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 :)