Hola from Cozumel

May 21, 2009
By Phyllis Larsen

We are enjoying great weather and peaceful surroundings of azure seas and white sand beaches. While the quiet here is wonderful for us, it's an unwelcome sign of the economic crash islanders are experiencing from the absence of tourists. There are no worries about overindulging in shopping or staying out too late in dance clubs because many businesses have closed for want of customers. Many, many people are unemployed.

The impact of the H1N1 travel warning has created an interesting laboratory to study how the illness that never did make its way to the island has actually turned into a crisis here. The lack of visitors has devastated this community much like 2005 Hurricanes Emily and Wilma--but without the physical destruction. Generations of hurricane experience have taught people how to rebuild with the help of government funds for workers. But this situation seems to have brought things to a standstill.

I was online today confirming some appointments and was interested to see student use of technology--even during their free time. They're using Twitter and Facebook--right from the beach--posting photos taken moments before and letting everyone know of their experiences. For some, it's their first time out of the U.S. And for all of us, the first time to have our temperatures taken upon arrival at the airport.

The students are still tired from travel, but enjoying their work. Tonight they'll interview local English students about their media use, followed by salsa dance lessons. Tomorrow we'll meet with the owner of a new business who wants help with promotion, and a reporter from a local newspaper. In the evening we'll attend a Mayan festival and then participate in a Turtle Salvation service learning project that takes place on the uninhabited side of the island.

People here are very welcoming and remember the Univ. of Nebr. group from the previous 2 years. That opens a lot of doors for experiences beyond the tourist zone. We've been challenged to a basketball game by a high school, invited to a brunch by Univ. of Quintana Roo students, and asked to join a group of ex-pats for game night in someone's home. The only difficulty now seems to be fitting everything into the alloted time.