Memories of a Nicaraguan Nacatamal!
This is the season of traditional Nicaraguan Nacatamales and also the season when the memories of tropical banana leaves invade my mind. One day on Christmas Eve, mother asked me to run a quick errand. She was preparing to cook her famous Nacatamales, a dish made only for special occasions: Christmas, New Years, birthdays, family gatherings or simply my father’s request. This time there were two reasons: my father’s request and Christmas Eve, as all of my siblings had come home from college.
Mother’s Nacatamales could not be imitated as she spent endless hours seasoning the dough with fresh, organic spices and vegetables. Her swollen feet supported her tired body as she stirred the dough once counter clock, twice clockwise relentlessly until the dough boiled and cooked on very low flames. Once she completed the laborious process of making dough, she scooped a small ball of dough onto a softened banana leaf and topped it nicely with peppermint leaves, seasoned beef, chicken or pork, olives, rice, tomatoes, bell peppers and potatoes. To conclude, her extravagant masterpiece, she wrapped each individual Nacatamal with fresh a tender, fresh banana leaf and tied it with a dry banana leaf string.
After my mother had spent hours standing like a hen, alternating one foot on the ground while resting the other, my only job was to bring home the store bought banana leaves needed to complete the arduous task.
I left the house running with all intentions of doing what I’d been told, but urged on by my imagination, I went on swinging from tree to tree, wearing only banana leaves as I strolled through the Nicaraguan rainforest in company of my wild friends, my long gone dog Ladrón, and my horse, Lucero.
I would dream of day and night of this wonderful way of life. I turned out to be several beings living in one divine body, a butterfly transforming constantly through the different stages. During school breaks, I became a free-hearted jungle girl who loved our farm most of all where I rode my horse without restriction, swam in the spring pools, caught fireflies and other bugs, rolled down the hills and stared at the big round eyes of the cows as I walked past them.
However, during the school year, I transformed into a perfectly stiff and proper señorita—and it was this girl, who allowed me to get pinched by the mean daughter of the grocery store owner.
“Banana leaves, please!” I had simply asked.
Handing me the banana leaves with one hand and pinching me with the other, cruel Carlota laughed as I ran away in tears. Angry with myself for allowing her bullying behavior, I swore to myself that I would return her favor the next time around.
I arrived later than poor Mother had anticipated.
“Where have you been?” She asked.
“I became distracted and Carlotta…”
“You and your fantasies need to stop, life is real ILEANA.” Mother abruptly interrupted.
Once the Nacatamales were done and dinner was served, we enjoyed a perfect family dinner filled with enjoyment and priceless memories. My older brothers and sisters recalled the times they were little and laughed at their reckless adventures, while Ben and I dreamed about growing up soon. We celebrated life and the growth of our loved ones as is the natural thing to do in life. That night would have been a great moment to have frozen time.