Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Mamita, me toca la comida!

Translation: Mom, it's my turn to take food to school!

One aspect of the Nicaraguan education system that I find fascinating is the practice of having families provide a meal for all of the students in their child's class. I think of it as the Nicaraguan way of providing a school lunch - rather than cooking and serving a meal for all of the children in the school, the government provides the raw materials of a typical Nicaraguan meal to each classroom daily (imagine how much food they provide daily to all classrooms in all public schools across the country!)

Each teacher is then responsible for organizing a rotating schedule designating which child/family will have to cook and bring the food in each day. From what I have seen, the schedule tends to go in alphabetical order, and if you consider that there are about 25-30 students per class, that means that each family is responsible for providing the food about once every month or month and a half.

When a child "le toca la comida" (has his/her turn for providing the food), the teacher sends that child home with the raw materials to bring back cooked the next day: about 2 pounds of rice, 2 pounds of red beans, 1/2 liter of oil, 2 pounds of corn (to make tortillas), and 2 pounds of cereal to make a fresco (a drink - it's not cereal like Frosted Flakes, it's more of a grainy powder-ish substance that you mix with sugar and water). That night or the next morning, the family has to cook the food and bring the meal to school at about 9:00am. The parent who brings the food typically stays to help serve.

Usually, the meal consists of rice, beans, fresco, and whatever else the parents decide to add, though families can prepare the food however they want. For example, they could prepare the rice and beans separately, or mix them together to make gallo pinto. If the family is more well-off, they could make a more complex meal, such as arroz aguado or arroz a la valenciana, which are rice based but also have chicken or pork, vegetables, and sauces. Some families will buy either cuajada (a typical Nicaraguan cheese), crema (like sour cream but more liquidy), or plantains (to make either maduros, tajadas, or tostones, various forms of preparing plantains) to accompany the rice and beans.

The last time my friend's daughter had to provide the meal, I decided to document the process. Follow me and see what it's like to provide a meal for 25ish preschool children!

Raw materials: corn, rice, cereal (for fresco), and oil - the beans were already cooking.

Step 1: Cook the beans (either in a pressure cooker or boiled in water)

Beans cooking first in a pressure cooker. First, you have to sort them out in case there are little rocks mixed in among the beans. I don't imagine it would be too pleasant to be eating a spoonful of beans and find something extra hard...

Step 2: Cook the rice
Freshly washed rice, ready to be cooked! And this stuff doesn't come in a box with step-by-step directions and measurements!
Large pot to cook 2lbs of rice - first, add oil and onions. Trust me, the onions give the rice a wonderful flavor!
Adding the rice to the oil and onions

Cook until lightly browned.

Add water until it covers the surface of the rice.
Add salt to flavor.
Then, cover the rice and cook until the rice absorbs the water.

Step 3: Fry the beans
Removing the beans from the water remaining in the pressure cooker.

Fry the beans in oil and onions.
Step 4: Prepare fresco from cereal
Pour cereal into the container you will make the fresco in.
Add water and  mix until well-blended
Add sugar to taste.

Mix until well-blended!

Step 5: Fry plantains (aka make maduros)
Unfortunately, I don't have pictures of this as this time we didn't make maduros, and when my friend's son had to bring food, I was frantically trying to cook enough maduros for 26ish hungry 2nd graders, and I forgot to take pictures.

Step 6: Serve!
One of the teachers serving the meal!
Waiting patiently for her plate!
Serving the cuajada
Plates of food ready to be distributed! Rice, beans, and cuajada!
Ready to eat! p.s. Ben 10 is super popular among the little boys here!
How could you not love this face?!
She looks a lot more enthusiastic here than she actually was when told that she had to EAT the food! But most devoured their food immediately!
I love the girl in the middle!

Everybody wanted their picture taken

Yummmy fresco!

Believe it or not, this picture is candid, and this little girl really is that adorable!
  So, there you have it!

While I find this practice fascinating, it also humbles me when I think that for some (possible a lot) children, this is their breakfast and lunch...or if they study in the afternoon, it's their lunch and dinner. According to my host mother, Doña Matilde, que descanse en paz,some kids attend school simply because they are guaranteed at least one filling meal per day. Unfortunately, there are a lot of families that can't afford to provide 3 meals per day for their children, and so they send their children to school so they at least have that food.

But imagine what it must be like for those kids to arrive to school on an empty stomach and have to study for 2 hours before they are finally served some desperately needed food. And imagine what it must be like for those same kids when the government, for whatever reason, doesn't provide food to the schools - sometimes a few days or even a week or more will go by without any food rations provided to the schools. I'm not exactly sure the reasoning behind this, but I know that those kids in particular feel the effects of this greatly. And it breaks my heart. These kids desperately need nourishment to be able to study and go about their daily lives, to grow up healthy and become contributors to the society that is raising them.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Kids Say the Darndest Things

Does anybody remember that show? I was reminded of it again today when my friend's daughter started a ridiculous conversation with us about coffee and coughing. You'd think that those are two completely unrelated topics, but leave it to a 4 year old to relate them! The conversation went something like this (G is the daughter, M is the mother, and A is me):

background info: we were eating breakfast - chicharrones with frijoles, tortilla and coffee, and the little girl wanted to drink some of her mom's coffee.

M: Las niñas no toman café, solo los adultos.
G: ¿Porque me da tos?
M: Sí
G: Y la Ashley tampoco toma café porque es la hija de los Estados Unidos y le da tos.
A: Tomé un trago de café y tosé porque no lo había tragado bien.
G: Viste?!

 Now in English:
M: Little girls don't drink coffee, only adults.
G: Because it makes me cough?
M: Yep
G: And Ashley doesn't drink coffee either because she's the daughter of the United States and it makes her cough.
A: I took a sip of coffee and coughed because I hadn't swallowed properly.
G: See?! (like "I told ya so") 


Example 2:
background info: I was taking my friend's daughter and her sister's son to their preschool class one morning, and the kids were walking incredibly slowly. To encourage them to pick up the pace a bit, I told them that Tobi (my friend's dog who is super loyal and follows us everywhere) was walking much faster than them and would arrive first to class.
G is the daughter, A is me, and D is the cousin/nephew

G: Pero Tobi no va a clase!
A: Y por que no?
G: Porque no.
A: David*, por que no va a clase Tobi?
D: Porque ya es grande.

G: But Tobi doesn't go to class!
A: And why not?
G: Because.
A: David, why doesn't Tobi go to class?
D: Because he's too old.

Apparently it had nothing to do with the fact that he's a dog but rather that he was too old to be in their preschool class!
*This is not actually the little boy's name.


Example 3:
background info: I was playing school with my friend's two children, ages 7 and 4. I was asking each of them questions appropriate to their level, but at one point, the four year old answered a question for her brother with a completely silly response, but with such poise and confidence that I had to share!
G is the daughter, T is the son, and A is me.

A: Que es una centena?
G: Es una nave espacial para los extraterrestres.
T: NO, tiene cien unidades.

A: What is a hundred?
G: It's a space ship for aliens.
T: NO, it has one hundred units.

And I have to give her credit...the word "centena" does sound like something related to aliens!

One of G's favorite sayings whenever we're playing a game such as UNO is to say "El que gana, pierde", or "The one who wins, loses".

There are so many more examples from these three kids especially, but unfortunately I didn't think to write them down in the moment, and I have forgotten. From now on, I vow to write down the wisdom of these children because it's just so darn adorable!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Garbage Day!

Photo of the Week: Garbage day Nicaraguan style! And I would like to note that my Nicaraguan friends who saw me taking these pictures laughed out loud at me and thought I was crazy for wanting to take pictures of the garbage truck. So please, dear readers, appreciate this pictures for all they're worth:

Dumping the garbage from the sack onto the "truck"

Yup, that's a tractor.

I was trying to get a picture of this guy throwing the sack to the other guy, but I was too quick.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Pen Pals!

One of my lovely friends, Colleen, had a wonderful idea to start a pen-pal project with students from Tapestry Charter School in Buffalo, NY and students from a local school in El Sauce. When she returned from a month-long stay in the beautiful town of El Sauce, she was (and still is!) on fire for all things Nicaragua, especially El Sauce.

One of her brilliant ideas was to get youth from the US connected to youth from El Sauce, get them to develop a relationship and become as excited as she is about El Sauce so that once they are a bit older, they can come to El Sauce and fall even more in love. One tangible way to do this was to start a pen-pal project with middle-school aged children; how exciting would it be for these kids to receive a hand-written letter from a child in another country?!

In May of this year, she coordinated with a Spanish class at Tapestry school, where one of her grandchildren attends school, and got them to write letters to their new friends in El Sauce, introducing themselves, their community, and their school and asking questions to learn about the lives of students in El Sauce. She sent these letters through the mail to a Peace Corps volunteer who is stationed in El Sauce; believe it or not, these letters JUST arrived to the volunteer! I should also mention that they were delivered to Managua, not El Sauce directly. You see, El Sauce doesn't have a mail system! So, all mail has to go to Managua or another large city.

This week, I was able to get the letters from Rachel, the Peace Corps volunteer. Today, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit two 7th grade classes at Instituto Jonathan Gonzalez, the local public high school in El Sauce, and explain this project to them. The students were so enthusiastic! I had way more volunteers than I had letters to hand out - what a wonderful problem to have, no? They couldn't wait to read the letters and write a response to their new pen pals! Hopefully we will be able to expand the project to include more students in the near future!
Class 1 receiving their letters!
Class 2 - they were outside working in the school garden when we delivered the letters!

 We will be sending the letters back to Buffalo in September, just in time for the start of a new school year in the US! I can only imagine how excited the students at Tapestry will be to receive their first letter from a student in El Sauce! We're hoping to be able to maintain the communication and keep the letters going so the kids can develop relationships with their pen pals...and who knows what might happen in the future?!

Friday, August 24, 2012

12 Year-olds and Machetes?

Would you trust a 12 year old with a machete? If you live in Nicaragua, the answer is YES! Proof? When I visited the local high school this morning, Instituto Jonathan Gonzalez, one of the 7th grade classes was working on preparing the school huerta, or garden. All classes are expected to complete community service about once per week - sometimes they go out into the community and clean up garbage, for example.

This particular day, the students were working on the huerta, preparing the earth for planting. One step of this process meant cutting the monte, or all of the weeds that were growing. And what is the easiest way to accomplish this task? Clearly with a machete! And who is expected to do this? The students, of course. Take a look:

Other students were digging holes:

If I´m not mistaken, these girls are planting something:

So many students! The principal told us that each of the four 7th grade (primer año) classes has about 32 students!

I can't wait to see what it is that they're going to plant and grow in the huerta! And in the meantime, I will keep my distance from those 12 year olds bearing machetes...not that I don't trust them. In fact, I'm sure they are much safer in their hands than in mine!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Where in the world is Ashley Sofia?

So, I haven't posted in a LONG time. I am so sorry, dear readers. You see, things got a bit crazy in Nicaragua. My friend's mom (my host mom), Matilde, ended up in the hospital with cancer suddenly.This sent the family into shock and changed family life and daily life 180 degrees, as I'm sure you can imagine. As the family is a "normal" Nicaraguan family, they unfortunately didn't have the funds to take her to be cared for at a private hospital, meaning she had to go to the public hospital in Leon.

As Nicaragua is a developing country with free public health (and the second poorest country in the western hemisphere), the care isn't exactly the best. This meant that someone from the family had to be in the hospital 24/7 with her - either in her room or at least in the hospital. And when I say they had to be there 24/7, I'm not exaggerating even one bit. The family had to come up with a sort of schedule to figure out who would be able to stay with her each day to make sure she was getting the best care possible.

As Martha had to travel to Leon often to be with her mother in the hospital, I was able to step in and help out the family by staying with Martha's kids, caring for them, taking them to class, helping them with homework, feeding them, and everything in between. One thing I can say for sure is that I have a whole new appreciation for parents and their role in raising their children! I also realized that I love those kids like crazy and that even when things get difficult, you do what you have to do because you love them and want the best for them.

Doña Matilde (Martha's mom/my host mom) put up an incredible fight against the cancer and all of the infections and other complications that presented themselves during her time in the hospital. Apparently, her tumor had been growing for 5 years, and by the time they found it, it was too late to cure her and was just a matter of time. She is an amazingly strong woman, though, and she fought hard and always had hope that she would get better, or at least well enough to come back to her home to be with her family. Her whole family rallied around her and did everything they possibly could to support her and help her to get better, and they also had an incredible amount of hope and faith that God was with them and would not desert them.

Unfortunately, her condition was quite unstable due to a number of complications, between infections, heart issues, respiratory issues, and on and on. It seemed like as soon as they were able to stabilize her and she had a good day or two, something would happen and she would be in an extremely risky state again, and the doctors and family would do everything they could to try to stabilize her again. The family even had to go searching for medicine that the hospital in Leon didn´t have - for example, there was one strong antibiotic that she needed to combat an infection, and the only place they could find this medicine in the entire country was in a hospital in Managua.

Despite all of the actions of all of the doctors and the family who cared for her and everyone who was praying for her, Doña Matilde passed away on Monday, July 9th. At that point in time, I was actually in the US - I went home to visit, see family and friends, and to work at the Migrant Education Summer School I have worked at for 3 years now. The family understandably was crushed by her passing, and still are dealing with the effects. One comfort is knowing that Doña Matilde is no longer suffering, because she did suffer immensely during her time in the hospital, even though she wouldn't complain about anything.

Now, I am back in El Sauce. I returned to help carry out a project that Martha and I have been planning for months, which I will write about in future posts, and to continue working on projects that we are developing. Things are quite different, and Doña Matilde's presence is missed every day. It's funny how many insignificant things remind a person of someone who is no longer with us. One thing is for sure: she was a well-loved woman who fought every day for her family, her town, and her country. El Sauce, Nicaragua, the WORLD has lost an incredible woman, and it is my hope to continue her work in the community that she loved so much, alongside her daughter who also desires to carry on her mother's legacy.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

¿Cómo te llamas?

In North America:
--What's your name?

In Nicaragua:
--¿Cómo te llamas?
--María Celeste Talavera Hernandez (invented name)

One thing that makes me laugh here is whenever you ask somebody their name, they give you their entire name. And by entire name, I mean first first name, second first name, first last name, and second last name. Actually, I think it's really cool. The people here are very proud of their names, and so when they're going to tell you their name, it has to be all four names!

Why do they have four names, you might ask? Well, the first two is just tradition that pretty much every child is given two first names, and the family decides how the child will be called on a regular basis. Some kids are called only by their first first name, some by their second first name, and some by both names. Usually it´s whichever name is easier to pronounce, or if there are multiple people with the same name in one family, sometimes the child is called by the second name. Or, if the child is in trouble, they´re called by all four names. I´m sure we can all relate to that, no?

The two last names tradition is actually something that I really love and wish existed in the US too, because it gives importance to both the mother´s and father´s families. The first last name comes from the father, and the second last name comes from the mother. This means that the mother has different last names from the father, and the kids are different from the parents since you maintain your last names from birth. It is a bit confusing at first, but once you get used to it, it makes complete sense, and to me gives equal value to both families.

For example, if the mother´s name is Ana Cecilia Mendoza Lanuza and the father´s name is Marcos Nicolas Gamez Reyes, and they have a child, the child´s name would be Marileysi Liseth Gamez Mendoza - two first names, then the father´s first last name then the mother´s first last name.

I have officially become Nicaraguan by adopting more names, so I fit right in! Since my mom was visiting last week, she got to witness me being called by all of my names, and it was quite amusing! She was a bit confused at first, but grew to like it (right mom?). So, during my first month here, we decided that I needed another first name for a couple of reasons. First, they told me it was too difficult to pronounce "Ashley". Second, my friend Martha´s niece is named Alisson, and they kept mixing up our names. Third, to be Nicaraguan, I obviously needed another first name. So, to make it easier for them to pronounce my name, and to prevent confusion between me and the niece, I decided on the name Sofía. Plus, since I have unofficially become a member of Martha´s family, I added their last names on to the end of my name.

So, combining my official name (first, middle, and last) plus Sofía and the last names from Martha´s family, I am now Ashley Sofía Crocker Sullivan Moncada Rojas. It has a nice ring to it, no? On a regular basis, I am called any of the following: Ashley,  Sofía,  Ashley Sofía, or Sullivan (pronounced Sue-lee-von).