Generosity and Food
Two days before Thanksgiving and I find myself situated in my life which today happens to take me down a long bumpy road where the jungle is not so slowly winning it’s battle against the pavement. It’s vines and branches reach out to touch every passing car as a reminder of it’s existence. Alive and active, ripe with its wildness. We are headed out to the pueblitos that surround the larger town of Tzucacab.
We are headed out to interview people about food security, agriculture, and what happens when times are hard. For a lot of reasons these interviews reach deep into me pulling out out connections between these señoras, their families, and the big world that we all live in. These stories sing out right now as the world groans with the shifts caused by the Arab Spring and Occupy movement, as food prices jump to new heights, as my over-educated and underemployed friends head back to their own towns to seek out ways to support their lives and their families.
Yesterday I listened to more than one woman talk about how she is currently reducing the amount of food that her family eats to make it last until the harvest of corn. They talk about access to resources, what it means to be from a town where there is no paid work. They talk about how and what they do to figure out solutions in their lives.
As we talk to one woman, a bill collector pulls up on his motorcycle asking for money. He says, “When are you going to pay?” She tells him to come back next week when she has money, and I think about times in childhood when my family used answering machines to avoid these same people asking for money that we didn’t have. After he leaves she says, “they are so impatient. I will pay him when I have the money. But if I don’t have the money, how can I pay?”
Ten minutes later, the tortilla salesman comes by on his motorcycle. She looks out at him and says matter-of-factly, “We almost never buy tortillas from him. There is just no money.”
I am struck with the bleakness of this reality. No money. No work. No food. But this is not the only story she is telling. She pulls out her squashes for us to look at. Her eyes light up as she talks about her terreno and the work she does to grow her family food. She laughs and jokes with me about her granddaughter’s habit of saving up money to buy turkeys and chickens. She tells us stories about weathering out Hurricane Isadore with her son in their house made of sticks and palm leaves, even though everyone else left to go to the protection of her brothers concrete house. She asks us about the realities of immigrating to US and what it would be like for her son.
Before we leave she yells to granddaughter in Mayan. A few minutes later her granddaughter emerges with two huge plates of yuca sweets for us to eat. It is a candy made by boiling yuca and sugar until it is soft and falls apart when you eat it. We eat one plate enjoying the sweetness of the gesture and the candy. Somehow for us a guests the señora finds something to share. As we leave she tells us we have to come back next week to try her ibes, a bean that she is harvesting. It is the main source of protein for her family right now. She already told us there isn’t enough for every one to eat.
Hours later I am back at my house in Merida watching as my email inbox is flooded with Black Friday sales, offers for organic turkeys at unbelievably high prices. After our three hour drive back to the city, we are hungry, tired, and impatient. We stop to eat slices of pizza that fill me up in that overly rich way that fast food does. These worlds rub against each other as I try and sleep but can’t because my dreams replay stories of struggle in both worlds.