I am sure as you are reading the title of this post, two questions/comments are in your mind:
1- Kelley, you already did a Crazy Honduran Food for this week.
2- um...Coca Cola is neither all that crazy, nor is it Honduran. It's a good thing you are coming back to the United States sounds like you have jungle fever.

While both of these are valid points, I would like to make some counterpoints:
a- This is truly so amazing I wanted to share it with you as quickly as possible.
b- This was no ordinary Coca Cola.

So, without further ado, here is my tale of Coca Cola adventure:

This week was final exams at Freedom High School. While it was nice to not have lessons to plan, it still somehow managed to be a fairly stressful and tiring week. Today was one of those days when you just want to come home, relax, and enjoy a frosty glass bottle of Coca Cola. Fortunately there is a little pulperia near my apartment, so I walked on over to purchase one. Glass bottle cokes are the best. Thinking about them makes me sing my own version of "Fat Bottomed Girls" in my head (sometimes out loud): "ooooo, I'm gonna to take you home tonight. ooooo, I like you regular, not light (diet). oooooo I'm gonna let you pour all out. Glass bottle Coke, you make the rockin world go round." Interesting sidenote: I am thinking of starting a Queen cover band. Just kidding. But seriously...

I love glass bottle Cokes. Not only are they usually made with regular sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, but there is just something refreshing about drinking it from the actual bottle. You know what I'm talking about. So I get to the pulperia, and I ask for a glass bottle of Coke. As the lady is walking to the cooler, a neighborhood kid walks by and starts to talk to me. When I turn back around, instead of a delicious, refreshing, sweaty (in a good way) glass bottle of Coke, there is a jiffy baggy filled with dark liquid with a straw stuck in it. Since I did not order a bag of Coke, I figured this was not for me. I stand there for a few minutes, while the sweet lady behind the counter looks at me expectantly.

ME: I just want the bottle of Coke, thank you.

In response, she points to the bag. Apparently it was for me, and it contained the contents of my bottle. I don't think there is a deposit for glass bottles down here, but I think construction companies and the like purchase used bottles to break and put on top of security walls. Jagged glass sticking out of concrete is a good back-up for rolls of barbed wire. I think not handing out glass bottles is also a security measure. In any event, many pulperias keep the bottles and pour the beverage of choice into a baggy for you.

The disappointment of not getting to drink my Coke from the bottle was quickly assuaged by two things:
1- the hilarity of drinking Coke through a straw out of a jiffy bag
b- the hilarity of the fact that I can tell people I bought a bag of coke from the convenience store on my street. c'mon, Mom...that's funny.

Hopefully this time next week, I will be enjoying a glass bottle of DR PEPPER!! (from the bottle, not a bag) Love you guys!


As of today, I am the only white person I know who likes rosquillas. I have met one other who will eat them with coffee, but that is it. Rosquillas are really a very unassuming snack food. They aren't overly delicious, nor are they outright nasty. But for some reason, I find them incredibly addictive.

Although I am fairly certain I am not the only person who snacks randomly on these things, I believe the standard mode of consumption for these bad boys is dunking in coffee. They look kind of like skinny donuts, but they are very hard. They taste the way Cheez-Its would taste if they were made from cornmeal and were a little stale. If I am not mistaken, that is really all they are...cornmeal and cheese mixed with a little water and baked in a wood burning oven. I don't think that quesillo is used, because these don't taste like feet. How people are able to procure cheese that can be used to make something delicious when there is no decent cheese stocked in the dairy section of the supermarket is beyond me. But through some form of Central American magic, it happens.

There is a little town on the road between San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa that is famous for their rosquillas. I don't know which little town it is, so I wasn't able to stop there on my trip to the capitol, but I have definitely mooched off of coworkers who have made the journey and stopped to get some rosquillas. Unfortunately, none of you will be able to mooch off of me, because they would be none too fresh by the time I deboarded. But if you ever head down this way, get you some!!
Pop quiz, hot shot! True or False: Honduras has an adult literacy rate of 80%.

And the answer is...(drum roll, please)...TRUE! That's pretty awesome, right? Yes...until you actually look at what that means. There is no international definition or standard of literacy. Yet literacy rates are used as a gauge to determine how well (or poorly) a country is doing compared to the rest of the world. How does that work? Some countries (fortunately Honduras is not one of these) define adult literacy as "anyone 15 years or old who has ever attended school". You went to kindergarten for a week? Congratulations, sir; in Hong Kong you are considered literate.

The CIA's website says that the Honduran literacy rate is determined by the percentage of people over the age of 15 who can read and write. The question of the hour: what is it they can read and write? The answer to the question: not much. If someone is able to read and write a short, simple statement related to their everyday life, they are considered literate. So there is a country full of people who can see Spot run, but they can't read the names of the political parties and nominees on a presidential ballot. There are, of course, many incredibly well-read people down here...I don't want to make it sound like someone is uneducated merely because they are Honduran. But I would like to move that touting a literacy rate of 80% is not giving an accurate reflection of the level of education that ye average Honduran receives.

If we only look at the resources a child has at their disposal at school, it quickly becomes evident that these students are at a disadvantage. Even in the nicer schools, such as the one where I am currently employed. Unless a teacher or student brings in a book from home, there are no books in the classroom at the elementary level. The library space is very nice, but it is painfully lacking in the book department. This is something the school is working on, but it is a very slow going process. Public schools are even worse. Many do not have a library at all, much less a poorly stocked one. The majority of schools are not even able to provide more than one textbook to a classroom, so the teacher is often the only one with a book.

Outside the classroom isn't much better. I don't have much personal experience inside children's homes here, so I can't say without a doubt that there is a lack of literature on their shelves. But the very limited number of bookstores containing an even more limited selection of books probably is a good indicator that there aren't too many books in the average home. There are public libraries in some areas, but they are frequently closed. Several of them do not allow the books to leave the premises as well, which doesn't do much to increase book availability.

For a long time I have been thinking of ways to make education more accessible to the average person down here. The incredible lack of literature down here has saddened me deeply, and so a lot of my thoughts have been concentrated on immediate ways to promote literacy. I have met two incredible women who are working on building schools in different parts of the country. For those of you who loved analogies in high school, they are to Honduras what Greg Mortenson is to Pakistan. One woman in particular is as concerned with providing supplies to the students as she is about providing the actual buildings themselves. She has started an organization called Project School Supplies, although she does so much more than that. Here is her website if you want to check out all the stuff this woman has going on. The work she has done down here is truly phenomenal.

A lot of things are in the air right now as far as my involvement in the future of these projects. BUT for right now, I am trying to get books. As many books as possible. Preferably children's books, and preferably in Spanish. If you would like to send some books back down here with me, please let me know!! If you aren't going to see me, you can send them to my mom's house, and I will get them from there. I would NOT recommend mailing anything down has been five months and I have not received any mail yet. boo.
Today is the last day of class in one of my chemistry sections until next year. Not next year as in January 2010, but next year as in January 2011. (The kids down here take the first semester of chemistry in 10th grade, and the second semester in 11th grade.) So in memoriam of my first semester of teaching solo, here are some reflections.

Project: Periodic Table: Yes, the name is kind of lame and not very original. But it turned out really cool. My classroom is fairly huge (which is good, considering my smallest class has 27 students), and the back wall is completely windows, boards, nothing. The perfect spot to put a gigantic periodic table. Before classes began, I measured the space available to determine what the table's dimensions would need to be. Enter the students.

Between my 8th and 10th grade courses, I have 4 classes...almost enough students for every known element. score. Each student picked their own element, and they were not allowed to choose one another student had already selected. When I introduced the project, I gave each student an 8.5"x8.5" piece of paper. Coincidentally, this is the size each element's square needed to be in order to reach the dimensions I measured over the summer, and I informed them of this. For further incentive to stay within the size constraints, five points of the final grade would be given based on whether or not your square was the appropriate size. Yes or no...five points or no points. Due day arrives, and I go to school, excited to receive the element squares and get some decoration up on the walls. Two things totally shocked me:

1- Several students in each class decided at some point in the project that they didn't like their element, so they switched. Double u...tee...eff... So now, I am missing much more than the projected four elements I was orginially going to be short, and I have multiple copies of certain elements. I ended up with four squares for thallium...who's even heard of thallium? Yet it apparently ranks higher on the "awesome element" scale than tin, lithium, and astatine. As I was setting up the actual table, I used the square of the person who was actually supposed to make it...and students got offended. Are you for real? You weren't supposed to do this one. Don't get angry with me because you don't know how to follow directions. It's still going up on the wall (those are the squares floating randomly around the actual table)...but in case you haven't seen a periodic table before, there's only room for one of each element.

2- Despite the fact that correct dimensions were worth points, and despite the fact that everyone received a square of the correct dimensions, a surprisingly large number of people went over the size restrictions. Way over. One girl turned in a poster. A 2'x3' poster. Because the 8.5"x8.5" square "wasn't big enough". (All the square needed to have was the: name, symbol, atomic number, atomic mass, and a visual representation.) This same girl was offended when I told her the only way I could put her square (technically hers was a rectangle anyways) in the periodic table would be if she cut her poster or made a new one. Seriously?

In the end, I was able to get squares of the correct dimensions from everyone. And I gave cookies to an 8th grader in exchange for making the missing 18 elements. It was totally worth it. I love my classes' periodic table.
Freedom Fries: I don't really have anything against the French. But it is fun to giggle about them. The other day, we were discussing periodic trends in chemistry. One of the trends we discussed was electronegativity, which is how strongly an atom attracts electrons. As you go down the periodic table, electronegativity decreases; as you go across the table, it increases. This means that the element with the highest electronegativity value is fluorine, and the element with the lowest is francium. As I am discussing with one of my classes, the following exchange happened:
ME: Absolutely. This means that fluorine is going to have the strongest pull on electrons, and francium is going to have the weakest.
STUDENT: Is that because it is French?

We all know that "cougar" refers to an older woman who is pursuing a younger man. I don't know what the term is when it is referring to a younger man going after an older woman...but I do know that Latino men are trained and practiced in the art of shameless flirtation at an early age. By the end of the first day of school I had already received two marriage proposals. From students. The count has steadily risen as the semester has progressed.

It is pretty hot down here, and there have been many occasions when a shirtless male student has entered my classroom.
ME: Dude, put your clothes on.
LOTHARIO: (same response from each one, every time) Are you sure you want me to, Miss?
ME: Yes. Yes I am.

Some of you are aware of the huge struggle I have had with cheating students down here. I know that cheating is a problem everywhere, but here it is a raging epidemic, and it really really bothers me. After a particularly brutal encounter with cheating in two of my classes one day, I had a discussion with random students who were wandering around after school about cheating. Two of the students were 11th graders whom I will be teaching starting in January. One of them said to me, "Don't worry, Miss. I won't cheat in your class, because you are beautiful." Perhaps one of the worst reasons I have ever heard for not cheating. But I will take it. And congratulations, sir. You are well on your way to graduating from skeezy Latino student to skeezy Latino man.

Anyone who has told me that they don't like science has quickly discovered that one of my primary functions is to get people to fall in love with it. I will sing you songs about DNA or the periodic table. I will let you play with (and even taste...Stephen...) polymers that turn into snow. I will spaz out about anything science-y. Whatever it takes to show you that science is indeed AWESOME. I have had the joy of introducing science to many young minds (some younger than others) and I have had the greater joy of seeing some of those minds really love it. Here are some of their stories:

*One boy did not participate much in my class the first bimester. If he turned something in, it was because he had copied it off of someone sitting near him. If his quiz had answers filled in, it was because the person next to him had answers filled in. After he failed the first quarter, we had a chat, and I encouraged him to stay awake one day in class...maybe he would enjoy it more. The next day, he stayed awake. He participated. He understood what was going on. And then after school, he asked me to go back over everything from the first bimester with him, because he was disappointed he had missed out on it. wow. He now has one of the highest marks in his entire grade. Rock and roll!!!

*Another boy in a different class had a debilitating combination of learning disabilities and bad attitude. Part of his problem (I think) was that he decided science was hard, so he didn't even bother trying to get it. Once he started actually trying, it was still slow going because of his learning differences. He was beginning to get discouraged, and I was having a difficult time giving him the attention he needed while still giving attention to the other 28 insane adolescents in his class. We recently began to learn about balancing equations. And that boy can balance an equation like it's nobody's business. He recently got his first 100 on an assignment (in my class at least), and asks me for extra equations to balance everyday. sweet!!!

*One of my 8th graders asked me to give him the hardest equation EVER to balance. So I googled "hardest equation to balance". This is what I got:
CuSCN + KIO3 + HCl --> CuSO4 + KCl + HCN + ICl + H2O
There were a couple others out there, but I found this one first. This kid balanced it, on my white board, before I did. You have no idea how proud he is now.

*One girl asks questions like crazy. And sometimes the questions she asks make you doubt the validity of the phrase "there's no such thing as a stupid question". Many a time she has asked a question, and I feel like David Duchovny in Zoolander. "Are...are you serious? I just told you...a moment ago..." She makes me think and rethink (and rethink again) how I explain things while I search for an explanation that will click. At the beginning of the school year, she told me that she doesn't really like science because she's never understood it. She recently wrote a paper for her English class explaining why science is her favorite subject now. BOO-YAH!

*A couple weeks ago, I was asked to develop a syllabus for an AP chemistry course. The administration really wanted to be able to offer an AP option to some of the graduating seniors. Although I am pretty sure it is too late to be certified for this year, I offered to stay after school and help students prepare for the test if they wanted to register through independent study. I am offering help to 10th and 11th graders (11th grade is senior year here), and was expecting a handful of students to be interested. As of today, 20 students have expressed interest in taking on the incredibly heavy extra work load...and I still haven't heard back from 3 classes. And a lot of the students who have signed up thus far are definitely not ones I anticipated being interested. The fever is spreading. And that fever is LOVE OF SCIENCE!!!!

So there are some highlights from my first semester as a high school science teacher. There were definitely some lowlights, but I don't want to kill my buzz. It may be something I vent about when my mood has depressed...perhaps next week as I am grading finals? :P
Much of Monday has come and gone, and my AP schedule still has not made itself. In order to give it a little more time to work itself out, I decided to peruse my old blogs. While doing so, I discovered that I never did a post about Dia de los Niños. I know you guys have probably been freaking out, wondering when the heck I'm going to write about it. Well, fellow blog-readers, fear not. Here is the much anticipated post about Children's Day. AP schedule...good luck writing yourself; I'll see you in a little bit.

Many countries celebrate Children's Day. It is a day for appreciating the joy of childhood and for promoting early childhood literacy. Here in Honduras, we skip all the literacy crap, and get straight to celebrating what childhood is really about: parties at school, presents, and candy. Each country has their own day designated for Children's Day. In Honduras, that magical day is September 10th. As a high school teacher, I did not get to celebrate with my students, although I did manage to score some leftover cake after school. (yay for kids!!) The children at my school only got one day to celebrate. In the stellar Honduran public schools, kids only went to school one day that week, and that day was spent partying. Apparently the teachers didn't think the kids had missed enough school due to the teacher strikes, so they were trying to help them out.

The partying carried on into the weekend. The little church on my street had a celebration, and I was able to help out with it. We dressed up like clowns and did some dances to these really obnoxious songs. But the kids loved them, and that's what counts, I guess. Why is it that kids love really obnoxious things? alas. We had some games and a piñata, and then we watched a movie while we ate lunch. I had been asked to rent a church appropriate movie for the kids to watch, so I got Prince of Egypt and The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything because those were the only DVDs at the store that had a Spanish language option. However, the lady who brought the DVD player didn't bring the remote, so we weren't able to change the language. Instead of doing something else, they decided that the next best option was to watch the dubbed version of Paul Blart: Mall Cop on TV. Obnoxious as that movie is, it was apparently not obnoxious enough to hold these kids' attention, so it was (thankfully) turned off quickly.

I was a bad neighbor-friend and didn't buy presents for anyone, although the kids dropped subtle hints that led me to believe they were hoping I would. (Kelley...what are you getting me for Children's Day? I really like Barbies.) Instead, I got some storybooks and fruit, and was going to read to the kids one afternoon that week. That did NOT go over well. First of all, it was difficult to find a picture book in Spanish. And by difficult I mean after visiting five bookstores, I bought a fairytale book with a quarter-sized picture introducing each fairytale, and that was the most illustrated book I could find that wasn't in English. Nextly, as you may surmise from the general lack of literature, the kids were not used to being read to and had no interest in sitting through a story. Sad day...story time is the best!!!

Well, my AP schedule has still not written itself. Rather than lament the Honduran education system, I will go do my part to improve it. Wish me luck!

At first glance, this weekend was really nothing very extraordinary. It was pretty much business as usual, except for the fact that I was much more unproductive than I usually am. Embarrassingly unproductive, actually, if you think about it. So let's not...

Despite the unassuming normalcy shrouding this weekend's memory, some pretty exciting things happened that may or may not merit a blog post. But since I am the blogger, I have given the go-ahead. Prepare yourself.

FRIDAY- Always a good day; it signals the end of a long and hard work week, and the beginning of a few sweet, sweet days of rest. This particular Friday also signified the Honduras premiere of the new Twilight movie, New Moon (or Luna Nueva as we like to call it down here). I actually saw it twice because I am a sucker, but no need to dwell on that. If you have not seen a movie with a theater full of rowdy Latinos, you really need to get on that. These people had me laughing so hard at their wacky antics. The first shot of Edward, walking in ridiculously cheesy slow motion with the wind ruffling his shirt and hair, inspired squeals from the entire female population. Loud, enamored squeals. The scene where Jacob takes off his shirt for the first time received a similar response. I don't think I have ever laughed harder than at the line where Jacob calls Bella "loca". FYI- Hispanic people think we sound retarded when we throw random Spanish words into our vocabulary. Every student in the theater shared Jacob's disappointment when the ringing phone interuppted the kiss...from the sound of it, you would have thought their team just missed a goal in soccer. The other scene of note was the point where Jacob begs Bella to stay with him instead of going to Italy. Her response was lost among yells and hollers from every single guy in the theater, calling her names that I dare not repeat on here. Apparently some people haven't read the books.

SATURDAY- Pay day. heck yeah. I got a new book- Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. It's pretty good. On the way home from depositing our checks, Gabrielle and I decided to check out Los Andes Comisariato. We have been meaning to check it out for a long time, but it is not very conveniently located. Our loss. This place is amazing. It is safe to say that they have replaced PriceSmart as my favorite store down here. These guys have EVERYTHING. I was able to get some macadamia nuts, which I have been unable to find at any other grocery store or market stand IN THE COUNTRY. They also carry Dr. Pepper, the sweet nectar of life. And their dairy selection is both exceptional and reasonably priced. Walking past the wide variety of cheeses and milk (REAL milk. and heavy whipping cream!!! eeeeeeeee!!!!!!) made me feel giddy. Just thinking about it now makes me feel a little light-headed and joyful. Also, their hug tubs of minced garlic puts PriceSmart's to shame. And they have the most amazing selection of fruits and vegetables I have seen down here. sigh. I could go on and on.

That night was going to be chill, just hanging around the apartment. But then my friend Eunice called and asked if I wanted to go to Applebee's. I didn't particularly want to go but she said, "please, please, please", and as we all know, I am a sucker. So I got all dudded up and headed out. It was a lot of fun. Before you judge me too severely...they had a live band. Eunice's brother-in-law is the drummer for the Funky Monkeys, who happened to be playing there that evening. They were really good, in fact, they were so good, there were many times when I forgot for a moment that I was at an Applebee's. Really the only beef I have with them is that their lead singer, Joe, doesn't like Bon Jovi. What the mess? After the band finished, we all headed out to a bar called The Caribbean where I got to see Sampedrano nightlife at its finest. All in all, it was a very special evening, as one might suppose from the trip to Applebee's.

And now here we are, Monday again. sigh. And somehow, with all of the specialness and magic of the weekend, my finals did not finish writing themselves. Nor did the AP chemistry schedule magically figure itself out. weak.
Some of you have heard of (and subsequently laughed at) my intense desire to be a spy when I was a freshman in college. And for those of you who were unaware...the cat's out of the bag. My first semester at Texas Tech marked the first of many changes in major, from biology to political science. I was going to be James Bond, only female and less promiscuous. I even took courses in Russian so I would be totally ready for the next Cold War. A meeting with a CIA recruiter showed me I didn't have what it took to be a covert operative. Or so I thought...

Fast forward eight years. One weekend, Gabrielle and I are looking for something to do. Guatemala's close...let's do that. So we hop in the car and take off for the frontera. As you might imagine, we are stopped at the border, and our passports are checked. We had recently gotten our visas extended, so there was some special paperwork we needed to discuss with the customs agent. Then the nice man handed us our passports, said we were good to go, and sent us on our merry way into the Guatemalan unknown. It struck us as odd that we didn't receive any sort of stamp...but a lot of things don't make sense here, so we didn't dwell on that thought for long.

After about 30 minutes of nothing but banana fincas, we drove past what looked like a rest stop of sorts: a little shack with a Coca-Cola sign, lots of people sitting outside at picnic tables, big-rigs pulled over on the side of the road, and a small group of police officers. Nothing we felt particularly compelled to stop at, so we moved on in search of something interesting.

A short ways down the highway, we stumbled upon the Hibiscus Museum. Although I didn't see any actual hibiscuses (hibisci?) they did have a really pretty nature trail behind the museum. Inside there was a large collection of traditional Guatemalan clothing and textiles. The couple that owns the museum (which is also a restaurant) collected these for many years before opening this place up to promote cultural awareness. They also serve some amazing food. Some of the menu items have the same name as menu items in Honduras, but are prepared differently, which I thought was really interesting as well.

As it turns out, there really isn't much in this region of Guatemala. The woman at the museum pointed us to Puerto Barrios as the closest place of interest. Or really, the closest place, period. There was a market there, which we hoped would have textiles and things of that nature, but it was mostly stand after stand of black market DVDs and shoes. Not exactly what we were hoping for, and it was getting late in the day, so we decided to head back for home. On the way out of town, we were distracted by a replica of the Taj Mahal surrounded by a random assortment of brightly colored structures, so we decided to check it out. As it turns out, it was the city cemetery.

Guatemalans are known for their (some say garishly) colorful clothing and textiles. I didn't know that it carried over into other (or all) aspects of their culture. But apparently cemeteries at least also fall into the technicolor part of their cultural spectrum. I took a picture of it, but the data was corrupted so I can't share it with you...but I kid you not, the cemetery is sponsered by Sherwin Williams. ah-mazing.

We looked around the cemetery for awhile, then hopped back in the car. As you might expect, the drive back was similar to the drive there, only in reverse. That is, until we reached the rest stop. It looked exactly the same as it did earlier that day: people sitting at picnic tables outside the Coca-Cola shack, big-rigs pulled over on either side, and the group of police officers hanging out. Only this time the police officers wave us over and tell us we need to go inside.

We enter the small structure to discover, not the small comedor or pulperia we were expecting, but a customs agent at a desk. The man takes my passport and flips through the pages. When he reaches the end, he flips through again. He does this a couple times, and things begin to feel a little awkward. He then sets my passport down and informs me that I don't have an entry stamp, which I knew...but apparently that was the elephant in the room and he wanted to acknowledge it. Then he tells me we should have stopped by there on our way into the country to get our stamp. You may find this hard to believe, but I have driven past many shacks with Coca-Cola signs on them without going in to get my passport stamped, and this was the first time it's ever posed a problem. Or maybe all of that errant passport-stamp avoiding recklessness finally caught up with me. Whichever the case, if he gives us an exit stamp, he will also give us a fine. Nothing too insurmountable, but definitely more than "zero", which is what my budget for illegal country visits is currently set at.

"But the guy said we were good to go," I said in incredibly broken Spanish.
"What guy? I've been here all day."
"The guy who stopped us at the border."
"The Honduran border?"
"Well, of course he said you were good to go. From Honduras. But that doesn't mean you are good to come. You have done a bad thing."
awesome. I think I might have whimpered a little bit at this point. Even more awesome.

Now the goodly customs agent had a decision to make. Were we trying to scam him? Or were we just two crazy American girls? The kind of people who don't innately know you need to stop in a small, unmarked shack to get an entry stamp after 30 minutes of driving past the border of the country for which said stamp is required? Fortunately he decided it was the latter, and let us go after we promised that next time we'd get a stamp. And since we paid for our meal in cash, there is nothing to say that we were in Guatemala that afternoon. It's like were never there.

In the biz, they call us "spooks". I'd tell you more, but then I'd have to kill you.
Jimmy Stewart I am not. And I wasn't appointed to a seat in the Senate. But this past weekend I had the opportunity to go to Honduras's capital city to observe their presidential elections. Fortunately, my tale involves much less politcal corruption than the movie, although it is definitely fraught with drama.

During the extended curfew we experienced a couple months back, I read about the opportunity to observe the elections. Elections here are conducted by the Tribunal Supremo Electoral, which is a non-government entity, although I believe the chairpeople are appointed by the president. Normally, members of the OAS (Organization of American States), as well as other interested foreign diplomats, are invited to come and observe the election process from start to finish in order to ensure that all the rules are followed and democracy is upheld. In light of the recent political madness, the invite was extended to any interested parties in the hopes of providing transparency to the process. If I understand/remember correctly, there were over 800 observers from 31 countries this year. The UN cut funding to the TSE, so they had fewer workers and more incoming observers, so the Alianza de Paz y Democracia helped organize volunteers and observers.

They were calling for people to observe in polls throughout the country. Since I live here, I thought it would be fun to help out. I emailed the Alianza to inform them that I lived here in San Pedro Sula and to ask how I could help out. They asked me to fill out an application to be an observer. Shortly after, I received an invitation from the TSE, welcoming me to observe the elections. Then I heard nothing for several weeks. This past Monday, I received an email that essentially said "see you in Teguz this weekend!" oh, ok. I has assumed that I would be doing stuff here in San Pedro since that's where I am, but a trip to the capital sounded exciting. The real issue was that they didn't say when or where they would see me, other than "this weekend" (that spans a couple days) and Teguz (the largest city in Honduras). I shot back an email asking for some details so I could figure out my travel plans.

Friday afternoon around 2:30 I received an email informing me that I could pick up my ID badge and other credentials at the training session 5:00 that evening in Teguz. So now I knew "when" but not "where". Another issue had arisen with this new information, as well: with current road conditions, Teguz is a solid 7 hour drive from SPS. Not even the lack of enforced speed limits in this country would get me there in time. A couple emails and a phone call later, I hit the road for the capital city. Apparently there would be another training session in the morning at the Hotel Maya. I could stay there for a discounted rate and get my credentials in the morning. Good deal.

I checked into my hotel at 11:30pm. The fanciest hotel I have ever been in. The kind of hotel where they carry your bags to your room, even if you try to take it back from them. And even with my "discount" my three night stay was almost as much as a month's rent. But heck, it's kind of like a vacation, I guess. And the conveniece of not having to drive around in an unfamiliar city that doesn't believe in street signs seemed worth it. The woman I had spoken to earlier was unsure if the training was at 8:00 or 9:00 the next morning, so I got downstairs at 7:45am and looked around. No one was there, so I went to look for a spare tire (I know, mom. But it isn't my fault...apparently no one in Honduras has rims for a Mitsubishi Lancer...I tried 5 different places in Teguz. nada) and got back to the hotel a little before 9. It seemed strangely quiet for a hotel that was about to have a training session for hundreds of international volunteers. I asked the guy at the front desk where the training was going to be, and he told me that he had no idea what I was talking about. cool. So I called the woman I had spoken to the night before. No answer. awesome.

Two choices were ahead of me: wait around the hotel for some sort of word, or explore. I opted for the second. Tegucigalpa is a beautiful city, and it was so fun to look around. I drove up to the zoo, which I had heard was the finest in the country. It had very nice parking facilities and a beautiful entrance gate, but that was as far as I could get legally. There was a beautiful park nearby that I got to check out. This park is home to el Cristo de Picacho, a statue of Christ looking over the city. There was also a musem, but it was also closed. Around this time, I received a phone call from my contact at the Alianza. The meeting that morning had been canceled (which I had kind of gathered) but there was a luncheon for the observers at 1pm and she would bring my credentials there.

The luncheon ended up being nowhere close to the hotel, and I didn't feel comfortable doing that much exploring on an empty stomach. So I grabbed a taxi and headed out. On the way, I received a text from the lady at the Alianza. She had to go to the airport to pick someone up, but another woman would have my credentials at the luncheon, and she gave me the woman's cell number. I arrived at the restaurant and asked where I could find this other woman, but no one had heard of her. I tried calling her, but it was a wrong number. drang. So I went in search of food. Food makes me feel better, and this was even bigger plus. Much to my dismay, I discovered that the buffet was not open yet. And I was the only person not in a suit. And probably the only person who had been on a sweaty hike that morning. I wasn't the only person wearing jeans, but the other guy was wearing expensive jeans with fancy boots and a sports jacket. awwwwwwesome.

At this point, I did what any grown woman in this situation would do. I called my daddy. After a quick little pep talk (good job, Dad! it really helped!) I jumped back into the game. It might have been better if I had gone in knowing that I would be the most unimportant person present. But it seems that learning things school-of-hard-knocks style is my lot in life. Everyone there worked for a senator, or represented a prime minister, or they were a prime minister or ambassador. And if they weren't, it was because they were CEOs of companies, or presidents of organizations. Or they were me. All around me were people rubbing elbows and passing out business cards (oh, right. I was also the only person who did not have a business card. Here, let me write out my contact information for you on this cocktail napkin. Yeah, I'm just a science teacher. Well, I've never heard of you, either! Fortunately not too many people I know read your little "Time" magazine or whatever.) And many of these people were confused that a random science teacher, completely unaffiliated with anyone important, would be invited to do something as important as this. Confusing it may have been, but I had a poorly translated letter from the president of the TSE. I had just as much right to be there as anyone.

Fortunately I found some people who didn't mind that I wasn't important. We shared a delightful buffet, and then I finally found the elusive woman who had my credentials. Or at least thought she had my credentials. We headed out to her car, but they were not there. Fortunately, there was a training session that night at the hotel, and she would give them to me there. Oh, not the hotel they told me about...the other hotel. So much for my convenience plan. I was about to go hail a cab when a bus full of pirates unloaded in front of the restaurant. For one whimsical moment, I thought maybe a group of representatives from a pirate nation had come to do their part in upholding democracy. Then I realized how retarded that was and followed them inside to see what they were doing. They were a Garifuna dance troop, come to do the mandatory cheesy/touristy native drum and dance routine for all the visiting big-wigs. I love Garifuna music, and the dancing was pretty interesting. I stayed for a couple songs and then headed back to the hotel to freshen up.

Saturday night: I drove to the Marriott to pick up my ID and do a little training. It takes me some time to get through the door because I don't have my ID yet. So that was fun. Then I set off to find the lady with my stuff, but she was no where to be found. I gave her a call to discover she had already left, but she gave my stuff to "the guy in the coat". Oh, you mean the guy in Honduras with the coat? The one with a name? No, no name. But the lady up front would know who I meant. Only she didn't, so I was taken to the conference room on the 11th floor. You needed a special key to get on the floor. It was pretty exciting. The woman in the room was not very pleased to see me. I soon discovered it was because she had been told that I had lost my stuff. That misconception was soon set right, and we started to get my stuff together. She had a difficult time finding my paperwork, so we began to input the information for my ID without it. The information was no problem, but it was apparently very inconvenient of me to not carry around spare passport-sized photos of myself in case of just such an emergency. Further searching in the computer got my picture, and we were good to go. ID...check. Shirt...check. Hat...check. Vest...we're out, but you don't need one. OK. See you tomorrow morning at 8 in the lobby.

By the time we finished, the training session was nearly over, so I headed back to my hotel to get some sleep. 12:30am, my phone rings. It is the Alianza. Some people want to go watch the polls get set up, so we are leaving at 6am instead. See you then!!!

A few (very) short hours later, I arrive at the hotel, ready to go. I am the only one there. A few (very) long hours later, the last of the people we are waiting for arrive, and we pull out of the hotel parking lot at 8:30am. During this time, the woman who was supposed to give me my stuff has managed to get me a vest. She made a very big deal about it, and said it was because I looked so depressed that I didn't have one. Not at all why I was depressed. But what's a couple hours of sleep when you have a sweet vest?

We hit up 6 different voting stations in Teguz and the surrounding areas. It was fascinating to get to watch their voting process. If you live in Honduras and have a citizen ID, you are registered to vote. They give you a card that tells you what station and room you have to go to, and you cannot vote anywhere else. A volunteer matches your ID to a book they have with a copy of the ID of every person who can vote in that room. Then they hand you your ballots. The ballots are sheets of paper with the candidates pictures on them so that people who can't read can still vote. The backs of the paper are stamped by the president of the TSE and signed by the person in charge of the particular poll you are at. You take your papers behind the little booth and mark the square of the person you wish to vote for. Then you come back out, give the papers to a person who verifies that it is a legitimate ballot and marked correctly and stamps it. Then you drop it in the ballot box, sign and fingerprint under the copy of your ID in the book, and the last step is getting your pinky finger stained so you don't try to vote again.

The poll locations were like little parties. Music was playing, kids were running around, people were selling food, and everyone came out of the polls showing off their blackened fingers. It was so cool to see people so excited about voting. It was an incredibly different experience from voting in the States. Every place we went, people were so excited to see us (the observers). People shook our hands, thanked us for coming, and were very eager to show us around and answer questions. Many of the locations my particular group went to were in very rough parts of town and areas that had seen a lot of trouble from the Resistance (Zelaya supporters). That was all gone yesterday. There had been concerns of violence at the poll stations, and thus a concern of low voter turn-out. As far as I know, there weren't any major incidents anywhere, and about 62% of Hondurans showed up to vote. That's better than the turn-out from the last US presidential election!!

Polls were supposed to close at 4, but remained open an extra hour due to high voter turn-out. As an international observer, I was allowed to see the call room where poll results were phoned in through the new system Honduras was testing out this year. It's a really neat system, very high-tech, and they are the second nation in Latin America to put it to use. That evening the TSE declared Pepe Lobo, the candidate from the National Party, Honduras's president elect. Zelaya is, of course, causing a fuss and declaring that the vote was not legitimate. Hopefully people won't listen to him.

The list of countries recognizing this election is slowly growing. The Colombian government released a statement today declaring their acceptance of Pepe Lobo as the new Honduran president. Hopefully the US will hold true to their word. The Honduran Congress is meeting this week to decide whether or not Zelaya should be allowed to return until Pepe's inauguration. So far, Honduras has kept their end of the accord. The official US stance is that Zelaya be returned to power. Hopefully we will keep our end of the arrangement, regardless of whether or not we like the outcome. There really is not a legitimate reason to disregard what happened this weekend.

I am so proud of the people of this country. And I am so honored to have been able to see democracy at its finest. Viva Honduras!

Saturday morning I was exploring Honduras's capital city and I stumbled across the zoological gardens. Sadly, the zoo itself was closed. Happily, they still charged me admission. Wait, scratch that. I wasn't really excited to find out that the zoo was closed after I had already paid. Alas. But then I saw this sign:

I had heard of the Cristo del Picacho statue, and I was really excited to have stumbled upon it. The arrow was pointing to a trail, so I parked my car and headed down the trail. As you might expect if you have read your Bible, the path was narrow and difficult. Also, there were not many people on it. The reason there were not many people on it, however, was not because they are all a bunch of slacker sinners. It was because the sign lied to me. This particular path does not lead to Jesus. It leads to a highway. The same statue-less highway I drove up on. awesome.
The hike back to the car was exhausting (Teguz is at a much higher elevation than San Pedro), and I'm probably going to be really sore tomorrow. As I (finally) approached my car to head back to the hotel, the little old man who was guarding the parking lot asked me if I had found Jesus. I told him that I took the trail but failed to find this gigantic, yet somehow strangely elusive statue. He then told me that the reason I didn't see the statue on that trail is because the statue is not even in that direction. I desperately wished I knew enough Spanish to ask why that sign is there if it doesn't point people in the right direction, but I had to be content with asking him for proper directions.

The old man pointed down the road, so I hopped into my car and soon came to another park. It was very beautiful, with many trails going in different directions. I picked a path and began walking. At long last I saw him standing tall above the trees.

It is a beautiful statue overlooking the city. The view was breathtaking. Totally worth the misdirection at the beginning. And my adventure on this literal walk gave some interesting insight to my own spiritual walk. Nothing I particularly care to post, but if you ask me about it I will be happy to share. In the meantime, here are some pictures. The scritpure quoted is I guess the inspiration for the statue. To save you some time looking it up, it says "Then he led them out at far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up to heaven. Luke 24:50-51"

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!! Hope everyone has had a wonderful holiday filled with delicious food and loving family.

Thanksgiving isn't really celebrated down here, but they do have a celebration at the school. So today after 2nd period, the whole school gathered for a mini-mass in the gym, and then we all feasted together. It was pretty awesome. One of my homeroom parents cooked a beautiful turkey for our class, and the PTA provided rice, mashed potatoes, bread, and cake. I was going to make sweet potato casserole but was unable to procure the majority of the ingredients, namely the sweet potatoes themselves. I did, however, find cranberry sauce at the grocery store!!! Our celebration was most excellent, despite the lack of one more carb one our plates...

In the spirit of the day, I wanted to throw out some things that I am thankful for. There are many things that I take for granted, and I have recognized this in the past. But nothing shoves the things you take for granted in your face more than living in a developing country.

I am so thankful for you, my friends and family. Your love and presence in my life is an immeasurable blessing. Each of you has helped to make me the person I am today, and I would not be who I am, where I am, without you. Your encouragement and support through the good times, bad times, and really really crappy times in my life are very much appreciated. And I am so thankful that even though I am not with you, I still have you.

Lately (to be read "since I moved here") I have complained about the internet. It's too slow. It doesn't work when it's raining. It doesn't work when more than one person tries to use it. It doesn't work because it's sunny. blah blah blah, on and on goes my list of complaints. But I am thankful that I do have it, erratic and crappy though it may be. It is better than nothing. And through the magic of the internet, I have able to keep in touch through email, chat, facebook, magicjack, and skype. Thank you, Al Gore.

I am thankful for my job. I make less money now than I did as a waitress in college. But I make money. Enough to pay my bills and still be able to explore this beautiful world God created. And to eat multiple meals everyday. I have indoor plumbing and a refrigerator, a solid roof over my head, and an air conditioning unit. And I have ample opportunity to share these blessings with others. I am truly a wealthy woman.

I am so thankful to be a child of God. That he loves me as I am, but desires so much more for me. That he has given me a role to play in his master plan. That he has given me all of these things, not only to show me how much he loves me, but also to show me how I can be more like him. And that he has patience and grace for me when I screw it up.

Again, I hope you are all having a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. Sorry this wasn't very funny. I'm not Matt Chandler, and it is hard for me to inject humor into something like this (as you can tell by some of my weak attempts towards the beginning). Besos y Abrazos. Thanks for listening.
As I mentioned in a previous post, some things are a little different here compared to back in the States. Shocking, I know. One thing that is very different, and a little bit confusing, is the name situation. Not the names themselves, but the quantity of them. For those of you unfamiliar with Hispanic culture/customs, you need to understand that they really like names and have as many of them as possible. And it confuses the mess out of this poor gringa.

Your typical Honduran has four names: first first name, second first name, first last name, second last name. My "Honduran" name would be Kelley Nicole Stephan Bishop, or Kelley Nicole Stephan de Bishop, depending on how formal you wanted to be. So all of my students have four names. That wouldn't be a problem, except they are not consistent in which names they use. It is kind of mood driven, I think.

For example, I have a student who is listed in all school records as Juan Castillo. For the first couple weeks, I thought he was absent because I never got any work from him. But I kept getting work from Juan Rey, who was not listed in anything I got from the school. One day Juan Rey approaches me and asks why his grades aren't available online, and I tell him he isn't on my register so I can't enter his grades. At this point I learn that he is Juan Rey Castillo. oh, ok. Several days later, a teacher comes in and asks me about Moises. I don't have any students named Moises. So we figure he's in another section. Then one of the girls from his class comes in and asks if I have seen Moises. I don't know who Moises is. But apparently I do. Apparently Juan's full name is Juan Moises Rey Castillo. And sometimes he likes to be called Moises but sometimes he likes to be called Juan. His application for the school has his name as Juan Moises Rey Castillo, but his birth certificate is Moises Juan Castillo Rey. I changed the names because I can't use real student information. But I have a similar story for at least one student in each of my classes. It is a lot to keep up with.

I am helping with the elections next week, and recently received an email from a Dra. Lissa Matute Cano. Before I could even get to the "difficult" part of my response (I was writing in my very limited Spanish) I had reached a dilemma: which name do I use? The first last name? The second? Both? Too many choices to even do a coin toss for. Fortunately, two of my students were in the room. So I asked which would be appropriate to use. The response? "psssh, I don't know, Miss. All of these names are confusing. My first last name is one thing, but on all of the school stuff, they use the other. On my passport they put both, but on my drivers license they only put the first one. I don't think it really matters. We are confusing with our names." Straight from the horse's mouth.

Despite all of the confusion that comes from having a thousand names that you can use at will, it is apparently equally confusing to have too few. I was recently interviewed by the student council because I am a new teacher. First question: "ok, Miss, what is your full name?" I responded truthfully. Kelley Nicole Stephan. Instead of being met with a second question, however, I was met with the same question, with emphasis placed on key words. "ok. What is your full name?" I explained that in the United States, it isn't customary to have four names...some people do, but by no means everyone. Blank stares. The girl writing down the responses looked a little flustered. Then one of the boys asked, "well, what's your mother's last name?" I told them her maiden name, and he said, "just write that down. We don't want to confuse people." Gotta love tolerance for cultural differences.

Horchata means many different things to many different people. I believe the drink originated in Spain, where they make it from ground up "tiger nuts" (not sure exactly what those are). It was brought over to Latin America, where there aren't a lot of tigers or tiger nuts. Each country in Latin America has their own variation of horchata, and each country thinks theirs is the best. I have only sampled Honduran horchata but it is really, really good.

Horchata is basically rice milk. Or rather, since I don't know what rice milk actually is, it is what I assume rice milk to be. Here in Honduras horchata is made from rice, cinnamon, and morro seeds. (Morro seeds are, I think, seeds from a calabash. Different sources say different things, and I have not been able to confirm this. However, I can confirm that there is no such thing as a morro plant.) Basically, you soak uncooked rice for a couple hours, toast the morro seeds and some cinnamon sticks, then blend all three together. Add water, strain out the chunks, and add sugar and lime to your taste. If I ever get the opportunity to try other variations of horchata, I will let you know. But for now, a cold glass of this stuff on a hot and humid Honduran afternoon is absolutely fantastic.

If you want to actual recipe, let me know. It's really fast and easy. I can even tell you some things to substitute for the morro seeds if you need to, although supposedly they are easy enough to find in the Latin food section of your local grocery store.

Last year for International Talk Like a Pirate Day, I forced an entire class of prekindergarteners to dress and talk like pirates. It was a beautiful thing. This year, since I no longer had a crew of 4-year-olds to do my bidding, I had to figure out another way to celebrate. Fortunately, I am in the middle of pirate territory (pirates of yore, not Somalian pirates). So in honor of TLaPD, I went on a swashbuckling adventure to the nearby town of Omoa.

Omoa is a tiny coastal town about 45 minutes west of San Pedro Sula. It is a fairly sleepy little town, with nothing really of note except a SEA FORTRESS. The Fortaleza San Fernando de Omoa was built by the Spaniards back in the late 1700s to defend Spanish territories in Honduras from pirates and French and British troops. While it did a stellar job staving off the first two, the British were able to capture the fort and occupy it for a short period of time before they abandoned it. I believe they abandoned it within a matter of weeks. Spain snatched it back up and occupied until a coalition of Central American countries declared independence in 1823. Omoa was the last area of Spanish military presence in Central America.

The Federal Republic of Central America was fairly short lived as far as countries go. It soon dissolved into what is now known as the Central American 5- Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and El Salvador. I am unsure of the exact year, but in the late 1800s/early 1900s, the fort in Omoa became Honduras' most notorious prison. In 1959, the government recognized what an important historical landmark it was and declared it as such. Current efforts are being made to restore it to its original state, although I am not sure what original state they mean. To clarify (so you can be as confused as I am) would think that original state means...the state it was in originally. Walls are being replastered, mold damage is being repaired, rotten wood is being replaced, etc. Thus far things are making sense. There are many areas that still have bullet and cannon damage from when the British captured the fort. It is pretty neat to see how well it has been preserved. According to our guide "those walls aren't going to be changed". However...there is damage on every wall, save one. So...I am not exactly understanding how the original state is going to be achieved if every wall except for one is not going to be restored. I guess I am not an archaeologist or scholar really of any kind, so my opinion isn't really that important. But man, I really am curious.
Here are a couple shots of the fort, and then a model of what the fort/surrounding area looked like before the coastline changed. It is now much further inland than it was originally.

Not many people are aware that the Mayan civilization reached as far south as Honduras. It really is Honduras's fault, because they have these amazing ruins and they don't really do anything to let people know about them. Too bad for Honduran tourism, awesome for people like you and me who can go see these amazing places with no crowds.

Friday morning-ish we headed out from San Pedro Sula. I was driving on the awesome Honduran highway and decided it would be fun to play "The Pot Hole Game". The way you play is: run through pot holes at high speeds. It's a lot of fun. Mom really enjoyed playing. After a few hours we reached the town of La Entrada. As we pulled into town, I won the pot hole game! For those of you still unfamiliar with the rules, that means I got a flat tire. Bent the wheel up pretty good. We didn't have a spare, but I was smart enough to get the flat right down the street from a tire shop. They didn't have any wheels, but they had a sledge hammer, and they were able to pound the rim back into shape, no problem. And it only cost Lps. 25...a little over a dollar. Heck yeah.

We hit the road again and reached Copan Ruinas after a couple hours. The incredibly hilly, cobblestone street town of Copan Ruinas. We hit the slopes in the heavily loaded (4 adults plus luggage) Mitsubishi Lancer, and I think we actually made it up one hill. The rest of them were a little too much for the awesome quality vehicle we had. That one hill was enough to get us to our hotel, though. We stayed at the Casa de Cafe. It was a great place. If you ever find yourself in Copan Ruinas, I recommend this place.

Saturday we hit the town. First stop: The Butterfly Garden. We got there early enough to see some butterflies emerge from their cocoons. Amazing. Then we walked around an enclosed garden with...30 species of butterflies, I think. I don't remember. It was beautiful. In the first picture, there is a butterfly on my mom's knee.

Next stop was Macaw Mountain. Cheesy name, really cool concept. It is a rehabilitation center/bird sanctuary for tropical birds. I am not even going to pretend to know how many species they have, ranging from parrots and toucans to owls and eagles. But they have a lot, and it was absolutely beautiful as well. In addition to being a bird sanctuary, it is also a coffee plantation, so we got to have some delicious coffee right off the plantation. And we got to eat a coffee...fruit...I guess. Whatever the beans come from. The fruit is actually really yummy, too! In these picture, the person who isn't either of my parents is my neighbor/coworker/friend/travel buddy Gabrielle.

That afternoon Mom, Dad, and I headed out for a canopy tour. Yes folks, my mother actually strapped on a little belt, hooked it onto a steel cable, and slid down kilometers of cable thousands of feet about the forest floor. And I think she giggled a little. If I can snag the video from her at Christmas I will post it for you skeptics who think I am lying.
The next morning we hit up the ruins. This is actually a HUGE site, but because it is in doesn't get a lot of attention from tourists or scholars. There is a lot of stuff that they are wanting to do, but they don't have the funds, which is a shame. Some really interesting things about this particular site:
They have the largest hieroglyphic stairwell in Mayan civilization. It is beautiful. Archaeologists believe it was a timeline at one point, almost like a story. But an earthquake knocked the stones out of place about a century ago, and the people just kind of threw the stones back on in random order. Apparently Harvard is slowly working on attempting to order the steps. Considering the staircase contains over 2500 stones and spans 17 is quite a daunting task.

The city is built in layers, as is the case with many archaeological sites. Underneath this temple, there are at least two other temples that have been discovered. The top one is called Rosa Lila because its paint has remained almost perfectly preserved. All of the stone ruins that we see now used to be covered in colorful plaster and paint.

The Mayans are pretty well known for the astronomy/astrology skillz and their ability to use those skills to predict the future. In fact, the movie 2012 that is coming out this week is based on the Mayan prediction that the end of the world is coming in 2012. I never believed any of that crazy mumbo jumbo until I saw this statue of my dad. The similarity was a little unnerving at first, but now that I am over the initial shock I am able to start preparing for the end of the world. Only a couple years left, people. As you can see, the Mayans knew what they were talking about.

Mayan kings had some very interesting names. Like King Smoke Snail. King Smoke Monkey. King Smoke Shell. And King 18 Rabbit. Who says Mayans weren't mighty? 18 Rabbit was one of the most influential rulers of Copan. Or, at least he was the last one. So his name is everywhere, and his image is on everything. Obviously, he couldn't have been that great because the civilization ended with him. But, bless his heart, I'm sure he did the best he could. In homage of his late royal highness, here is a photo of the royal pavilion in the square with my father and (if you look closely, you can make out) Queen 18 Rabbit-ears Wendy.


While my parents were here visiting we ate lunch at a bird reserve in Copan. It was here that we were introduced to pollo con loroco (sin zapatos). And it was amazing. I saw some at the grocery store this week and thought I would share it with you.

Loroco is a type of flowery-vine, I believe. It is not grown commercially...most people have a couple vines in their gardens or yards. Thus it is not always seen at the store here, and it isn't seen fresh in stores in the states (I think you guys can buy it pickled or in brine...probably not as yummy). I believe the flowers are edible, but the buds are what is most commonly eaten. They taste a little like broccoli (the stalks, not the little sprout tops). Maybe a mix between broccoli and brussel sprouts...although I have only had brussel sprouts once, a long time ago, and I didn't really like them. But I love the loroco.
It isn't on a lot of menus when you go out, as you might expect. When my parents and I had it, it was served in a creamy sauce on top of grilled chicken (yum!!!). I have also seen it in pupusas (kind of like tortilla pancakes, if you haven't heard of them). Today I am making them in a sauce with cream and tomatoes. I was originally going to make a tomato-loroco salad, but I don't know if I trust eating them without cooking them first. But I am attempting to pickle some, so I'll let you know how that turns out.
If you are ever traveling through Central America and see something on the menu with loroco, I definitely recommend you give it a shot. Because it will more than likely be absolutely delicious.
Mom called me this week and said that the Dallas Morning News (I think?) had an article stating that Mel Zelaya is returning to power. This is definitely a premature claim, considering there is going to be a vote about it this week. I have a long list of jaded comments I could make, but I'll just leave it at "we'll see what happens." In any event, I'll do my best to catch y'all up on the current goings-on.

We left off last time with Mel covertly re-entering the country and holing up in the Brazilian embassy. The country was essentially on lockdown for several days, but things began to normalize (in most of the country, at least...I hear the capital, Tegucigalpa, has been a pretty crazy place since the end of June) and rumors of talks between Zelaya and Micheletti began to fly. (As a quick side note- a talk between these two has been "in the works" since shortly after Mel was flown out of the country. Micheletti refuses any compromise that includes Mel returning to power, while Mel refuses any compromise not including there has been a bit of a gridlock.) The day the curfew was lifted, the headlines read something along the lines of "Plans to Compromise Being Discussed". But that same headline, or at least one similar, was on the front page everyday for a week before they finally realized that it wasn't really news. It really looked like there was going to be no progress made on that front for a long time. With national elections just around the corner, things were looking pretty bleak. (If you didn't read the other post about this...unless Mel is reinstated, the newly elected leader will not be recognized by other world leaders. That was the threat, at least.)

Finally something changed. People from both parties met with a group of American negociators headed up by Thomas Shannon. The result of this meeting is the Guaymuras Accord, aka the Tegucigalpa/San Jose Accord. This basically gives the Honduran Congress (with approval from their Supreme Court) the final say in what happens next. Ironically, this is exactly where the country was at the end of June. Way to go, USA. Thanks for all of your help.

Congress will be voting this week to determine when, if, and how Zelaya should be reinstated. According to Mr. Shannon, Honduras will be backed by the US, regardless of the outcome of the vote. Based on Mel's reaction (during a radio interview, he said that this signifies his return to power and peace to Honduras) and things that I have been reading, it seems that the USA is fairly confident that Mel is going to be returned to presidency. It makes me wonder if the USA will back Honduras no matter what...unless they don't vote the way they are "supposed" to. We will soon find out...Congress will be holding their vote later this week at the earliest. There is no deadline for their decision, so who knows when they will reach their decision.

Honduran elections are coming up at the end of this month, and I have an exciting opportunity for you! :) The Tribunal Supremo Electoral (an independent entity that is in charge of the elections) is asking for international volunteers to witness the upcoming election. They are hoping to show the rest of the world that they truly are a democratic nation. It is over Thanksgiving weekend, so I know that most people won't be able to come down and help. But if you think you know someone who might be interested, please pass this information along!

Volunteers will need to get here no earlier than the (early) morning of Friday, November 27 for training. I am including a link with regulations and a letter from the Alliance for Peace and Democracy, as well as the application if you are interested in coming down. Prayers are good, too. And I guess you don't have to come down for that. :) Thanks!!!
Those of you who know me well know my passion for food. Particularly garlic and cheese. I never thought there would be a day that I would try a cheese I didn't like. Well, brace yourself for something dreadful: that day has come.

Hondurans don't have much of a national identity per se. However, there are two things that unify the people of this country: soccer and food. Although I barely showed even the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, in my previous entry, hopefully I have left you with the impression that a) Hondurans LOVE their national soccer team, and b) there is some freaking delicious food down here. Hondurans have many dishes that they proudly claim as their own- baleadas, mondongo soup, and conch soup to name a few. And there is a good reason for their pride. Every place I have gone, someone has told me about something that I "have" to eat. (I think that being skinny helps attract food suggestions...definitely not going to complain about that!) My landlord and coworkers constantly throw restaurant/meal suggestions at me. Students bring me food from their favorite comedor or (my favorite) that they have made. No Honduran had ever steered me wrong when it came to their delicious national food. Fool that I am, I began to believe that EVERYTHING here was delicious. Then the cheese man came into my life.

Around the time I moved down here, I began to read a blog by an expat living in La Ceiba (3rd largest city here in the Honduras). One of her entries mentioned Honduran cheese and how incredibly awful it was. "Surely not!" I thought to myself. "How can cheese not be good?" Alas, the madness that is moving soon distracted me from these unpleasant thoughts, and I soon forgot about this travesty.

Then one day at school, some of my students were telling me about foods that I needed to eat. Random foreign words were being flung at me in a verbal frenzy, yet in the chaos my ears picked up on the word "quajada". CHEESE! Although I did not believe what I read in the blog, I threw it out there that I heard it was kind of gross. You know...devil's advocate and all that. Immediately an angry swarm of Honduran students adamantly denied these allegations.

"Miss, it is the most delicious thing you will ever lay your lips on!" (yeah, they say cute things lke that)
"ay, no miss!! tan rico!" "Rrrrrico!" "Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrico!!!!!" (Spanish 101- the more r's you put at the beginning of the word "rico", the more delicious/awesome whatever you are describing is).

With all of those rolling r's, how could it be bad? I knew that blog was wrong! As luck would have it, the security guard for my apartment building approached me as I came home from a walk that very evening. Through a wonderful language we have concocted consisting of incorrectly used English words, Spanish words I don't really know, grunts, and hand gestures, he told me that the man driving a horse-drawn cart was coming and he sold the most delicious cheese in the world. Hand made. It was so Fiddler on the Roof (except with Honduran Catholic instead of a Russian Jew). Plus with all the rolling r's the guard threw in to describe the vast incredible-ness of this cheese, I couldn't resist. 30 Lps. (a little over $1) bought me a half a pound of the purportedly delicious cheese, and I was elated. It was even wrapped in a banana leaf or something cute and exotic. Being the white person I am, I ran inside to take pictures of it while thinking about what kind of crackers or fruit I should pair it with.

Here it is. Quajada and I are still in the honeymoon phase of our relationship at this point. As I opened the bag it was enclosed in, a pungent odor attacked my nostrils. Plenty of delicious cheese is stinky, I told myself as those blasphemous words from the blog bubbled to the surface of my consciousness. Plus, this cheese is wrapped in a banana leaf. That's awesome! It's gotta be awesome. In order to fully experience this cheese, I decided the first bite should be the cheese flying solo. Just pure, unadulterated quajada. Not the dumbest decision I have made, but pretty close. Before I had even closed my mouth, I regretted not only eating the cheese by itself, but purchasing it in the first place. The most foul tasting case of buyer's remorse I have ever experienced. You know that scene in The Princess Bride when the old lady is yelling at Buttercup and calling her names? The queen of filth...garbage...putrescence...I believe that Rob Reiner gave that lady some quesillo as inspiration for that scene. There are not enough words in the history of language to describe the nastiness of that cheese.

Do not succomb to the same foolish errors as I. I didn't trust the lady's blog because I didn't know her. But you know me. And you know my love for cheese. And therefore you know I am not lying when I say to you: THIS IS THE GROSSEST, NASTIEST, MOST DISGUSTINGLY FOUL CHEESE EVER MADE! It probably wouldn't even be worth eating if your life depended on it.

And that brings an end to this week's edition of The Crazy Honduran Food of the Week. Stay tuned for future (hopefully tastier) installments. over and out.
I am currently grading my first round of end-of-quarter exams. Fellow teachers...why did you not tell me that grading finals was one of the most depressing events of your life? Or do you eventually become numb to the pain? Regardless. Grading triggered a chain of thoughts in my mind, and I began to think of some of the culture differences I have encountered since moving here. Some of them are pretty funny, which alleviated my mood, and I thought I would take a break from grading and share them with you. Avoidance, anyone?

Beginning with the most obvious, and perhaps the most stereotypical...families here are huge and started early. And if you don't have kids, there is probably something wrong with you. Most of the casual conversations I have been in with strangers have gone along these lines (after they've asked me what country I am from and tell me that I have pretty eyes):
THEM: you live with your babies?
ME: No, I don't have any babies. I am here alone.
THEM: Oh, so you must miss your babies in the states.
ME: No. I don't have any babies.
THEM: Oh. (insert look of caution. They don't know if I'm barren, and they don't want to offend me) So do you live here with your husband?
ME: I don't have a husband. It is just me here.
THEM: (insert look and tone of confusion) Do you have a husband in the states?
ME: No. I don't have a husband.
THEM: (change look from confusion to incredulity) Boyfriend?
ME: No.
THEM: (insert look of concern) How old are you?
ME: 26
THEM: (increase the amount of concern) oh.
The concern shown by these people- sometimes strangers, sometimes neighbors or students- is neither masked nor subtle. It's a little funny. At this point in the conversation, I have encountered three different responses:
1- The Homophobe- Things get really awkward. You can almost hear the inner dialogue: "Is this tall white girl a lesbian? Why else would you not be married and a mother by age 26? She is from the states...they're a lot more liberal about these sorts of things. She isn't even a catholic!" At this point they take advantage of my limited Spanish to excuse themselves from the conversation. Any children with them are scooted along with them as well.
2- The Matchmaker- Things get really awkward. They immediately want to know why there are no children, husbands, or boyfriends. And then they want to help you out. They have brothers, cousins, and friends, all who are very nice, and all who will (probably) bemore than willing to help me make some babies. At this point I take advantage of my limited Spanish to excuse myself from the conversation.
3- The Skeezy Latino Man- Things get really awkward. They reiterate that I have pretty eyes. Then they concede that really in general I am pretty. Plus I am American. That makes up for how old I am. Then they propose. This response has come from literally every unmarried Honduran I have met with a Y chromosome.

There is a ridiculous number of American restaurants down here. Dunkin Donuts, Baskin Robbins, Popeyes, KFC, Little Caesar's, Pizza Hut, McDonald's...the list goes on and on. In every major city, the local Applebee's is listed as the number one place to go for your special night out. You can almost feel the magic in the air. I have had many special nights here, but none of them the right amount of special to warrent a trip to Crapplebee's.

One of the young girls from the street cleans my apartment and cooks for me every now and then. She is really sweet (and she has a brother who thinks I'm pretty and would love to help me make babies). When my parents came down to visit, she asked if she could cook dinner for them. I thought that was a great idea, but I didn't really have anything in particular in mind. Yuri said, "You want it to be something really special for them, right?" Of course! I was very excited about them coming to visit. After a couple days, when little progress had been made on the decision making front, Yuri reiterated, "You want it to be something special for them," but then she added, "maybe you should order pizza." I choked back a laugh, and I'm glad I did, because she was being serious. I never even thought about how a food as mundane as pizza would be a huge treat for a poor family down here. Yuri ended up making Honduran style spaghetti and corn tortillas. oh yeah.

As many of you know, I can never work someplace that doesn't feed me well. The food down here is amazing (and not just the pizza!) and I have had a lot of fun eating my way around. While there are many food items that are very exotic, a huge part of the diet down here guessed it: beans and tortillas. Almost everything you eat down here comes with a side of beans a couple tortillas. And fried plantain chips. They love the starches here. I am a fan of the beans, but not so much a fan of daily bean consumption. Yuri does not understand this. When she first started cooking for me, she made a HUGE pot of beans, but she wouldn't take any with her. Even if I begged her to do so. A large family would have struggled to get through that pot of beans in a week, but I did the best I could. When it was finally done, I asked Yuri to not make that amount of beans at once again. So I began to come home everyday to a pot of cooked beans on the stove. Again, she never took any home with her. I told her I don't eat beans everyday, and I didn't want them to go to waste. She nodded her head, said ok, and then made another pot of beans the next day. That cycle repeated itself a couple times. Then I took my container of beans to school and hid it in my desk.

Driving is an amazing experience here. At first it seems like there are no traffic laws at all. I discovered this is not the case when I got pulled over the other day for turning left when I didn't have an arrow. Even though there were no signs forbidding this, it is apparently illegal. Subsequently, this led to my first (and thus far only) successful experience bribing a police officer down here, because he definitely wanted to take me to jail. All of this to say...there are traffic laws down here...who knew?

Driving is a liberating, albeit somewhat nervewracking, experience down here. Despite the loosely applied and interpreted traffic laws, or perhaps because of them, you are basically in a no-holds-barred fight for access to your lane. Lane lines, curbs, other cars...these mean nothing to a Honduran driver if they want to get around you. It's amazing. Also...I think that it some sort of a law that you can only have one working headlight on your car. While other traffic laws may fall to the wayside, this law is adhered to with utmost reverence.

Although I knew a lot of people who played soccer, I was never a huge soccer fan. And then I moved down here. These people take passion to a whole new level. It is really amazing. With all of this intensity going on around you, it is hard not to get caught up in the game. So now I am a big soccer fan. For an American. I don't ever think I will be able to match the Hondurans...they recently qualified for the 2010 World Cup. It was exciting. It was emotional. Some people cried. Some people celebrated. The president declared a national holiday. Wait, what? Yes, you heard right. They didn't even win the World Cup. Or a game at the World Cup. They just qualified to go to South Africa. And it was a holiday. The US also qualified for the World Cup. Sorry you suckers didn't manage to rustle a holiday out of that win. :)