There are lots of chores that have to be done on a daily basis around each and every home in Tinum. But perhaps the most important of all, is removing dried corn kernels from their cobs. It’s a simple fact that without a consistent and daily supply of corn kernels (maiz) that can be ground into dough (masa) to make tortillas, there won’t be any tortillas. And that would cause for as nearly an unpleasant a scene, as a Frenchman deprived of his daily baguette.
It all begins by selecting a bunch of dried ears of corn from their casita or straight from a sack, then having a seat on a banquillo, log, rock, or simply on the ground. Placing the ears somewhere within reach helps, and then picking one and removing its husk is next. Called desgranando, or to desgranar, it’s a brainless chore that is usually done in the late afternoon when families have mostly gathered again from the day’s other tasks, and all use the time to chat, discuss things, and tell stories. This means men partake equally with women, and most kids as well, although you do have to be a certain age and have a certain amount of strength in your hands to be able to do it.
The trick then, is to remove the dried corn kernels from each cob and create a pile of kernels large enough, that when later ground, will yield an amount of masa sufficient for the next day’s need for tortillas. But usually that means desgranando much more than just a few cobs, and that’s when the art of being able to desgranar properly becomes a factor, so you don’t end up sitting there all night, get nasty blisters on your fingers, or zap all the strength out of your hands.
Dried kernels can for one option be removed from a corn cob by using only your fingers, during which each kernel feels sort of like pushing on a loose tooth to get it out of your mouth for the tooth ferry. They generally fall off quite easily, although sometimes you have to battle with spots, and that’s when blisters can form. But the best way to get kernels off of the cob, is not to use your fingers, but with the aid of a cob that you’ve already spent. This way, your pile of maiz will grow much quicker, and it’s only the strength in your hands to hold and continually grind both cobs together that you’ll need.
So anyway, I often times end up at the home of Doña Cecilia and her family, which is my favorite place to help desgranar. This is because it is an absolute utter rush to watch the speed with which Doña Cecilia can remove kernels from cobs. Her nickname is La Maquina, “The Machine”, and she can easily produce a pile of maiz more than twice the size of mine in the same amount of time. The atmosphere is always so mellow there also, where lazy breezes aid parrots in flight overhead, and the late afternoon colors are so soft yet so vivid. Kids though always seem to get a sudden burst of energy everyday as the sun drops slowly towards the horizon, and they always look to be trying and get as dirty as possible before their baths. But laundry’s had all day to dry on the lines. And all the husks are gathered and burned.
Then to add to the cosmic ambiance of hanging out with a whole bunch of very simple rustic types, who are calmly concentrated on producing a natural bounty that will ultimately sustain their next day’s breaths and passions, they all have long involved conversations (gossip) between themselves in Maya, and could care less that I don’t understand. Doña Cecilia’s husband Ely is usually on hand, along with their daughter Chari and son-in-law Luis. And a variety of extended family members are sure to stop by and take turns helping every few days as well. Doa Jacinta seems to enjoy getting in on the chitchat, and even Abuelita does her part, as she has daily for 70 years. But the best part of it all, is when everyone just forgets that I am even there, and I’m treated like I’ve been a part of their daily perceptions of reality forever. But little do they know, that in those moments when I’ve finally at last perfectly blended in and seem oblivious to all that they may be doing, I’m actually completely involved in massive contemplation about the fact that I even have the extreme fortune of even being in such a situation, and am a close study of their every move. And it’s all such an amazing rush!