A good percentage of the population of Tinum is Catholic. Sometimes when a prayer is answered unexpectedly for a family, they celebrate every year afterward by holding a weeklong prayer session and making a huge feast for everyone that comes. In this particular case, the family had a son born premature, and promised that if he grew strong, they would have a Novena for him every year. The whole town is invited (of course not everyone comes), and every evening for 9 days, all the women gather in the house to chant, pray, and sing following the example of a knowledgeble older woman. The men sit outside and drink beer, and the children run everywhere and make a nuisance of themselves as children always do. After an hour of chanting, the formal part of the evening is over, and neighbors take turns serving a light snack, usually with a glass of Coke as well. This continues every night of the Novena until the final two weekend days, and then the feasting begins.
At 6 in the morning on Saturday morning, the pig (which has been fattening for months in the backyard pen) is killed and cut up into all the uses that a pig can have. This process takes hours, as the pork rinds are cooked over a huge fire, the intestines are cleaned out to make blood sausage, and the rest of the meat is hung to use later. At midmorning, hordes of other people show up to start working, and there is enough work for everyone. The men start digging a huge pit, called a Pib, where the food that is being prepared will be slow-cooked overnight in an underground oven. The women bustle in and out of the kitchen preparing lunch for all the workers, and also preparing the food that will be going into the huge pots in the Pib. The meal that will be served tomorrow is called Mechado, and is a rich soup of multilple meats, spices, and vegetables.
I find myself peeling the shells off of boiled garbanzo beans, and then picking rocks out of black beans, while others toast onions and prepare the spices, and a whole slew of other tasks necessary to prepare such a meal. By early afternoon everyone is hungry and ready to eat, so luckily other women have been working to prepare food for everyone today. Lunch on such a day is always black bean and pork soup. On the side are the freshly cooked pork rinds, with cilatro, limes, onions and chiles to throw in the soup. And of course, there are a never-ending supply of hand-made tortillas from a circle of women sitting around a fire patting them out. I join the circle of tortillas makers for a while, as they continue literally all day to supply fresh hot tortillas to the many workers. Soon after lunch, it is time to prepare the turkeys and chickens for the Mechado.
The men finally get back in the mix, as they kill the birds, dip them in hot water, and set to work plucking 3 turkeys and 7 chickens. All the meat is cut up and grilled over an open fire to add flavor. In the backyard, the men start to burn huge logs in the pit, adding rocks as well to make the coals hot enough to last all night. When all the food is ready and gathered together, and the master cook divides it all evenly into 5 huge kettles, and finally they are filled to the brim with water, and carried over to the Pib. The men set them carefully onto the coals, and then they are stirred with long poles until they are hot, and then everything is covered with banana leaves, logs and finally dirt to cook overnight. On Sunday morning, the kettles are uncovered, and people are fed all day long with superb bowls of Mechado and yet another stream of fresh hot tortillas courtesy of women slaving over a hot fire. The final prayer session is held that night, and then finally the family can relax, after a week of hard work and good eating, and of course a promise upheld.