|Breadman in Centro|
Yes, I know, I recently wrote about “Unusual Jobs, Not Available in Canada” but it is a subject that continues to intrigue us, the ingenious ways that hardworking islanders earn a living.
The most visible are the street vendors who walk or cycle daily around the neighbourhoods many with their individual sales pitch or chant, anything to get the attention of potential customers.
Every morning around dawn, when I am out walking our little dog Sparky, a middle-aged man pedals his heavy bicycle cart along our street. The cart is so heavy he is forced to get off and push it up the two not-quite hills.
As he passes he calls out to the construction workers who are just starting their day: “Hay tamales. Hay masa.” It roughly translates to: Here are tamales, here is masa. Masa is a very popular corn dough used for making tortillas or tamales.
|One of the Tamale salesmen|
Many construction workers typically live on site to provide security for building supplies until the house is completed. Grocery stores are not always nearby and the labourers really appreciate having cooked food delivered to their work place.
Filled with bits of chicken or pork, spices, onions, and chilies the substantial tamales provide much needed nutrition at the start of a long, hot, work day.
|Construction workers appreciate cooked food delivery|
The question that flickers through my brain when I see the tamale salesman is: How early does he get up if he is already pedaling past our house at six in the morning? Does his wife stay up all night to prepare the tamales, trying to sleep during the frequently noisy and hot daylight hours?
|Youngster selling corn|
Even youngsters frequently pitch in to help out with family finances. Awhile ago, when we were visiting friends at the Guadalupana settlement, I noticed a young teen pedaling his bicycle cart through the neighbourhood. He was selling cooked corn on the cob. Presumably mom or an older sister did the preparation, and he was responsible for selling the product. It’s a good lesson in economics and business for the young man, but at the same time I am sure he would rather be swimming in the ocean or hanging out with his buddies.
|Mamey salesmen arriving on Isla via car ferry|
As the day progresses and the heat increases a number of vendors are out and about, selling everything from seasonal vegetables, to cheese, tortillas, bread, ice cream treats, clay pots, or woven mats and bags. They trudge the streets with display cases confidentially balanced on their heads, or they trundle along the sidewalks with hand carts piled high with seasonal treats such as lychee nuts, or mamey fruit.
Shaped like a small rough-skinned football, the orangey-red flesh of a mamey has an intriguing flavour, tasting like a combination of sweet potato, pumpkin and peach. Islanders enjoy mamey as a wintertime treat.
|Mid-afternoon snack break|
Later in the evening the food carts congregate in convenient locations offering hamburgers, hotdogs, tacos or desserts. Businesses supplying take out meals, or home delivery, proliferate around the island. Few homes have large refrigerators to stockpile fruits, vegetables and meat. Most meals are prepared on small gas stoves, similar to a Coleman, or a two burner hot plate. It boggles the mind to think of how many people make a living supplying food to other islanders.
In many ways the food culture in Mexico resembles the European habits. Eating out at any one of the many economical street-side restaurants is common. For those who cook at home daily shopping turns a potentially onerous chore into a social event. Locals gossip with other shoppers as they gather up items for the day’s meals. It’s not about rushing around and piling items in a cart. It’s about stopping and kissing a friend on the cheek, then asking how their family is, how they are, and responding with your own updates, before moving on to find one more article on your shopping list. Perhaps this is what people mean when they say: slow food, made with love.
Local people are ingenious at finding ways to earn a living. They work long hours, frequently at physically demanding jobs. They also enjoy life: frequently.
Lynda & Lawrie