Dona Paola

Dona Paola

Perhaps my fondest and warmest memory of doing fieldwork for WorldStove came from a trip to Mexico in the late fall of 2011. We were working in a remote mountain village near a small town called Metzontla los Reyes. The village consisted of about forty families, most of who farmed maize for food. Early in the morning I would often hear and see the villagers heading out, usually before dawn, with burros to search for firewood. In the late afternoon and often into the evening they would return with their burros. Each burro would be carrying a meager supply of wood, considering the time and hard work it took to search for it. During the daytime the weather ranged into the 90’s and at night dropped into the 40’s, the landscape dotted with massive cacti and light tan rock formations. Near the center of the village was a small building, with one half consisting of a small room. The other side of the building functioned as a type of shed/storage area. This was where our host, Dona Paola, would grind maize every day for tortillas, which were a local staple. The roof was sheet metal and the rafters were constructed out of branches and pieces of wood that had been found in the surrounding desert. In the room in the far right corner was a traditional clay oven with a comal for cooking maize tortillas. A small wooden table, a small makeshift bench, and several wooden chairs were placed about the dimly yet warmly lit room. A small window with thin wood slats sat in the middle of the facing wall, directly above the oven. Several clay pots and other various kitchen utensils were hung around the room. Though the room was tidy and well cared for, the room would fill with smoke every time our host Dona Paula cooked. As a result, black soot darkened the walls from about four-five feet off the floor all the way to ceiling from years of cooking with a traditional cookstove.

On one particular day, I ducked into room to look for someone and found that the room was filled with smoke. My eyes watered and my nose burned. Dona Paola, with a few beads of sweat on her weathered brow and with watery eyes, was working wordlessly and tirelessly. A small child, presumably a member of her extended family, worked alongside of her. Dona Paola looked up, smiled and graciously asked me if I wanted a tortilla before getting right back to work.

Later that day gave way to a cold and breezy evening, and we found ourselves hungry, tired, but in good spirits. Myself and several other members of the team made our way into the building where Dona Paola greeted us warmly. On this particular evening, we cooked frijoles using a Lucia Origami. The beans simmered away while tortillas were being baked on the comal. After the tortillas were done baking the fire burned down and we waited for the frijoles to finish cooking. Nearly ten of us sat in the room and ate frijoles with maize tortillas and grasshoppers sautéed with onions and garlic. The room, rather than being filled with smoke, was filled with the heavy aroma of food and a cacophony of laughter and story. Shadows danced and flickered on the walls as the cold and drafty room was made warm from the heat being produced by the LuciaStove. Dona Paola, who earlier that week had told us that she sometimes believed that she had forgotten how to have fun and joke around, was laughing and smiling. Since a LuciaStove was being used, she didn’t have to constantly tend to it, and could sit and relax and engage in our conversations A couple of children from her extended family leaned up against her on the small makeshift bench. One of them, a little girl, was wide-eyed and straining to hear every word of the stories being told amid the laughter, while the other child, her little brother, promptly fell asleep. Nat fetched a chocolate tort that his mother had baked and who had made me promise that I would deliver to him when I met up with him on the trip. We split the tort into about ten pieces and ate every last crumb. The only person who originally declined a piece was a young man, but after succumbing to the temptation, couldn’t keep a smile off of his face when I asked him how it was.

It was a great way, perhaps the best way that I’ve ever ended a day in the field.


Jesse Browning

WorldStove Field Director