the dead and the most humble 13 cents of my life

I love day of the dead festivities.


However, I have a tough time adapting to the ones we have here in Arizona. They are fun and everything… but they just aren’t the exact same dia de los muertos rituals I experienced growing up.

First of all I grew up calling it dia de los difuntos… which stylistically translates more into the day of the deceased rather than the day of the dead. Which in my Andean native cheekiness just sounds more reverent and polite… though, in all honesty I don’t really prefer calling it one over the other.  The effect and sentiment is the same.

The general idea is that at this time of year, the veil between life on this earth and life in the “other world” is at its thinnest and that there is a chance for us to visit with loved ones that happen to be on the side opposite which we currently reside in.

I love the smells and colors and sentiments that seem to prevail during this time of the year. 

Where i grew up there are two principal items in terms of food. One is something called pan de guagua and the other is chicha morada. The pan de guagua is “baby bread” or “child bread” and they are bread rolls fashioned to look like bundled babies with colored sugar icing on them. The shape reminds me a lot of the pre-colombian dolls from that part of the world so I like to imagine it is a pretty ancient holdover that managed to survive those pesky conquistadores. The other, chicha morada, is a thick berry based juice-like drink. I have had it warm and I have had it cold. Its base is black berries, blue berries and cinnamon. In Ecuador there are a many other ingredients that one uses to create the beverage, my favorite of those being something called ishpingo. 

The last time I lived in Ecuador I talked the gardener/guard into helping me figure out how to make chicha morada. He arranged for me to go with him to the local street market to buy the items I needed. He walked me from stall to blanket to basket pointing out each item I would need asking about each deal he could get for me for the items, bargaining on my behalf in a rare form of quick Spanish. I certainly could have handled this myself, but there was just something about his demeanor and like he was so proud to be showing this semi-gringa the chicha morada ropes. When we went to buy the ishpingo, he became livid. He was violently angry and pulled me aside to tell me that I should go home because they refused to go down in price and they were charging me way too much. When I asked him the amounts in question it resulted in what would be a .03 cent difference. I am still so touched by how he needed my relationship with the Ecuador he knew to be fair, at least financially. This kind of event happened a few other times, once on the bus when I was charged about 10 cents more and the whole bus was about to mutiny and every other passenger yelled at the fee collector that he looked scared and gave me the change. I have been humbled by a collective 13 cents. It remains with me to this day.

but I digress.

So, we purchased everything and went back and I must have made what is equivalent to 30 gallons of the stuff. I have never been patient with thickening agents added in to food and it got to the point where I had such a thick slop of chicha morada that I had to water it down with more juice.

I returned the kindness by teaching the gardener how to make chocolate chip cookies. I used to make and sell them to tourist hangouts to make money, but would feed left overs to my family and the all servants.

And I confess, it is still hard for me to use the word servants in English… somehow it makes more sense to me that I was waited upon when I am thinking in Spanish.



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