A Snapshot of a December Morning

Joe Giallo - Ecuador


January 2, 2011

It’s December 30th, and still not even noon. I’m playing over this morning’s events in my mind as I sit in my room playing Free Cell on the computer, stepping outside my life for just a second to relax and reflect.

I woke late, having been excused from work the night before by my boss to spend the day with my family. By late, I mean 7:30 AM. I was a bit apprehensive. I knew my family would be killing a pig to celebrate New Year’s a day early, because tomorrow we’ll be partying it up in Apuela proper, and presumably (as in, they’ve all but told me they will be) the rest of my family will be too drunk to tell a pig from a cow, hence making the big meal today to avoid any unfortunate livestock catastrophes. It wasn’t long before I was dressed and ready to go assist in whatever way I could, which turned out just to be videoing the long, drawn out process of preparation.

My dad led the doomed pig away from the chanchera, the pig house, as I followed dutifully with video camera in hand.

Already, my stomach was sinking. I’m not big on death. Or blood. Or killing. It was bad enough watching Alberto’s dad do in the cuyes (guinea pigs), and I didn’t have to film that. So as I followed my dad to the execution site, my mind was already filling with gruesome images of dead, bleeding pigs. The shrieking of the pig began as my dad flipped it over, and began to tie its legs, and then its mouth shut. The noise is best described as the noise a pterodactyl  would make if it were lit on fire and beat repeatedly with a baseball bat. It did not stop making that noise until it died, fifteen minutes later. Dad plunged in the knife, and thus began the slow process of killing the pig, as both my mom and dad fight to keep the pig from struggling and dig around in its belly with the knife, looking for the heart. We’d discover later while dissecting the innards that they’d basically missed the heart entirely, and that’s why it took so long for the poor creature to die. I stopped filming eight minutes in, due to squeamishness. After its death, my dad took the rough equivalent of a flamethrower to the dead animal, incinerating in minutes all of its hair, and thus preparing the skin to be eaten, after being washed, of course.

The washing and dissection went uneventfully. It wasn’t long before I was in the kitchen, surrounded by my grandma, my grandmother-in-law, and my aunt, all hounding after me. I had finally gotten rid of most of the special treatment my family had given me in the beginning, but with the arrival of my grandmother-in-law and the last of my 6 aunts and uncles, the treatment had begun again, much to my extreme frustration, as my mom and grandma yielded to their wishes to lift me back on the pedestal of being a foreign guest. Things like serving me first, and giving me the best chair, and preparing my coffee, with a ton of sugar, for me, and not listening when I objected: all exactly the kind of things I had worked so, so hard to stop, and here they were again, as I gnawed on the pig skin and mote (corn) they’d given me, even after I’d said I was full and didn’t want any more. Pig skin, for the record, tastes a lot like you’d imagine rubber would taste like.

But then I’m outside again, talking with my uncle, the one who came with my overbearing aunt, and I’m struck by how absolutely grateful I am that he’s here. No one in my family, not one of my five other uncles or aunts, my parents, or my cousins, has ever showed an interest in talking to me and learning about my life and teaching me about Ecuador like he has. And he’s only been here a little more than a day, and before long, he’ll leave. But that doesn’t matter, because we’re having a great conversation about how the foods are different between the US and Ecuador, and about his life near an active volcano that’s currently erupting, and all sorts of cool things that’d I’d always hoped I’d get to talk about.

And now I’m here, and it’s still not even noon. The full days in Ecuador are full. (I’ll go on to pick guavas with my uncle and cousins, have a delightful lunch of the best pork I’ve ever tasted, and witness my mom take back control of the kitchen, and nullify the special treatment once more. Full days in Ecuador only get fuller as time goes on.)

Joe Giallo