One of my favorite things about getting settled in a new place is getting to know new people. I have found, in my travels, that the best way to really enjoy any new place is to get an insider’s perspective on the location. Do they have a favorite breakfast spot…who do they buy their produce from….where would they spend a sunny afternoon? As time moves on and I transition from getting settled to being settled, there is a shift in the kind of insights I am looking for. I no longer need tips on where to get produce or where to spend a sunny afternoon…my attention has turned to developing friendships with my neighbors….enter Fidelia.
For those of y’all that have spent some time with Long Way Home, the name Fidelia will instantly resonate, but for those who have not had a chance to visit our project, a little introduction is in order. Fidelia is our neighbor. She lives near the park that many of our staff & volunteers call home while they are here in Comalapa. She is the proprietress of a little tienda (store) that provides us with things like cookies, fresh eggs, bread & beverages. However, our relationship with her extends far beyond that of vendor & buyers…Fidelia is a part of our family here in Guatemala….& that is a wonderful blessing.
I met Fedelia many years ago, on my first visit here. She instantly struck me as a kind, delightful person with a spunky nature that brought me smiles. Even though I didn’t understand much of what she was saying….a result of my extremely poor Spanish & her thick Mayan accent…I knew instantly that I liked her. With each returning visit Fidelia & I invested a little more in our relationship. Once I moved south & started calling Comalapa home, our friendship started to blossom even further.Here, many families have tiendas that occupy the front room of their houses…Fidelia is no different. Walking through the sea foam green doors of her modest shop, you get a glimpse of her home through the back doorway. Chickens, scratching the ground for gnats & such, strutting past the door….or sometimes, into the tienda. Her dogs, Clifford & Opín…lounging in the sun…or mingling with Juancho (my pup) & whichever other LWH dogs I have in tow at the time. But what started as an (almost) daily exchange of small talk, me standing on one side of the counter, her on the other, has evolved into a much more familiar exchange. These days, when I walk through the door of Fidelia’s tienda it has become more common that I will end up in her kitchen than that she will come out to attend the counter.
This is where things get really good….in Fidelia’s kitchen…or some other room of her house. Over the past couple of years I have spent a good portion of my time with Fidelia working alongside her while we chat. Not one to sit & watch, I have often jumped into whatever chore she happens to be doing when I stop by. As a result I have “mastered” (my words…certainly not hers) several tasks that are a part of everyday life in these Mayan hills.
It started with an invitation to dinner. Watching her effortlessly make tortillas, I asked to help. I was granted one attempt…that ended with my tortilla on the floor. After a few seconds of begging, Fidelia let me try again, which ended in being told that my tortillla was “casi bueno” (almost good), that I was not allowed to make anymore & I would have to eat the one I’d already made….yikes! From there…a few cooking lessons regarding local delights. I am now able to cook yerba…a leafy green with little yellow flowers that is quite delightful. Also, güisquil (wiskil) a strange little vegetable that is a common ingredient in soups…but sadly, doesn’t have much flavor…although with Fidelia’s preparation instructions that has changed…yummie! In case you are wondering…a decent Guatemalan tortilla has not been successfully produced by these hands.Not too long ago she taught me how to shuck dried corn without damaging the husks, which are used to make chuchitos (tamale-like food item). I have shucked corn by the bushels…so I know my way around a corn husk…but this task was new to me…& there was a learning curve…but by the third go I had it down… mostly…. according to Fidelia. The time before that, we were preparing food for her chickens…& before that…shelling beans. Always something new to learn….& she is a patient teacher offering lots of guidance….although she is not quick to compliment…if she does extend praise, you can be sure it is genuine.
While some of our time together is occupied with household tasks, there are times when we just hang out in the kitchen, listen to music on her little radio & chat. The talking is really the most fun. Granted, it can be a little complicated at times…my Spanish is improving but there is still much I need to learn….this inevitably frustrates both of us. Several times we have spent a moment or two expressing that frustration…her in Kaqchikel (the Mayan language of these parts that is the first language of most of our neighbors) & me in English. After a few minutes of ranting in our own native languages – that the other doesn’t understand – we both pause, smile & giggle with each other…perfection.
By Lisa Massey
Office Manager, LWH