To Miami

It was a long day, but the end was lovely.

Alfredo and I were out the door early and got me to the Tucson airport around ten after six. Long line to check in, then some sitting around waiting to board the plane. Luckily I had some burritos Alfredo had made up for me, so I was able to munch away while I waited.

Shortly after departing Tucson, there came an announcement over the PA: Is there a doctor aboard? If so, please come to the rear of the plane.

Crap. Heart attack? Stroke? Is the person okay? Then: Would we be turning around?

A little while later: The man is going to be fine. However, we’re not going to be serving snacks or drinks for awhile, just water. We’ll serve when we’re able to.

Water. Long wait. Finally, less than an hour out of Atlanta, we got drinks and snacks.

Finally, Atlanta.

Atlanta.

As we touched down, another announcement: Please remain in your seats. We need to leave passage for the EMTs.

The man is not so fine?

A short time later: The EMTs aren’t here yet, so you may go ahead and deboard the plane.

A little while later: Please clear the aisle! The EMTs are here! They’ll be taking the patient out the back door, so as soon as they pass, you may resume deboarding.

Finally, the EMTs cleared, we deboarded, and then I dashed from terminal E to terminal B. I had no more than sat down than they announced my plane to Miami was boarding.

It was such a big plane we boarded in the center! So although I was in aisle 24, I was quite near the exit.

Less than two hours later, Miami.

Miami

In the time it took to get off the plane and get to my luggage, I heard perhaps a dozen different languages. Everyone I spoke to had an accent, from the familiar Spanish (though the speakers were not Mexican) to lilting Jamaican, to guttural European tongues, perhaps German or Hungarian.

Got luggage. Called for the shuttle to Days Inn. Waited. Waited some more. Waited even more. Then a little more.

Eventually, the shuttle came and the drive apologized profusely for being so late. Traffic, he told me. And it was so.

We left the airport and hit near gridlock. I knew I didn’t like cities!

But the driver persevered, and within fifteen minutes I was checking in at Days Inn.

hotel

Claimed my room, changed my clothes (I was HOT in the sweater I’d put on in Tucson!!), and headed out for something to eat.

I found a little Honduran restaurant just two blocks away where I order a Honduran beer by the name of Salva Vida. Roughly translated, it means “saves lives.”

A lifesaver, for sure, after a long day.

I ordered a sort of Honduran taco grande – a big taco. A thick flour tortilla stuffed with carne (beef), white cheese, and crema which is a sort of thin sour cream type thing. It was called a baleada. The young Honduran waitress was delighted that I liked it.

dinner

This humongous “appetizer” cost only $4.50 and I got absolutely stuffed.

So, a good ending (baleada and beer) after a long day. Couldn’t be better.

A Walk in the Desert

It was an overcast day, slightly cool. Not a good one for hanging on the beach. So Alfredo and I  decided to head out east of town into the desert to see what we could find.

Mostly, we found plants. This is an area of many cardones but few saguaros, though the locals often call the cardón a saguaro. I wanted to get up close to the giants. This ancient one is maybe thirty feet tall.

cardon

I loved how its base had a kind of grotto.

grotto

Natural, as in perhaps a lightning strike? Or did an animal, perhaps even a human animal, carve it out for some reason?

The old ones have a thick brown base and are surrounded by a network of roots.   roots

When they, die, they look like this.

dead cardon

There were also cholla, but a different kind than we have in Southeastern Arizona.

cholla

When they die, they look like this.

dead cholla

There were a number of ocotillo.  A US nickname for them is the devil’s walking stick.

ocotillo

They don’t look like anything special until spring when are topped with beautiful orange-red blossoms. In summer, and spring and fall if there is rain, they leaf out and look beautiful.

Here as in Arizona, people cut one limb, let the cut end scab over, and then plant it. Do that repeatedly and you get a living fence.

fence

See? A few leaves, though I can’t imagine how it got enough water to leaf out.

green ocotillo

There were even some interesting small plants. Wildlowers on the last day of December!

flower2 This little one was only about an inch tall.

Alfredo wandered down the road and I was roaming a different area looking for more flowers when a truck came down this road out in the middle of nowhere. The driver spotted my car, then spotted me, and stopped to see if I was okay. I told him I was taking photos of flowers, and I think he must have believed I was a bit nuts.

Pascual

However, after a few minutes of conversation in which we disclosed he raised goats at a little ranch back up the road, Alfredo and I were soon invited to follow him to his ranchito to meet the mamas and new babies.

Pascual had a piece about 100 meters by 100 meters totally fenced in ocotillo.

One lone dog guarded the goats. Pascual led us to the pen of mommies and babies explaining that the males were loose in the desert, guarded by six very brave and fierce dogs.

goat momMom is grabbing some lunch, while a youngster tries in vain to sunbathe.

goat sunbathing

The youngest are about ten days old and the ones slightly larger are about a month old.

Pascual also has one pig who complained bitterly about not having enough food, though being a pig, my guess is he’s almost never satisfied. He was quite a well-rounded pig.

Pascual also has a small garden going. Watermelon, squash, and a few fruit trees lined the western edge of his property. Quite a project since he has to haul all the water to the ranchito as he lives in town.

garden

As we chatted with Pascual, several trucks went by loaded with firewood. Preparations for outdoor barbacoas tonight, New Year’s Eve.

Clearly Pascual is  ready for a small fiesta here, too.

 chairs for party

But not tonight. Like us, Pascual will be spending New Year’s Eve in town.

Happy New Year everyone!

Fiesta de la Piñata – Piñata Party

The first time I met Martha, I was a bit stunned.

I mean, it’s not every day I meet a young, vibrant Mexican woman in a full hijab.

Martha, born and raised in the fishing village of Bahia Kino, was searching for something deeper in her life and looked to religion. She found what she wanted in the Muslim faith.

She studied the Koran online and learned passable Arabic. She began to going to Hermosillo to pray in the mosque rather than to shop for clothes.

But there she was, office manager, the first time I entered the office at Islandia Marina in Kino Viejo, smiling and welcoming me in English.

Over the years, we became friends and I saw her meet Mohamed, a Moroccan man who spoke Spanish. She married Mohamed, and had a beautiful baby, Ryan Mohamed, who is now almost three. Martha continues her job as office manager and Mohamed has found a job in town.

My partner and I are in Kino through the holidays and Martha invited us to her parents’ home last night for a piñata party for the kids. “Five o’clock” she said.

In typical Mexican fashion, we arrived around 6:30 to find the festivities not quite yet underway. Martha told us the party was going to be a bit low key since right across the street a family was holding a wake and they didn’t want the party to interfere. Still, the stuffed piñata hung from the tree.

And it was not just a piñata party. We soon learned there would be a complete barbacoa, a sort of Mexican barbecue in which very thin slices of meat are grilled over wood, usually mesquite, then chopped and stuffed into fresh, warm tortillas.

There were five small children in attendance, and about seven teen and pre-teen girls, all ages eleven to seventeen, who were great hams and jumped in front of my camera at every opportunity.

IMG_7999

Margarita, Martha and Alfredo were okay with photos, too.

IMG_8001

Soon, however, the fire was lit – after a quick dash to Margarita’s house for charcoal lighter.

Margarita lit the fire.      margarita+fire

It was well guarded.      guarding fire

And the fire was used for a quick warmup.     warming hands

But it was finally about ready for the meat.     fire

Martha filled the tea kettle so people could have tea or coffee.

martha+water      The women retired to the kitchen to prepare salsa and guacamole toppings.

making salsa.

The meat, however, is the man’s domain.

meat prep    grill prep

grill meat

Two of Mohamed’s Moroccan friends from Hermosillo came to the party. They are both graduate students at the university. Abraham, Mohamed’s childhood friend, studies Spanish and is currently polishing his thesis and studying for his final exams which are coming up in February.                                                                             Abraham    Abraham speaks five languages including his native berber dialect. Aris is studying linguistics and is far more comfortable with Chomsky’s theories than I am (try it sometime if you want to be totally confounded).

Abraham and Aris arrived and immediately retired,with Mohamed, for evening prayers, then rejoined the small crowd in the front yard.

As the fire settled into coals, it was time for the piñata. The little children were lined up by size, smallest first.

blindfold  Aris  Aris   stood on a chair and Martha’s father  roof   hopped up on a four-foot-tall block wall, onto a shed, then up on his neighbor’s roof.

He and Aris would hold the piñata, pulling it up, down and sideways while the blindfolded children swung at it with a long stick.

hit pinata    Each child got several swings, and finally it was the eleven-year-old who smashed through the piñata, spilling candies, little plastic toys, and nuts onto the ground.

The candies and toys and even a few of the nuts were scooped up by the children.

The dogs polished off the leftover nuts.  dog

There were uses for parts of the opened piñata. hat

Finally, all the meat was grilled and chopped, and the condiments were set outside on a small table.condiments Notice the girls inserting them into even this photo.

Martha skillfully created soft tacos of frijoles (mashed pinto beans often with a bit of cheese) and chopped barbacoa.  make taco

The other women carried plate after plate to the adult males. Then I was served, then the boys and girls and then the women served themselves.

We continued with stories and laughter for the next forty-five minutes or so. Then we saw the family gathered around the Christmas tree inside, forming a large arc around it. All were there, from toddlers through grandparents, holding hands. That is when we quietly left.

Cascabel

At 7:40 am yesterday I headed north to Bisbee to meet friends for an outing to Cascabel. In our usually arid climate, I was surprised I had to do things to my car because of the dew.

Dew

When I got to Cinda’s, she had to deal with dew too since she was the day’s driver.

Cinda dew

We headed up High Road to pick up Debra, then off we went.

View into
View into Mexico from High Road, Bisbee. It was extremely overcast or you’d see Mexico.

Why would the three of us drive nearly two hours to Cascabel? After all, Wikipedia calls it a ghost town. But that would be a surprise to Lisa, a Cascabel firefighter who says there are probably between 125 and maybe 250 residents, depending on the season (some flee the hot summers).

Cascabel has a delightful little holiday community fair each year. Cinda and I have gone several times, but this was Debra’s first visit.

Tombstone signOut of Bisbee we went, then through the town of Tombstone (the Town Too Tough to Die).

Immediately out of town, traffic came to a stop. Lights flashed up ahead and we feared there’d been a horrible accident.

lights2

Nope. Just a few horse-drawn wagons carrying folks from Kansas. We never learned the reason why they were plodding down a 65 mph highway causing all kinds of backups.  Kansas

A few miles later and we got to the Customs checkpoint (yes, we were 25 miles from the border of Mexico, but apparently Customs folks don’t read maps well).

checkpoint

Through St. David, Benson, and Pomerene, then north on Cascabel Road where we encountered several interesting sights and many interesting signs.

sign2  and sign3  and sign4 and even sign5 and even  sign1 this!

And finally this. sign-encouraging

The last five miles of Cascabel Road were dirt, and Cinda’s blue dolphin guided us well.  dirt road

We parked amid old mesquite trees and wandered up the road to the little fair.

parking   But first things first.  toilets

We spent the next several hours wandering the twenty-five or so booths.

booths and booths2 and

Jill and Lura of Brookmoore Creations.
Jill and Lura of Brookmoore Creations.
DJ of Benson and his beautiful mesquite creations.
DJ of Benson and his beautiful mesquite creations.
Martha is a potter with Cascabel Clayworks. She apprenticed 24 years ago and returns yearly for the festival.
Martha is a potter with Cascabel Clayworks. She apprenticed 24 years ago and returns yearly for the festival.

And having some great soup – the kitchen offered seven or eight kinds and also had hamburgers.

The kitchen kitchen and grill hamburger grill and us having lunch!  lunch

And visiting inside the first house constructed in Cascabel community when it was revived in 1970.

The main house (Barbara's) has a skylight with this fab parachute beneath it!
The main house (Barbara’s) has a skylight with this fab parachute beneath it!

Bottles are a part of the house’s eastern wall. It was hard getting photos because so many people stood in front of them taking pictures!

bottlewall1        and           bottlewall2

And a walk through the (currently) dry San Pedro River.

river cliffs and river gold, the fallen leaves  river gold of the cottonwood tree. And the sun desperately trying to come out.  river wall sun

The canyon walls of the river are about twelve feet high. riverr 2 And in a good rainy season like we had this last summer, the waters roar through the normally dry wash that deep and even spill over the banks.

In fact, this summer the river tickled the underbellies of several bridges, and roads had to be shut down.

We chatted briefly with Barbara Clark who moved to Cascabel in 1970 (she began the revival) and started Cascabel Clayworks where many potters have worked and apprenticed over the years. She says this is the thirty-fourth winter festival.

Barbara Clark who moved to the area in 1970 and began creating pottery. Thank you Barbara!
Barbara Clark who moved to the area in 1970 and began creating pottery. Thank you Barbara!

We also met Ivan who came here and built this house in 1974. He offers tours of his insanely wonderful art-filled house for $1 (self guided).

Ivan Ivan and his house. house

We finally left, climbing into Cinda’s car and looking forward to a blast of heat. The gray day had grown cooler and cooler.

Back twenty-six miles or so to Benson. Next stop: Singing Winds Bookstore. You have to know where it is. Heck, you have to even know it exists. There’s no sign on the road. You have to be halfway up the long, long driveway before there’s a sign, and there’s no sign in front of the store itself which looks like a house, just a small notice on the fence that it’s open, and when you go through the gate, then you see the sign.

bok The sign reads thus:

Singing Wind Bookshop

Headquarters for books about the Southwest

The stuff of dreams make up books

Please ring bell for service

There’s also a big sign by the door warning customers not to let the cat out.

Book browsing (and purchasing) completed, we headed back to Benson for some Mexican food.1

As we sat down to eat, the sun finally emerged. The forecast would have been more accurate if it had said barely sunny instead of partly cloudy.

After dinner, an hour’s drive home watching the sky slip from blues an grays to yellows and pinks. We three (even Cinda, the driver) craned our heads every which way watching the colors change, noticing a partial rainbow in the distance, and watching the setting sun glance off the mountains to the east.

Trust me, I wanted many more photos of the sunset. Please be content with the three below. First a view to the south,

sunset1   then east    unset3east

and finally to the west.    sunset2 west

Oddly Grateful

Today I read a blog called oddly grateful in which a blogger started a list of things he (she?) was grateful and then tagged another blogger to continue the list. I wasn’t tagged to continue the list, but I absolutely loved reading it. It also inspired me to create my own list. Here goes.

1. Good decaf. Yes, I know that is offensive to some who say there is no such thing as good decaf. But there is. And because I can no longer drink coffee due to a strange  heart thing I have going, I gotta say I’m oddly grateful for the good decaf I have found. Thank you, Seth! Um, I do sneak some real stuff now and again. Sorry Dr. Gonzalez.

2. Living just a few blocks from Mexico. If you love to travel to Mexico, you understand this. If you don’t love it, come for a visit and I will take you there, and you will love it. Some things that make this location particularly wonderful are the sound of the train a few blocks south (in Mexico), hearing the Sunday anuncios (announcements)  (from Mexico), and developing an odd liking for the Customs guys who work at our port of entry. And I think they have an odd liking for me, too. Oh, and my affordable dentist (in Mexico).

3. The peacocks that roam the neighborhood.

4. The burros about eight blocks away that I can hear in the mornings, sometimes along with coyote calls.

5. My roommate Debbie and her wonderful doggie Nellie because they take care of my house and my wonderful doggie Chloe when I am gone. And Debbie has turquoise hair that I love.

6. Chloe.

7. The cranes at Whitewater Draw who are back for the winter!

8. Summer, because that’s when the sun gets up as early as I do. And because of the monsoons. And because it’s not cold like it is here today.

9. Islandia Marina in Bahia Kino. In Mexico, of course (see #2). Where I am headed on Wednesday!

10. My book groups and the women in them.

11. My women friends, who overlap with my book groups (see #10 above). Without them, there are times I would not have made it.

12. My boyfriend Alfredo who has the most zany sense of humor and makes a mean taco. He also does dishes and vacuums.

13. Cool mornings by my fire pit.

14. Moonrise.

15. Sunset.

16. Wine on summer evenings with Lori and David and sometimes Alfredo (see #12) watching the sunset (see #15), sometimes seeing moonrise (see # 14), hearing the burros (see #4), or mornings with them enjoying my decaf (see#1). Chloe (see #6) often joins us. And all of this is very, very close to Mexico (see #2). (Mexico! Where I am headed on Wednesday!) 

17. My camera, which feels oddly left out of this post, and my computer, which feels well loved right now.

That’s all I can think of off the top of my head. Thank you Ann Koplow for your fabulous post this morning on your wonderful blog, The Years(s) of Living Non-Judgmentally. You inspire me daily!

What are you grateful for?

wonderful blog, The Years(s) of Living Non-Judgmentally. You inspire me daily!

What are you grateful for?

Bisbee’s Day of the Dead

Bisbee loves holidays.

The most favored is probably Halloween, but because of our proximity to Mexico and relationships with our friends just across the border, a strong runner up is Día de los Muertos, Day of the Dead.

An altar at the Bisbee Woman's Club a few days before Día de los Muertos. Photo by Carol Loy
An altar at the Bisbee Woman’s Club a few days before Día de los Muertos.
Photo by Carol Loy

This year the main celebration was at Central School Project, an old primary school turned artists cooperative. And it was fabulous.

A taco stand was set up outside Central School Project.
A taco stand was set up outside Central School Project.

We were welcomed by ten-foot-tall skeletons.

Outside greeter.
Outside greeter.
Another outside greeter.
Another outside greeter.
And the inside greeter at the top of the stairs.
And the inside greeter at the top of the stairs.

There was quite a crowd.

crowd

There was a lot of artwork, mostly paintings and photographs.

art1

More art.

Lovers
Lovers

glass by Rich

And of course, there were altars to the dead.

Several of the altars were created by representatives of the Mexican Consulate in Douglas.

One of the altars by the Mexican Consulate in Douglas.
One of the altars by the Mexican Consulate.
Another from the Mexican Consulate, this one to Pancho Villa.
Another from the Mexican Consulate, this one to Pancho Villa.

This altar was left open for people to place dedications to loved ones. Mine was to all my animalitos.

Woman adding a message to her departed loved ones.
Woman adding a message to her departed loved ones.

Others (unlike me) planned ahead and honored their deceased pets with altars.

To a cat.
To a cat.
To a dog.
To a dog.

birds

There were a few tables selling food and jewelry or art items.

Irene selling jewelry.
Irene selling jewelry.
Kelly selling Día de los Muertos items.
Barbara selling pan de muertos, a special bread made for Día de los Muertos. 
Vicky sells Día de los Muertos items.
Vicky sells Día de los Muertos items.

And members of the local Boys and Girls Club provided entertainment.

Kids performing. NOTE: faces are blurred a bit.
Kids performing.
NOTE: faces are blurred a bit.

And I found out that even the dead can text and take selfies!

dead text

In all, a fabuloso Día de los Muertos celebration!

Buying Ristras

When we drove south into Sonora, I had a special order for ristras, the long strings of red chiles sold in Mexico and the Southwest. One was a request from a friend and the other is actually going to be a birthday gift for another friend about to turn eighty.

Ristras of red chiles
Ristras of red chiles

We wound our way south of Cananea, the site of a recent mining pond spill. Soon we would hit the Rio Sonora, one of three rivers that received some of the acid spill. The sulfate acid, along with a host of heavy metals that have not yet been categorized, has killed the river, the lifeblood of the people who live along the waterway.

For the first forty or so miles, we saw no hint of the damage other than the roads being torn up due to heavy rains. It wasn’t until we drove through the Rio Bacanuci (yes, through – there are no bridges in the northern part of the Rio Sonora road) that things began to change.

Parked right alongside el rio were three large water trucks that appeared to be pumping water. At first we thought they were pumping water into local wells, but no. The workers were taking water from clean wells to distribute to towns further south that have had no safe water since the August spill.

The mine has had to send dozens of truck to pump water and deliver it to affected communities.
The mine has had to send dozens of truck to pump water and deliver it to affected communities.

We stopped, took photos, and eventually asked about where we might be able to buy ristras. Just as one of the young men was explaining where to find some, a truck drove through el rio heading south.

“That’s him. He has the farm with the ristras!”

I waved down the driver of the truck and found out where his farm was. A few minutes later we were greeted by his son, Norberto, and his wife, Marisa. This young couple manages a farm on Ejido Pueblo Galera, which is close to 6200 acres in size. They share their plot with Norberto’s parents who live just across the driveway. (An ejido is land held in common by a community and sometimes farmed or used cooperatively.)

Norberto plants a portion of his farm with chiles, pecans, tomatoes, pinto beans, alfalfa, corn, peanuts, and flowers. There are also about twenty-five chickens for eggs and meat. Ah, and peaches. We left with two jars of freshly canned peaches and left them with some of our homemade burritos de carne y frijol (meat and bean burritos).

“Our land wasn’t affected by the spill,” Norberto explained. “But everyone thought it was, so the mine actually compensated us for our damaged reputation.”

They even had the main Sonoran newspaper, El Imparcial, print a story about the spill which included information about how the water in Pueblo Galera hadn’t been affected.

Unfortunately, though, the heavy rains destroyed more than half their crops. “This deep!” said Norberto, holding his hand about five feet off the floor. “That’s how high the water was. We could see only the top of our corn.”

Norberto and Marisa’s house sits on the east side of the road. All the crops planted to their east were flooded, but the crops on the west side of the road were spared.

They were able to harvest chiles from the west side, and when we stopped for ristras, Marisa was busy drying chiles and grinding them into chile powder, a three-step grinding process.

First the chiles are dried outside
First the chiles are dried outside, on the roof of a shed.

First Marisa pounds the chiles which bruises them a bit and loosens the seeds.

Chiles are in a bucket, waiting to be
Chiles are in a bucket, waiting to be pounded.

Then she slowly dries them in her oven and finally grinds them three times, first coarsely, then finer, and then finer still. Finally the powder is bagged.

Chiles drying in the ove
Chiles drying in the oven
Marisa grinding chiles.
Marisa grinding chiles.

After watching this process for a while, we got the tour of the portion of the property still in production. We crossed the highway and slipped through a V-shaped entrance through the fence into to their field.

This little V entrance to the field keeps ca
This little V entrance to the field keeps cattle out.

Most of what is left in the field is marigolds which are about to be picked and sold for Dia de los Muertos, coming up in just under two weeks.

Marigolds for Dia de los Muertos.
Marigolds for Dia de los Muertos.

Norberto was proud of the fact that he uses no pesticides. He mixes the plants in his fields to help protect them from predators. It was a delight looking out across the organic field buzzing with honeybees and nearly blanketed in about eight varieties of butterfly.

Finally, it was time to choose the ristras and leave. Norberto chose the two that would travel the best and carefully placed them in my car. We left to Norberto and Marisa waving goodbye as we drove off, south to Banámichi, the smell of chiles wafting through the car.

The Letter

Yesterday I attended my freewriting group. I should do this more than once every eight or ten weeks!

We were give the first sentence and had ten minutes to write. Here’s what I ended up with.

It all started after she sent the letter.

Cindy wrote a letter to her boyfriend’s mother. She spoke a little Spanish, but his mother spoke no English at all, hence the attempt to compose in Spanish. It was a desperate attempt to please a woman long-known for rejecting her only son’s – her only child’s – girlfriends. None were good enough for Salvador.

“Querida María Jesus,” she began. Cindy was attempting to say she was sorry for not inviting her for a visit sooner. They had just moved to a new house and it was quite large and they still needed furniture.

“Soy muy embarazada,” she had written. And no, this does not mean she is very embarrassed. It means she is very pregnant.

And she didn’t describe the house as large and needing furniture. She had said she was quite large and needed furniture.

For the baby, thought María Jesus as she read the letter two days later. My first grandchild! Ai! And I haven’t even approved this woman! And she is having a baby without being married to my Salvador!

María Jesus began to pack immediately. The she paused, called her friend Elena at JC Penney, and ordered a room full of baby furniture to be delivered muy pronto.

Early the next morning, María Jesus lumbered aboard the Amtrak bound for Fresno. She told everyone aboard about her expected grandchild. By the end of the six-hour journey, it was a grandson, due tomorrow. And it was going to be a Cesarian delivery. And María Jesus had to get there today because Cindy (was that her name?) refused to have the operation without her almost mother-in-law’s presence.

Both María Jesus and the baby furniture arrived on Cindy and Salvador’s doorstep at 4:30.

Fried Green Tomatoes

On cool Sunday mornings of late summer, my father, always an early riser, would slide quietly out of bed, pull on his stay-at-home clothes, and go to the kitchen to measure coffee into the stovetop coffee percolator.

I am also an early riser, so soon I’d be in the kitchen with him stirring Bosco chocolate into a tall glass of milk, spoon clinking against the sides, frothing tiny bubbbles at the top. We’d sit at the table in silence, looking out the window at patches of flowers, wild blackberries, and tended gardens.

“Why don’t you go out and find some good frying tomatoes,” he’d say, and out I’d go to wander the rows with a small worn Easter basker, to gather the largest, firm green tomatoes I could find.

IMG_6280

When the basket was full, I’d carry it into the kitchen, place it on the counter, and quickly rinse and dry the fruits. Dad had the frying pan out, its bottom covered with oil, with a bowl of beaten eggs and a platter of spiced flour. He’d pull out the sharpest knife and cut the tomatoes into thick slabs and begin the frying process.

IMG_6323

Flour, egg dunk, flour, fry.

IMG_6325

No matter how full a basket I’d brought in, the two of us could eat most of the fried green tomatoes before my mother and sister rose. Though to be honest, I’d usually bring in only two or three tomatoes.

IMG_6327

IMG_6328

Last bite.
Last bite.

Addendum 1: My sister says she didn’t remember this. That’s because we always polished off all the tomatoes before she got up!

Addendum 2: Many thanks to Lori and David for the green tomatoes!

Los Basueros

In 1990 I was part of a delegation to Guatemala to learn first-hand of human rights abuses and to hear the stories of the people. It was one of the most powerful experiences of my life.

The east and north sides of the dump slope gently into a deep pit where the city’s garbage lies. Along the east side, away from the path of bulldozers, is a cluster of about thirty houses where the basueros, or dump people, live.

The houses were scrapped together with chunks of wood, tin and plastic, held together with baling wire. Cardboard or blankets served as doors. Most had a window, and some of those windows had a scrap of cloth hanging over the opening.

A few houses had potted plants, flowers, or a small yard fenced to contain chickens or a pig. One woman grew corn and had a mango tree.

To live with such hope, such grace, on the edge of the Guatemala City dump twisted my brain like nothing I’d ever seen before.

Buzzards circled overhead as bulldozers roared across the pit, pushing the garbage and sludge toward the center of the dump. Children dodged the dozers and trudged up the hill and past us, dragging flats of cardboard loaded with plastic, tin, or food they’d salvaged.

Garbage trucks dumped their contents over the edge on the far side. The basueros working below ran at the last minute to avoid the shower of trash, then scrambled back again to begin searching the latest load.

Our guide had led us to the houses, single file, down a trail made slippery by recent rain. That same rain had turned the dirt floors in these houses to an inch of mud.

We stopped at a house, bright pink fabric in the window, and a woman stepped out. She was old, or perhaps her life had made her look much older than her years. She wore a loose, worn dress topped with an even more worn apron. She was barefoot. She waved us into her house, and our group of fifteen completely filled it.

The tiny single room served as living room, kitchen and bedroom to her family of seven. It was especially difficult there during the rainy season, she explained, because water ran through the house much of the time. On occasion a mud slide would carry a foot of mud into her home. It was a hard life as a basuero, she told us, but it was better than living on the streets.

She told us with pride that she had built this house herself and that her children were not hungry. Her family specialized in collecting tin which they carried into town two times weekly to sell as scrap.

We left her, complimenting her on her skills, and continued our walk down the soggy trail along the edge of the dump, pausing occasionally to hear someone’s story. Not many people were home – they were all in the bottom of the dump or dragging their finds to their homes. No time to talk.

The only others we were able to speak with were two men who looked to be in their fifties. They were building a casket of scrap wood. Just the day before, a three-year-old girl had been run over by one of the dozers. It wasn’t until we’d left that I wondered where the child would be buried.