There is currently a buzz of excitement among the women of Zacango about the baking group they have just created! About a year ago at this time a friend of mine was talking to me about the work of MCC when she questioned, “MCC has helped us to have bano secos (dry latrines), tinacos (water cisterns), English and computer classes,…what is the next project going to be.” I asked her what she would like it to be or what she dreams of doing and she responded unequivocally: “BAKE!”
The women in Zacango are amazing cooks making hand-made tortillas everyday and cooking up savoury, spicy dishes regularly. Most women cook on a clay stove with a large comal (griddle type piece of metal) in the middle for cooking the tortillas (MCC has promoted and helped build hundreds of clay stoves in the region surrounding Zacango, which use less wood and filter smoke out of the kitchen.); and some women have gas fuelled stoves/ovens. Some women also have large ovens made out of brick (resembling the ovens in those fancy wood-baked pizza joints). However, those who have gas stove are rarely use them because gas is expensive, and the big brick ovens are generally only use during the Days of the Dead celebrations in November to make tlashcalis (maize/lard cookies) and sweet bread for the ofrendas (offerings to family members and friends who have passed away). So while we have had numerous baking nights at our house (pizza, muffins, cakes, and cookies) the women have never had the chance to make the recipes in their own homes due to the lack of an oven.
Thus when I heard that MCC had an extra oven available that they were willing to lend out I asked some women if they would like to use the MCC oven and create a community kitchen. There was an overwhelming response as thirty women signed up to create the kitchen where we will have weekly meetings to test new recipes. The women each paid a small “coperacion” (sign-up fee of about $3 to fix up an old community building and fill up a tank of gas) and are free to use the oven for their personal use (to make birthday cakes, etc.) or to make things to sell in town.
Last Friday we got together to clean up the old building we’re going to use as the kitchen. The transformation that took place in the building was nothing short of astounding. One of the adobe walls of the building was crumbling so the women knocked some pieces of it down, went and gathered materials to make cement, made the cement and patched the wall! They later painted the walls with a mixture of cal and salt and in four brief hours the women had completely transformed the little adobe (clay brick) building – I was blown away! It felt like I was part of one of those home make-over shows or a scene in a Disney movie where everyone works together to the beat of a catchy tune and totally alters an environment! WOW can these women work! See the “before pictures” above and the “after pictures” below.