Saturday, January 25, 2014

An Ode The Vendors On The Rez

Vendors on the Rez have been a part of my normal, everyday life since I could remember.   

On any given day, all over the Tohono O'odham Nation, there are people selling things they've made or grown (or acquired) with their own two hands.  There are a few who have made it their life, and who work hard to make a living off what they earn each day.

When I was a little girl, we used to have vendors come by our house with everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to truckloads of firewood.  My favorite used to be the guy who would come selling menudo, mexican cheese and mexican soda out of his pickup truck.  These were kind of luxuries for us, a little on the expensive side, so my Hu'uli-bat would always kind of hem and haw at the cheese sample before she decided to buy.  She didn't always buy the menudo, but she and my Hu'ul Ke:li-bat LOVED the ju:kam so:la, so we often bought a whole case or even two!  Sometimes, we'd sell him back our empty soda bottles from the last time he came through.

Now, I live in town.  The kind of vendors I get these days are the ones who only want to sell me a vacuum or "premium frozen meat". Um... no thanks.  Luckily, I work on The Rez now, so I still get to be a part of the action.  
   
Sometimes, on days like tribal paydays, you get hit hard with vendors.  You may have as many as four or five people coming through your office or your village selling their homemade goods; breakfast burritos, cupcakes, cecemait, yeast bread, tamales, earrings, artwork, the list goes on and on. 
Rosella, slangin' banana nut bread in an office.
Some days you might have only one vendor peddling their goods.  

Some days no one comes around... and that's when you have to go looking for them, instead of waiting for them to come to you.   

In Sells, there are a couple of places that vendors hang out.  The main place, of course, is "The Parking Lot," which is a dirt parking to an abandoned building, which was rumored to be a hair salon back in the day, but which I've never seen open for business, and the infamous, "Rent-a-flick" which used to be a video store,* but now has changed to the "Intermission Snack Bar" and only serves snacks and lunch foods. 

The Intermission Snack Bar
The Nation has tried to support vendors by creating new spaces for them to sell their goods around town, but none of them are as consistent enough as "The Parking Lot." 

"The Parking Lot" is prone to flooding during the rainy season.  Huge puddles of rain leave the dirt parking lot uneven and cavernous, but that doesn't stop anyone from showing up anyway.
"The Parking Lot" 

The Red Feather Cafe 
I like taking note of the different types of people who buy food from these vendors.  I'm always greatly amused when it's a business woman in shiny high heels or a dude in a business suit.  I'm always kinda interested to know what they order, I bet it's never the red chili.   

My favorite things to buy are made-to-order, fresh, delicious, popovers with beans and cheese or a hal c queso burro, made with fresh, thin, chewy cecemait.  If I'm lucky enough to be around for breakfast, my favorite thing of all time is a sausage and egg yeast bread sandwich.     
Here's a photo of me eating a Sausage and Egg Yeast Bread Sandwich.  It was so good, it almost hurt.  
You never know who will be selling or what the menu will be, but chances are, it'll be delicious. 


On this particular morning, I went to the parking lot hoping to score a Yeast Bread Sandwich.  The vendor who sells the Yeast Bread Sandwiches wasn't there, but I was very happy with a bowl of hot menudo and piece of yeast bread instead.

Delicious yeast bread

The parking lot has changed a lot over the years.  Trends in "selling" have come and gone.  As a little girl, I remember walking up to vendors to purchase a bean popover and they would hand me a ready-made, aluminum foil wrapped package.  I haven't seen popovers sold that way in years!  Now, if you buy a popover with beans, even if the popovers were made in the morning, before the vendor came to set up, they will have the popovers separate from whatever they're filling them with.  

And yes, you want the filling.  But we don't call it filling.  It's usually beans, or chili or ground beef (like a taco).  Sometimes, if you're lucky, you can get a squash and cheese popover.  Sometimes you see out-of-towners buying plain popovers or popovers with powdered sugar or honey.  It's not a big deal, technically they aren't doing anything "wrong" but it is smile inducing.  Seriously, you're missing out on the good stuff.  

People sell for a lot of different reasons.  It might be their livelihood.  There are some vendors who sell daily, usually, they are the best ones, because they've built up their reputation on good food or services.  Others might just be trying to make a few extra bucks to help with their bills or to fund a trip or a big purchase.  In recent years I've seen a lot of families selling for weddings or graduation celebrations.  


Fundraising for a trip to Hawaii for the Stabilizing Indigenous Languages Symposium.





We've also had an influx of non-O'odham vendors wedge their way into the culinary scene in Sells.  We now have several food trucks selling food like carne asada or sweet and sour chicken.  They make the drive all the way from Tucson, just to sell their food at the famous Parking Lot everyday.  I can imagine how profitable it must be for them, even after their food, operating costs and gas, because they keep coming back.  


Gwen.  Everyone says she sells "Chinese food" but she's actually Vietnamese.  Everybody but me knows her story.*  
  
It's a very respectable profession to the O'odham people, to be a vendor.  It shows that someone is willing to use their industriousness and their talent to provide for themselves or their family.  



This is my brother, Husi, selling at last year's Rodeo and Fair.  He writes books using O'odham language and culture.  You can check out his facebook page here: Husi's O'odham Word of the Day
The Sells Rodeo and Fair is juuuuust around the corner (January 30th to February 2nd) and there will be hundreds of vendors in the Sells area ALL WEEK.  

The parking lot is going to be PACKED with all the best vendors.  

You'll be able to buy t-shirts, music, toys, artwork and of course, delicious, delicious food.  

Thank you to all you cocineros and cocineras who do your thing to keep the people of the Tohono O'odham Nation swimming in deliciousness.  

I can't wait!!

------------------
hal c queso - Squash and cheese
cecemait - O'odham tortillas (different from Mexican tortillas)
Ju:kam so:la - Mexican soda
cocinero - male cook (professional/expert level/great reputation)
cocinera - female cook (professional/expert level/great reputation)


**a few corrections were made to this blog.