Monday, August 24, 2009

Hot Tamales!

This past weekend was really good. On Sunday I hiked up the mountain to visit my host family and spent the day there. They cut down a bunch of corn in the morning and we made tamales. My host mom’s brother and his family, who I’m close to, came over to help. Making tamales is a long process. We husked all the corn, keeping some of the husks to cook the tamales in, then degrained the cobs, ground the corn to make meal, mixed it with some other ingredients, filled the husks with the corn mixtures, and put them in a pot to boil. There are many different types of tamales, some are cooked in banana leaves, some have meat and vegetables in them, some have beans in them, some have nothing, some are sweet, etc. Before coming here I had no idea there were so many types of tamales. I don’t like them that much. Depending on how ripe the corn is when you pick it, you can do different things with it. Some corn was put aside to make tortillas, other to make tamales, other to make elote a.k.a. corn on the cob, and the juiciest corn was used to make atole. Atole is kind of like pudding, or flan. To make it, you grind the corn really well to get all the juice out, which is kind of milky. This is mixed with milk, sugar, and cinnamon. It’s another dish I don’t really like. So, throughout the day, I ate corn in four different forms: elote, atole, tortillas, and tamales. It was nice day though, and I hadn’t seen my host family for two months, so it was good to visit with them.

Last month we finished the cultural talks with the 5th graders. To finish the session, we put the students into groups and had them research and present a topic. I talked to them about good research and good presentation techniques. Each group chose a country or region and a theme. Some examples of themes presented: Chinese festivals, Central American sports, European food, African wildlife, famous people of the US, US sports. Some of the groups I was pretty impressed by, and others not so much. The day after the presentations, the librarians and I organized a party for the students. We made “cultural food,” which included: spaghetti, nachos with salsa, hummus, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and oatmeal-raisin cookies, and scones. The party started at 4pm, so the two librarians and I spent all day preparing the food, which was a pain but kind of fun. The party went well, except that it rained for about half an hour and it was an outdoor party. But all the food went over really well, and after the rain stopped, I played a bunch of games with the kids.

Lately, I’ve been pretty busy working on a couple grant proposals. The municipal government of my town is in the process of building a garbage dump with good environmental standards, and they want to have an educational aspect to the program, so I’ve been working on writing a couple grants to focus on education and awareness. I helped the library that I work with to write a grant proposal to fund garbage management workshops with several community groups: civic leaders, youth leaders, small business owners, food service owners, and teachers. The idea is to train 100 community leaders in themes including: the importance of not littering; separating trash into organics, non-organics, and recyclables; utilizing the garbage service when it starts, etc. Instead of receiving a diploma for completing the workshop, each participant will receive a canvas bag, with an environmental slogan, to be used for shopping, instead of using plastic bags. Our municipality has actually been talking about making the pulperia (small store) owners charge for plastic bags in order to encourage people to bring their own bag when making purchases.

The other grant I’m working on is with another volunteer, in coordination with a local NGO (non-governmental organization), to do an environmental education campaign. This includes having television and radio announcements and programs, as well as billboards with environmental messages, specifically promoting good waste management practices. The budget also calls for promotional items (keychains, stickers, pens, canvas bags, etc.) with the campaign’s logo and an environmental slogan. If we can create a stigma against littering, less people will be likely to do it.

The other component of the campaign focuses on the local buses. With the grant money, signs with environmental messages (ej. “Don’t throw garbage out the window”) will be purchased and placed on the insides and outsides of buses. An agreement will be reached with the bus companies to implement a trash collection policy so that passengers will be able to deposit their trash in trash bags. Also, a professional will be hired by the project to give informational environmental talks on the buses and hand out the promotional items. The bus companies have been pretty responsive to the proposal of these activities. We’re submitting the proposal to the Coca-Cola Foundation and are looking for other funding sources. It’ll be really exciting to see billboards and bus signs with environmental messages, but I won’t actually be here to see it.

I only have one more month in my town, then I go to the Peace Corps office for a couple days to do closing medical exams and administrative stuff, and then I go home. It’s hard to believe I’m leaving so soon. I’m getting pretty sad about it, but it’s time to move on.