Author: Michael Snyder

The Prawn War

25 October 2017 – Roads & Kingdoms, Slate, CNN’s Explore Parts Unknown

(text and photos by the author)

Victos Fernando had been missing for four days when his body washed up, bruised and salt-soaked, off Sri Lanka’s northern coast. He’d disembarked with three other fishermen on April 2, 2011, from the crowded harbor of Rameswaram, a small island off India’s southeastern coast, to sail for the fertile breeding shoals on the Sri Lankan side of the Palk Strait, the narrow body of water that separates the two nations. The day before, the governments of India and Sri Lanka had both issued warnings against going out to sea. The two countries were slated to play a cricket match that day and tensions would be high.

Someone, after all, would have to lose. (more…)

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One Last Night in Mexico City’s LGBT Time Warp

14 September Punch

At midnight on a recent Saturday—any Saturday, really—Avenida República de Cuba, near the sketchy northern edge of Mexico City’s Centro Historico, practically seethes with people. Twenty-somethings of every gender line up around the block outside El Marrakech and La Purísima, a pair of nightclubs that face each other across the narrow, construction-chewed street like Scylla and Charybdis (if Scylla and Charybdis were really good at voguing). (more…)

Resistance and Resilience at Temacapulín’s Chile Festival

12 September – Eater

At 9:30 on a startlingly bright Saturday morning, the children of Temacapulín, a minuscule village in the Mexican state of Jalisco, gathered under the pink stone arches of the municipal building to compete in the eighth annual Games of Chile and Water.

They threw wet napkins at a Skee-Ball target. They ran a sack relay carrying long, red árbol chiles, Temacapulín’s traditional crop, from one end of the sun-washed plaza to the other. They raced chiles up a pair of tables past levels marked VidaJusticiaPaz, and finally Victoria. And for the final game, they hurled water balloons to bring down a wall of cardboard boxes, each one marked with a word or a phrase: Corruption. Privatization of Water. Tricks of Politicians. Depriving Us of Rights. Injustice. Lies. (more…)

Heaven is a Place on Earth

August, The Music IssueThe Believer

The first thing I saw when I landed at Mizoram’s whitewashed bird’s nest of an airport—a concrete block nestled between steep, bamboo-covered hills—was a cross. It stood erect and blazingly white in a shabbily landscaped plot of grass between the terminal and the airport’s lone runway. Bold red letters printed across the patibulum—which, mercifully, I couldn’t make out until I was off the 30-seat propeller jet and walking across the tarmac—read THY KINGDOM COME.

Full essay available in print only. Purchase at the link above

The Comedy of Manners

Summer, The Class Issue Indian Quarterly

he last time I really fought with my older brother was back in March 2016, in a tiny restaurant somewhere in Provence where we—he and I and our younger sister and our parents—had gathered on one of our increasingly rare family vacations. The evening was raw and damp in the way that early springtime tends to be in temperate climates, but inside the restaurant was cosily anachronistic: ochre walls, wooden beams, smooth table linen, tiny glasses of purple blossoms scattered among flickering candles; there was white asparagus and red wine and not an exposed brick or Edison bulb in sight. If we hadn’t had the restaurant entirely to ourselves (the joys of low season), we would have been in breach of every rule of etiquette as voices and tension rose—ironically, since etiquette was precisely what we were arguing about. (more…)

High Hopes

Summer – Sabor Journal

Emiliana Rojas, 29, wakes up every morning at 6am in a distant corner of El Alto, a low-income sleeper city that sprawls dustily over a flat ridge 4000 meters above sea level before tumbling over steep red cliffs into La Paz, Bolivia’s administrative capital. She prepares a simple breakfast of hot milk and barley for her four-year-old daughter, whom she then wakes, feeds, and takes to school. From there, she spends two hours on crowded tin-can minibuses to reach her job, cooking at a small, pleasant café called Qñapes in the wealthy Zona Sur, 1000 meters closer to sea level. She leaves work most days at 10pm and rarely reaches home before midnight. “I cook all day, every day,” Emiliana told me, “and I love it.”

The full feature story on culinary schools El Alto, Bolivia  appears in issue two of Sabor Journal, ‘Spirulina Dreams.’

Where Barbacoa Comes From

27 May – Extra Crispy

The streets surrounding my home in the historic center of Mexico City are essentially one giant market: a perfect grid—used first by the Aztecs and then by the Spanish—in which each street has its own specific role to play in the commercial morass. Mesones is for school supplies, Bolivar is for sound equipment, the eastern end of Bolivia is for oversized stuffed animals, etc. Over the course of centuries, Mexico’s central valleys developed in much the same way as villages and towns were pulled into the city’s economic orbit. Before they became notoriously dangerous suburbs, Ecatepec and Cuauhtitlan were agave towns. The villages of Milpa Alta, a rural area technically contained within the state of Mexico City, specialize in nopales (cactus paddles) and mole. The village of Capulhuac, about 15 miles southwest of Mexico City, is for barbacoa. (more…)

Can We Really Eat Invasive Species into Submission

18 May – Scientific American

LAS PEÑITAS, Bolivia—Before he’d ever seen a paiche, fish trader Eric Salazar had heard the giant Amazonian fish could grow up to 10 feet long, weigh 400 pounds and eat a man whole. The paiche, or Arapaima gigas, is the world’s largest scaled freshwater fish. Native to the jungles of Peru and Brazil, it first appeared in nets in Bolivia’s Amazon Basin in the early 1990s. As it migrated upriver, rumors traveled with it. People said it was created by nefarious Peruvian scientists, that they fed it with the blood of farm animals, that it wasn’t a fish at all but a monster. (more…)

The Last Pulque Dons of Apan

11 May – Punch

ario Gomez leaned past the razor-edged rosette of a towering agave and deep into its wide-open heart, where a pool of clear, sweet sap—called aguamiel, or “honey water”—had collected overnight. He dipped the tapered end of a long, dry gourd into the plant’s cavity and, sucking at a hole in the opposite end, drew several liters of aguamiel into its hollow center. With the gourd full, he led me a few paces across his narrow plot of land to a two-room cinderblock shed, cool and dim, as the lazy April sun started to rouse itself into the morning sky. Inside, he mixed the fresh aguamiel in an open vat along with the previous day’s batch—feed for the lactic fermentation that, in a day’s time, would transform the sweet agave nectar, its flavor somewhere between coconut water and sugarcane juice, into the pre-Hispanic brew called pulque. (more…)

From Feeding Gods in the Temple to Mortals in the City

25 April Roads & Kingdoms

My favorite place to eat in Mumbai is A. Rama Nayak’s Udupi Sri Krishna Boarding, a real mouthful of a name for a simple place. Set in a leafy South Indian enclave called King’s Circle, Rama Nayak’s occupies a pair of bright, breezy rooms up a flight of stairs in a nondescript building next to the Matunga Central railway station. Crowded, Formica-topped tables flank narrow aisles patrolled by a small army of lungi-clad kitchen attendants who ladle food relentlessly from small metal pails onto banana-leaf plates until you tell them to please-god-stop. (more…)