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.