Category Archives: health
Lately Suegra has been suffering from “empacho” … This illness has always confused and amused me – And Suegra is equally confused as to how it’s possible that gringos don’t believe in it, and usually have never even heard of it.
“Empacho” is a gastrointestinal illness that many people in El Salvador and other parts of Latin America believe can kill you. I decided to interview her about it for anthropological reasons because it doesn’t seem well documented.
Interview below, (in Spanish.)
Note: The use of the word “chibolitas” in Salvadoran Caliche means “little round objects” or “little balls.” (The word has other meanings in other parts of Latin America.)
(If interested in a translation to English, let me know in comments and I’ll see about transcribing it.)
Suegra está enferma. Ha pasado unas semanas así, tosiendo por todos lados. Después de verla en la cocina, con un gabinete abierto, tosiendo sobre todas las ollas y sartenes, no podía soportarlo más. No podía quedarme en silencio.
“Por favor, cúbrete la boca.”
“¿Cubrirme la boca?” ella repitió, un poco incrédula.
“Sí, por favor, cuando estés tosiendo, cúbrete la boca,” dije yo.
“¿Para qué?” Me preguntó con la cara toda confundida.
“Para que no riegues gérmenes por toda la casa. Nos vas a enfermar a todos,” dije yo, “No te enseñaron eso en la escuela cuándo era niña?”
“No,” ella dijo con desdén. “En El Salvador no hay necesidad de cubrirse la boca. Allá los gérmenes no se quedan en las casas como aquí. Las casas allá están bien abiertas…y aquí todo cerrado…ay no,” suspiró.
Bueno, después de esta conversación, ella se puso un poco molesta conmigo. Cada vez que ella tosía y cubría su boca, me miraba con los ojos entreabiertos como si dijera: Mira! Mira la inconveniencia que me has obligado a hacer!
En la mesa durante la cena, aquella noche, ella continuó tosiendo y cubriendo su boca. Carlos le preguntó entre bocados, “¿Estás enferma todavía pues, madre?” (Como que si no fuera obvio.)
“Ojalá no me vaya a morir de esta gripe,” dijo Suegra, “Porque si me muero, tienes que mandar mi cuerpo a El Salvador.” Ella tosió, cubriéndose la boca, “Y Tracy,” me dijo, “si no acompañas mi cuerpo en el avión, no te voy a dejar en paz.”
Y después de decir eso, ella rió tanto que no dejaba de toser.
• Special thanks to mi comadre, Claudia. Carlos y yo tuvimos broncas last night so I had too much pride to ask him to double check my Spanish for errors. Claudia came to my rescue this week! Gracias, amiga!
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Suegra is sick. She’s been like this for a few weeks already, coughing all over the place. After I saw her in the kitchen coughing into an open cabinet full of pots and pan, I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t stay silent.
“Please, cover your mouth.”
“Cover my mouth?” she repeated, a little incredulous.
“Yes, please, when you’re coughing, cover your mouth,” I said.
“For what?” she asked with a confused expression on her face.
“So that you don’t throw germs all over the house. You’re going to get everyone sick,” I said, “Didn’t they teach you that in school when you were little?”
“No,” she sniffed. “In El Salvador there is no need to cover your mouth. The germs don’t stick around like they do here. The houses there are wide open … and here they’re so closed up … ay no,” she sighed.
Well, after this conversation, she got a little upset with me. Every time she coughed and covered her mouth, she looked at me with narrowed eyes as if to say: Look! Look at this inconvenience which you’ve obligated me to do.
At the dinner table that night, she kept coughing and covering her mouth. Carlos asked between bites, “Are you still sick then, madre?” (As if it was not obvious.)
“Hopefully I will not die of the flu,” said Suegra, “If I die, you have to send my body back to El Salvador.”
She coughed, covering her mouth, “And Tracy,” she continued, “If you don’t accompany my body on the airplane, I will haunt you.”
And having said that, she laughed until she coughed and coughed.
Hoy fuimos a comer almuerzo en la escuela con nuestro hijito. Es un privilegio que le dan a “El Estudiante de la Semana.”
En años pasados, comimos pizza porque el día cuando los padres son bienvenidos es viernes, y como todos saben, el viernes es “Pizza Day.” — Pero, por las regulaciones de salud que ha puesto el gobierno, ahora los niños sólo comen pizza de vez en cuando. Estoy de acuerdo con los almuerzos más saludables, pero no entiendo porque no pueden cambiar la pizza, pues? Pizza puede ser una comida bien saludable si es hecha de ingredientes de calidad. Si las hacen con la orilla de “whole grain”, queso bajo en grasa, salsa de tomate con menos azúcar, y verduras en vez de pepperoni – sera delicioso y saludable.
Ni modo, si no hay pizza, no hay pizza. Tengo que comer lo que tienen. Y sabes qué estaban sirviendo? Aquí es el menú:
Wheat Sugar Cookie
Y aquí es una foto de mi almuerzo:
Usualmente, me gustan los almuerzos de la escuela, pero esto era un poco horible. La galleta estaba deliciosa, aunque mi tazita de salsa se calló un poco encima de ella. La “fajita” le falta sal y Valentina hot sauce pero estaban bien más o menos. El arroz tenía la misma textura de pure de papas y no podría comerlo. Este almuerzo me pone a pensar en empacar los almuerzos de mis niños de aquí en adelante. Vamos a ver.
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My husband started having back pain the day after we picked Suegra up at the airport. I think he pulled something lifting her enormous suitcase into the car. When I mentioned this possibility, Suegra gave me la mirada that means she is cursing me inside her head, and she responded that if he hurt himself lifting then he is “más débil que yo” – and so therefore, it was his own fault.
Ni modo, back pain or no back pain, my husband has to work. The guys he supervises, (all from Veracruz, Mexico), eventually noticed that his back hurt and they asked him about it. They began trying to help him by asking some rather personal questions, which I think even our doctor has not asked my husband before. Ultimately they all agreed on a diagnosis. My husband has been instructed to stop having sex with the ceiling fan on. Apparently the cold air on his bare back while he’s…um… exerting himself… is not good for him.
Mi gran amigo, Joe Ray, is back with another entertaining guest post. (You may remember his first guest post here on Latinaish.com, “Spanglish…El bad boy de linguistics“.)
I hope you enjoy this as much as I did!
by Joe Ray
My mother was raised on a rancho in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. When you got sick, you had remedies that worked for everyone, you went to a sobadora or a curandera. And if things were really bad, you were taken into town.
This is old school. No pinche WebMD for research. If you wanted to know something, you asked your comadre about it. You were part of the Collective Comadre Network.
One common herbal remedio is yerba buena. Yerba buena’s great stuff, it’s used for everything from stomach ailments or flavoring mojitos. My mom also kept around a glass jar filled with rubbing alcohol that contained marijuana, which she would rub on her varicose veins. Aloe vera was always around as well.
Having asthma as a kid, my mom would rub Vicks (AKA vaporu, vivaporu, or el veex) all over my chest, usually along with other very nasty smelling herbs/weeds. Not yerba buena but my guess is that it was probably more along the lines of yerba mierda. After rubbing it on my chest, she’d make me put on a heating pad over my shirt and blanket. I can’t stand Vicks. I knew some kids ate the stuff. I like the smell of eucalyptus, which she would also boil leaves into a tea but I still find Vicks to be quite repulsive.
Growing up in Arizona, we were only 2 hours from the Mexican border, so we would go visit family, shop and so forth. I recall going to a yerberia for dried rattlesnake strips to eat daily in order to cure my asthma. Never having seen a snake cough, this made perfect sense to me. The meat tasted okay (like jerky), but didn’t really cure me.
Prior to that trip, Doña Yoya in San Luis once gave me a little black bunny. I think the rabbit was supposed to absorb the asthma and I’d be cured. She lived a couple of houses away from my aunt and was a curandera who had a bunch of animals. Anyway, that didn’t work. This rabbit was the first pet I ever had. The rabbit proved to be quite the trouble maker, and eventually we ate it
I also remember one family friend using bleach for everything from ant bites to other skin ailments. That always had a nasty smell to the rub. Every once in a while I smell bleach and think of that. But it still doesn’t repel me the way Vicks does.
I went online the other day and asked friends a little about what type of remedios they remember from their childhoods.
Here’s a small sampling of what I heard back:
Suzi: We all know what cures-VICKS and 7-UP!
Veronica: I thought all cures came from a lil shot of tequila
Tony: Lemon honey and tequila for coughs-Mexican Nyquil. Olive and castor oil after a hot bath in the winter.
Note- Tony also remembers his father using the pot in the alcohol for arthritis.
Celeste: Vaporu. That with some salpicot y una limpia con huevo and whatever weeds grew in the backyard. Santo remedio! Anything that was sting related had saliva in it: aver que te pongo ajo, con un poco de saliva.
Gennaro: Mi madre used to pull the skin on our back really hard to cure empacho, until today I don’t know wtf that was about.
Lonnie: Mentholatum smeared under the nose. My suegra would shove it up her nose. I think she used a couple of tablespoons.
Culturally, we have a lot of herbs, beliefs and rituals that we relate to. These range from lighting candles, to a limpia con huevo (go ask about that one), to rhymes. Think of that little kiddie healing rhyme:
colita de rana…”
Before the internet, before WebMD, there was the Collective Comadre Network, which will always be around. Many of us continue these healing traditions. They are part of who we are and where we come from. It’s all part of the Remediosphere®. What are some of the remedios you remember?
It’s summertime, but it doesn’t matter. This week I got sick anyway. It started as a sore throat and then moved into my chest. All I wanted was for someone to take care of me, but when you’re the Mamá, you have to take care of yourself.
(Someone suggested I ask Suegra to take care of me. Muy chistoso. While I was sick she was making Sopa de Pescado for herself, and I was just thankful that my nose was partially stuffed up.)
I decided it was time to make Sopa de Pollo. I’ve tried a few different recipes but my favorite is the one below. This recipe is from the Bolivian grandmother of my nephew. She’s of no direct relation to me, but I met her a handful of times, and one of those times I tried her Sopa de Pollo and begged for the recipe, which she graciously shared.
I say that she “graciously shared”, because some women are not so gracious. At the party of a friend of a friend, (who knows how I even got invited, since I didn’t know the hosts personally), I was given a styrofoam plate filled with food upon arrival, as is expected at all Latino-hosted parties. Well, the chicken was absolutely delicious. I can’t remember all these years later what was so fantastic about it, but I found my way to the kitchen to compliment the woman who had made the food. She accepted my compliment with a big smile. When I asked for the recipe though, the smile disappeared from her face and she shook her head. Um, okay. Awkward!
Ni modo, this soup is way better.
Monica’s Sopa de Pollo
1 onion, peeled and quartered
3 cloves of garlic, halved
3-4 stalks of celery, leaves included
1-2 laurel (bay) leaves
1 whole turnip, washed (a few radishes works fine, too)
2 carrots peeled
salt and pepper to taste
6-8 pieces of chicken (or 1 whole chicken)
2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups of rice
2-3 potatoes (peeled and diced into cubes)
1 cup frozen peas
1 envelope Sazón Goya (Coriander and Annatto variety – package may say “Culantro y Achiote”)
Cover all the first 6 ingredients with about 8-10 cups of hot water and let it get to a boil. When this broth begins to boil, add the chicken, with the skin on. Add chicken broth and 1 envelope of “Sazón Goya” to the original broth.
Note: When I made it this time, I didn’t have Sazón Goya on hand. I just mixed in about 1 teaspoon Goya Adobo, 1 tablespoon achiote molido, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon turmeric, 1/4 teaspoon coriander powder. It tasted the same in the end and the recipe is very forgiving.
Let the soup begin to boil and then reduce the heat. Let it cook until chicken is separating from the bones. Pass the whole thing through a sieve into another pot. Discard the vegetables, (I eat the carrots), but take all the chicken pieces and rinse them in warm water. Remove the skin and discard. Break the meat in smaller pieces and discard the bones. Set aside.
Note #2: My husband and Suegra prefer that I leave the meat on the bones but I prefer to do it as described above. There are few noises in this world that I hate more than the sound of chupando los huesos. *shiver*
Let the sieved broth start boiling again and then add the rice; let it all boil on low heat for about 12 minutes (until rice is almost cooked). Add the potatoes. Let it begin to boil again and add the chicken back to the soup. Add frozen peas. Add salt and pepper to taste and let the soup boil for about 5 more minutes or until potatoes are cooked. If the broth evaporated considerably, you can add more water or more chicken broth to it. Serve.
(I eat this with crushed Ritz crackers on top.)
(Warning: Video is not politically correct and contains adult language. Don’t watch if you can’t take a joke.)