Fridays nights are usually spent in the yogurt room outside the house. Two huge vats await my host mom and other women, ready to turn plain yogurt into delicious concoctions. This Friday night was a little more special because in two days, it would be the Independence Day of Cuenca and we were in full production. With a little over 40 liters of milk, yogurt had been forming since morning. With the unveiling of the pots, the process had started. Marmalades were being blended into the plain yogurt and then bottled, color coded, and labeled. Into the night we had made about 40 bottles of yogurt. Since this was the only thing I had seen my family sell thus far in Cuenca, I retired to my room, thinking we were ready for the festivities and selling yogurt. I was a little more than slightly mistaken.
Saturday evening I returned from the beautiful Cajas National Park to my family torching a pig and plucking the feathers off about eight chickens. Turns out we would also be selling food at a Parque San Blas during the festivals of Cuenca. Inside the kitchen, I found one of my host sisters cutting mountains of cebolla (onions) and washing countless fruits to make coloada morada, a very festive drink. Usually, I was an observer, but I used this opportunity to help out since there was so much that needed to be done. In one room mote and yuca were being shelled and cut. The next room over was making more yogurt, but this was an experimental mango-flavored yogurt. The yard was filled with grilling meats and the kitchen had bags of fruits to be cut. I decided to sit in the kitchen and help with the salads and colada morada that was being prepared. The most interesting part was learning how to cut fruits I didn’t even know existed. About two hours later, we finished and I went to bed absolutely exhausted.
Sunday morning, we rose before the sun came up to fill the truck we would be taking. It was only half filled when we got in as the rest was being put on the laps of everyone in the car. I watched the sun rise over the mountains as we drove into Cuenca. When we arrived at the park we unloaded the food, tables, and tank of gas. We were sharing a tent with three other women. One women was roasting cuy, or guinea pig. The other was making fresh tortillas from choclo, trigo, and quinua. We were selling sancocho (pork and potatoes) caldo, and encebollado while the compañera next to us was serving secos, or rice and chicken with a salad.
My host sister and I went to another part of town to sell the coloada morada. We were down by the river where they usually sold yogurt every Sunday. It was so interesting to see all the extranjeros, or foreigners, pass by and try to talk in their broken Spanish. In my town I am obviously the outsider, but that day I fit in. Not one passerby thought I was from the United States despite translating everything they would say to my fellow vendors. After we finished selling, we headed up to Parque San Blas. Our tent was filled with locals having the typical or indigenous foods of Ecuador. After a couple hours we packed up the truck and headed home. Since all the food had finished I was ready for the long night of making more.
By Monday, all the Spanish I had gathered over the past months was put to the test. We were selling to full tables as soon as we unloaded and I was helping. The floats that were going to be used for the parade were being assembled right next to us and I saw the reinas, or queens, of each parroquia elegantly standing in gorgeous dresses. In the center of the park there were women and men dancing in costumes of alpaca fur and bright colors. The obligatory vendors of gelatina, Pinguino ice cream, and jugo were walking around. There were also guest vendors from the coast selling coconut sweets and hats. By late afternoon, the food had finished and my host sister and I walked around the city to the other parks and saw some more festivities. In the plazas and other mercados, there was live music and dancing.
As we packed up our things I realized how much work and logistics go into having women from all the rural communities come to a park and cook. How much work the municipal government did to host the DJs and have live entertainment. But most of all, how much my family did to be able to sell for six hours. It was so amazing to see all the women work so diligently into the night, never complaining except for a few achachay’s (“it’s cold”). I learned a lot that weekend and it brought me closer to my family.
Viva Cuenca !