Tuesday, June 17, 2008

When no one is looking...

A series of local photos.... One morning, walking down to the highway on the footpath, encountered a few familiar sights:

1. Someone has already checked this "membrillo" - nope, not enough meat for a soup. This is the height of the membrillo season (I had been calling these fruits quince, but that's wrong; this membrillo is completely unique to Panama) and these heavy fruits are falling from the sky. When they hit the zinc roofs the jarring: WHAM! is just as alarming as the effect of falling grapefruit (that season has already passed).

How to eat these? Well, the interior is really kind of rubbery and tough, so I suggest allowing a bit of time and cooking diced pieces in a soup or stew. I have to experiment some more (maybe I should try adding oil and frying it?) and there is an ample quantity, so stay tuned!

2. The cacao is constantly growing with no apparent season. This familiar view could be from any day of the year. These are the seeds of the cacao fruit (yummy to eat the soft coating, but then you're left with the large toxic seed).

After you eat the sugary layer inside the cask, let the seed dry in the sun (watch out for the afternoon rain!) then roast/char the seed, grind it up, mix in water, and then you have a fresh glass of chocolate. If possible, add sugar and milk.

My neighbors drink this whenever they are "thirsty" but it is also a symbolic beverage. During vigils and wakes, this is prepared for the visitors and family members. If a person is ill, the family will make a point of preparing cacao.

While it is not at all like Nestle's, this is very tastey and often a welcome change from the ever- popular cup of coffee.

3. I passed Megi's house and she offered me sopa and ponche. She was preparing a meal for her daughter, so was busy cleaning the rice. Melitza had run to change her clothes so she could get her photo taken but Megi remained and quietly worked, grain by grain, to finish her tasks.

4. Employees in the campo: Ranchland borders my community and has crept in where crops have failed one too many times. My brothers Chavez rent their land to host a 30-head herd and the secretary of the water committee (Quebrada Mina) is aspiring to keep 5 terneros, but for the most part, my village survives on agriculture, machete work, and government support.

The bright green fields we walk through to go to and from Escodu represent the "pasta" for the cows and bulls. This is actually a particular kind of grass, a feed for the animals, but it's causing problems for the non-ranchers. The grass is highly invasive and has added its bulk to the campo's aggressive plant life. Now, when a farmer needs to "limpiar el montain," he must cut and burn this sharp, tough grass as well.

5. Like a delicate cocktail umbrella behind an enchanting ear... Why yes, that's a cowpie :

6. Once on the "busita" I joined the other travellers on their way to town - to San Felix. It's still early in the morning, but commuter traffic has already died down and students are in their classes. In town there are shops to browse, church to admire, post office to hassle, hospital to visit, maybe someone hoping for a bouquet of flowers...

7. I've bought granola, powdered milk, instant noodles, peanut butter (they didn't have the good kind this time, too bad), guava jelly, salty crackers, tomato sauce, and oil. Then there was time to review the books saved at the Regional Leader's house. Now I can go back home.

Since it's only 5:00pm, I decide to walk back. The construction on the road has made the trip so much easier. The surface is paved now (tar and chip) and in roughly 45 minutes I'll be at my entrada. Isn't there a chiva? Well..., yes, but the chiva only shows up when it fancies a crowd, so I often prefer to caminar por pie.

For the vistas alone, the trip was also well worth it. A new discovery today: I hadn't noticed that of all of the various epiphytes in the trees, a gnarly cactus was also growing high up above the road. Not only was the cactus happily dangling from the tree branches, it was also in flower. Cactus flowers fascinate me. Maybe that's where that perfumey smell is coming from...

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