Student Life – home visits, Día de los Niños and learning slang

One thing I can say is that it is both rewarding and challenging to be working with the youth of this area. Many of them come from such difficult and outright heartbreaking circumstances, so we cry with them, celebrate with them and support them and their families in so many ways to help them help themselves to a better life.

I have chosen three primary school students to sponsor, and was delighted to meet with them and their families in their homes recently. Each one is special in their own way, as are all children, and since I had interviewed them as part of my job as a long-term volunteer, I knew what their interests are and planned gifts for them accordingly.

Saúl said he likes to read horror stories, but my motherly instincts kicked in. Not sure how his mother would feel about it, and not being familiar enough with Spanish-language children’s/young adult books, I decided on a fantasy/adventure book instead. I already knew about the book Eragon about a boy and his dragon, and so ordered a copy from . Unfortunately, the web site was in Spanish, and I didn’t notice the light gray letters that stated the book was the English version, so when it arrived, thankfully I opened it to read a little first, and saw it was IN ENGLISH!!! Oh, well, sent it right back and ordered a Spanish-language copy. Problem solved.

For Alexia, she wants to be an architect and likes to draw, so I got a bilingual (English/Spanish) book about famous artists.

For Roberto, he wants to be an Egyptologist and has drawn pictures of pharaohs and other such things on the side of his house – so I ordered a Scholastic book about ancient Egypt.

The home visits went very well, meeting the students and their loving families and gaining insights into their lives, the feelings of various family members, and their motivations for their futures. While the composition of the families of all our students may vary, often because of illness or death of a family member, they appreciate the opportunity that our scholarships give them, and there is much love, hope, encouragement and support in these cohesive families, as well as a great deal of support and encouragement and love from everyone at Project Amigo, from the volunteers to the staff to the coordinators and all of our sponsors, which includes individual people and organizations.

Another source of joy when being a sponsor is writing letters to the students and receiving letters from them. Thanks to the internet, email is a great way to communicate. I have shared pictures of my family, as well as pictures of my village – Goshen, New York – after a snowstorm, since they may have heard of snow, but have never seen it. Considering that regular mail may take anywhere from one month to three months to travel one way, electronic mail is truly a blessing.

For sponsors who don’t speak Spanish, we have staff, volunteers and students to translate. One of my jobs is to translate into English letters from students to their English-speaking sponsors. Sites such as Babel Fish or Google Translate can sometimes result in very comical or nonsensical translations, so a human translator is preferable. However, since we are dealing with the young, we will come across slang and need a native speaker to help get past that roadblock. Recently, I got stuck when translating a letter and came to the phrase “que padres.” Literally, it means “what parents” and I couldn’t make any sense of it the way it was being used in the sentence – not from my dictionaries or even on-line dictionaries, and finally asked one of the staff. He told me the young people use it to mean “cool” as in “Hey, that’s cool, man.”

It reminded me of when my son was a teenager and I had said something to him. He replied, “Mom, that’s sick.” My response was that I thought it was something nice, and he said that the word sick now meant something good. When I went to work the next day, I confirmed this with one of our 19-year-old CNA’s.  Guess each generation develops its own language….

One of the things the Project Amigo scholars are required to do in order to keep their scholarships is to participate in homework clubs. April 30th will be el día de los niños, or Children’s Day. Because of this, the homework clubs this week had games, contests and cakes at their club meetings. It was wonderful to be part of it, and seeing kids just be kids and having fun from such simple activities as relay races and musical chairs.

If living down here in Mexico and volunteering with Project Amigo has taught me anything, it is that no matter the circumstance, deep down inside, children are the same all over this world, and I am grateful for the circumstances that have allowed me to be able to play a small part in making a positive  difference in their lives.


Boston Baked Beans (sort of…)

I am back, after a few weeks of writer’s block as well as not too much going on to write about. Being that it has been pretty slow here, I decided to look up recipes for comfort food that didn’t involve jalapeños or hot sauce. Since there are plenty of beans here, I decided to make baked beans from scratch.

First task was to find a recipe and then translate the ingredients into Spanish. Found a recipe online and then translated. Here are the ingredients and then what I actually used, because of availability.

1 lb. dried navy beans or Great Northern beans = 1/2 kg. frijoles blancos or frijoles blancos del Norte. Not sure what type of beans I used. Went into Doña Meche’s tienda and she gave me an unlabelled plastic bag of dried beans when I wrote out what I needed

1/4 lb. bacon or salt pork = 60 gm tocino (actual bacon)

1 cup chopped onion = 1 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup molasses or maple syrup = sweet barbecue sauce and some maple syrup left behind by another staff member

1/4 cup packed brown sugar = piloncillo, a dark sugar compressed into a cone shape

dry powdered mustard = regular yellow mustard

salt and pepper = salt and pepper

The greatest amount of time was spent soaking and cooking the dried beans. After a day, I decided they were reconstituted enough to finally bake. I also decided to mix half barbecue sauce and half maple syrup in order to try to have as much of a sweet molasses taste as possible.

Wasn’t quite sure how to handle the piloncillo, though. The internet is a real blessing for finding out stuff, and so I looked up how to use it. One source talked about chopping it up, but another source said something about heating it in a microwave, which is less time-consuming. So I put one cone on a saucer and stuck it in the microwave – oops, kept it in a little too long, and ended up with melted sugar which instantly hardened on the saucer and I couldn’t peel it off.  After experimenting with timing, and frequently stopping the microwave, I ended up with a sticky mass that I could peel off the saucer, and figured it would melt into the beans in the oven (and it did).

When everything was mixed, I put it all into a clay cooking vessel, and then carried it to the Suegras residence, where the oven is more accurate. (As an aside – ovens are not used that much around here – almost everything is cooked on top of the stove, or over an open fire for those who do not have stoves.)

In any case, after 2  1/2 hours it was finished baking. Brought it back, but it turned out that all but one of the staff members had made other plans for lunch. The one staff member who ate with me didn’t really say much, even though I told her I wouldn’t be insulted if she decided to add hot sauce to it.

Even though I made plenty and told everyone that they could have some, it seems that I am the only one eating it. Oh, well, more for me, and I can rest assured that whatever food I decide to make for myself, I will be able to find an adequate substitute down here in Mexico. And, by the way, it does taste pretty close to the traditional Boston baked beans – which I have re-named Frijoles al Horno de Boston in honor of my new home.