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. :)