The family portraits are of some friends in Tela, Honduras. Jess took the photos with her Mamiya. The family were my neighbours during my time living in the small Caribbean coastal city of Tela a few years ago. On our recent visit, we managed to call in for a feed, catch-up and an impromptu photo-session. I’ll never forget the friendliness of Nora and her family. The following story attempts to re-create some of the frantic action that constantly consumed her house. She cooked tamalitos for us while we visited, and they were off the charts delicious.
A pile of corn husks 3 or 4 deep cover the tiled kitchen floor. Pots of boiling water boil over all 4 burners on the stove. Nora stands by a blender, holding it with her two hands as it whirls a mass of corn kernels into a thick paste. Beads of sweat form on her brow, despite the fan she has pointed directly at her. She wipes the salty liquid away with a small portion of towel.
A group of kids streak through the kitchen, kicking the corn husks as they go. One of them is her own, one her grandson and the others their friends. The flow of children through the house is constant, a meeting place for the neighbourhood. She looks out the window to see her grandson throwing rotten oranges at a wall. He is laughing as they explode, leaving patches of slush. She turns the blender off momentarily to yell at him to stop, then continues her work. He sulks, bowing his head before finding some other pursuit. He is the son of her eldest daughter, now living illegally in the US, searching for a life of better opportunities. It has been two years since he has seen her.
Nora’s eldest son now stumbles into the kitchen to ask when the tamalitos will be ready. He is on an extended lunch break from his job as a taxi driver. He pours himself a glass of fresh tamarindo juice as she tells him that it won’t be too long. He wanders out again.
The corn kernels are now sufficiently blended, so she adds the rest of the mixture in, gives it a final blast, and prepares a set of corn leaves in a row on the bench. She gradually spoons plentiful amounts of the mixture into each leaf, and then folds them into neat little packages. Finally she drops them into the boiling water, leaving them to cook. Her family and friends will devour them almost instantaneously when she gives the word that they are ready for consumption.
As soon as the mess left is whisked away, preparation will begin for the next meal in a never-ending cycle.