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.