Coloring My World With Natural Dyes

Most people make the wrong assumption that my favorite color is pink.  I recall gifts of pastel pink sewing kits, pens with roses, and bright pink purses.  I guess this is my own fault since I’m not afraid to broadcast my love of Hello Kitty.  Most of the time I’m told it’s because of my quiet, sweet nature, an image that becomes tarnished once I begin to voice my quirky thoughts with an occasional sailor mouth.  My close friends know I love purple, I’m not afraid to blast Jay-Z in my car (an ex would only listen to it when he wanted me to drive faster), and when I swear, it’s not an unexpected response.  Unexpected is the theme for my previous week.  Recovering from an intestinal infection requires me to rest and do nothing, something I hate hear as much as my unanticipated diagnosis.  Still, it doesn’t stop me from joining the Run by Rural Innovation Fellows in our experiments with natural dyes in the kitchen of our host mother, Mary Carmen.  Armed with loads of research from various websites, we ‘re ready to take on any unforeseen colors that might splash before our eyes.


After multiple combinations of vegetables and fruits including red cabbage, beets, and prickly pear (a fruit commonly found on the ends of cacti) with lemon and baking soda, we end up with various pinks, purples, and yellows.  On some of our grand experiments, Mary Carmen’s advice to add more lemon produces the brilliant colors we seek.  Experience is always the best information source, not the World Wide Web.  On the internet we see pictures of colors in small cups and bowls, but it doesn’t prepare us for the curiosity sinking in as we peer at our concoctions.  A deep purple from Maiz Morado (a purple corn used to make the drink Chicha Morada) is striking, but we feel it’s disappointment when the purple is easily faded during sun and water tests.  A vibrant blue from red cabbage and baking soda fades to a vibrant green we all admire, but it shows its real colors later when it fully dries and transforms to a mustard yellow.  Upon seeing the faint pink water of prickly pear we overlook it’s possibilities, but we see its potential amongst our colorful swatches.  In true underdog fashion prickly pear survives or surpasses the other swatches in our color fastness test with, well, flying colors.

Maybe I’ve been wrong about pink this whole time.  After all, Pink is the name of a famous pop singer, a Victoria’s Secret lingerie line, and a cartoon panther.  I’ve always admired the underdog and find myself in the same place, working hard to voice my work and thoughts when others thought I was quiet and unassuming.  When asked what I want, I often don’t know what to say or shrug my shoulders, confessing I hadn’t really thought about it.  Although I need time to think about it, I am beginning to see I can no longer sit and wait around for what I want.  Most of the time I’m still figuring it out, like our natural dye experiments.  In order to figure out what I want, I’ll have to continue playing with and mixing ingredients until I get just the right formula.  I’ve felt the answer is just on the horizon, but I’m beginning to see I’m the one who has to actively take the steps to reach it.  It may take time for me to be comfortable voicing my opinions, but now is the time for me to discover the ingredients to color my world.


Looking in a trash bag of our leftover ingredients, I peer into the contents and see more than waste.  Like the prickly pear, it is put aside for only being basura, the Spanish word for trash.  Maybe this mess is what resides in my stomach.  Amused at this thought, I continue to search this collection of scraps hoping to uncover some truth.  The deep purples of red cabbage and yellow and light green of lemon rinds create a unique arrangement of vibrant and playful colors.  It seems my coloring is just beginning.

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