Our first night in Miraflor we stayed with Doña Lucia and Don Rogelio, the parents of Marlon who was to be our host for the rest of the time there. In the two nights that we stayed in her house Doña Lucia made a deep impression and I would like to tell you why.
Doña Lucia is in her 60s, her greying hair immaculately swept away from her kind, welcoming face and twinkly eyes. When you first meet her she will probably be in her kitchen, the heart of the household and where she reigns supreme. The kitchen is a dark, warm, cozy place where underneath a clay mud stove she keeps a constant fire burning.
A steady stream of visitors pass through her kitchen and she takes them all in her stride – relatives, friends, salesmen, tourists plus a menagerie of small animals (piglets, chicks, puppies, kittens) searching for scraps and seeking the irresistible warmth. All guests are offered hot, sweet coffee or homemade herbal tea that she keeps permanently on standby in big flasks. More often than not there are also rice, beans and tortillas up for grabs.
One of 15 siblings (six of whom died in infancy in the campo), Doña Lucia herself has six children. At any one time there are four generations of her family in the house, the walls almost bursting at the seams. This perhaps goes some way to explain the indefatigable calm that Doña Lucia exudes – indisputable head of the household it appears as if nothing would shake her solid, motherly form. What’s more, it would take a brave person to defy her authority and disobey a command given in her clear, definite tone of voice. I wouldn’t like to see her angry.
Doña Lucia and her family have lived through some tough times up in El Sontule. The community supported the Sandinistas during the revolution and afterwards suffered the consequences. As the Contras (with the support of the US government) attempted to quash Sandinista sympathisers, Doña Lucia’s community came under persistent attack. Between 1984-90 they lived in constant fear and their existence was on a knife edge – they were ready to run at all times of the day and night. Now, Doña Lucia is a key member of the womens’ cooperative and an important figure in the community as well as in her family. She recounts vivid tales of her experiences growing up in poverty and then raising a family during the brutal fighting with a matter-of-factness that is truly humbling.
Back in the kitchen, Doña Lucia rises at 5am each day to stoke the fire into action and get on with preparing breakfast for the men. She hardly sits down for the rest of the day. Her efficiency is amazing to behold – with no running water, electricity or gas she bustles around keeping the kitchen ship shape with her trademark tea towel slung over her shoulder.
Our last day staying with her she calmly demonstrated how to slaughter and butcher a chicken in double quick time. As we looked on in amazement her deft hands dispatched of the guts and entrails – occasionally dropping a morsel to the waiting cats – tossing the yellow flesh, piece by piece, into an enormous black couldren bubbling away on the stove. In a couple of hours time from that one chicken she managed to produce a wonderful soup with fresh tortillas to feed almost 20 people that unexpectedly turned up in her kitchen that evening.