Hoje, eu raspei manioca. Today, I peeled manioc root.
It was a very MST day—perhaps more so than any I’ve had yet. It was laundry day, because it was water day. Translation? We washed clothes and sheets with the water in the storage tank on one side of the house, and then transferred water from the other tank, on the other side of the house, into the storage tank. Why? Because the latter tank has a tap that accesses water from the spring-water waterfall down a hill nearby, and water was going to be pumped into it that day. By about 9/9:30am, the tanks were ready and the clothes were drying in the Brazilian summer sun.
After this, I was handed a knife and was off with my host aunt, Fia, “para raspar manioca.” We walked across the settlement and through fields of, well, manioc root, and arrived at the abandoned health post building (there´s a newer, functioning one by the main road, don´t worry) to find about 8 women sitting on the porch, surrounded by piles, baskets, and wheelbarrows of manioc, hacking away at the brown casings to reveal the white root beneath. Scraps of the peel covered the floor already, and these women’s dark skin was splattered with the white residue of the plant. As they aggressively and efficiently scraped their way through the piles, they chattered, teased, yelled, and laughed. These were the “donas de casa”—the grandmothers and senhoras of the community, creating tarpfulls of peeled manioc to be transported to the neighboring assentamento, Bela Vista, and made into farinha, a coarse flour that is a staple starch here—you pour it onto your beans to thicken them into a sort of paste (sounds bizarre but it’s rather delicious).
These ladies passed the whole day there, sometimes joined by kids or men who wanted to help. Just when the piles started to falter, donkey-pulled carts would arrive with plenty more work. Eventually all that remained was a bed of manioc scraps (“Graças a deus!”), so as the prepared manioc was loaded into an old car to be transported up the road (apparently said car, overloaded, broke down later that day), the group broke up. I arrived back home splattered with manioc residue and with scraps stuck to my legs, my back and knife hand a little sore, but having thoroughly enjoyed my day.