Pickles and Weevils

August 1, 2012
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Bending over, I looked into the sack flour. What I saw nearly propelled me backward onto the dirt. Weevils! The flour was filed with weevils.

“Marsha? Está todo bien?” Juan asked me.

I nodded, weakly. “¡Sí!” He smiled and said he would be back in the afternoon.

I sat down and gazed around the unfamiliar kitchen. When I had volunteered to bake bread, they didn’t tell me the flour would have weevils. I held open the sack again. The flour was swarming with the tiny beetles, no bigger than a pinky toenail. The very idea of those bugs made my stomach turn. I wanted to throw the flour out, but if this bag was infested, every bag in the shed surely would be. It was a hundred miles to the nearest supermarket—and I had a sinking feeling about the flour there, too.
If I were to make bread, it would be with this sack of flour.

After standing up, smoothing my skirt, and taking a deep breath, I examined what I had to work with. Unfortunately, a sieve was nowhere to be found. I would have to pick the weevils out with a pair of tweezers, one by one.

And I did it. It took hours. But with weevil-free flour I baked the bread, and after it cooled, I sliced it.

When the sun was hanging low in the sky, I heard Juan park his bicycle outside my hut. He came in and grinned at the sight of all the bread sitting on the table. He promised to deliver it safely to the families in the village, and return in the morning with another sack of flour.
* * *

I woke at sunrise, still adjusting to the time change. But early for me was ordinary for the locals—I stepped out of my bedroom and found the second sack of flour waiting for me. Pressing my ear to the sack I could hear the second colony of weevils rustling inside.

I groaned. I was not interested in spending every morning for the rest of the summer picking weevils out of platefuls of flour. I was here to learn Spanish, and to help out a struggling village—not sit around among bugs. I had to find a faster way.

So sinister was the idea that occurred to me, I was ashamed to spend a moment’s thought with it. But every time I expelled it from my mind, it crept back in. Eventually, my conscience gave way; I decided to pick out the weevils after they were baked into the bread.

I went about my work—mixing the yeast and water and adding milk, shortening, and salt. Then came the flour. I scooped a cupful out of the sack, trying not to watch the weevils scurrying about. I dumped it into the bowl. When it came time to knead, I tried not to feel the small bumps in the dough, bumps that could not be stirred out.

Finally, I pulled the first batch of loaves out of the oven. I thought they smelled slightly different than yesterday, but hopefully I was imagining it. I cut the bread thinner than the day before. Slice by slice, I took my tweezers and picked out the weevils. Dead weevils were so much easier to grab than squirming live weevils. Soon a big pile of the roasted pests collected on the ground.

It was an awful act, I don’t deny. But the bread tasted and looked exactly the same. So I handed off the day’s product to Juan without too much remorse.
* * *

The third morning, a sack of flour again waited outside my room. Again, it was infested with weevils. Again, I baked the bread, weevils and all.

When the sun was highest in the sky, I took the final batch of loaves out of the oven. Together all the loaves sat on the table, cooling. I picked up my book to read for a while before slicing and deweevilizing the bread.

Later, a group of village children came running up to my hut, chattering rapidly. They were grinning from ear to ear, revealing an array of crooked teeth. They pulled at my clothes and beckoned for me, saying, “¡Marsha! ¡Vamos! ¡Vamos!” I followed them to a hut across town, where they all crowded around a table.

On the table was a jar of Vlasic pickles. The kids snatched up the jar and held it high in a procession outside. We sat on the ground in a circle and they opened the jar with a “pop!” The jar was passed around the circle, each child taking a pickle. It got to me and I tried to pass it on. But they insisted I eat one.
I felt guilty—pickles were hard to find here and very expensive. At home, I could eat them any time I wanted. It was funny—I had never thought of pickles as particularly tasty, but these kids sucked on their pickle spears like popsicles. They savored the sour flavor and satisfying crunch. I watched them smile together, sitting on the red dirt under the hot sun. And I have to say that when I ate my pickle, I enjoyed it.
* * *

After our picnic, I wandered back to my hut. The sun was beginning to set. I opened the door, and immediately froze.
The bread—it wasn’t on the table.
The knife and tweezers were sitting by the sink, where I’d left them after washing the night before. I swiveled around—sure enough, two fresh bicycle tracks carved ruts into the dirt.

Juan had already come by and picked up the bread, with the weevils still inside. A cry escaped from my mouth.

I raced out of the hut and followed the bicycle tracks as fast as my stout legs could run. My curly hair, turning gray, bounced with every step. The bicycle had stopped at each hut, delivering a loaf to each family. I dared not enter a single one.

Finally I reached the hut with the bicycle parked outside. This would be Juan’s family. I rested my hands on my knees to catch my breath, but my heart wouldn’t slow. With a shaky fist I knocked on the door.

Juan’s father answered. “¿Hola?” I caught a glimpse of Juan and gave a feeble wave.

“¡Papá! Es Marsha, la mujer que hace el pan.”

“¡Oh! ¡Bienvenido!” Juan’s father smiled. I came in, nervously noticing the half-eaten loaf on the table. Squinting, I could see the black dots. Was I imagining it, or did one just move?

Juan’s mother approached me. “Su pan es muy delicioso.”

“Have you had a slice today?” I asked weakly.

Juan’s father replied in English. “Oh yes, it was good. Best yet!”

“You—you didn’t notice the weevils?”


“The—bugs?” I looked away.

“¡Oh, los gorgojos! I love it!” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

Juan’s mother looked startled. “Nosotros siempre comemos los gorgojos.” We always eat the weevils.

I was amazed. Eating bread with weevils was, to me, unthinkably disgusting. To them, it was… normal?

“Can I try a slice?” I asked.
I was promptly handed a slice of bread. I took a small bite, chewed, and swallowed. It was crunchy. I took a bigger bite.

“Well?” Juan asked.

“It’s… It’s good!” As long as you didn’t think about it too hard.

The family clapped and cheered, and I finished my slice of bread. Weevils and all.

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