May 22, 2014
Doñ Ismael was one of the first neighbors I met upon arriving in my little compañia in November 2012. His broad, warm smile and bright, twinkly eyes made him immediately endearing and his upbeat, cheerful tranquilo nature is contagious. In greetings, he is never anything less than ‘fantastic’. At 52 years old, he never married or had children but takes care of his 83 year old Aunt Ramulda who is almost deaf and blind. Aunt Ramulda never had children either but raised as her own her sister’s son, Eduardo, now in his 30s, who has lived with them for five years and helps around the farm.
Ismael is the town barber, braids lassos using hides from his own cattle and makes saddles from sheepskin, has given me lasso-throwing lessons, grows the most beautiful roses in town, helps neighbors butcher their animals, and is a masterful guitarista and patient teacher. In an earlier post I mentioned that I had started guitar lessons with him earlier this year but other priorities forced that onto the backburner for now. Maybe this winter…we’ll see. As a thank you for the lessons I gave him some honey and a bottle of homemade kombucha which he loved. I adore visiting this neighbor as he is supremely patient with my language foibles (and doesn’t make fun of me!) and really wants to help me learn, understands the challenges of being away from my own family/learning a new language/being in a different culture, and is a great example of how not to take ourselves or life too seriously.
This cowboy’s daily routine includes rising at 2:30am to make fried tortillas for breakfast which he brings with him to eat in the saddle when he drives the cattle onto the prairie for grazing by 3am. He brings the cattle back again in late morning in time to prepare lunch for everyone, followed by siesta. Afterward, he works in the garden or field and, in late afternoon, he herds cattle for his cousins from the soccer field into their holding pens on their various farms for safekeeping during the night.
During semana santa Ismael invited me to dine with him and his nieces after an afternoon of making puchero, which is a soup made from neck meat of a cow. What I didn’t realize until I walked up to the house was that the cow providing the neck meat was killed just minutes before my arrival and the neighborhood men were just beginning to remove the skin. They offered to let me help and normally I would have jumped at the chance but was not dressed for the occasion. It turns out I wasn’t dressed for any part of this day except eating and supervising the preparation of innerds: cleaning intestines to make blood sausage, cleaning the stomach, cutting fat and meat parts, sawing bone. In less than an hour, huge chunks of cow were hanging above my head from every rafter of the patio, the neighborhood dogs were crazy with blood lust and representatives from nearly every family in the community were arriving to purchase fresh beef. In 3 hours, the cow was killed, every part was gone and not a single piece went to waste. An argument nearly broke out between two señoras vying for the head, four feet and lower legs which they love to cook with beans. Even the skin is saved to make various leather goods including lassos, ropes, whips and others. When the work was done we all sat down to fill hungry bellies and the half dozen neighborhood men who helped went home with several kilos of meat in payment for their efforts.
Whenever I’m having an off day I visit Ismael because I’m guaranteed to feel better after all those smiles, laughter, the occasional shared meal of homemade chicken or beef, and singing with the guitar. Grateful for neighbors like this!