It was another busy and exciting day with our group from Centro. For the first time in days, the weather was clear and bright in the morning and the tops of the volcanoes were finally visible. We all rushed to the roof to check out the incredible view. As someone who's spent plenty of time in Guatemala, the view of el Volcán Agua looking over the streets of Antigua never gets old! We headed to the office first, and the group checked out the display of various items on display and on sale that were produced by the artisans affiliated with De La Gente. Tea, handbags, lip balm and peanut butter all made their way into people's belongings.
The artisan crafts were a perfect segue into the day's activities. We started out together, heading into another part of San Miguel Escobar into the home of Rosie and Manuel. Manuel is a coffee farmer with DLG and Rosie is a culinary genius! For our morning, Rosie would be taking the entire group through the steps of making pepián. This delicious, traditional Guatemalan stew is made from a variety of fresh vegetables and spices.
It also typically features chicken, and getting the chicken prepared was the first surprise of the day. Because, as you may guess, when we arrived the chicken was alive (albeit it hanging upside down in the back) and within minutes of our arrival, it was not. Some members of the group had no interest in seeing this part of the process, and some couldn't help but watch. (You can check out a very brief - and non-graphic - snippet of this in today's video montage below.)
Over the next few hours, everyone was put to work on this elaborate dish. In addition to preparing the chicken (pulling out the feathers, removing the insides, and cutting it into pieces for cooking), there were green beans to cut, carrots and potatoes to peel and dice. And when I say there were potatoes to dice, I am not referring to seven or eight, but more like a typical laundry basket's worth!
Doña Rosie, a daughter and her mother were bustling around and guiding everyone as they worked. Squeezed into the small nook containing the stove, we watched as Rosie maintained a conductor's deftness on the stove. Not only was she cooking the chicken and making the rice for the pepián, she was also in the middle of making hilachas (another traditional dish) and chiles rellenos for the next day. She makes the food not only for her family (and us), but also sells her fine cuisine at the comedor (dining hall, sort of) down the street.
The final step of preparing our lunch was perhaps the most entertaining. Why? Because it was the seemingly easy, but realistically not, task of making flat, round, perfect tortillas. Rosie's hands worked swiftly through the corn flour and water dough, and we all laughed as our initial attempts fell a bit short of expectations. As people lined up to enter the kitchen and put our creations on the comal for cooking, we waited for Rosie's comment of "bien" or even the rare "wow".
With a bit more practice, everyone got better and better and we had some pretty professional-looking tortillas on the grill by the end. Once we had made enough, the group set the table, poured the horchata (a rice drink with sugar and cinnamon), and dove in to the savory, slightly spicy and excellent meal.
The afternoon featured the group split in two. One half went with DLG's Joe to visit Carlos, an affiliated iron worker. (Hopefully a Centro member will chime in with their take on this experience.) The other half headed to the carpentry taller (workshop) of Roberto, another affiliated artisan. There, Jorge led the group through the production of decorative serving trays. The wood for the trays had already been cut and pieced together, but there was still plenty of work left to do!
Over the following hours, Claudia, Michelle, Graham, Shira and Pam sanded down the wood with three varying grades of sandpaper. It was always dependent on Jorge's vote of approval before they could proceed. After sanding, a snack of bananas and water was next, and then the choices of textiles. Jorge explained how most villages in Guatemala have their own historic and traditional colors and designs for their native clothing. He explained the months-long production process for one item, and showed off various examples.
The previously-used clothing was there to be cut up and placed in the base of each person's tray. It would then be secured under a piece of glass as the final piece of the puzzle. As it turned out, we ran out of time before the final step (and the iron group had the same issue), but the artisans were going to be finishing up and delivering the completed items to the group before they depart.
After a run to the cookie store and banana bread bakery, the group rested and relaxed before a lively dinner and open mic night at the Rainbow Cafe. Check out the video below to see two members of Centro bring down the house with their version of The Fugees' "Killing Me Softly."