My first stay in Venezuela, deep in the Andes mountain range sprawls the city of Mérida, nestled in the valley of the Chama River, which runs from end to end. At Madre Lindo’s casa, my homestay for the summer, I stood in awe of the mountains soaring upwards from the kitchen window. Venezuela’s highest summit, the Píco Bolivar, rose skyward from the horizon to meet the morning’s dewy light with no window screen inhibiting the views to my new world.
A fruit fly entered, floating listlessly toward to the pitcher of watermelon juice, the fresh start to a Venezuelan day. At the rooster’s crow, Madre and I met to make arepas, the daily bread. A process even the youngest could make and the cornerstone to breakfast, lunch and dinner. She joined me in the kitchen, holding a fresh bag of P.A.N white corn flour, a distinct canary yellow bag that lines the aisles in every grocery store. “It starts with the hands,” she says in Spanish. The only language used in the house and one I hoped to learn from her.
Using a large bowl, she reached for the sink and turned on the faucet, running water clear until it filled a quarter of the way. Through knowing eyes, she slowly poured out heaps of corn meal from the bag to join in the bath of water with no measurements necessary, adding a generous pinch of salt. Without a mixing spoon, she plunged into the bowl and began to move her hands in rhythmic tradition, motioning for me join in. “Claro,” I acknowledged her and dipped my palms into the grit of the cornmeal that was forming into a paste. It reminded me of building a sandcastle. I grinned and searched for eyes of approval as I continued to knead the dough, it thickening with each squeeze of my palms.
Finally came the rolling, through the quickness of a magician, she balled the dough between her hands and handed it to me. One after another, where streams of sunlight reached the counter tops, little cakes of dough began to line a path, readying to be fried.