Archive for November, 2009

Food for Thought

Baking success! And disaster! Where I last left you, I was preparing a baking “class” with my sitemate Kristina for a local women’s support group run by another PCV. We traveled up to day before, as bus access was limited and met with the women the night before to plan the next day. Here in Honduras one has to get pretty thrifty. These women don’t have much, let alone baking pans, measuring cups or spoons. We asked every one to bring a plastic bottle (there certainly is no shortage of coke/pepsi/banana tropical bottles here, trash is everywhere) so we could cut off the top to make in-situ measuring cups with a sharpie.  We would be baking the banana bread in empty sardine cans and the chocolate cake in frying pans. That night, Kristina and I wrote the recipes on large charla paper to post and was dreaming of delicious bread, cake and vanilla icing.

The next morning, the 3 of us woke up, scarfed down some breakfast, and made our way down to where we would be baking. We had specified 8 o’clock en punto, which really means 8:30, but the ladies didn’t start showing up until 9. And of course, at 9, a neighbor announced that she had made us breakfast. Saying no to Honduran food is like insulting somebody’s poor grandma, so we managed to fit eggs, frijolitos, tortillas, and queso seco in our already full bellies, soon to be made fuller from baked goods. After breakfast, the woman of the house fired up her horno, a large adobe dome oven. To heat it up, you throw a ton of firewood and corn husks in, light it on fire, burn the hell out of it, then take it out to let the oven cool down. You can fit about 50 cakes pans in it it’s so large. We made the batter and filled the sardine cans with no problem. And then an amazing thing happened; the women were fighting over who got to lick the batter bowl! Talk about a cross-culture, eye-opening experience! The bread came out beautifully, in about 15 minutes instead of the normal 50 minutes. Damn that oven was hot. While the bread was cooling, we started on making the chocolate cake. Kristina and I had test run a chocolate cake recipe a few days prior using this “choco-banano” chocolate that is readily available down here and cheap. It comes in a brick form of solid chocolate with sugar and oil already mixed in. You are supposed to dip frozen bananas in it (very popular down here). We were thinking about sustainability and how these women couldn’t really afford a 225 lempira ($12) box of Hershey’s Cocoa Powder. The recipe in Kristina’s electric oven turned out well, not the greatest, but it worked and it was chocolately enough. So when we duplicated it out in the campo, who would of thought it would go horribly wrong. The batter, of course, tasted delicious. I was batting the little children away from the bowls like flies. This time, we placed the batter in frying pan molds and some rectangular molds. As we were watching the chocolate cakes bake, we were also making a delicious creamy vanilla icing (with margarina, I know it sounds gross, but it was actually pretty good). I went to go check on the cakes, and almost fell over. The tops had burned, and all of the oil in the cake had seeped to the top. It looked like black molten lava vomit. And, as many of you may know, I am pretty sensitive to my baking (I went into a fit of rage, then cried last year when my one of my pie crusts didn’t turn out at Christmas). I summoned Kristina over to confirm what I was seeing. It was downright embarrassing! We took out the cakes and the women had such confused looks on their faces. We tried to ice them, after scraping the oil off the top, but they looked DISGUSTING (hence no pictures of the cakes). The women, however, took it in stride, they ate some, and took some pieces home to their husbands. They also decided to sell their banana bread to themselves(?) for 6 lemps a pop, which Kristina and I later worked out to be breaking even. So much for sustainability. I later researched the mishap and decided that the horno was waaaaay to hot for delicate cake baking. Nonetheless, the women had a ton of fun, and thanked us graciously. I guess you win some and lose some. I guess I need to practice baking in those hornos. . .

And more of the map. . . as you can see, it has been coming along nicely, with a few mishaps here and there. Im pretty sure we lost a few of the Great Lakes, Muaritania’s borders (a country in east Africa) were taken over by an yellow invasion of Mali, it’s western neighbor, and Hawaii has now acquired more islands in the south pacific. Painting with the girls is a bit hectic, but nonetheless fun. Four girls armed and ready with one color ready to paint whatever they see. I remind them that they have to check with me before they paint anything. The first day of painting almost lead to disaster because I forgot to check Europe. . . . . the pencil lines looked like spaghetti, ironically Italy was intact. We got the big guys out of the way like Antarctica, Russia, Australia, etc. These also made good projects for the painting impaired. We still have quite a bit of work to do, so I will post more pics to show the process.

Thanksgiving— who said Honduras doesn’t celebrate T-day? Thirteen of us squished into a house for a few days and had a feast fit for a king! Not much explaining to do here—my friend Rachel meticulously planned out the menu for the whole weekend, and even managed to make bagels for us the day after! I made my standard apple and pumpkin pies as well (the crust this time was OK, however, Honduran butter just isn’t the same is is strangely neon yellow). An added bonus was that I got to pitch and sleep in a tent everynight . . . *sigh*. . oh how I miss the states sometimes.


November 30, 2009 at 11:43 pm Leave a comment

Peace Corps Thanksgiving

November 30, 2009 at 10:24 pm Leave a comment

Mapa mundial con pintura!

November 30, 2009 at 9:54 pm Leave a comment


November 30, 2009 at 9:48 pm Leave a comment

Maps, Mayans, and Muggers

October and then some. . .

So after my epic vacation in Utila, I had a week or so before my mom came, which equates to 1 week of work done in the month of October. However, I would like to point out that by my mom visiting, I was working on goal #3 of the Peace Corps, which includes sharing Honduran culture with foreigners and promoting cultural exchange. My mom got plenty of that, as you will soon read.

Another one of my side projects is painting a world map mural on an outside wall of a school. A fellow volunteer and I started it back in September with hopes of getting the whol 6th grade class involved, but alas, the Honduran political “situation” struck again. Because of possible election snags, the current president, Micheletti, decided to shut school down early. . .  like a month early. That left me with the school closed and zero children. Fortunately for me, several girls who love arts and crafts agreed to meet with me a few times a week and work on the mural. We found someone who had a key to the school and it has been going wonderfully. How do you draw a 2 x 4 meter world map on a wall, you ask? Simple: use a grid (and a already written manual) The idea is to copy the world from a smaller grid printed on a piece of paper, to a larger one on a wall, square by square. Or, you could use a projector (if they are available). The biggest pain in the ass was to draw the grid, all 1,568 squares, and to make sure the squares were indeed squares, not rectangles or trapezoids or rhombuses (can you believe I remembered that word, rhombus?). As of this week, we just finished the pencil outline of the map. It’s been really nice because about 3 girls show up so there is plenty of work, and it isn’t too crowded. They tell me their wish list of countries they would like to visit and I realize my geography isn’t really that good. Did you know that Kiribati, a country consisting of a string of islands in the south pacific, is freakishly close to Hawaii? Who knew?

Went to Tito’s for the umpteenth time, this time just for one day to do a survey of all the houses in Quebraditas, 93 to be exact. I needed to take down every house’s name, inquire about their drinking water/latrine situation, and draw a some-what accurate map, I hate to admit this, but I kinda planned it so that Tito would be out in the field working so I could maybe have a chance of finishing it in one day. Don’t get me wrong, I love eating every 2 hours and taking siestas intermittently in a hammock throughout that day, but with my mom coming, I had to finish. So, I was pleasantly surprised to have Tito’s eldest daughter, Bessie, accompany me on the day long expedition, and boy did I need her help. Aldeas don’t really follow the ‘grid’ method when city planning. You could say it’s kinda like Pittsburgh. . . someone threw up on a map and called it good. There are so many houses tucked away into the forests, behind other houses, in ravines, houses that look like shacks, shacks that look like houses. I would have been lost. Not to mention dechipering the names of the campesinos. Names down here are spoken with pride, and everyone has at least 4, if not 5 names. And campesinos have a different accent altogether. So, when I ask someone what their name is, all I hear is “Don Juan jumblemumbleskittyskat Vasquez”. Sometimes I only put the last name. That should be ok, right? NOPE. Many people don’t leave these aldeas, so everybody has the same last name. So, Bessie was my hero that day. We went up hills, we went down hills, we went back up the same hills, someone wanted to give us oranges, we were followed by kids, we stopped in the only house in the town with a very large tv to watch 20 minutes of a telenovela. It was amazing. We finished just in time for Tito to come back from the field and offer us coffee and pan, and I even got to take home some fresh pataste from his garden. Yum! To keep you all informed, I am currently working on the design right now. In fact, my spreadsheet is open, and I should be working on it but I am typing this instead. Once I turn it in, the waiting game begins on when and from where the funding will come from. Fortunately, I think the world is warming up to the idea of accepting the outcome our upcoming elections, which means for foreign aid might open back up. Keep your fingers crossed.

The second half of the month was spent with my mom, which there are no words to describe. I was so happy, almost to the point of euphoria upon seeing my mom at the airport. There is nothing more comforting that hugging your mom. Especially when you are in a developing country and an emotional yo-yo every other day. The extra bag she packed full of American goodies for me was an added bonus! We spent the first few days in Santa Rosa, walking around, seeing the sights. And of course, focusing on Honduran “cultural exchange”, like I had mentioned earlier.  In addition to meeting some of my co-workers, neighbors, and my landlady, my mom also had the pleasure of power outages, no water in my apartment followed by a flooded bathroom, and of course, cockroaches in my kitchen. As we all know, my mother is made of steel (as on of my friends puts it), so she helped me clean up the flood and managed to catch both of the very large cockroaches between a saucepan and a plate, while I screamed like a little girl in the background. On top of it all, my landlady called the next day informing me that a plumber was going to demo my bathroom due to a pipeleak below, so I should ‘go ahead an move into the vacant apartment next door’. So, my mom and I rallied and made the swift move in no time. Thanks for working on your vacation! I also introduced her to the Honduran phenomenon of cutting in line. Not that I taught her how to cut in line, but simply how to keep a stiff shoulder so not to lose her spot to someone else. But, she did enjoy some strange fruits, such as lichies, which are red and spiky, but taste like a grape, and grenadinas, a close cousin to the passionfruit. I did not make her try nance.

After her introduction to Santa Rosa, we hit the road to Copan Ruinas, the only Mayan ruins located in Honduras. Copan Ruinas is very tranquila and has a very European feel to it. Coffee shops, dreaded backpackers, and hippie markets line the cobblestone streets. We soon found ourselves at fabulous café munching on Thai green curry and a cobb salad with real lettuce (not iceberg) and bacon! Yes, real bacon! I was in heaven! In addition from the mini-culture change from the rest of Honduras, the ruins were breathtaking! I have never seen any kind of ruins before, but my mom has and she said they were pretty spectacular. We spent a good three hours wandering the immaculately green grounds (it would put Augusta to shame), looking a stelas, temples, and mounds while reading about their significance. Looking at the ball courts, I read that if you were the unfortunate soul to lose a ball game, you would be sacrificed. Now wouldn’t that be great if we put that idea to use in the states? Then, our society wouldn’t be inundated with disgustingly overpaid, underworked, sports stars. And I digress. Then mom and I came to temple 16. Deceiving to the eye, it appeared like any other pyramid-like temple. However, 2 separate temples are buried beneath; one was discovered just recently. They have tunneled cautiously through the temples, careful not to disturb what’s above. Unfortunately, most of the tunnels are off limits to tourists, and the few that are open are ridiculously overpriced. So, we read about it instead in an archeology magazine that she had brought from the states (along with many back-issues of the Science Times, please send more!).

After Copan, we made our way back to Santa Rosa for a few more days before our big trip to the beach. Of course, I had contracted another amoeba, which required some medical attention and a crap load of pills. Somehow, my mom didn’t get sick once. Like I said, made of steel that woman is. We celebrated her birthday with some of my friends here and the next day we were on a bus up to Tela, bright eyed and bushy tailed. Our hotel was located right on the Caribbean beach, with water as warm bath water. A little less pristine than Utilia, but I didn’t care. We took a trip to Jardin Lancetilla, a botanical garden that houses tons of plants, fruit trees, and an immaculate river that was clear as glass (an anomaly here in Honduras).  We stumbled upon a university student who was studies there, and was super eager to give us the grand tour, and of course practice his English. He took us all over the place, identifying plants, picking fresh liches from trees, and dragging us to find the “largest” tree in the garden. My mom understandably was tired from the heat and the hiking, so when I (sola) went to find the “largest tree” with our guide, I should have known better than to go with him. In Honduras, everyone estimates “5 minutes” to arrive at your destination, which is a lie They tell you what you want to hear. So when 20 minutes passed by while hiking, I got concerned about my mom. When I returned, my mom had told me that a passerby informed her that it was “bien peligroso” for her to be there by herself. Boy, did I feel like an ass and a bad daughter. Fortunately, that passerby notified the park security about it. Wow I am such an ass. Thank the lord nothing happened there, but, as life goes, ironically my mom and I were robbed on the beach right around our hotel at 11:30 in the morning. Talk about karma. What the hell did she do to deserve that? I’ll spare details, but her passport, among many other things were stolen. After a long and chaotic day talking with my pop (who was surprising calm), the police (useless), the US embassy, and the Peace Corps, we headed down to the capital the next day on the 6am bus. Once again, who was calm and collected? Yup, you got it, my mom. I was crying, yelling, and swearing up a storm, both in English and Spanish. I did laugh once though, when the man at the hotel assumed I was pregnant and told me not to cry because it would upset the baby. “I am gordita, not pregnant, idioto” I said laughing and crying at the same time.

But not all was lost in our vacation. My mom and I had a blast in the capital. The embassy was really nice about issuing a new passport. We went to the mall, went shopping, ate at TGI Fridays, and caught an afternoon matinee at the movies. All of these things I detest in the states, but LOVE here. There’s something comforting about it. And my mom hadn’t seen a movie in years, I’m talking 15+ years. We met some characters making huge business deals in suits and ties at the swanky hotel, where we enjoyed appetizers (I’m talking brie cheese) and happy hour specials. But as all good things come to an end,  my mom made it to her flight ok (although a day later and in a different city). I was really sad to see her go, and my (new) apartment is still not the same. However, I did finally get back to work and am happy to be back in site. In addition to my water design, a new project I’m tackling involves teaching a local women’s support group how to bake! I think I have found my calling. All week I have been testing cake and bread recipes using cheap, locally available ingredients. Talk about a fun science experiment. I’ll keep you all posted! Until then, enjoy the pictures!

November 13, 2009 at 11:47 pm 1 comment

Troublesome Tela

November 13, 2009 at 11:31 pm Leave a comment

Copan Ruinas

November 13, 2009 at 11:23 pm Leave a comment

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