Yesterday, it rained all day. There were times when the rain became very heavy with a lot of wind. Then it turned into a gentle drizzle; over which, my thoughts rushed to navigate a mighty river of memories. While listening to music from the seventies, my spirit moved to the streets of my town, to the years of my childhood. To those streets of dust and stone on which I used to run barefoot.
The desire to want to hear the sound of the rain impelled me to open the door, the wet and cold wind hit my face making all my skin bristle. Instinctively I searched with my nose for the smell of wet ground, which I could not sense, because the streets around me were completely paved. So, I closed my eyes and let my thoughts take me back in time; imagining again the streets of my town, perfectly recorded in my memories.
With my eyes closed I could see how the streets turned into rivers, on which paper boats sailed, I could hear the noise of the rain hitting the tin roofs, I could discern the smell of wet ground and I could feel how my chest got wet with the drizzle mixed with the tears that flowed from my eyes when evoking those memories of the past.
I used to live in Barrio Chaparrón, Jutiapa, Guatemala. And for me it was a tradition every time it rained, running in the rain to Mrs. Nieves’ house to buy chicharron (fried pork skin) pupusas. I started working when I was a child and from a very young age, I learned the trade from my father (Photographer), so I always had money with me.
When I met Mrs. Nieves, the streets of my neighborhood were already cobbled (paved with cement bricks). I was about 11 years old, and I met her at the butcher shop buying chicharrones. I watched her carefully because she was a lady with an extremely thin complexion, her little oval face full of wrinkles. The fingers on her hand were long and a little bony. She walked slowly and carried a basket with vegetables with her right arm. When I saw her my heart was touched by her because I remembered my grandmother. So, I offered to help her by carrying her basket.
To my surprise, Mrs. Nieves lived only two blocks away from my house, on one of the avenues. Her house was very simple. Built with adobes (mud bricks and straw), the house’s facade was deteriorated and without paint. The interior walls of the house were covered with a mixture of lime. The ground had no flooring, but it was very compacted, so it could be swept with a straw broom. Mrs. Nieves allowed me to go to her kitchen to place the basket on a wooden table. She did not have a gas stove and her stove was very old, built with bricks and mud. It had a huge griddle, the kitchen had a tiled roof and only had two walls. The other two sides of the kitchen were uncovered, and the ceiling supported by two wooden columns.
In addition to the table, there were several stools. Her kitchen was practically in the patio of her house. On one side of the table, she had a grinding stone and she told me that every afternoon she made chicharron pupusas to sell, especially on rainy days because that was when she sold them the most.
From that day on for many months, especially when it rained, every afternoon at two o’clock, I would run out of my house in the direction of Mrs. Nieves’ house. Upon arrival, I would knock hard on the wooden door and sat on a big stone that was on one side of the entrance, to wait for her to let me in. After a few minutes a small window opened in the center of the door and Mrs. Nieves looked down to make sure it was me who was knocking. After hearing my greeting, she would open the door and let me into the kitchen. I always took a few coins to pay and left them on the table after I sat on one of the wooden stools and watched her work.
Despite not having two walls, Mrs. Nieves’s kitchen was always warm. The smoke from the wood came out from under the griddle in the midst of great flames of fire, which sometimes sparked with the thunder of the burning logs. On the table was a large plastic container filled with corn dough, a plastic bag with chicharrones, tomatoes, onions, garlic, sweet chilis, salt, potatoes, pepper, and powdered beef seasoning.
Mrs. Nieves always started selling her pupusas after three in the afternoon, but I would arrive an hour earlier because I was fascinated to see how she prepared everything to sell. She began by washing the grinding stone with fresh water that she drew from the well in her house. Then she would put a metal sheet with holes on the griddle on which she would roast all the vegetables, except the potatoes because she had already cooked them in salted water. The smell of vegetables slowly roasting awakened my senses and absorbed all my attention.
While the vegetables were roasting, Mrs. Nieves ground the pork chicharrones on the grinding stone with rhythmic but slow movements. Mrs. Nieves always walked very slowly as if in slow motion; and at my young age I thought to myself, “Hurry up, Mrs. Nieves, hurry up, I’m hungry.”
Mrs. Nieves’ little hands moved slowly over the grinding stone, tired from the hard work of many years. From time to time, she looked up and smiled at me. The fat from the pork chicharrones dripped down the sides of the stone she was grinding with without coming off the grinding stone. When the pork chicharrones were already ground, she added the potatoes one by one and continued to grind forming a sticky mass and little by little she added the roasted vegetables that gave off an indescribably appetizing smell to my senses.
When the chicharron dough was ready, Mrs. Nieves would put it inside an aluminum pot. She then placed the corn dough on the grinding stone to refine it. Then she began to make little balls of dough. With which she made the tortillas that she filled with the chicharrons dough to later fold them in half and form a kind of empanada. She immediately put them on the hot griddle to cook it.
I was looking forward to that first pupusa that Mrs. Nieves was going to take out of the griddle. Which, after putting it on a piece of banana leaf, she put it on my hands. The mix of smells and flavors perfectly combined by the wisdom and skill of an old woman, who through the years, had been selling chicharron pupusas; resulted in an indelible sensation of pleasure when it dissolved inside my mouth. Absorbed by the taste buds that transmitted that unique flavor to my brain, it caused all my senses to be altered to ask for more, until the incoherent need to fill my hungry stomach unit it was completely full was satisfied.
That tradition of running to Mrs. Nieves’s house was interrupted for the near year that I was away from my beloved Jutiapa. After some time, I returned precisely one rainy afternoon and the first thing I told my mother was to give me money to go buy chicharron pupusas at Mrs. Nieves’s house. My mother gave me some coins and I ran out to look for Mrs. Nieves. When I arrived, I knocked many times on the wooden door, but no one opened the little window to see me and then open the door. I came back the next day and the day after, but no one ever opened the door again. Then I sat on the stone next to the entrance and watched how the rain formed rivers on which paper boats with black ribbons sailed with “GOODBYE” written on them. I understood then that I would never buy chicharron pupusas at the home of Mrs. Nieves again.
And throughout my life I have made pork chicharron pupusas following the steps I learned while watching Mrs. Nieves prepare all the ingredients for it. Especially on rainy afternoons when my eyes are clouded with memories and tears fall on my chest. And although the pupusas taste good, I have never been able to match the flavor of the pupusas that Mrs. Nieves made. But the memory of her will remain in my memories every rainy afternoon and will live through the stories of my land; As long as my family keeps asking me for chicharron pupusas, like those made by “Mrs. NIEVES”.