Oaxaca Journal, V.10

By    Thursday February 14, 2008

A couple of mornings ago I was fixing breakfast for my daughter, Emily, when the entire kitchen began to shake as if a freight train was racing past the back door. It lasted all of ten seconds, punctuated by a shout from my wife asking if I'd felt the earthquake. Hitting 6.4 on the Richter scale, it immediately made news around the world. I soon received e-mails and phone calls from the United States asking if we had survived.

This set me to thinking about the way news travels and how it affects us. For me, the earthquake was just a tremor that distracted me from scrambling eggs. For those reading about it from afar it sounded like a disaster. In reality, there were no casualties and no more than minor damage, even at the epicenter.

Living in Oaxaca during the political upheavals of 2006, and seeing how those events were covered by major news outlets, I've come to believe that most news is all sizzle without the quake. If we are not witnessing an event first hand, then we have to accept hearsay and a tremendous amount of that hearsay is misinformation and sometimes even outright lies. Yet we clutter our minds and discussions with the endless stream of inaccurate or useless information we receive.

Since moving to Mexico in July of 2006, my news junkie tendencies have dwindled and I am dangerously close to kicking the habit. But behaving like an ostrich, you can be blindsided by the very events that need to be watched closely. A sudden heavy rain the other night was a freak weather event that occurred during the dry season, which normally NEVER sees any rain. Freak weather, however, is becoming the new norm - one worth comparing notes on since our survival may depend upon it.

In order to filter the barrage of information coming my way, I've decided to treat news like earthquakes. From now on, I'll rate items in terms of their seismic value, on a scale of 0 to 10 -- just like the Richter scale. That way I can try to ignore overblown rumblings and focus on true quakes.

The events of 9/11 would be a 10.0; shark attacks would be 0.1. The birth of my daughter would rate an...11.0; Britney Spears announcing she's pregnant again rates 0.0, with no mention of her in casual conversation.


Above, left to right: The beach at Puerto Angel; Emily Kuper, with baby sea turtles; the beach at La Ventanilla. Art and photo, copyright Peter Kuper.

But back to Mexico. The week before the quake, we had been on a road trip to Puerto Angel, a remarkable area in Oaxaca state, along the Pacific coast. One of its several pristine beaches is called La Ventanilla, or "little window," that includes a nature preserve where endangered sea turtles are protected. On our last afternoon there, as the sun descended, we joined a small group of eco-workers and a handful of tourists to release nearly 100 baby turtles into the ocean. Watching the expression on my daughter's face while she guided these tiny black prehistoric- looking creatures into the surf was a mental snapshot I'll return to for years to come.

If joy could be measured, moments like that would break the Richter scale.

This is the tenth installment of a regular communique from Peter Kuper, a cartoonist and illustrator. Peter's coming-of-middle-age graphic novel, Stop Forgetting to Remember as well as a collection of his first decade of Spy vs Spy strips have been recently published. His work is included in LitGraphic: The World of the Graphic Novel, on view at the Norman Rockwell Museum through May 26, 2008. Peter will be appearing at the University of North Dakota Writers Conference with Salman Rushdie, Amiri Baraka and Junot Diaz, on the subject of Revolutions, March 26-28th and at the Jewish Community Center, San Francisco, May 5th, in conversation with monologist Josh Kornbluth.