Twenty Five years ago, or perhaps 35, not everything was as handy and easy as it is now. Let's look at a few examples to illustrate what I mean.
What do you do when you need to wash your hair, you give yourself a shampoo. Imagine not having a shampoo. Well water is hard water. Which will leave your hair stiff and ugly. In the absence of shampoos. We used to prepare a special water that left one's hair soft and bouncy. After burning firewood a grayish ash remained. The ash was put into a drum (about 14 of the drum), and then it was filled with well water, when it settled, the water was clear and smooth (almost lathery). A hair wash with that water and regular soap could beat the softness of any shampoo. Are you laughing now? It works. It was called in Spanish "Legia". At our house we kept three drums as it was used for some laundry as well.
What do you do today when you want tacos? You go to the tortilla factory. Not so 25 years ago. You boiled one quart of corn in the evening. Next day you washed it with white lime (don't ask me why). Then the corn was grounded with a hand mill (molino) -and there you had your dough (masa). The dough was spread by hand into fine tortillas which were cooked over a hot plate (comal). Mother did this about 11 o'clock to give the children hot tortillas for lunch.
What do you do when you want fried chicken? You go over to Chico's for a chicken and in half an hour you are ready to eat. Not so 25 years ago! You first selected your healthiest looking hen in your backyard. You ran about for a few minutes chasing her until you could put your hands on her. You either cut her neck with a knife or wrung its neck. You then boiled water and submerge the bird into the hot water for ten minutes a rookie usually overheated and overcooked the hen's skin making the de-feathering job 20 minutes. Then you cut open the hen, more or less like you do to fish and cleaned it, Then, and only then were you ready to start cooking.
A few other improvised San Pedro gadgets and practices. In the absence of sandpaper, the skin of a certain ray, which was rough and when dried was ideal for sanding. In the absence of towels, one of mom's or sister's discarded dresses was used. In the absence of electric drills, it took a half an hour to go through a 6x6 post or a full day to cut a wooden step with a hand saw. In the absence of brooms, the leaves of a local palm. In the absence of a town mosquito fogger, every household burned coconut husks (the semi-green ones). Also a bushy shrub known as "romero" was burned.
In the absence of refrigerators and meats, everyone raised pigs in his backyard (a smelly job). In the absence of pellet guns, a sling shot. In the absence of Caribena, a trip to Belize City markets. In the absence of medication for the sting of man-o-war, urine was used. In the absence of aloe vera for poison wood, the local plant known as "Julub". In the absence of carpets or rugs, we scrubbed floors every Saturday. In the absence of glue, flour mixed with water and a bit of kerosene. In the absence of paper, children used a slate board. In the absence of ballpoint pens, a fancy pen was dipped into ink and could scribble about half a line and you "dip again".
What is the point? People will survive and make well despite the hardships. And next time when you start complaining, remember those that had it rougher than you. So when the pizza is not hot enough or too greasy, remember those that were satisfied with a flat, cold tortilla. And they survived happily.
- by Angel Nuñez, Columnist