Eating the Chicken: Conserving and Recycling

Living in a small rural Oaxaca, Mexico, village is a lot about conservation, patience, and trade-offs.  Each day is a lesson.  Some of you know I have officially moved into our semi-completed casita in Teotitlan del Valle.  I’m in Week Four.  Week One was like camping when I managed to get a bed frame built, a bed delivered and after a few days, water hooked up for a functioning bathroom and kitchen sink.  At the start of Week Three, when I knew no workers would come, I left for San Cristobal de Las Casas.  And, on the day I returned, the plumber and carpenter were ready to keep the work flowing!  Today there is warm water, kitchen shelves and cooking gas.

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Yesterday, I wanted to make garbanzo soup.  I had a rich broth of chicken stock in the pot along with pieces of chicken that I have been adding water to,  boiling and eating for several days.  It’s amazing how far half-a-chicken can go.  Add a few shreds along with quesillo to pan integral (whole wheat rolls) and there’s a breakfast, lunch or dinner.

With slotted spoon in hand, I removed the chicken to a bowl, added the toasted and ground garbanzo powder to the broth, lit the gas stove, and put the lid on the pot.  Perhaps I walked away for a few minutes and when I returned, those pesky ants had covered my chicken.  In North Carolina, where life is unconsciously plentiful, I might have said, eeewww, rinsed the chicken with tap water, and then given it to the dog or cat.

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Here, it’s different.  I did rinse with tap water, which I know I cannot ingest, then returned the chicken to another pot, added drinking water from the garafon (bottle of water), and brought it to a boil.  I then poured out that boiled broth hoping the dead ants would flow down the drain along with the liquid.

I added more drinking water to the pot, boiled again, and felt secure enough that lunch was in the offing.  Last year I took a cooking class with Pilar Cabrera at Casa de los Sabores.  We made salsa de hormiga.  They were a different kind of ants.

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I’m taking showers with a bucket to capture water.  I use a little trickle of water to wash my hands over the bucket in the kitchen sink, and I wash and rinse dishes over the bucket.  I use that gray water to give our thirsty young fruit trees a drink.  They are struggling.  Water is too precious to waste.  Just like the chicken.

Perhaps when Stephen gets here later this month (with my car, Hallelujah), we will figure out a water catchment system for the rainy season.  But, the downside of that is the possible attraction of mosquitos to standing water.  I have little time to focus on big issues as I concentrate on finding solutions to basic living, like how to get water delivered when I run out.

The water man is probably the most important person in town.  He brings a truck, runs a pipe to the tinaco (tank) on the roof, fills it up with 200 pesos of water (about $17 USD) and if I’m careful, don’t take long or daily showers, wash and rinse dishes quickly, and run the washing machine infrequently on short-cycle delicate, a tank might last for a week or more.  It’s always a surprise, too, when the water runs out.  My local cell phone is stoked with sufficient minutes so that in water emergencies I can call and Sr. Hernandez will deliver the same day, even on Sunday which is what happened last week.

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Last night at dusk, I took a walk in the campo.  It was glowing.  I took the photos I’m showing on this post during the walk.  Along the way, I met a young woman who introduced herself as Magdalena.  As she spoke, she moved from Spanish into English and told me she had lived in Greensboro, NC, for seven years.  I am reminded how small and interconnected our world is even in this little village of 8,000 people.

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Now, the wind is blowing.  The field behind our casita is freshly plowed and ready for the milpas June planting of maize, squash and beans.  The air is clear and warm.  In the near distance are mountains and mounds.  The mounds are likely unexcavated Zapotec archeological sites.  Next week, our Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat starts. Life is good.

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9 responses to “Eating the Chicken: Conserving and Recycling

  1. Dear Norma,
    I love reading your adventures in living in Teotitlan del Valle. It makes me want to come to Oaxaca and stay for a month or 2 by myself. I think I told you Bruno and I plan to visit Oaxaca and San Cristobal (Bela’s) next Feb. for a month altogether (with a side trip to the ocean, Pto. Escondido). I look forward to visiting Teotitlan del Valle and I do hope you will be in residence. I’ll keep in touch. Meanwhile, thanks for your blog and good luck with your casita.
    Peace and love,

  2. Hello Norma,
    I have been reading your blog for some months now. I spent the month of October in Oaxaca city. I enjoyed that very much, and also enjoyed as many trips outside the city as I could. Living in a village for a month or so sounds intriguing to me, although the many challenges of Mexican life would probably prevent me from a more permanent stay.

    How long will you be living in Teotitlan? I take it that ‘officially’ moving in does not mean permanently. Did you buy land and build the casita? What is your mission there? I don’t know who Stephen is. I think I know that you organize and lead workshops.
    It is amazing how wasteful we Americans have become. If you are staying for an extended period of time, you will learn so much. So I applaud your ‘bravery’ and look forward to more insights into your experiences.

    • Hi, Elaine. Thanks for writing. We are living here as guests of master weaver Federico Chavez Sosa and his family. Some years ago they invited us to come and live next to them and we built a small house on the land they own. We don’t own land. No one but Zapotecs can own land in this communitarian village. It is a strict rule of the village. There is a long history of people stealing indigenous peoples’ lands and we understand and respect their policies for no outside ownership! We have our home in North Carolina, and I find myself over the past year spending more time here in Teotitlan than in Pittsboro. Stephen is my husband. He is a family therapist and retiring from private practice, and teaching at Duke University’s Department of Psychiatry for the last 35 years. Being in Mexico is a dream come true for me. I love it here. -Norma

  3. Congratulations on moving in. It was very familiar, reading about water carefulness. Here in Oaxaca city, water was critically short for four or five months a year until my brother in law dug a shallow well in the back yard. Filtered groundwater provided for my mother in law’s two person household all year, but now there are six of us, and water is in short supply again. I come from an e tremely water-rich part of the world (the Pacific Northwest) and there, water is so plentiful it isn’t e en metered. I’m
    Now teaching my children how to take a shower in a half-full bucket of water, and reminding them that clothes can be worn and towels. An be used several times before being washed.

    • Aimee, thank you for adding your valuable experience to the discussion. It is a great lesson for all of us not to take our natural resources for granted, wherever we live. There is both abundance and scarcity and it is important to recognize ways to conserve when resources are scarce. Yes, I, too, am conscious of how often I wash sheets and towels. I think I’m going on three weeks now — a long stretch for me. I grew up with a mother who loved CLEAN everything and the washing machine was going constantly. I never practiced that religion but am even more mindful. My husband tells me there is a water catchment tank that we built with the casita but it needs to be connected to the tinaco or the plumbing outflow (not sure which), so I’ll find out more when he gets here later this month. Meanwhile, I keep watering my plants with expended dish water. Stay in touch! And, if you would like to come out to visit, let me know. We don’t know each other but perhaps we should!

  4. Ask the locals how they keep the mosquitos away. My landlord has a fountain into which I monthly add some hydrogen peroxide – which people and animals can drink with no problem.

    • Martine, thanks for this GREAT advice. I’ll ask about hydrogen peroxide or other remedies. Not sure what the practice is here. Occasionally, we hear there is someone who comes down with dengue fever — it’s rare, but it happens. So, trying to be cautious! Keep the advice flowing. All is welcome 🙂

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