Our Yorito-Isote-Jalapa-Wisilka-Sabana-Destino teaching program has been going excellently. It has been a joy to work with the facilitators and youth here. They have absorbed us completely into their work, including CIAL projects and activities. I wish to tell you all (yes, kind reader who checks the blog) about Rachel and I’s afternoon last Thursday with a youth CIAL from Yorito that was unforgettable.
It began strangely, when the facilitator called and said we would not be having class, but should instead meet at her house. We waited to be picked up, and two girls from her class walked over to the apartment to meet us. We joined them and were off to the facilitator’s, which was just up the street, close by. We passed into a neighborhood of Yorito we had never explored, and it was great to see the houses just off the center of town. When we arrived at the facilitator’s home, we saw the results of the project that had taken them the day to execute: tiny pots of clay were spread out on a makeshift table, all fashioned from locally harvested clay. They will be the stages on which to showcase the seed varieties the CIAL has acquired for the Feria de Semillas (Seed Fair) at FIPAH on Monday. The Yorito youth CIAL hopes to win the prize for best presentation.
Each tiny cup could hold perhaps a handful or two of seeds – a good thing, since this CIAL alone hopes to present four varieties of rice and many kinds of beans (amongst other species), some heirloom varieties. I don’t doubt that they can and will fill each of the dozens of pots with a unique seed. Their knowledge of not just agriculture, but flora in general, is impressive. They can point out species of mango from trees off a path, or recognize that a farmer is growing coffee just from the small sprouts in her/his garden.
After gazing at the pots and observing the students mould them for a bit, we were asked if we wanted to go on a hike to gather more clay. Immediately we accepted, and set off with three boys and a young woman from class. One of them, who is particularly excitable when it comes to English, was bouncing around identifying fruits, trees, crops, everything. Another was tossing his machete between his hands, occasionally coming down with a slash onto a tree stump or thrusting into a discarded soda bottle (yes, garbage even litters the hillside trails). I am awed by their knowledge, and it brightens me to see a new generation interested in the complexities of agri-awesomeness. We walk for about twenty minutes uphill, and come upon two more young ladies from the class – one a teenager and the other a young mother. They carry two mounds of clay, which has to be hacked from its source with a machete. They stop to rest for a bit at the crossroads with us, then tell the boys to go acquire more clay while we all go on a tour of nearby sites. First, we are taken on a short walk to the land of a man who is our facilitator’s partner, and who has small ponds in his yard. We climb over wood laid across deep puddles (makeshift bridges) to get to his parcela, where there is a rectangular plot they call a lagoon, full of fairly small fish. Every now and then they flop at the surface and we look excitedly, scrutinizing the surface for another glimpse. Eventually, the climb back over the puddles and mini-lakes as they call them, just having a relaxing and adventurous afternoon.
Next, the girls decide they will take us to see a freshwater spring where people often go to bathe. The young mom tells us there is a spout of water so fresh, cold, and clear that you can drink from it (at this, Rachel and I exchange nervous, knowing smiles). We join the on the path to this brook, pausing at a woman’s farm to drop off our clay under her watchful gaze. Before long we are at the rocks of the water, climbing upstream to the place that our friend spoke of. We reach a small waterfall, where there are various little springs of water seemingly drilled into the earth. Our friend insists the water is pure, naturally filtered into a drinkable state. We oblige, and take sips of the water (it was quite good). I dip my feet and sandals into a little current, and the feeling is blissful. We depart from the water source, content with our explorations. Rachel heaves the pot full of clay onto her head, while I hold mine to my torso, arms wrapped securely around. Away we go on the return to the facilitator’s house.
On the way, the girls have posed many questions about English and where we live. They tell us of their lives, while Rachel and I listen and respond intently. It feels great to bond with the students and to feel mutually less intimidated by the curiosity for each others’ origins. Near our final destination, our older friend insists that we must have mangoes at her house. On the return path, we stop at a white-washed house to our right. Our student makes her way in and returns with a little boy beside her, shirtless and serious in his too-high pants. He looks at us like we are extraterrestrials (not uncommon) and after some persistent waving on my behalf, he returns a brief wave before scampering off. Our friend beckons us to come on in, and we climb the carved earth steps into her home. To our left is a room in which sits her father, who greets us warmly, and to the right is a kitchen, where her sister stands over a mud oven. Our friend waves us in and asks if we would like coffee and tortillas. Not wanting decline their generous (and delicious) welcome, we agree to have some, on the condition that we can help. Honestly, we had been dying to learn how to make and toast our own tortillas ever since first watching how wonderfully the Doña with baleadas made hers. I asked our friend’s sister if she could teach us how to make them. She grabbed two balls of the flour dough and handed each of us one. It was white and very sticky, but easily malleable. At one point we were each given a dab of butter to lather over our hands to prevent the dough from sticking. Her sister was rotating the disks between her fingers, flattening them with enviable ease. We tried with the ultimate effort to imitate her, but failed. After doing our best to make them thin, even, and circular, we decided to go with what we had and threw them onto the hot stove above the oven. I tried flipping mine, but my hand felt heavy and confused so close to the flame, completely unlike the technique of the women. The sister would snatch an edge of the tortilla up and have it upside-down in the blink of an eye.
As we finished the tortillas, we sat and enjoyed their delicious, local coffee. Their generosity is immense and I couldn’t believe how the afternoon had turned out so fantastically. We returned to the facilitator’s soon afterward, and dug into the clay. The raw earth first must be refined with water and much crumbling by hand. Eventually, all of the clumps were worked out and the clay was in good condition to be shaped. It was a repeat of the earlier tortilla-making attempt: we tried to make small bowls with a flat bottom and even width, just like the girls around us, but could not succeed (yes, it was hilarious). It is harder than you could imagine using only your hands and a bit of water. Eventually, we got our clay to form into a semblance of the other finished products, though they were… interesting. Seeing all of them laid out on the table, ready to be filled with seeds, was impressive.
We finished the project, washed our hands clean of the clay (forgetting our elbows and legs, of course), and left the facilitator’s house in a total daze. It was unreal that we had just spent the entire afternoon bonding with the CIAL, able to enjoy their company with a reversed teacher-student dynamic: they awed us with their plant identification prowess, tortilla -and pot-making skills, and their absolute knowledge of the tropics. Needless to say, I’ve come to love them.