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All Day Smoke in the Air

The other day, some teacher lit up some leaves to burn them in the schoolyard, and it bothered an entire neighborhood and in a few minutes, the fire engine and the fireman were there to order the teacher to put out the small fire. What if these persons were living in the small fishing village of San Pedro twenty five years ago? Back then there was smoke in the air everyday, all day long including Sundays. The reason was that people used the fire hearth to do their cooking, boiling laundry, warming water for a shower etc.

When mom or dad got up early at five in the morning, the first thing they did was to light up the fire in the fire hearth or “fogon” as it was called. Any piece of stick could serve as fuel, but mom preferred good firewood that we used to cut on Saturdays in the bush. These had to be dried branches from dead trees, or cut green and put to dry for one or two weeks. There were the nice three-inch branches that were use when the cooking was to last several hours. Then there were the one-inch thin branches that lit very quickly and used to fry fish in a matter of minutes.

When mom was finished with the warming of water for tea or coffee and frying the beans for the morning breakfast, she would keep the fire smoldering by placing a few small pieces of firewood so as to “not lose the fire”. This light fire kept smoking all morning until eleven o’clock when she would refuel the fire and start cooking the rice or better yet the corn tortillas and beans and frying the fish for lunch at twelve on the dot. This mission completed, she would again add a few more pieces of fuel to keep the small fire lit until four in the afternoon when she would again start preparing for supper. Again for supper it would probably be flour tortillas, or fry jacks or journey cakes, fried fish and some more beans.

It was not until after supper at about six o’clock that mom would let the fire die off. This meant that there was nothing more to be cooked, so she did not add any more firewood into the fire hearth. It was only then that the layer or small cloud of smoke would die off from over the village. The only exception was when it was mosquito season and dad would burn some green coconut husks to make smoke that would repel the mosquitoes.

This daily and continuous smoke bothered no one because actually everyone had it. Also the smell of smoke usually went with a nice aroma of fried onions, fish, beans, cakes, flour tortillas, fired jacks, fish row, barbecue fish, fried manatee meat, a pot of sea turtle, sweet potato pudding, or some conch being boiled in their shells with their own juices. The pleasant smell of smoke meant that something was cooking. It was a humble way of life, but what a beautiful life it was!

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