Altagracia Hernandez wanted to get Feed The Children’s several Solola communities together to welcome and incorporate the newest Village Mothers from across the lake. In mid-July, the opportunity to share a large donation of Vita Meal suddenly appeared and FTC’s Country Coordinator set about making hasty arrangements with ADEHGUA (Asociacion por Dereches Humanos en Guatemala) to help present the useful new staple at a luncheon seminar. Of course, Altagracia called on Rosa Garcia-Garcia to co-host the gathering and to, please, call in all her regular homies from Patanatic and San Antonio Palpolo and, to invite the newer members from Penemache and Santiago Chacaya.
As usual, Rosa smiled and dialed all the invitees and had everything swept clean ready to go – long before the launches and pickups began delivering the traje clad visitors in their “go-to-meeting suits.” Of necessity, any “Garden Party A-list” includes swarms of children. The littlest of these are draped in blankets and tied on Mama’s backs, the bigger ones are carried by older children or carefully hold each other’s hands while exploring any new setting. The tidy parade scaled the hill up to Patanatic managing their wiggly “accessories” with such grace that you would have thought that they had planned for weeks to stage such an enchanting fashion show.
The gorgeous display seemed to go on and on – without a runway. San Antonio’s stately ladies glided up wrapped in their denim blue skirts (banded together with thin whip-stitched rainbows.) Their sparkly jewel tone headdresses twinkled and waved conspicuously contrasting with the understated navy-turquoise flecked guipils. The Chacayanas arrived in local Santiago Atitlan guipils striped with a gaggle of songbirds flapping along the neck and shoulders. Rosa’s closest neighbors from Penemache sported Victorian patterns — gros point noir – florals on black cloth – the style is currently popular in their ancestral District, Chichicastanengo. For some reason, Team Patanatic seemed to have declared a “casual Friday.” Everyone looked kicky but only a few of the locals, besides Rosa, showed up in their formal red, black and white Traje d’ Totnicipan. If anyone besides me had even noticed, any fashionista distinctions faded after the lecture. Once they put their aprons on and started talking in their common Quiche Mayan dialect, they became, seamlessly, friends. The beauty of their outfits mattered, as they would say, “no more than a radish” as they eagerly discussed their children, the future and focused on the task at hand.
With the sewing machines squashed along the walls, Rosa’s flexible studio served as both a classroom and a prep kitchen for the twenty-five participants. As usual, Rosa introduced the honored guests. ADEHGUA’s culinary expert, Mildred Castillio and her daughter, had come in from Suchitpequez and the Asociacion’s Director, Julio Roca Mira, from Mazatenango. Julio began the session talking about the human rights focus of ADEHGUA. He lamented about the levels of malnutrition in Guatemala and cited news articles about a recent rise in infant mortality. He and Mildre would rightly condemn the abundance of sugary products particularly Coca Cola. But, they did it with such detailed gusto describing how the billboards show us an ice filled glass and you can all most “hear the fizzzz.” After that, several of the women muttered that they would just love a “cold one.”
Mildred was seriously excited about the contents of the institutional sized bag of rice. The caloric content including the lentils and all the enrichments is about one and a half times more than rice alone. Considering the list of supplements, it was amazing that the rice would taste more nutty than “medicinal.” The chief chef had worked out a number of ways to prepare the product and was delighted to learn that women were growing several of the ingredients in the MAGA/UN-FAO truck gardens. (Over the winter, FTC provided trainings in horticulture and built greenhouses with the assistance of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and Guatemala’s FDA.) She explained chopping strategies for maintaining the vitamin content of the vegetables.
“If you cut finer, you do not need to cook so long.”
And, she told them the three rules for cooking the rice in any proportion.
“Measure water and rice exactly. Pour it into boiling water…wait for the bubbles. Stir it constantly.”
With those succinct instructions firmly in place, everyone picked up a knife and addressed her stack stack of veggies. (This was the Mayan version “Julia and Julia” onion scene.) Mildred circled around putting in little corrections and admiring her students. It would take hours for the women to reduce the produce to perfectly cubed heaps meant to serve thirty plus people.
Around two o’clock, everyone trouped into the kitchen with her color laden plates on hand for the final step- blending the fresh veggies into the prepared rice and refrying a bit to try that way.
Meanwhile, over at the wood burning stove, tortilla makers were applauding massa into stacks of toasty circles snuggled into a woven cloth. Across the way, the several ladies were engaged in mixing the cabbage, beets, celery into a salad.
It was time to try the rice out on the children. Mildred had reminded us, in case we did not remember, that if one child finds fault, none of them will eat the stuff. So, after the little ones had eaten everything on their plates in a silence that smacked of appreciation, the ladies lined up. All the seating space in the house, studio, kitchen, sink area and bedrooms were filled with the same, grateful, quiet that settles over lovingly prepared meals.
Feed The Children’s introductory Lake Lunch was definitely “the event of the ‘season.’”