Made by hand, one by one over a fire. The bag you see on my kitchen counter in the photo contains one hundred tostadas. The pictures below explain why.
Pulling out of our driveway, we saw this woman carrying her burden up the hill. Firewood bundled, some on her head, some in the bag at her side.
Neither a strange or uncommon sight is this in our village. Usually the women carry their load on their head, be it firewood, dough for corn tortillas, or bulk items either ready to sell or recently purchased. The men carry it on their back or on their mules.
“Buenas tardes,” I called out.
Usually one doesn’t interrupt a person’s uphill momentum, especially when that person is as tiny as this one carrying a heavy load. But I had a reason.
“Buenas tardes,” she replied with labored breath.
“Le podemos ayudar? Can we help you?”
“Eh?” she grunted.
“Le llevamos a casa, si quiere. We can take you home, if you would like.”
Her eyes darted from me to the car and back. “No,” she panted, “Your car will get dirty inside.”
And she was right. Our car would get dirty inside. Living in a dusty pueblo, it’s hard enough to keep it clean on the outside. For those who know my husband, you’ll already recognize the sacrifice he makes driving a dirty car around.
“No importa! Doesn’t matter,” interjected my husband, who had by this time put the car in park and stepped out.
“Pues, está bien. Well, okay then.”
We opened the back hatch and my husband reached to help her. But she was quite adept at lifting the bundle off her head. She’s probably been doing it for 40-plus years.
Honestly, I felt a bit patronizing taking these photos, but it was a memory for some reason I wanted to keep. Not that it’s the first time we’ve offered help like this. Typically the response is a grunt and a no-thank you.
It can be another one of those cultural faux-pas’, when the Westerner thinks he’s serving by imposing his help. Often it’s a hindrance.
Yet I was captivated by her small hands with their thick, knobby knuckled fingers that had obviously seen a lifetime of work. Then, I couldn’t help look at her near black eyes, surrounded by crows feet on a dark leathery face.
Even when we offered to pick the bag up to place in the car, she swiftly leaned down, picked it up and insisted on doing it herself. So we let her.
Afterward, she climbed in and sat somewhat awkwardly in the middle seat, while Mike and I climbed back in to the driver and passenger seats. She fidgeted with her reboso (the scarf on her head) until we began to make polite conversation.
By the time we reached her little adobe brick home and unloaded her firewood, we had learned that her name was Margarita, the firewood was needed for the following day which was her tostada-making day, and by the way, would we like to buy some tostadas? She could use the income, she said.
“How do you sell them?” I asked.
“A bag of 100 for $120 pesos,” she answered.
Some locals would say that’s a bit high. I didn’t hesitate. If you figure the exchange rate, that comes to approximately ten dollars for one hundred tostadas. Hand made. One by one. Tirelessly cooked over a fire with the firewood she gathers from throughout the pueblo and it’s foothills to haul home.
I didn’t need 100 tostadas. But she needed to sell them. I told her I’d be back the next day around noon for my tostadas.
I think both the two gringos and the Zapotec woman went to sleep that night with a story to share.