I’m writing this blog on critters and food, because I love both, and because sometimes they overlap. This morning I enjoyed a delicious omelet made with wild asparagus and hearts of palm. What you might not know, is that when hearts of palm is gathered, the grub that lives inside of the palm tree is also gathered. I have actually avoided eating them so far..I saw them in their live form, and I think they are really cute, so it is going to be hard if I am put in a situation where I have to accept them. Anyway, for being a (mostly) vegetarian I have been doing pretty well eating what I’m offered here. Yesterday, the children dammed part of the river, put in a fish poison that makes the fish stunned or drunk-like rather than dead, and then waded in and picked all the fish up in their hands for dinner. The fish are little—at most up to 5 inches in length…some were only 3 cm—but they cook them whole in a soup and they have a lot of flavor. I myself helped the kids pick up fish. I wasn’t very good at it—I guess my eyes aren’t trained at finding floating fish under the water—so I only found about ten small ones, but the first time picking one up was the hardest. The fish aren’t actually dead yet, so they flop around in your hand and you have to make a fist so they don’t hop out. I almost decided I couldn’t do it when I watched one struggling for breath in my hand, and I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do it if I were only going to be eating it myself, but I was with the kids, and they were all really excited because the meal is one of their favorites. They are the sweetest kids I have ever been around, and I wanted them to have a good meal. One fish I picked up looked dead, and I told a five year-old girl that it was dead. She grabbed it from me and said “Yes, it’s dead, that’s good!” but I think really it was stunned, and not dead. After I found two, the same little girl was very excited for me and exclaimed, “Aye, Laura, dos pescados!” Some of the fish are actually a little bit dangerous (either with sharp fins or sharp teeth) and when the kids found one of these they would squeal and then smash its head with a rock before throwing it in their bucket. I was having a hard time walking in rubber boots, but all of the kids were barefoot. One little girl carrying a bucket of fish slipped on a rock and spilled out all of her fish. I scurried to help her pick them up since I remember a similar instance in which I spilled a huge pail of blueberries. Even though they eat a lot of meat in Ecuador, they don’t eat meat that doesn’t have bones in it, because they want to feel like they are eating the animal. There is something to be said for being connected to your food, and not having that disconnect there. Kids in the U.S. often don’t know their chicken nuggets actually come from a chicken, or their hamburger from a cow.
As far as other creatures go, I already mentioned some, but I am currently living harmoniously with tarantulas on the porch, bats in the roof (fruit and insect bats, not carnivorous ones, though apparently the only way to tell the difference between the all-black bats is to catch them in your hand and look at their faces and teeth, which I am not about to do) snakes underneath the house (it’s raised from the ground so I don’t have to worry about them coming inside, I hope) and of course mosquitoes, mama cockroaches, giant( praying mantises, ants, wasps, moths and lots of butterflies—though here, I guess they are not giant they are normal size.) Unfortunately I don’t have pictures of all of these critters yet, but my photos for this week are going to be the pictures of critters that I do have. When I mention one of these being in my house I am always told to kill it with the machete—I keep one under my bed—but as my friends know, I’m basically unable to kill things so I’ve stopped telling people that I find things and hope that they will just fly or crawl away, and they usually do, though there’s a mama roach that has been here for a while.
My favorite food here is probably plantains because they are so diverse. You can eat them unripe or ripe so that they are savory or sweet, and you can boil, mash, grate, fry, grill, and drink them. Yesterday morning I made a drink with sweet plantains. It is a traditional breakfast drink, and it is basically just boiled sweet plantains, and then you mash them together with the water they are boiled in. Tonight I made mashed unripe plantains, which was one of my favorite things so far because you cook them, then mash them with sautéed onions and butter. This is served with a fried egg. (Eggs are a staple protein.) Every two or three weeks they have pizza night here in the community, probably mostly for my benefit. Some of the adults like pizza but they only like it with meat on it (chicken, ground beef, salami) and the kids don’t really like pizza. In fact, sometimes some of them will cry when it is pizza night. I made chocolate chip cookies one night, and even though I didn’t have all the appropriate ingredients (they don’t sell baking soda in Ecuador because it is used in making some drugs) they were still a big hit. 60 cookies disappeared in about three minutes.
I’ve been doing well, reading and writing, learning some simple skills like washing clothes in the river so that they are actually clean, and working on Spanish, but I was sick for a couple of days. I think it was either something I ate or some stomach bug I caught from the kids, but last Saturday I threw up 13 times between 3 AM and 1 PM the next day, which is more than I have thrown up in the past seven years combined. At 1 PM a shaman who happened to be passing through came to cleanse me. I can’t say if it helped me or not, but I can say I didn’t throw up again after that. Shamans don’t like to tell people they are shamans because if something bad happens within the community people tend to blame them for it, but some of the older shamans (this man was in his 90s) still associate themselves as such. I have a lunch date today with a girl from the city who is working on her English. It will be interesting to see the differences of daily life.