Monday July 27, 2009
I’m running late. I need to be at the church in Santo Domingo de Guzman in 5 minutes. All the taxis whizing by the main road connecting nearby villages are at full capacity and don’t stop.
My goodbyes with the farming family I spent the night with went much longer than I wanted. And now I’m worried I won’t make this next, very critical interview. Finally, a taxi responds to my flailing arm and pulls over. I anxiously squeeze in the backseat with three other people.
It takes 15 minutes to get the village entrance, where I have to catch yet another taxi to the church. I wait for the second taxi next to a elderly woman with braids and a wide brimmed hat. She carries two live ducks in her market bag. “Nobody wanted to buy them,” she tells me, pointing her nose at the two ducks with their slightly sooty white feathers. The ducks were quite endearing, sitting placidly in her bag. The woman said she was selling them for 100 pesos– about 8 bucks. She said she’d cook them up for herself instead.
The taxi arrives and by the time I’m dropped off at the church I’m almost half an hour late. The terrible realization that I don’t know the woman’s full name suddenly hits me– hard. What kind of a reporter was I?? Here I finally find someone able and willing to take me to their cornfield three hours before I have to catch my bus back into the city and I blow it by arriving late, not even knowing the woman’s full name.
Obviously she isn’t waiting for me at the church. I won’t have waited for me either.
Now I’m starting to panic. Again, this is a critical part of this story. I need a sound scene in the cornfields. I need a farmer to explain how cuitlacoche grows. If I can’t get this my story will be lame. And I won’t have a chance to come back to the village before my return flight to the states. Ahhhhhhh!!!!
Alright, I tell myself, strategy, strategy. I start asking a few people who are out and about where “Martha” lives. “Martha, what?” they ask. “DOUGH!” Turns out there’s more than one Martha in the neighborhood. Big surprise. There are also dozens of homes “around the corner” from the church. In less than four minutes I abandon the thought of finding my female farmer and decide to start knocking on doors and finding a new farmer.
I obviously knew no one. I’m pressed for time. And I’m scared of dogs– which tend to guard village homes unchained and with a fierce temper. Nimodo. I swallow my nerves, blindly pick a direction and start down the dirt road. I find Ezequiel Salinas Ramon about twenty minutes into my search, after clumsily wandering into his family store, El Paraiso, or The Paradise.
Nice name, turned out pretty accurate, at least for me. I am greeted by Ezequiel’s wife who is taking a few pesos from customer buying bread and a coca cola. I explain to her my dilemma. My problems so far are the following: 1. It’s early in the season so most cornfields aren’t mature enough to have cuitlacoche and 2. All the farmers I’ve chatted with on this trip can’t give me a scientific or even a logical explanation of how cuitlaoche grows.
“My daughter is a smart girl. I’m sure she can help you,” the woman says and disappears through a side doorway that appears to lead into the family’s living room.
The daughter is 25, though she looks older. She is very nice and after a good spell of conversation she introduces me to her father. Ezequiel Salinas Ramon is an endearing 59-year-old wearing a rancher’s sombrero, collared button down shirt and dusty jeans. His good humor is immediately contagious and before I know it he’s pulled out two rickety red bikes one for him and another for me.
“Let’s go,” he tells me. “I’ll take you out to the milpa (fields).” His daughter meanwhile changes into a nice blouse, streach pants, and high heeled boots. Strange choice since she says she’ll come out with us. She doesn’t ride bikes, though, and will walk behind us.
The milpa is a mile away or more from the store. I struggle on the wobbly bike while steadying my recording equipment hanging from the one of the bike handels in a pink plastic bag. We pass beautiful country scenery, including two young boys walking a black and white cow as they would an old dog.
Ezequiel reaches the cornfields first, as I am going at a slower pace to allow his daughter to catch up on foot. Once the three of us are together again, Ezequiel and I make our way into the sea of stalks, he holding a long thin stick to scare away garden snakes. “It maybe hard to find,” he tells me. But we are luck! According to my digital recorder, exactly three minutes after entering the field Ezequiel finds a small husk with fungus.
He proudly poses for photos, treasured shots for me. I can hear the excitement in his voice through my headphones. This is probably his first interview with a reporter and he is an excellent interviewee. He even answers my questions in complete sentances. People like Ezequiel are my favorite kind of people to interview. Simple, humble individuals with big hearts. Foreign dignitaries and celebrities may be great but I’d rather talk with Ezequiel any day.
As we ride our bikes back to El Paraiso, Ezequiel’s daughter tells me how she had to quit going to a community college to help take care of her father, who is battling cancer. I am stunned. Ezequiel looks perfectly healthy. This year, he’ll have to undergo several chemotherapy treatments, the daughter tells me.
Back at the store, we exchange information and take a few farewell pictures. I am just in time to catch my bus back into the city. I thank the family endlessly and feel a little sad that I have to leave them so soon after meeting them. They give me an apple soda for the trip back.
I walk out to the main road with a smile on my face. On days like this we journalists feel really blessed.