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.
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!!
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 here...it has been five months and I have not received any mail yet. boo.
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 blank...no 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.
LITTLE LOTHARIOS: 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.
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.
RECENT CONVERTS: 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:
*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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 it...so 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!!!
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.
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: So...do 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?
THEM: (insert look of concern) How old are you?
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 is...you 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.
SOCCER- THE REAL FOOTBALL
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. :)