My Suegra


When I found out that my mother-in-law was coming to visit us, I was so excited! She’s never been this far from Chiapas, and I had given up hope of having her here.

I was excited, but then I got nervous. Not because of normal mother-in-law worries, but because life here is so different than what she’s used to. She wakes up in the morning and crawls out from under the mosquito net that has shredded her bed during the night. It isn’t actually a net, but something thicker–impermeable to good air flow.

To begin to cook breakfast and coffee, my suegra builds a small fire under her comal. A comal is a flat piece of metal that is commonly used to cook tortillas. She feeds the fire with wood, often adjusting where the heat is focused. Coffee (that she grew and ground) is stirred into a pot of water on the comal.

Then she begins the masa–at one time, my suegra would begin to soften dried corn with cal. I just found out yesterday that cal is lye. Yes, the same lye that makes soap… Now she doesn’t make her own masa, but instead buys in cheap from a lady who walks a round selling it. She deftly pats out the tortillas by hand, using a piece of plastic underneath as an aide to turn the tortilla while keeping it from sticking to other things.

If my mother-in-law wants eggs for breakfast, she needs to go find them–but often she keeps an eye out on where the chickens are laying around the yards. A handful of rice thrown on the ground is met by a chorus of pio pio, and the little pollitos scramble to eat before their brothers.

When breakfast is over, my suegra begins her daily chores. She washes one of her several dresses that she switches out throat the week. Other clothes are also washed by hand and hung up to dry. She sweeps–not just inside the concrete floor of the bedroom but the hard packed dirt that covers the area where she cooks and the common area where the family gathers in the yard. Until I visited Chiapas, I would have never guess that you would sweep a dirt floor.

If it happens to be a day when the water gets delivered, my suegra starts to clean out the concrete holding tank that keeps a week’s worth of water. She scrubs the tank to loosen any algae that has grown. As the water arrives, bleach is added as an extra protectant from whatever arrives with it. Victor says the water comes from the hills, and if it is the rainy season it is full of mud.

This water is used for washing dishes, bathing, and flushing the commode. While they have a toilet (sans seat), they don’t have running water–so she carries water from their water tank to the “bathroom.” It is also used for washing laundry, mopping, and brushing your teeth. When it is time to shower, a large five gallon bucket is filled with cold water, and a smaller scoop is used to dump the water on your body.

Luckily, it was evident that my worries were for nothing. The baby has quickly taken to her abuelita, and they are the best of friends. Abuelita does make her were her shoes all the time, as she worries the “cold” tile will make Ale sick. She cooks for Ale rice with veggies, tortillas, and beans–and changes her cloth diapers throughout the day.

She’s learned to operate the shower and the hot water. She carries her sweater to warm her up, because our swamp cooler makes her cold. And she keeps busy straightening up, watching Ale, and cooking.

The hardest thing for my suegra to see here was the money we spend when we eat out at a restaurant–something we do too often. Well, something we used to do too often… Now, who wants to eat out when you have a little chiapanecan cooking yummy salsas and fresh tortillas everyday?