Friday, August 20, 2010

La casa de la abuela

This week I went with my godson, Alejandro, and his parents, Ani and Alex, to visit Alex' mother who lives outside the community of Santa Isabel Ishuatán, high in the hill country of the Cordillera de Balsamo. We had a fine time at la casa de la abuela, grandmother's house, eating our way happily through a continual feast of the best country life has to offer. Doña Francesca started us off with atole de elote, a soup of fresh sweet corn flavored with cinnamon and accompanied by ears of fresh corn. A little later Alex cut down some coconuts, and we enjoyed coconut water and meat. Almuerzo, the main meal, came at about 3 PM and featured a chicken who'd recently been running around, rice, vegetables, tortillas, a salsa de chile, and fresh cheese that Doña Francesca made as we watched.

Then it was time to make tamales de elote, fresh corn tamales, which are delicious. Doña Francesca is an old hand at these, and she taught Ani to make them. I tried the art, too, and feel a little sorry for anyone who got one of my understuffed and messy tamales. Along with beans and rice, the tamales were the centerpiece of supper. I fell into bed feeling like a stuffed tamale myself.

Doña Francesca's house and farm were full of flowers which attracted an amazingly diverse group of butterflies, fruit trees (mango, coconut, orange and many more), and fields - a small milpa for corn and a rice field. Like all the Salvadoran homesteads I've visited, her farm is a celebration of diversity where livestock (chickens, geese and a rabbit), grain crops, fruit crops and vegetables grow in happy abundance. According to the measurements of the U.S.A., Doña Francesca would be poor, and her life has been hard in many ways. But she has been a nurturer of life, both in her farm and in her family: 19 years ago, in her 50s, she adopted a baby whose mother couldn't afford to bring him up, an addition to her family of eight, and Wilson is now finishing his high school degree, hoping to study law at the University. That generosity of life and spirit, which I meet again and again in El Salvador, is a richness beyond economic price.

Oh yes, and I also had a wonderful time playing with Alejandrito, who likes nothing better than to go walking with someone holding his hands. Balancing: what a challenge! But he'll soon be off on his own.

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