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.

1 comment:

  1. gracias Ashley, Agagin you have served as a reality check on how things are for families in poor situations. It is humbling & a reminder of non-instant living . Thanks ! Bonnie Y