Mombe’upy- Told. Cocinagui– From the kitchen.
Oga Ita, Itapua, Paraguay
My mother’s kitchen is a funny little room. It sits at the corner of the house, so it has two doors (just gates, really) that lead out to a patio full of chickens and pigs and dogs. You can see her garden from the kitchen, as well as the ramshackle chicken house made of bamboo slats, her large clay oven known as a tatakua (literally fire hole), two grape arbors, and a plethora of fruit trees- orange, lime, pear, papaya, mandarin, and a local fruit, yvypo’o. The floor is dirt, the walls are wood, the roof is zinc. Her large brick, wood-fired cook stove is always going and the smoke, combined with the smell of her cooking, animal fat, the chickens who come and go as they please, and the mustiness of freshly dug mandioca or bean shells or corn husks, gives her kitchen a distinct smell that clings to everything that passes through. I’ve become fond of the scent and can smell it on my clothes at times or on my cat when he saunters home after receiving a few goodies from my mother at the kitchen door. It’s a dingy kitchen, but I’ve grown to love the sights of the kitchen: the chipped, floral patterned, enamel-coated tin plates and cups that are scattered on the shelves, the giant cook pot she leaves in the corner until special occasions, the old, worn tin can that keeps an eternal storage of yerba, the bed of sugar sacks and corn husks under the sink that always contain a kitten or two, the blackened pot of revido (fried flour meal), the molino bolted to the table for grinding corn, the old China hutch with the doors barely holding on by one hinge, containing a variety of pitchers and glasses and baking pans and tablecloths. It’s where I’ve watched my mother expertly peel mandioca, kill chickens, shell beans, produce steaming pans of chipa guazu and sopa paraguaya, and it’s where I’ve picked up countless plates of food at the window in passing. It’s homey, it’s rustic, it’s my mother’s.
Yesterday was drizzly and cold. I found myself wandering over to the kitchen around noon, out of boredom and hunger. I ended up seated next to the gate in the kitchen, watching the rain, listening to the sizzle of a fry pan, and making animals out of hand shadows with Elvin while my mother chuckled at his giggles. A plate of hot corn fritters and mandioca was placed at my elbow and Elvin and I happily munched away while continuing to joke and laugh and try to take bites of each other’s prized fritter. It’s not necessarily an extraordinary moment, but the simplicity of it, the environment of my mother’s kitchen and the sights and sounds and smells of it all, just give me an overwhelming feeling of love. It’s a love for Paraguay, for my family, for my community, for Peace Corps, and for this experience. I’ve been having these moments a lot lately: while teaching, walking along my road at sunset, drinking terere in the shade of a mango tree at my contact’s house, eating fritters in my mother’s kitchen. A whole lot of love in the littlest moments.