Sunday, August 30, 2009

Frijoles Rojo

The refried beans served in Honduras are even better than the refried beans served in my favorite Tex-Mex restaurants. I almost feel like a traitor, saying that, but it's true. In much of Central America, they use red beans, not pinto beans. And sometimes they throw in a little sausage. I could live on them.

So Elizabeth, one of my students who has accompanied me to Honduras twice now, bought me a bag of red beans at Fiesta in Houston. I procrastinated cooking them for about a year because I really didn't know how. But a few Saturdays ago, I finally looked up a recipe on the Internet and dove into the process gringo style.

First you have to sort the beans and make sure there aren't any rocks or dirt clods mixed in with the beans. I didn't find any, but that's what the Internet said. Who am I to argue with Al Gore?

Then you have to wash them. Then you put them in a pot of water and let them soak overnight. The beans swell up and absorb the water which makes them soft. In the morning, drain them and put in fresh water and boil them for a while. I don't remember how long. But you really don't care do you? I mean, if you want to cook beans are you going to come read this post? I don't think so. You're going to use a cook book or a recipe website. I mean, you're probably just looking at the pictures anyway, so why am I even writing this stuff?
They were really soupy at first, but I kept cooking them until they got to the right consistency. I put in some cream cheese as an experiment too. I also put in a bit more salt than I should have.

Ready to serve.

Ryan came over so I made him eat some. He said they were too salty. So I ran into the other room and cried in Spanish.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Fat Guy's Week in Review

Last week was my first week back at school and so far it's smooth sailing; I have kept my head above water; what ever water-based metaphor you like. So I decided to relax a little and look through other people's pictures on Facebook. Bunmi O., a former student of mine, has graduated and moved back to his home in Nigeria, or as he spells it, "9ja". He uses all kinds of hip slang like that. He probably got that from me.

The billboard in the background says "Celebrate Success". Ironic, isn't it? The world is a funny place. And I mean funny weird, not funny haha, though sometimes it's funny haha too. You understand.

Speaking of Facebook, using it I have found lots of people from my past with whom I had lost touch, sometimes intentionally. Two people in particular, are worth mentioning. The first is a childhood friend from my neighborhood named Johnny (now he goes by John) who moved away when I was about 10 years old. For a while we were best buds. Now he's living in New York City and working on a law degree! The second person is my 10th grade English teacher, Miss Westa. She is no longer teaching, nor a Miss Anything; she is married and working in Boston. I emailed her out of the blue, and to my surprise she remembers me!

It's funny how you can be excited and simultaneously apprehensive about reawakening old friendships. What if we don't have anything in common anymore? What if they have changed as much as I have, but in a different direction? It almost seems like the memory of the relationship should be left alone, not disturbed by some technological relationship excavation tool. But curiosity and the hope of picking up where we left off drive me forward. Am I a grave robber, looking for jewels in the crypt of old relationships? Or am I just a typical person, cautiously attending a virtual high school reunion, just to see what ever happened to old so and so?

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Soloist, Human Suffering, and the Least

Last week The M and I watched "The Soloist" with Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr.. I was moved by the story. The acting was also good, and the photography, especially the aerial photography, was beautiful. The M and I recommend it for adults. It stirred me up to the point that I couldn't get to sleep afterwards. My mind was racing with thoughts about what we, people that want to help, can really do to diminish human suffering. And of course, this is more than an academic question for me, since I am neck-deep in using technologies and business ideas to try to help people help themselves out of poverty.

The movie is the true story of a gifted cellist from a poor African-American family in the 60's who develops schizophrenia during his second year studying music at Julliard. His disease goes undiagnosed and untreated for decades until we meet him as a homeless street musician in present day Los Angeles. A columnist from the LA Times discovers his talent and decides to write a story about him. As the film develops, they become friends, and the reporter attempts to help him by getting him an apartment, a new cello, contacting his family, and so on. I won't tell you how it ends.

Although I really liked the movie, but it left me feeling discouraged. The questions it raised made me feel like attempts to help people, in the end, don't really help. But now, after a little more time has passed, and my antidepressant prescription has been refilled, I have better perspective. I remember that I have felt that way before. I recognized the emotion as something I experienced in 2005 visiting the Kibera slum in Kenya.

Kibera is a slum by any sense of the word. Nearly a million people live there on 600-700 acres. Their 10 foot by 10 foot homes have no water, or sanitation, or (usually) electricity. When I first visited it, I was left with the overwhelming feeling that I could never make a measurable difference here. I could spend a fortune, a career, or a lifetime working here and it would hardly make a difference - the problem was so immense.

I told one of my African co-workers how I felt, and he reminded me that if I can help even one person, I have done something significant. I was reminded of the words of Jesus when he said "I tell you the truth, anything you did for even the least of my people here, you also did for me."

So Jesus isn't asking me to change the world. He isn't asking me to fix Kibera, or even a schizophrenic cellist living on the streets. Perhaps, and this is deep, He isn't even asking me to fix myself. He is asking me to walk with Him one step at a time, and sometimes to do something, perhaps something small, for even the least of His people, and when I do this I am loving Him. When I do this I am resonating with the heart of the Creator of the universe, a heart of compassion and love. When I do this I worship.

School Days

Today was my first day back at school. I am teaching a junior-level class on engineering design (42 students), and two sections of introduction to engineering (120 students). I wore a sports jacket today to intimidate them, but it just made me hot.

Tonight we went to meet Jono's second grade teacher. She seems nice and and only a little older than my college students. He is excited to start on Wednesday.

David used the word "malevolent" in correct context today.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

In the Hands of the Judges

I just sent in the last file for our Energy Innovation Contest application. After making the short list, we had to provide a two-year work plan and budget. Ryan and I worked many hours on it, and tonight is the third night this week I am up past 1:00 AM working on it.

Please pray for our favor with the judges! I think we have a good proposal, but we won't find out if it was good enough until sometime in September.

Going to bed now.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Short List

We made the short list! It's not that short; it has 250 different applications on it, but that's better than 1000! They announce the winners in September.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Energy Innovation Contest

Last May we entered a contest called the Energy Innovation Contest sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank. They were looking for innovative ways to deliver energy to poor people in Latin America and the Caribbean. We are still waiting to find out if we made the short list or not.

I found out today that there were over 1000 entries to this contest. I think they will be distributing twenty, $200,000 prizes. That's about 1 in 50 applicants. They published a map showing the number of applications from each country. Ours is one of the 38 from Honduras.

Obviously, we really hope to get one of these prizes/grants. It would enable us to operate for over a year, and get our technologies and methodologies ironed out.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Da Vinci Exibit

I took the boys to a special exhibit at the museum recently. It was called Machines in Motion, and consisted of all kinds of machines recreated from Leonardo da Vinci's notes and sketches. They were full size and interactive, which the boys enjoyed playing with, especially Jono.

These two early prototypes of the Mona Lisa are seldom seen in public.