID-19 patients in our local public hospitals! We obviously have a loooooong way to go, but it felt soooo good to purchase these today!

A group I belong to, Mazatlán Comparte, is comprised of service organizations, associations and private businesses here in Mazatlán looking to help those in need get food on their tables and looking to get effective personal protective equipment into the hands of medical staff who treat COVID-19 patients. It is an amazing team of talented volunteers working llloooooonggg hours to accomplish these goals. We are doing our absolute best to make sure that the personal protective equipment we purchase is certified and authentic; that it serves its purpose. We are scouring for the best prices. I myself have spent full-time this past week since we organized making connections, getting bids and having medical people test samples, between running our social media.

Several times a day since I joined the Mazatlán Comparte team, I get a new video from one of our local public hospitals that brings tears to my eyes. These doctors and nurses are working without adequate personal protective equipment. They are using masking tape to close their gowns. Today I received video of a COVID-19 patient being transported through the hospital and the patient didn’t even have a face mask to prevent contagion! They ask us not to publish the videos, but I glimpse a bit of what they are going through and it pains me deeply.

As I’ve quickly learned, it is really difficult to help.

  • I’ve worked with suppliers for days, only to find out they are lying about the quality of their product once I get the sample.
  • Likewise, I’ve worked with suppliers who suddenly increase their price, or sell off to a higher bidder.
  • There is just way too much medical equipment on the market that is pirated and ineffective and knowing how to distinguish what is what is a steep educational curve.
  • There is too much equipment being sold at inflated prices, enabling vendors to profit off the pandemic. Sadly, even quite a few of our local vendors. We have tried our best to keep business here in our community, to keep the money at home. But people have to have the spirit of giving, not just profiting.
  • Worse, there are truly wonderful people sewing fabric masks and making face covers, yet many of them when donated aren’t making it into the hands of the personnel who really need them.
  • Some of the donated items even get sold.

What can you do? First of all, if you are out and about for essential errands, PLEASE wear only masks made for the average person, not medical-grade masks. At Mazatlán Comparte (Mazatlán Shares) we have been searching high and low to get certified, functionally appropriate personal protective equipment for the medical staff of our local public hospitals. The sad thing is that there is so little of it available. Now is NOT the time for average citizens to be using medical gear! Let’s save that for those working with COVID-19 patients.

Second, quite a few of you have contacted me to tell me you are making fabric masks or face shields you would like to donate. That is awesome!!! THANK YOU! Mazatlán Comparte is working closely with doctors and nursing staff at our local public hospitals: General Hospital, IMSS and ISSSTE. We will make sure your donation goes to those who most need what you have donated, depending on their patient load and current hospital supplies of equipment.

mazatlan comparte inglMost importantly, you can DONATE MONEY. Yes, I know most of us hate to part with our hard-earned money. But if not now, during this crisis, when? We will make sure your donation goes to buy NEEDED and FUNCTIONAL equipment for those who ACTUALLY TREAT COVID-19 patients in our public hospitals. Instructions for donating are below. If you want your money to buy medical supplies, donate to Hospice (information on the left). Be sure to indicate clearly on your donation that it is for “Mazatlán Comparte,” so they can distinguish the purpose of your gift, or send us a copy of the receipt. You can pay via PayPal, too; just scroll down to the bottom of the page and click the “Donate” button, adding in your comment during the process. If you want your money to go to buy food, please donate to the Food Bank (information on the right). They can buy much more food for the money you donate than you as a citizen are able to buy retail.

Bless you all! Thank you for all the help you give this community. Take care of yourself, each other, our neighbors. We will get through this. Share this post widely, if you would.