Isla Mujeres Mystery ~ Lynda L. Lock

Día de los Muertos – a family feast and celebration

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Patricia, Luci, and Yani
Do you have a kiss for grandma”, Yani Medina asked her granddaughter Luci, as she reached to hold the little girl. 

Her outdoor kitchen is buzzing with conversation and laughter as family members come and go, checking on the progress of Yani’s preparations for the upcoming family celebration.

Yani – chopping, chopping, chopping
Yani is making the traditional “pibe” – similar to a very large tamale – for the Mayan Hanal Pixán celebrations otherwise known as the Día de los Muertos. Delicioussmells float through the warm tropical air, coming from the various pots and pans on the gas stove. 

Across the street at the middle-school the students are boisterously departing for a three-day weekend away from their studies. They carry bunches of flowers and other gifts that have decorated temporary Hanal Pixánaltars honoring their departed family members. The students will celebrate Hanal Pixán again with their families on November 1stand November 2nd, eating special foods, and visiting family graves in the cemetery.

Preparing the banana leaves
By the time I arrived in her kitchen Yani had already been working for a few hours, preparing the chicken, and chopping vegetables and was ready to show me the more intricate details. 

First she removed the cooked chickens from the huge pot, and then added chopped tomatoes, onions, handfuls of an herb called ezapote, salt, and a red spice achiote to the broth.

Mixing masa, a cornmeal dough that takes time and special techniques to create, she thickened the chicken broth.

Eduardo and Patricia with decorations for birthday party
As she worked her teen-age daughter Cristina stopped by to chat, and her mother Norma Figueroa Paz came to check the proceedings. Then her son Alex dropped in. 

Next came older daughter Patricia with her husband Eduardo, and their two sweet little girls. October 30th is Luci’s second birthday so in addition to creating the Hanal Pixán feast, Yani was working on eighty tamales for the party.

Manual – starting to cook the “pibe” 
A few minutes later while her husband Manual Punab prepared the charcoal BBQ to cook the “pibe”, Yani’s brother Freddy Medina stopped to add his humorously helpful suggestions. 

By now there are eleven people, spanning four generations of the same family, supervising, chatting and laughing while Yani serenely carried on with her project.
Stripping the tough outer edges off the banana leaves to use as a natural string for her “pibe” parcels, she explains in a mix of Spanish and English what she is doing. Next she pats the masa dough into a circular shape and adds the upright borders that will contain the yummy mixture of chicken, vegetables, and spices. In keeping with traditional some of the chicken bones are included in the “pibe.” They represent the bones of the departed.

Norma helping out with spicy “pibe” for Manual
With the addition of the K’ol – the chicken mixture – more vegetables, and a sliced hard-boiled egg Yani’s creation was finally ready for the top crust. Everything is parceled up with banana leaves and tied securely. It’s a work of art. She then creates a special “pibe” for Manual’s upcoming birthday. He has requested his usual twenty Serrano chili peppers and a K’ol mixture including multi-coloured, Xpelón, beans. This dish is too spicy for most of the other family members and he will likely savour his fiery treat all on his own.

All set for the top crust to go on
By now three and a half hours have quickly passed. Yani asks me to come back in another hour when the “pibe” will be ready so that I can see the finished product. 

She also sends me home with a yummy dish of the chicken mixture, and a handful of fire toasted tortillas to snack on. 

Oh my goodness! Good! By the time I drove back to our house the dish was empty. Lawrie was only able to run his finger around the bowl, tasting the residual flavours in the bowl.

Packaged in banana leaves and tied with tough outer edges
What a great experience; learning a bit more about our local friends, and having a chance for a relaxed chat. For those of you who frequent our favourite bar, the Soggy Peso, Yani’s son Alex is their newest employee. His uncle, Freddy Medina, is the manager of the bar, and his cousin Joao (YoYo) has worked there for a number of years. Next time you are in the Soggy Peso, make sure you say hi to Alex.

What a lovely family! We know they will enjoy their family celebrations this weekend: Hanal Pixán, Día de los Muertos, two birthdays. Wow!

Yani – all done!

Hasta Luego
Lawrie & Lynda

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