Apr 23, 2012

Juanacatlán – How Life Once Is - Day 8

How we spend our days is, of course,
How we spend our lives.
Annie Dillard 

And many more - Happy Birthday!
Weenies and Birthday

Today is my birthday and this trip was a present from my sweetie Mike, one of the best I’ve had in all the years we’ve been together, mostly because we were able to share this together.

Upon awakening, our host borrowed her daughter’s cell phone and played Happy Birthday Spanish version to start my day. We had coffee instead of the more normal teas (mint, lemon grass or painted cup) or atoles  (made from oats, corn, or cornstarch).

The rest of the day we walk and relax a lot as we know we are leaving early tomorrow morning. We take more time to ask a few more questions about their respective lives. The government supports mothers and their children until age five. If the income is low enough, they are assured, milk, lentils, and beans to supply adequate proteins to the growing kids granted no one in the house drinks alcohol. If they audit you and find ANY alcohol on the property, the benefits will immediately stop. There are also other health programs that touch anything from HIV to AIDS and parasites and mouth/gums health. If you attend you get paid. An old age pension doesn’t start until they are 70 and only if they need it. A government representative will come visit your house to see what you own and what your needs are before making a decision to grant you a pension or not. That pension currently is only $40/month anyway so...

Government also helped the town drill a well 600’ deep to get water to each household (sometimes meaning a 2 mile pipe to reach a house), two water cisterns (one white and one smaller black one), and for folks with dirt floors in their house, a new concrete floor. The town owns a communal forest that is approximately 20 square miles. You necessitate a permit to cut trees down needed to build your home. However no one is allowed to cut firs, only pines, oaks or madrones. That they use about 2 cords of wood a year for all their cooking and heating water needs. They mostly depend on fallen trees and thankfully, even though they are surrounded by communal forests, they are far from being denuded by abuse and greed. They do very select cutting and cleaning of the forest.

None of the rooms in the house come with closets or chests so belongings are hung on nails or in bags everywhere you look. It makes for a cluttered look but they easily find anything they are looking for. A few small shelves adorn the walls for the more special items they want to display: lamps, Virgin statue, flowers, school art projects, etc. There are no cushy chairs or comfy sofas anywhere, only wood benches and small straight school like chairs making it uncomfortable to sit for any length of time anywhere. They use Vicks VapoRub (ouch) on their chapped lips rather than chap sticks.

They claim no one here steals or would hurt anyone else yet doors have locks everywhere – not sure what to make of it. They use anything they find = beer caps are used as washers to hold down roofing or other similar items. Barbed wire fencing is denuded of its many barbs to make clothes lines.

In the afternoon, Chayo makes candy (called huesitos = small eggs) on an open fire in a beautiful copper pot. Using only milk, sugar, and rice powder she boils the liquid down until it can be shaped into small nut like shapes between a two-part mold made of pottery and dusted with a tiny bit of cinnamon so the candies do not stick to it.

Cooking candy outdoors
Candy liquid boiled down
Candy ready to be shaped into huesitos
We then go visit the local distiller (he’s legitimate) to see how he makes raicilla (formally called mescal), a liquor made from wild agaves. We had seen a similar installation when visiting San Sebastián but this one has not been embellished to please the tourists. At his house, the outside bread oven (usually in a dome shape) was made to look like a pig – I guess this person has quite a sense of humor. 

Agave (base of leaves) after they have been cooked
In preparation for raicilla liquor distillation
Can be eaten like candy
A couple of people are invited for my birthday dinner (we stayed an extra day for they wouldn’t let me leave without celebrating my birthday here). Our hosts trying to impress the gringos served an orange and red juice in chipped wine glasses that probably get used once a year or so. It resembled tequila sunrises. This time we had duros with weenies (yes raw weenies – the American food), pickled in vinegar pig skin, and cucumbers. How do you say no to that!

Finally, the pièce de résistance: my beautiful birthday cake with the only few strawberries coming out of her garden gracing the outside. The tradition here is for everyone to repeat “Morder, Morder, Morder” (bite, bite, bite). While they say this you have to just reach for the cake and bite it. Then, of course, someone pushes your face into it and you are covered with icing and it’s a good laugh.

Birthday cake cooking on stove with coals on top
Somewhat like a Dutch oven
Birthday dinner table is set up
Morder - Bite!

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