Sunday, October 2, 2011

Happy Water Day!

Today, October 2nd, is National Water Day here in Honduras.  Our school principal encouraged the science teachers to decorate and raise awareness, and it came at an opportune time in our 10th grade curriculum when we had a couple of lessons on the properties of water and its biological importance.  Unfortunately, at the staff meeting, I thought our principal said "International Water Day" instead of National Water Day, so the 10th graders did a lovely job decorating their classroom door with some slightly incorrect information.  Oops!

Perhaps Honduras doesn´t celebrate World Water Day (March 22nd) with everyone else because it usually falls in what Hondurans consider to be their "summer" (March-April) during the hottest and driest months in the country.  The irony of celebrating water during national drought is not lost on many local journalists...


However, all this talk about water has caused me to reflect on the ways in which water is used and delivered here in Honduras as opposed to in the States.  I feel like I save more water here in Honduras but it is not necessarily of my own volition.  Let´s compare the houses in the States with some of the living situations I have encountered here in Honduras.  Where I lived previously in the States, houses have hot water tanks, 99-100% reliable water delivery (unless they are repairing a pipe in the street), and drinkable--even tasty--tap water.  Washing machines are included in any house/rental, as hand-washing clothes is truly a thing of the past.  You are only considered to be at a disadvantage if your house doesn´t come with a clothes dryer. 

When I first lived in the teacher housing that my school provides, I had an electric shower head for "hot" water, a cistern backup storage tank, and an electric pump to provide the house with water.  Although it is a common practice to dump a little household bleach in the cistern to keep it mildly sanitary, it is still not exactly potable, so everyone must buy large 5-gallon drums of purified water to drink.  We also had a (sigh! the luxury!) washing machine.  In June 2010, I moved into a tiny apartment closer to my husband´s (then-fiancee´s) family´s house.  There was no washing machine, no hot water, but at least there was a cistern and pump.  This weekend, I moved into a larger house where there is a set-up for hot water shower heads (but we haven´t bought them yet), no washing machine, and as far as we can tell, no cistern/pump.   That means we have to rely on city water which only is available for about half the day every day until we figure something out.  Because of the unreliability of the delivery of city water, every house in Honduras has a pila, or basically a big wash basin with a built-in washboard that you can fill and use for washing clothes, dishes, or anything else (like hauling buckets of water over to the bathroom to flush the toilet).  However, if your pila is empty and the water goes out, you are basically screwed.  Most city-water houses also keep a large barrel of water in the bathroom for "bucket baths" and for flushing the toilet without having to go out to the pila.

Since I have gotten used to cold or lukewarm showers in Honduras, I have definitely saved not only water, but also energy.  In the States, I was the kind of person who would turn the water up as hot as it could go, and just stand under it for a few minutes, enjoying the warmth before I would start washing my hair, etc.  Here, I have become accustomed to taking "sailor showers," or turning on the water just to get myself wet, then turning it off to shampoo, scrub up, then turning it on once again to rinse.  Almost no one has hot water tanks in Honduras because of the expense to buy one, the expense to operate one, and the fact that the coldest water here is nowhere near as cold as it is in the States in winter.  Electric shower heads are the cheap and space-saving solution, although they break easily and either don´t warm the water up very much or they give you fun (mild!) electric shocks... hence the nickname, "suicide showers."  Without hot water to strip away your skin´s oils and in a hot climate where you sweat a lot, your face always feels a little greasy... just another thing you get used to.

I still enjoy looking at sustainability and "ecological footprint" websites and I like raising awareness when I teach about human impact on the environment, but those websites are geared towards usage in the States.  The fact that water is not reliably delivered by local governments forces Hondurans to save water, plan ahead, and use it wisely or do without.  The fact that there is no real winter and no need to heat anything means that water and energy use in the tropics is much less than in the States.    What I described in this blog entry is my experience living in a Honduran mid-sized city.  As you can imagine, in rural areas of Honduras, people rely on wells and creeks, or have to haul buckets of water long distances to be able to use it at home.  Life is just that much harder for them because of it.  There are many charities focused on bringing water to people around the world so that they can spend some of their time and energy on something besides just basic survival.  If you are at all interested in development work or in making a difference in the lives of people around the world, please consider donating to a water project.  <-- has affordable water filter projects in Honduras

If you know of any other great water charities that people should know about, please leave them in the comments section!

No matter where we live, fresh drinking water is a precious resource and should be conserved.  I encourage everyone to think of ways you can be less wasteful with water today, Honduran National Water Day, and again on the real World Water Day on March 22nd.   Thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Honduran "Pita Chip"

Miss you, Stacy´s !!

Ok, so is it just me, or does casabe, the Honduran/Garifuna food taste like pita chips? 

Stacked casabe rounds

(For more info on what casabe is and on who the Garifuna are, click here: )

I don´t know how this can possibly be the case, being that casabe is made from yuca flour and pita chips are baked or fried wheat flatbreads.  Every time I try casabe, especially the variety with garlic and margarine on it, the texture, flavor, and slight saltiness reminds me of pita chips, which are (as far as I can tell) unavailable in Honduras. I miss them so much!  Now, if only I could get some hummus for my Honduran "pita chips"...  :) 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Without moral and intellectual independence, there is no anchor for national independence. --David Ben-Gurion

Once a week, I share a (hopefully inspirational) quote with my students and ask them to share their thoughts, opinions, reactions, and reflections. Last week, because of the Honduran Independence Day holiday, I chose the above quote to get students to reflect. I asked students what they were celebrating Independence from, and they, of course, said Spain. I asked them if Honduras was independent today. The immediate answer from a couple of boys was, "Yes, of course!" but a girl in the front said quietly, "No." Then more people spoke up and we talked about how Honduras depends on international aid, among other things. Then we talked about what national independence really meant to them.

To my students, as teenagers, moral independence meant not going along with the crowd, or doing what you know is best for you. Intellectual indepence meant not discriminating against lower income people just because of the reputation of the school or university they attended. To them, it meant making objective, unbiased decisions.

To me, moral independence means standing up to corruption, in or outside of positions of power. It means being responsible for good parenting decisions and not perpetuating cycles of abuse and neglect just because it is common. Intellectual independence to me means preventing "brain drain" as Hondurans decide to study in Mexico, Spain, or the United States and stay there because of better opportunities. It means a greater focus on education for Hondurans at all levels in order to have a prosperous, responsible, and conscientious nation. It also means coming up with solutions to Honduras´s problems that work for and are tailored to the Honduran people... not just trying to be a carbon copy of other countries.

In the end, we focused on how they as the future leaders of Honduras could work on making this country a better place, starting with themselves.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Mes de la Patria

September 1st here in Honduras kicked off la Mes de la Patria, or "Patriotic Month." Throughout September and into the beginning of October, there are several national and civic holidays including Flag Day (Sept 1st), Children´s Day (Sept 10th), Independence Day (Sept 15th), Teacher´s Day (September 17th), Independence Scrolls Day (September 28th), and Francisco Morazan Day (October 3rd--commemorating a national hero). We have assemblies or events for all of these days (and there are probably a few that I am missing) and it is the busiest time of year for the Honduran social studies teachers. Here are some photos from the happenings of the first few days of September.
Here is a photo of my husband´s nephew and I, posing with the Honduran flag he made for his school´s event on September 1st
The mural done by 9th grade for Flag Day on Sept 1st
Classroom window decorations in the preschool area.
Our elementary level traditional folkdance group, who recently won several national trophies at competitions in Santa Barbara and La Ceiba, and who did an encore performance of their dances at our acto civico (civic assembly) on Sept 1st.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Thinking about Socioeconomic Status

Here is another reflection from my grad school program in which we were asked to consider our socioeconomic status (SES) compared to that of our students, and how an outsider visitor would be able to tell the SES just by observing the school. Based on the reaction from one of my classmates, I thought it would be useful to share it in this setting. She was shocked at how few resources we have at our school when compared to even her low-income school in the United States. Read on...

I think that my socioeconomic status is in some cases the same as and in some cases lower than that of my students. As I have mentioned this week in my reflections, I identify solidly as middle class, but the material comforts that a middle class American is used to usually fall into the upper class category in Honduras. Home air conditioners, full-sized ovens, washing machines, and dishwashers are all a thing of the past for my life here in Honduras. Those families who have these items are considered in the upper tier here. I also don´t have a housekeeper like many of the families of my students.

I do not think that this difference affects the way I deliver my lessons, or my teaching style, but it does affect the way I approach certain topics. For example, in my biology classes we discuss the effects of consumerism on the environment by watching the Story of Stuff. The short film discusses the exploitation of “Third World” resources and labor for “First World” consumer goods. There are problems with those terms as well, but I ask students which lifestyle they most identify with, and how they can observe the effects in their own country. We also talk about the role of money and SES in topics like environmental destruction and health, and I try to emphasize that even though my students may not be in precarious situations, there are plenty of people around them who are.

If a visitor who had a familiarity with schools in Honduras were to visit our school, he would probably recognize that it was a school for higher income students. This would be based on the fact that our classrooms have air conditioning, an energy expense that is not feasible for most of the general population of Honduras. We also have an up-to-date computer lab, and by viewing the trophies on the wall there, the visitor would assume that we also had the money to travel to various technology competitions in order to win them. Although cell phones are technically not allowed at school, if a visitor were to see one of the students pull this contraband out, they would have a better guess at the SES of the student. Blackberries and iPhones are the norm, and one of my students last year had a cell phone that was worth more than I make in a month. I buy the cheapest cell phone possible, and based on this measure, a visitor might assume that my SES was lower than that of my students.

Compared to many schools in the United States, we do not have as many resources. There is no career center, no academic advising, no reading support, no special education, no sports fields, and the library does not serve the same function as it would in the US. I am in charge of the science lab, but our lab is very small and does not have basic safety considerations for handling chemicals, such as a fume hood, eye wash, etc. Our website, however, claims that it is “fully equipped,” a fact that the other science teachers and I often lament. There is only one television/DVD player, two “data show” projectors, and two sets of speakers for the whole school that we must all share. The school recently purchased one smart board (also to be shared) but it has not trained any of the staff on how to use it, nor opened it up for use, and it has been over a year! However, many schools in Honduras do not have even these materials, so compared to those around us, we are very fortunate.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Re-treeing Honduras

Over this summer I have attempted to get some things to grow (The jalapenos all got some kind of fungus, unfortunately), and among them, I planted a couple of guanacaste seeds just for the heck of it. I honestly thought they were a lost cause until last week when the seeds finally germinated and started shooting up.

After thinking to myself, ¨What the heck am I going to do with a tree in a pot on my paved-over patio?¨, I decided to give them away to a friend, Karen, who has a farm up on the mountain (El Volcan). Karen says in the 12 or so years she has lived up on the mountain, there has been quite a lot of deforestation due to illegal logging for lumber, and the fact that most folks use wood fires for cooking. I have noticed that even city folk cook over wood fires when they will be cooking something like beans (that requires hours over the stove) in order to save on electricity costs. Karen makes it very clear to her neighbors and any suspicious pickup trucks that no one will be touching any trees on her property. She also knows that since guanacastes have a beautiful broad canopy, they will be good for creating shade for her coffee plants. Karen also plants tons of seedlings of caoba, cedro, and other valuable tropical wood to plant on her property and to give away to reforestation projects of friends. I think my little seedlings will have a good home there :)

I have been interested recently in the work of several NGOs in promoting the use of solar ovens as a method of cooking to replace wood fires in ¨sun-rich¨ countries (which Honduras definitely is). It is one of my dreams/long-term goals to construct several working solar ovens in order to give demonstrations and workshops to folks whose families and communities would benefit from more sustainable methods of cooking. Hopefully with replanting and alternative cooking methods, we can all do our part to re-tree Honduras!

Homemade Tajadas... the obsession continues!

After trying to explain to my friend, Yoli, why I love eating at the pollo place in my barrio so much (see last blog entry on Pollo con Tajadas), she told me she would be happy to show me how to make tajadas on my own, including all the special sauces! I learned a lot in the process, including that my favorite kind of tajadas are not actually made out of plantains at all, but rather very green bananas! Wow! For your Honduran cooking enjoyment, I present....

How to Make Homemade Tajadas!

Step one--Gather some friends around and start peeling the green bananas. Slice a slit in the skin lengthwise and ¨unwrap¨ the peel. Don´t peel it from the top--the bananas are almost brittle and might break, and you want them nice and long for the best tajadas. If your hands turn black and sticky, that is normal :)

Step two--Chop the peeled green bananas up lengthwise into long strips. Toss the strips with lime juice and a liberal amount of salt.

Step three--Fry it up in vegetable shortening

Step four--Remove from oil and drain. Prepare sauces and toppings for tajadas (recipes at the end of the post).

Step five--Pile on the toppings and enjoy your tajadas!! Toppings include a tomato-based sauce, mayonnaise or a cream sauce, shredded cabbage and carrots, chismol (chopped tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers), shredded hard cheese. Fantastic!

Recipes for Sauces:

Yoli´s Salsita para Tajadas
(Red Sauce)

1 small red onion, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
3 chicken boullion cubes
4 oz tomato paste
1-2 tbsp olive oil or vegetable shortening

Sautee the onion, pepper, and cilantro in the oil until softened. Add the crumbled boullion cubes. Dilute the tomato paste with an equal amount of water in a separate bowl, and then add to the pan. Allow to simmer until slightly boiled down. To serve, strain out pieces of onion and pepper, or simply blend everything together for a smooth texture. Serve over tajadas.

Emilia´s Spicy Dressing

1 cup mayonnaise
1 jalapeno pepper
a few tablespoons milk, to taste
1 chicken boullion cube

Place all ingredients in a blender, adding a tablespoon or two of water or milk as desired to thin out the dressing. Blend until smooth. Serve over tajadas.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Pollo con Tajadas

I am the kind of person who goes on food ¨kicks.¨ If I try something that I really like, I will keep buying it (or cooking it) all the time, basically until I am sick of it. Then I take a break from that food for a few months (or forever, in the case of kettle corn... bleh!), and I´ll come back to it later with more of an attitude of moderation.

Right now, my ¨kick¨ is pollo con tajadas (fried chicken with fried green plantains) from my barrio (neighborhood). It also comes with a little shredded cabbage salad, but in the picture, under all those tajadas and sauce, I don´t think you can see it :P

You can get fried chicken anywhere in Comayagua, and it´s all pretty good (unless it has been sitting around under that heat lamp all day). The deliciousness key here is the tajadas. They´re not too thin (too crispy like potato chips), and not too thick (too mushy and starchy). The ripeness of the plantain counts as well. I have found that I like reeeeally ripe plantains, fried, and with mantequilla (the Honduran version of sour cream, NOT butter as the translated name would suggest). I also like the reeeeeally green plantains that they use to fry up as tajadas. For some reason, for me, a plantain between these two extremes (mostly starchy but slightly sweet), is just icky. So basically, according to my tastes, everything about the pollo con tajadas from my neighborhood is PERFECT. And I haven´t even mentioned the delicious sauces on top!!

I don´t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but my husband loves it too, so the two of us have been going there to eat almost every day! And at 38 lempiras ($2!!) for the ¨half-portion¨ you see in the picture, I think we could keep doing this!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Two words: Bring TAMPONS!!

I realize this post may make some male readers squeamish, but here goes...

One thing they will not tell you about moving to/living in Honduras... There are no tampons! If you want to use them, you need to bring your own. I hear that they are available for sale in Tegucigalpa or San Pedro Sula, but they will likely be limited in selection and overpriced.

Most US women that I know (including myself!) use tampons and prefer them to pads, or use a combination. Kudos to you if you use a more ecologically sustainable method of dealing with your menstruation (The Keeper, the Diva Cup, Lunapads, etc). You will have no problems anywhere you go! However, Honduran women use pads almost exclusively. More than once, one of my teenage students has had an, um, ¨emergency¨ and asked me if I had any spare pads. When I told them, no, but I have this (producing a tampon from my locker in the teacher´s lounge) they turn red and mutter, ¨Um, no, that´s ok... I´ll ask someone else...¨ Some of the bolder ones will ask, ¨What the heck am I supposed to do with THAT??¨

Someone once told me that this is not unique to Honduras, but is true of most Central American countries. There is a certain amount of resistance in thinking that a tampon will ¨ruin your virginity¨ or something of the like, but these are the same types of concerns expressed by young women in the States when they first start menstruating. A little education is all it takes to beat the stigma, but in the end, personal preference always wins out.

I have communicated recently with female teachers who are coming to teach at our school for a year or more, and for other women coming to volunteer long term at orphanages. This is the one piece of advice I give to any woman who will be in Honduras longer than a month, and it´s something personal enough that most jobs or volunteer organizations will not tell you. Every time I come back from a visit to the States, I keep about 1/3 of my suitcase free for several giant boxes of tampons.

So spread the word!! If you want to use tampons in Honduras, bring your own!!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Playing with Wordle

I just found out about this word art website, Wordle, from my online Teaching Business English class. I plugged my blog text into the data field to see what would come out. Click on the link for a full-size view!

Wordle: BEANS!

I LOVE how the biggest word was beans :) So very appropriate when writing about a country where that is the staple food.

Enjoy, and create one of your own :)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Honduran Values Education… and Tutti Frutti!

The first course that I just completed this week for my M.Ed. (online!) is called ¨Developing Character through the Curriculum,¨ and I wanted to share an excerpt from one of my essays for the class. Hopefully this will give you a glimpse of values/character education in Honduras.

At my school, a K-12 institution, students are required to take a ¨values¨ class throughout elementary school that meets once a week and consists mostly of doing workbook pages and watching videos. Most elementary school students complain that they think the class is boring, but most teachers would argue that students need more, not less, values education. At the high school level, where I teach, lack of values reinforcement appears all the time through behavior problems and academic dishonesty. It would seem, as Lickona (1991) puts forth, that the problem is not whether we should teach values, but which ones, and especially how they will be taught. Based on my observations at school, and the readings in this course, I feel that artificially isolated character education should be included, but minimized, and that character education integration into core academic subjects should be maximized.

Exercising personal virtue can be likened to speaking a foreign language. As in a language, a grammar point or an agreed-upon virtue can be easily practiced in controlled isolation—it is modeled, and eventually everyone ¨knows¨ what the right answer is. However, out in the real world, the language of moral values needs to be spoken—truly practiced—in spontaneous, often troublesome situations. Can students live out ethical behavior, or are they only able to do the workbook exercise? Moral knowing is not enough—students must demonstrate their embodiment of good character by turning that knowledge into genuine moral feelings and moral actions (Lickona, 1991). Students must face situations in which they must use moral courage, and those situations can never truly be simulated by staged classroom role-play. A contrived, isolated, serial approach to values education does not allow students to see how seamlessly many values are integrated (Kohn, 1997), nor does it allow them to see how they are related to outside subjects or situations.

Even though in my above essay excerpt I berated our school´s values education program as being too workbook focused, there is one activity that the elementary students do every year in values class that I think is really sweet. The students get together and make Tutti Frutti, or the Honduran version of fruit salad. The difference is that it the fruit is soaked in fruit punch to keep the fruit from turning brown, plus a little dollop of condensed milk on top. Each student must bring in their assigned ingredient (the value of responsibility, and being an integral part of a group), help chop and prepare the salad (the value of hard work), and then they distribute the fruit salad to the teachers, administrators, and support staff (values of sharing and gratitude). The students usually don´t get to eat any of the salad themselves—it is purely a practical exercise of values. Now that´s the way character education should be!

My school is a private, bilingual school, so I asked a friend, Nohelia, who is currently doing her teaching practicum in a public school, how values education works there. She told me that there is a weekly, nationally-decided-upon value that teachers must at least mention but hopefully also weave into their class. The idea is that students should get the same value reinforced across the board from all teachers, and see how it fits into their curriculum (there are some problems with this plan, but at least in theory, it´s a good thing!).

All graduating high school seniors in Honduras, public and private schools alike, are required to complete what is known as TES—Trabajo Educativo Social, or Educational Social Work. This is one of my favorite things about my senior students. They have organized toy drives at Christmas, tutored low-income students in English, and planted trees, among other things. Recently, and through the leadership of a parent involved with the Lions Club International, seniors and even students from lower grades have been participating more and more with medical brigades. They interpret Spanish and English for visiting US doctors and low-income patients who receive free medical care. Students even help with organizational tasks such as setting up a makeshift pharmacy for the week that the brigades are in town. The other cool thing is that you can always spot the TES groups from the different high schools around town as most of them get special t-shirts printed for when they participate in TES service activities. I think it´s wonderful that Honduras has asked its young people to give back before they are given their diploma.
PS—Here are the references from the essay (in case you´re interested!). I highly recommend the second one to ALL teachers and school administrators!
Kohn, A. (1997). How not to teach values: A critical look at character education. Phi Beta Kappan, February 1997.
Lickona, T. (1991). Educating for character: How our schools can teach respect and responsibility. New York: Bantam Books.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Walls Follow-Up

Even though the topic of my recent blog post, , was not the most light-hearted or easy to write, it did generate some interest. I am proud to announce that the editor of Honduras Weekly, and independent, online newspaper, contacted me to publish it on his website! You can see a slightly-edited version of the original post published here:

I also recommend just browsing the page in general--there are lots of great articles about everything from volunteerism to politics to Honduran culture.

Also, I wanted to share some thoughts from other bloggers and articles about their experiences with walls abroad.

From a religion-blogger´s experience at a conference in Jamaica:

¨When I first arrived at the University of the West Indies where we were staying, the first thing I noticed was the amount of barbed wire fencing that surrounded the campus and each of the dormitory buildings. Sharing my observation and surprise with a participant, he said it is the cheaper means of security, which I had not thought about before. With the barbed wire fencing so obviously visible, I was constantly faced with my own need to feel safe and protected, making the assumption that this must not be a safe place. I guess I prefer the invisible barbed wire of hidden cameras, security alarms, and people I would never meet providing 24-hour surveillance supplying me with a false sense of security that gives me the luxury not to face any fears I have that I may be vulnerable to danger. This got me thinking about other things in my life and my surroundings that I have easily overlooked because they aren´t obviously visible.¨

I recommend reading the whole article!

The following link is to an article comparing the privatization of many public services in the States to Pakistan. Many of the things mentioned in the article are true of many developing nations, including Honduras. Here is a passage that rang true for me:

¨Instead of paying taxes for a reliable electrical grid, each wealthy family installs its own powerful generator to run the lights and air-conditioning. It´s noisy and it stinks, but at least you don´t have to pay for the poor.... Police budgets are being cut, but the wealthy take refuge in gated [Honduras note: OR WALLED] communities with private security guards. Their children are spared the impact of budget cuts at public schools and state universities because they attend private institutions [Honduras note: or they avoid yearly teacher strikes! And yes, I teach at one of these private institutions for the wealthy in my city].¨

Hope you enjoyed the links, and hope they provided a little food for thought.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Making Honduran Refried Beans from Scratch

Hondurans are choosy about their beans. Although I enjoy all kinds of beans, Hondurans overwhelmingly prefer the small, red beans (NOT kidney beans) that they eat with almost every meal. They say the taste is unequaled by any other bean, and I have even heard of Hondurans who live in the States bringing back the dry beans because nothing is the same as that little taste of home. Black beans are common in the markets (and they seem to be the bean of choice in Nicaragua and Costa Rica), but they are cheaper than the red beans and not widely used.

Homemade refried beans are the best, and I´ve been lucky enough to have several bean mentors who have shown me the way (thanks, Nohelia, Ana Paola, and Karen!!). Here is the the Honduran way to make refried beans from scratch--note that like any good Central American recipe, all measurements are estimates :)


Beans (about 2-3 cups) Use leftover, already cooked red beans from dinner the night before, or use canned beans in a pinch. Rinse and drain. Some people add a little of the cooking liquid back into the refried beans for extra flavor

Some sort of fat (1/4 to 1/2 cup)--most commonly vegetable shortening, but I used bacon fat the other day and it made the beans A-MAZ-ING!!!!

Onions (about 1-2 Tbsp, chopped VERY finely)

Salt, to taste, but you probably won´t need much at all

Start with a large, non-stick fry pan over medium heat. Heat up the shortening (or bacon fat!) and saute the onions until they are golden. Next, add the whole beans to the pan and find a nice strong flat-bottomed cup or glass. This is my favorite part. Use the bottom of the cup to squish the beans flat in the pan, directly into the fat. This is waaaay better than using a potato masher like some of the other recipes I´ve found on the internet. It is also extremely theraputic. It leaves some of the bean skins intact, unlike blending the beans, to give that nice, slightly chunky homemade texture. One the beans are suffiently mashed and the fat and onions sufficiently incorporated, taste them and add any salt you would like to add. Keep heating the beans, stirring occasionally. The beans are done when they stick more to themselves than to the sides of the pan. You can even give the beans a little flip. If half of the beans flip easily like a flapjack and stick back to themselves, you´ve got it!!! Flip onto a plate and serve immediately.

The mashing and flipping techniques are really best shown to someone in person, which is why I am so thankful to my mentors :) Too little fat, or overcooking, will make your beans dry and crumbly. Too much fat will make your beans greasy and icky when reheating. The cafeteria lady at school puts so much shortening in her beans that when I take them home and refrigerate them, they turn white. Eeeeew...

I know it´s not the traditional way, but the bacon fat refried beans were a big hit with my husband (and me!), and he liked them even more on his baleadas the next morning :)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

To Wall or Not to Wall...

Most houses in the city here in Central America have high walls around them, often topped with broken glass bottles cemented spikily in place, barbed wire, or electric fences. When I studied abroad in Costa Rica in 2002, this was one of the first things that really hit me as a big cultural difference--the place looked like a war zone. Once I got used to it and traveled to other Latin American countries, the omnipresent ¨security¨ feature faded to the back of my mind, and I began to appreciate the decorative ironwork that is often used to make those big walls look a little classier.

Honduras is no different. There are walls everywhere and the richer you are, the bigger and scarier your wall. You won´t see walls around most houses in poorer or rural areas, just fences. This past week, two tragic incidents have made me think a lot about walls...

A Honduran teacher I know from school got mugged and essentially sexually assaulted at the same time (as the mugger looked for cell phones and cash tucked in her underwear--¨You women keep things everywhere¨). It happened on a street that is narrow and lined with large houses with equally large walls. And it happened very quickly--between the time she got out of the taxi and the time the door of the house was opened for her. Basically, no one saw what was happening because everyone was walled in. So walls might make residents safer while they are actually in their houses, but it makes the street more dangerous. Besides the safety (or not) of people in the streets, walls with electrified fences as home security kill wildlife and even killed my husband´s aunt´s cat.

By contrast, my husband´s immediate family is from a poorer neighborhood where there are many un-walled houses. When I first moved there to a small aparment only a few blocks from the family´s house, I was taken aback by all the interaction in the streets. Kids were out playing with one another, neighbors stood or sat on corners chatting, etc. At my previous neighborhood (with big walls at the American teachers´housing) the streets were emptier and there was less activity. At least when there are more people out and about, there are more witnesses, and several Hondurans have given me the advice that it is always safer to walk down streets with more people on them.

My mother-in-law lives in an unfinished cinderblock house with a couple of dogs out front to help guard the property. No big walls. One of the dogs, Doby, is a great dog but is totally a mutt (the use of and attitudes toward animals in Honduras is another blog entry entirely). About a year ago, my husband made a trade for a purebred rotweiler named Max. He loved this dog and so did Anthony, his nephew. In the last few days, Max had been refusing to eat, and his face and neck had been swollen. We took him to a vet who said he just needed to be treated for parasites, so we got him all the shots and pills we thought he needed to recover. However, he continued to get worse and died this morning. Anthony said his eyes were completely green. We racked our brains trying to figure out what went wrong (why doesn´t Doby have parasites, too?) and we are now pretty sure someone on the street poisoned him. After all, there is no wall to keep someone from throwing him a piece of meat with poison pellets in it.

Why? Well, when I was in Costa Rica, someone poisoned the ¨guard dog¨ at one of the houses on our street, and then a few days later, their house was robbed. I mentioned my concern to my husband, and he was like, well, why didn´t they poison Doby, too? (We will keep watching out the next few days!!) He has seen other instances of people poisoning more purebred dogs simply for jealousy or revenge, so that´s more his theory. We had been talking recently about constructing a wall at his mom´s house for several reasons--the dirt road always kicks up dust that comes into the house, and la pobrecita has to spend half the day dusting and mopping, so a wall would at least block some of it. We were hoping to finish constructing the house and a wall would provide some security that the construction materials wouldn´t ¨wander off by themselves.¨ But, with Max´s death and the speculated cause, it looks like it´s definitely time...

I wonder how many other people have gone through similar debates with themselves. To wall or not to wall? Walls are expensive, so that means they are not an option for some. No walls means better community interactions and a more beautiful neighborhood (assuming people take care of their yards, but at least you can see the houses!), but anyone can wander in. Walls means screw everyone else, at least we are ¨safe.¨ There really is a strong sense of fear here in Honduras about so many things, and it is reflected in the physical construction of neighborhoods; the ¨war zone¨ I mentioned before. Maybe it´s just that many other people simply got hurt too many times and reached the same frustrating point where we are. We just want our dogs, our belongings, and especially our family to be safe. Or ¨safe.¨

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

La Libertad--Cerro de los Tornillos

Nohelia, Alexis and I took a little day trip recetly to La Libertad, a small city near our home base of Comayagua. I was most excited to check out a place I had heard about that had some interesting fossils called "Cerro de los Tornillos" or Screw Hill. While it has nothing to do with teenage trysts, it is a reference to the shape of the fossilized shells that look like twisted screw shapes (See image). I was hoping to scout out the place before taking a class on a possible field trip there to do our own fossil hunting. I didn't know if it was a park or what, and I wanted to see for myself.

When we got there, the hill was literally right next to where the bus dropped us off (how convenient!). That also meant that it was smack in the middle of a neighborhood. There were some cement steps built to help visitors and residents up the hill, but there was no kind of protected area. We asked some local residents about the place, and they said even they would like to see it more protected. One woman said that at some point, an interested party tried to get the residents to sell their land so the site could be excavated, but the residents preferred to stay. I think it would be nice to have some kind of interpretive sign set up to explain to visitors what it is they're looking at and how it came to be. After a little internet research, the fossils are gastropods from the Cretaceous period.

The rest of La Libertad was not much to write home about (sorry Libertenos!!). We spent probably an hour and half poking around on el Cerro de los Tornillos, then ate lunch and came back to Comayagua. Since the place wasn't really set up to receive visitors, I don't think a field trip would be the greatest idea unless it included some other things, but it might be nice to come up with some interpretive signs as a class service project :)

Photo credits go to El Heraldo newspaper, which has a site on Honduran fossils (in Spanish) and lots of great pictures here Clicking on the articles section also has more info about the lack of fossil protection in Honduras.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Paperwork and Beaurocracy Part 2

After writing the last blog entry, I realized that I had left out a very important way in which beaurocratic inefficiency GREATLY affects my life here in Honduras. My husband is a taxi driver... sort of (I realize I never blogged about getting married but I got married to an amazing Honduran man at the courthouse back in September 2010, and our big white poufy dress ceremony is in just a few weeks!).

I say sort of because after buying our own taxi (so he would no longer have to pay 60-80% of his daily income to the owner of the car), we have had ridiculous amounts of trouble with the paperwork. Due to two major paperwork incidents and a major repair, my husband has only been able to legally work the taxi for 4 weeks out of the 6 months we have owned it. This has been EXTREMELY frustrating to him because he wants to work and feel useful in life, and also because he's trying to do things the best way he can and be completely legal in everything. There are plenty of illegal taxis working in the streets and he doesn't want to be one of them.

The most frustrating part is the illlusion of the wait times. I'm the kind of person that gets annoyed when I'm on a car trip or something and someone says "we're almost there" when there is about an hour and a half left to go. Please don't tell me we're almost there until there are like 5 or 10 minutes left because I will falsely get my hopes up. Piece of paperwork #1: Cambio de Unidad (changing a taxi number from one car to another). They told us it would take 2 weeks. It took 2 months. The whole time, hubby was under the illusion that the paper was about to arrive, just any day now... so he thought he was being patient, and didn't look for other jobs.

As soon as the Cambio de Unidad arrived, we had the taxi working for about 1.5 weeks when the car broke down, like major engine repairs. Hubby was fixing the car while I was in the States for Christmas and finally got it up and running in early January (with a major investment of DINERO!!!). He was only working for about 2 weeks when the Transitos (traffic police) stopped him. His car is already kind of a target because it has a "high" number (anything over 600). Basically, as far as I can tell, here in Comayagua there were only 600 legal taxi numbers, but Mel's administration released almost 200 additional numbers 601-799 because there were lots of young people out of work and taxi driving is a good option when you can't get hired by a store or a company. Many of these higher numbers are considered to be illegitimate and there was even talk of revoking them (we were worried!). Anyway we are renting the number and the owner of the number is a lawyer (Lawyering isn't lucrative enough for ya???) so he has at least (if not SLOWLY) been helping us ensure that the paperwork is up to snuff.

The Transitos said that there was an "inconsistency" in the taxi's paperwork, and everything had to be sent back to Tegucigalpa to be corrected. They said it would take 2 days. Yep, that's right, it's been 2 MONTHS again. This whole time my husband was basically denied the right to work in his own taxi because of stupid paperwork. It's no wonder many people do work illegally because it has been excruciating to try to play by the rules.

If you are the praying type, please pray for a little more grease in the wheels of Honduran government (really, at all levels) and also for our situation.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Blog Response: Beaurocracy and Paperwork

I just read this blog entry--La Gringa's Blogicito gets emailed to me when updated and I enjoy reading it very much:

A little response to that... my (new! awesome!) husband's birth certificate, national ID card, and drivers' license didn't match up in terms of his birth date. We had to get these documents changed to all match each other before we could get legally married and before we submit any immigration paperwork to the US. Some said his year of birth was 1985 and others said it was 1987. He is pretty sure (but the fact that he's not entirely sure is kind of weird!) that he was actually born in 1987, but he decided to change it to 1985. I'm happy about that since I'm older than him so it makes me feel a little less like I'm robbing the cradle, haha. Luckily, he didn't have a hard time getting the documents fixed such as the cases in the blog entry above... We don't even know exactly when his mom was born... sometime in January or February, maaaaybe...the year? Anyone's guess.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Teaching Reflections

I am looking into online grad schools for getting my teaching certification... here's a little essay I wrote (I had to do it within a time window, so it's kinda first-draft quality!) that is a summary of my feelings about the past year and a half choosing to teach full time here in Honduras. Enjoy and let me know what you think! :)

Challenge: My first year of teaching

All my adult life, I have been told that I would make a good teacher. I have enjoyed one-on-one tutoring positions and the satisfaction of seeing my clients succeed, and I helped manage a community-based adult education program for almost 3 years before taking the plunge. I knew that being in the classroom energized me, but I had to ask myself several hard questions: Did I really want to do it full time? Did I have the energy and the perseverance to get past tough and frustrating moments? Teaching adults was great, but could I handle a classroom full of young people? In order to find out, I had to challenge myself to take the first step.

Since I did not have a teaching certificate in the United States, I could not get a full-time teaching position at a public school in my area. I decided that a good way to see if teaching was right for me was to teach internationally at a private school that did not require certification, but would be just as challenging and a great learning experience. I loved working with the Latin-American immigrants at my previous position in adult education, I have always loved traveling in Latin America, and maintaining my Spanish skills was one of my top priorities. I also knew I had worked hard to earn my Bachelor’s degree in Geology and didn’t want my science knowledge to go to waste. Based on these criteria, I chose a position in Honduras, teaching high school science at a bilingual school.

One of my first major challenges was jumping in without the advantage of the preparation weeks that my colleagues had. I was hired late in the game and a week of school had already passed when I got down to Central America and showed up for my first day. I spent the first day getting to know the students but I knew that it would take a lot of evening and weekend work to get me caught up to where I wanted to be. As it turned out, I had a lot of subjects to brush up on before I could feel confident teaching them to others. I developed strategies for summarizing, idea mapping, and multi-media teaching techniques to make sure my students and I got the most important information out of each unit. Luckily, I was working with a group of highly motivated new teachers. We all helped each other out with marathon planning and grading sessions, always brainstorming ideas and ways to improve.

Now I am half-way through my second year of teaching at the same school, and all my hard work and dedication last year has been paying off. I still work many evenings and weekends, but I am reaping the benefits of the solid base I gave myself last year. This year, I have been determined not to “take it easy” by simply repeating everything I did last year, but rather I am continually looking for ways to improve or enhance my lessons with video clips, educational raps, experiments, and cross-curricular projects and debates.

Being a teacher takes a lot of perseverance, and there have definitely been challenges such as dealing with students who cheat or who are disruptive, or dealing with administrative policies that are less than supportive. Many times I have chosen to focus on my accomplishments rather than the things that could bring down my morale in order to continue showing students my dedication to them and to their learning. I have made the decision to be an inspiration to my students whenever I can and look for opportunities to keep them motivated. By testing myself in this environment, I have learned a lot about myself and how to work with young people, and I am ready to move towards the next step of teacher certification.