It was winter in the moisture saturated Highlands and as such the temperature was a cool twelve degrees Celsius when Maria was woken, pre dawn, by her mother. Maria’s baby sister, Gabriela, lay sleeping on her mother’s small cot while Maria started her morning ritual. Her mother was tending to the morning fire as Maria started to make atol for their breakfast. Atol, a thin gruel that was thickened with oatmeal this morning, was their breakfast staple and the warmth of the thick liquid would be most welcomed on such a chilly and damp morning.
After finishing their breakfast and doing their light morning chores Maria helped her mother bundle up Gabriela as they prepared to gather their vegetables and small amount of spices that they had grown in preparation for their one and a half hour trek to the market. This ritual was played out every morning, seven days a week, regardless of the weather or the physical complaints that Maria’s mother kept to herself. What little surplus of fruits, vegetables, and spices they had from the small plot of land that Maria and her mother shared with her mother’s aunt and uncle, they sold or used when bartering in order for Maria, her mother, her sister and her great aunt and uncle to get by. It was a matter of simple survival.
Although life was simple enough for Maria and her mother, and by in large they had the support of their village, it was still a life filled with seemingly endless days and limited resources. Unfortunately the only support that the community could offer was limited by the poverty that plagued the entire village. Yet despite the circumstances and many of the negative consequences that those circumstances produced, Maria, her mother and her baby sister Gabriela always had the produce they grew to eat, however marginal, it was still enough to feed them.
Maria’s great uncle, an older quiet man and somewhat emotionally distant, had always treated Maria and her mother decently enough, but he was in no way a father figure to the young Maria. Maria had no memories of her biological father, as she had never met him, and the possibility of who he may be was never spoken at home or in her village. In addition to Maria’s uncle there was one other male in Maria’s life, but he was defiantly not a desirable father figure. He was her mother’s husband, and Gabriela’s father, and the only time he afforded any attention to Maria or her mother was when he was drunk and browbeating them, which seemed like all the time. He had left shortly after Maria’s mother became pregnant with Gabriela and to the best of Maria’s knowledge he was never heard from again.