Sunday 1 October 2023

Alajuelita: Life on “Orange Alert”

Alajuelita, on the south side of downtown San Jose, is a canton that many view badly due to its conflictive history

NewsAlajuelita: Life on "Orange Alert"

Alajuelita, on the south side of downtown San Jose, is a canton that many view badly due to its conflictive history

(QCOSTARICA) That a town is on orange alert means that the area has a higher risk of contagion. This is a three-day portrait by L a Nacion of how Alajueliteños live this stage that has raised awareness and reinvented many of its inhabitants.

Marcelo Umaña had to innovate to continue offering informal taxi service to residents of Alajuelita. Photo: F. Matarrita

Alajueliata is also the canton that has been the target of memes and criticism for a couple of parties that ended badly.

A sedan from the early 2000s is the means that Marcelo Umaña has been clinging to for seven years to help his family, or social bubble, made up of his wife and the four children they have together.

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Being an informal taxi driver, or a ‘pirata’, as frequent customers call this transport service, which is charged with fixed prices, has become harder in these pandemic days. If it was already difficult to earn when there are taxis and also, other private options such as apps (Uber, Didi); Driving in times of coronavirus is almost tragic.

But Marcelo is optimistic. You have to get ahead, even if “things get uglier” every time. This resident of Alajuelita took the option to innovate and not to regret. His car is still the same that is unpainted on the outside and has seats that the sun has faded; However, although it does not look luxurious, “this pirate taxi” gives confidence.

Umaña rudimentary designed a rectangular structure with thin rods on which he placed soft plastic. With this transparent division, he seeks to guarantee customers “total security”. The home crafted division, added to the use of mask and alcohol gel, seeks to seduce potential customers who, for safety, have chosen to walk before getting into a vehicle that was previously occupied.

A typical bus stop in this southside community. Social distancing occurs sparingly, mot of the time it is crowded. The same occurs across the country. Photo: John Durán

Marcelo’s plastic divider looks clean and is adorned with photos of Deadpool and Harley Quinn. The 38-year-old driver dedicates his energies to sanitizing the plastic and disinfecting every corner of his car. He has clients, but even so it’s not enough. Because in addition to fighting the contagious COVID-19, for two weeks he has been dealing with the orange alert in which Alajuelita which was declared in that category due to the increase in cases.

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The orange alert, among other restrictions, dictates that vehicles in this canton can circulate from 5 am to 5 pm, but only on five of the seven days: four days in the week and either on Saturday or Sunday, with the added sanitary measure that driving is permitted only for essential services.

Photo: John Durán

“The orange alert issue has made this harder. During the week I can only work four days and on weekends practically not. People use the service less. I have been with this plastic for about three months. The idea is to take care of myself, take care of clients and give them confidence.”

Marcelo lives in San Felipe, a district to the west of the canton. His hope that everything will improve soon and that they raise the alert initially declared for two weeks.

“I see people going about their lives. You see parents with the children holding hands on the street. They are in their own bubbles but there are too many bubbles in the street. All together. See the (bus) stop; sometimes it gets very full and there is no distancing. Sometimes one sees people without masks, others do wear them. This is the conscience of each one of them, but the decisions, in the end, affect us all ”.

When the rabid mid-day sun on June 29 stings his back, Marcelo gets out of his ultra-safe car and stands outside a supermarket to offer his services to those who went out to buy their food.

Enrique Rivero, the priest of the Santo Cristo de Esquipulas National Sanctuary in Alajuelita fills his church with photos of parishoners. Photo: Mayela López

The canton of Alajuelita, one of the more populous areas of the greater metropolitan area, was declared on orange alert on June 19 due to the increase in positive cases for SARS-CoV-2, causing COVID-19.

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The alert was raised three days after it was reported that “a family reunion” in some place of this community of 94,000 inhabitants, 10 people had been infected. 24 hours later it was learned that as a consequence of this social encounter, the final number of people infected with coronavirus was 17.

Gladys Hernández, a resident of Tejarcillos, is strict with the measures she adopted to protect herself from COVID-19, mainly in the last two weeks when the risk of contagion in the canton is greater. Photo: John Durán

Days later, Alajuelita returned to resonate in the media when it was announced that the police intervened a quinceñera (for a 15-year-old) party in which around 70 people participated.

Alajuelita was placed on orange alert the same day as Desamparados, another populous San Jose canton. Immediately the memes began to appear, wanting, perhaps, to relate the known vulnerability of these cantons, with the increase in infections.

Kerolyn Reinosa, her daughter Angie Arroyo, and her granddaughter Kylie Villalobos. They fear the situation in which the coronavirus has Alajuelita and the country in its grip. Photo: John Durán

The national anger was reflected in social networks, mainly against Alajuelita and the parties, but soon the annoyance was no longer directed in that canton. Pavas, the western San JOse district, the canton of Escazu and Santa Teresa on the Pacific coast were added.

The eyes were no longer only on Alajuelitam that many drew based on its conflicting background.

Photo: John Durán

For June 30, the reports of the Ministry of Health positioned Alajuelita as the second canton with the most active cases: by this date, it had 145 with 28 new cases. The next day the number grew to 163 active cases, which quickly grew to 190 and one death.

Public transport in Alajuelita. Photo: John Durán

Marcelo’s story is just one of the many that this community lives. More stories in La Nacion (in Spanish).

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"Rico" is the crazy mind behind the Q media websites, a series of online magazines where everything is Q! In these times of new normal, stay at home. Stay safe. Stay healthy.

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