I went on my first home visit of the year last weekend. This one was different than the other ones I have been on, because I did it alone. No Chinese support, no helping hand when things get awkward–Just me and “May” (My 4th grade student), her mom, dad, and grandparents. May is the sassiest girl I know. Most girls in my classes are very quiet. They might stutter before the speak, and I typically have to ask them to repeat their answers or to 大声一点 (Speak a little louder).
May was also my 3rd grade student last year. She struggles in other subjects, but she is fearless in English. I knew she was special when she started responding to my Chinese questions with an English “No Miss Hannah!” or asking for water by saying “Can I have some water Miss Hannah?”. Simply put, she was the first student to recognize that English, like Chinese, is a language that can be used to communicate ideas, not just something you are required to study.
For this reason, I obviously took to her, as she is an inquisitive, brave learner. We just clicked.
Her father is a doctor at the local hospital, and her mother started working at the school cafeteria this year. Since the start of the school year, her mother has repeatedly approached me about going on a home visit. I thought she was just being polite until about 2 weeks ago. She was concerned that I would be leaving after 2 years, so she approached me to ask me to stay another 2 years –“It will be very hard for May if you leave. She says that she does not want to study English with anyone else. She mentions you multiple times a week. If you stay 4 years, then you can teach May until she goes to middle school.”
I wanted to look at her and tell her, “Yes, I will stay for four years. I promise.”, as there are days I love my students so much that I tell myself I will stay. It was painful to tell her that my contract was ending after 2 years.
I told her I had decided to go spend the weekend at her home.
The generosity of the people I meet here seems to be endless. Per usual, I was carrying my red trekking bag to take the 1.5 hour hike. May’s mother insisted on carrying it the whole way. I refused her offer about 10 times until she finally took the bag from me. Not only did she carry my bag but found a way to continuously offer me snacks.
1.5 hours later, May knew how to say: bridge, flower, squirrel, grass, tree, plant, bug, and peas–all due to her own curiosity.
The generosity continued as we arrived at May’s home. My clothes were quickly replaced with her mother’s fancy pink coat, as her mom insisted on hand washing the sweater I had worn on the hike.
I had brought a variety of tools to foster the bonding process: English books, flash cards, the movie “Cinderella”, and four years of pictures on my computer. All were used! May’s favorite was obviously “Cinderella”. I felt like a sort of older sister, as we laid on the bed and watched it together. I observed her as she huffed and puffed at the wicked step mother. It reminded me of how I must have felt watching Cinderella as a child. We both fell asleep as were watching the movie, to be woken up by the smell of spicy hot pot.
I met her grandparents over dinner. Their Baizuhua (language) was just too thick for me to understand, so May had to translate everything they said for me.
I reflected on the challenges for minority students in rural China. May is considered to be a privileged child in our context. The fact that both of her parents speak Mandarin gives her a unique advantage in our village. Other students that do not have this sort of exposure struggle in all subjects as they transition into the purely “Mandarin” environment. There are so many layers to education inequity. For example, I am teaching at Liu He Elementary School, as it is an under resourced school. From the perspective of people in this mountainous area though, my school is the best school in the area.
Half of my 4th grade students come from a village 4 hours away, and the school they attended in 3rd grade did not have the resources to provide them with English. Therefore, they are already a year behind. It may not seem like much, but a year’s worth of English is enough to provide you with the building blocks of the language.
May’s village has a smaller elementary school, but it has much less resources than Liu He Elementary School. Her parents can afford to send her to a school 1.5 hours away from home. May’s parents have also already planned to send her to Heqing, the best, closest option for middle school. As for high school and college, her parents say her scores are too low. To be honest, the odds are indeed against her. The closest high school is about 2 hours away, and you have to be the BEST of your class to go. So, even though she will be lucky enough to go to Heqing for middle school, she will be competing against students that have already had a better elementary school education than she has. It is possible, but there are only so many spots available.
The complexity of this problem had caused me to lose touch with the moment entirely. My focus quickly snapped back to the delicious hot pot I was eating when I noticed that the grandma was touching my hair and smiling. Everyone laughed, of course. May went on to say “Miss Hannah has long, yellow hair” (a sentence structure she had just learned in Unit 3).
After dinner, May’s family got dolled up for me to take a picture of them–hence the crown on May’s head.
At the request of May, round 2 of Cinderella needed to happen. Midway through the movie, around 9pm, I heard the death cries of a chicken. Shortly after, I discovered that her father had killed a chicken for us to have an 11pm “chicken noodle” snack. He was concerned I would be hungry, and killing an animal is a sign of hospitality here.
As I prepared to leave the next morning, May asked me if I would stay for four years. I told her I could not, and in classic May style she responded by saying, ” I will not study English under anyone else but you, and I will intentionally not make good grades if you leave.” I told her that she was not studying English to please me, but for her own academic achievement. She cutely smiled and said, “I know.”
After weekends like this, I am conflicted as to my role as a Teach for China fellow. Right when I feel like I am becoming the teacher I want to be, I have to leave. What impact have I had here? This is a complicated question, and when it’s raised, I tend to just stick to what I can absolutely be sure of. I am sure of the following:
- My students and I have connected .
- I have seen many struggling students blossom in my class.
- My students are happy in English class.
- My students are confident in English class.
- My students like learning English.
- My students have learned valuable study habits in my class.
- My students and I communicate both inside and outside of the classroom.
I am confident that the above statements are true.
As for my long-term impact, it is not clear yet. I can only hope, just like every fellow hopes, that my relationships with my students along with my classroom instruction will have a lasting impact—whatever that means. For every student, this could mean something different. For May, it might mean a love for English. For Trey, it might mean learning to wash his hands before coming to class. For Kelly, it might mean learning how to raise her hand in class. For Brandon, the principal’s son, it might very well mean a ticket to a US college one day. Who knows! Impact manifests itself in countless ways. In fear of constricting it, giving impact a one-dimensional definition does not seem right. I am just going to let it breathe.
An amazing mentor and friend of mine gave me this poem yesterday. Ever since then, my spirits have been high. It is a mantra for women. My hip injury has left me feeling gloomy over the past two months. I have been trying my best to be happy in the US, but the limitations of my body have made it a struggle for me. This poem grounded me and reminded me of the type of woman I want to be.
Imagine a woman who believes it is right and good she is a woman.
A woman who honors her experience and tells her stories.
Who refuses to carry the sins of others within her body and life.
Imagine a woman who trusts and respects herself.
A woman who listens to her needs and desires.
Who meets them with tenderness and grace.
Imagine a woman who acknowledges the past’s influence on the present.
A woman who has walked through her past.
Who has healed into the present.
Imagine a woman who authors her own life.
A woman who exerts, initiates, and moves on her own behalf.
Who refuses to surrender except to her truest self and wisest voice.
Imagine a woman who names her own gods.
A woman who imagines the divine in her image and likeness.
Who designs a personal spirituality to inform her daily life.
Imagine a woman in love with her own body.
A woman who believes her body is enough, just as it is.
Who celebrates its rhythms and cycles as an exquisite resource.
Imagine a woman who honors the body of the Goddess in her changing body.
A woman who celebrates the accumulation of her years and her wisdom.
Who refuses to use her life-energy disguising the changes in her body and life.
Imagine a woman who values the women in her life.
A woman who sits in circles of women.
Who is reminded of the truth about herself when she forgets.
Imagine yourself as this woman.
–Patricia Lynn Reilly
Ahhh..it’s just as beautiful every time I read it. It’s so damn hard to maintain this mindset, but with some love its possible. Things like this often bring me back to food, because they make me want to treat my body well. A very simple way to show myself respect is by awakening the soul through cooking and strengthening my body by making sure that the meal is healthy. Very much of what this poem discusses is who we are at a core level, so today, I decided to go raw with my approach to food, to go back to the basics.
I did not take many pictures, because I wanted to focus on the experience, not the product.
Here it is.
Cucumber Carrot Corn Tortilla Wrap
with Hummus Spread
My best friend Anna is allergic to sesame seeds. After years of living with her, I have gotten used to making hummus this way. It’s just as tasty.
Ingredients and How to:
- 1 can of Garbanzo beans
- 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
- 1 tsp of cumin powder
- 1 tbsp of olive oil
- 1 chopped garlic glove
- salt and pepper to taste
- Throw it in the food processor!
***Tip: Add some herbs if you want. I like cilantro!
Cucumber Carrot Corn Tortilla Wrap
- 2 small corn tortillas
- 1/4 medium cucumber diced
- 2 small carrots chopped
- 2 tbsp. hummus
- A squeeze or 2 of fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 cup sliced kale leaves
- 1/4 cup feta
- salt and pepper to taste
- Chop the cucumber, carrots and kale leaves
- Put 1 tbsp of hummus on each tortilla
- Split cucumber, carrots, and kale even between the 2 tortillas
- Add feta to both
- Squeeze lemon juice on top
- Add salt and pepper! It is good with our without this.
After eating Tabouleh with a friend the other day, my mind was set on making it. So, I made it on my dad’s last night in town. He had never heard of it, and I like surprising people with exotic foods they have not tried before. We were both smiling from ear to ear, closing our eyes in enjoyment as we tasted the freshness of the herb and vegetable blend balanced with the nuttiness of the quinoa.
Tabouleh is a salad originally found in Lebanon and Syria, as the mountains in these areas were rich with a wheat variety that was suitable for making bulgar. It is traditionally made with bulgar, parsley, mint, lemon juice, olive oil, tomatoes, cucumber, and onions. I try to play around with gluten free grains, so I substituted the bulgar with quinoa, a high protein seed/pseudo-grain that the Incas considered holy and referred to it as the “mother of all grains”. Strangely, 2013 has been declared the “International Year of Quinoa” in order to bring attention to the role it plays in nutrition, poverty eradication, sustainable farming and also to the Andean indigenous peoples’ role in preserving the crop over thousands of years. So, eat some quinoa in 2013….and forever!
Tabouleh will be in my fridge at all times now. My only regret is not making some pita bread to go with it. There will clearly be a next time.
I started with my quinoa to save time.
I will never bore of seeing all of my vegetables and herbs chopped together. All of the different colors remind me of the importance of variety in healthy living.
The mixing part was my favorite. I could smell the parsley, lemon juice, and olive oil working their way into the nutty quinoa.
I change my mind. The eating part was my favorite. Pretty delicious!
- 1 cup dry quinoa
- 2 cups chopped tomatoes
- 2 cups cucumbers
- 1 bunch of green onions (stems and bulb)
- 2 cups of finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- feta cheese (I only sprinkled a bit on top)
Let’s Do It
- Clean the quinoa thoroughly. Add 2 cups of water to a small pot and add the quinoa. Bring to boil and turn to low. Cover and cook for 15 minutes. (For more information on cooking quinoa, go to this awesome blog, The Kitchn.
- While the quinoa is cooking, chop your tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and parsley.
- Let the quinoa sit for a few minutes to cool. Then, add your lemon juice and oil and stir.
- Add all the veggies and herbs.
- Add salt and pepper to your liking.
- Cover and refrigerate for a few hours. The longer it sits, the better the flavor.
- Serve chilled and top with feta.
The soup salad combo has always been a favorite of mine. While I do not identify as a vegetarian anymore, my diet consists mostly of vegetables. With this being said, sometimes I want something hearty without eating a massive sandwich or a chicken breast. Plus, this is in line with my weekly goal to fatten my dad up!
So, tonight I cooked a hearty black bean soup with a citrus kale salad. Kale is my new favorite green. I had a kale salad at Olio, St. Louis’ new best restaurant where my brother works. I could not get over the texture of the salad! It was not the bitter, tough kale that I was accustomed to having, but rather this nicely textured earthy green.
After falling short of making the kale salad that I was looking for (the one from Olio), I finally found the trick online. You have to massage the kale leaves! More on that later though. Here are the recipes!
Hearty Black Bean Vegan Soup
*** Things to note before starting. Adding salt too early will increase cooking time. Adding baking soda will decrease cooking time, but be careful with how much you add! You might get a chemical taste.
This started with me soaking 1.5 lbs. of black beans in water overnight.
I diced my onion, green and orange bell pepper, and green onion bulbs. Living and cooking in China taught me to never discard the bulbs of green onions. They hold the most flavor. My Chinese cooking mentor (aka Qiong Qiong–my colleague and friend in Liu He) would die if she saw them go unused.
I added oil to my pot with the aromatic vegetables. After sauteing for 5 minutes the vegetables were fragrant and onion translucent.
Then, I added the soaked black beans, cumin, and chili powder.
In went the 6 cups of vegetable broth! When it came to a boil, I turned the heat to low and simmered for 2.5 hours. It took me a lot longer than I thought it would.
******This time varies depending on how long you soak the beans, your stove, and your desired consistency.
When my beans were cooked through enough to smash them, it was where I wanted it. I wanted a thicker soup, so I transferred a few ladles full of beans and smashed them in a bowl and transferred them back afterward. I added the cilantro last and stirred.
It was served warm with some fresh cilantro on top
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1/2 chopped red onion
- 1/2 cup of orange and green pepper
- 1/4 cup of the white bottom of green onion
- 1/4 chopped green onion
- 2 tsp. cumin powder
- 1.5 tsp. chili powder
- 4 garlic cloves minced
- 4 cups of already soaked and sorted black beans
- 1/2 cup of chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 tsp. of fresh thyme
- sea salt and pepper to taste
Let’s Do It
- Chop the onion, green onion bulb and stems, orange and green pepper.
- Heat pot, add olive oil, add all aromatic vegetables except green onion stems. Cook 5 minutes or until aromatic.
- Add garlic, remainder of green onion stems, cumin, chili powder, and soaked black beans.
- Add 6 cups of vegetable broth. Stir. Bring to a boil. Turn to low heat and simmer for 2.5 hours. This will differ depending on your stove, how long you soaked the beans, and your desired consistency.
- When beans are cooked enough to mash, remove a few ladles full and smash beans in a small bowl. Transfer back to pot and stir. This will thicken soup. Do this as much or as little as you want.
- Add 1/2 cup of cilantro to pot and stir.
- Add sea salt and pepper to taste.
- Eat and smile!
Citrus Kale Salad
I do not have many pictures for this one. When massaging the Kale, my hands, along with my towels, kept getting covered with green from the leaves. This was not conducive to using a camera. I will show you the final product though! This is my new favorite salad. The flavors blend perfectly together. Kale will be my green of choice for a while.
- a bunch of kale leaves
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
**My brother just surprised me with high quality balsamic vinegar, and I don’t think I can go back. Try Masserie di Sant’eramo Balsamic Vinegar.
- 2 tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 1 garlic clove minced
- 3 fresh basil leaves finely chopped
- A dash or two of chili pepper
- 1/2 cup chopped cucumber
- 1/3 cup of diced red onion
**Red onion and Kale are a new favorite combination of mine.
- 1/4 diced green pepper
- 3 tbsp. of ground parmesan
- salt and pepper to taste
Let’s do it
- Wash kale leaves. Massage them for 2 minutes in your hands. They should shrink in size by almost half. They will also become more fragrant. Pat them dry.
- Add olive oil, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, sale, pepper, and basil leaves to bowl and stir. Let sit for 30 minutes, so the oil can soak up the flavors.
- Toss kale leaves in dressing. Cover and set in fridge for 20-30 minutes. Kale leaves take longer to absorb dressing flavor.
- Remove from fridge and add cucumber, red onion, green pepper, and parmesan. Toss.
- Add chili pepper. You should only need a few dashes. Toss.
- Smile and eat!
Living in rural China pushed my food limits. I was a vegetarian for two and half years before moving to China. I quickly learned that meatless was not an option in my village–too many pig killings, to much “多吃多吃“(eat more). I tried my best to cook my own meals, but class times often did not allow it. Apparently, excess oil and MSG leads to chronic heart burn, bloating and la duzi. Additionally, I never really got the hand of using the Chinese hot plates (electric portable stove) that we had. They get so damn hot. It often felt like the high setting on an American stove was the low setting of a Chinese stove. I was always burning my garlic, making me perpetually unsatisfied with my dishes. Burnt garlic is the worst. In the US, I cooked every meal of the day, so this was an undesired lifestyle change.
Since I returned to the United States , my passion for cooking has exploded. I read recipes online for at least an hour a day. I can barely finish one meal without thinking about what I want to make next. Johan is forced to listen to every ingredient I use in all of my recipes. I would feel bad for him if I didn’t think he would benefit from this passion later on. My student loans are probably the only thing stopping me from going to cooking school. So, I forge ahead with this obsession.
Food blogging has been an interest of mine for far too long for me to put it off any longer. Food is holy to me, truly. In this overworked world, food is one of the few ways for me to connect with my environment. When I wake up in the morning, I try to make this connection a positive one.
The food/body connection is a nice little cycle. When I eat well, my body rewards me with energy and says, “Thanks biotch. That was super cool of you.” When I don’t eat well, it bitches and says, “Thanks a-hole. Good luck with that heart burn today.” With a few exceptions, before deciding what I want to cook, I ask myself two questions: 1) What can I eat that ensures that my body is happy and healthy? 2) How can I eat healthy and not sacrifice flavor?
So, this is my perspective when I eat and when I post recipes. Enjoy!
My dad is in town right now. He retired last Friday, so this is a celebratory visit. For years, he has said things like, “I don’t have time to eat breakfast or lunch.” It drives me freaking insane. So, every time I see him, I am on a mission to put some healthy weight on him.
This morning I cooked him this power breakfast.
Egg & Leek Corn Tortilla Wrap with Salsa and Feta
- 1/2 cup chopped leeks (I used the bottom portion)
- 2 tablespoon of olive oil
- 2 medium eggs
- 1/4 cup of almond milk
- sprouted corn tortillas (these are healthier than regular corn tortillas)
- goat’s milk feta (use as much as you like)
- salsa (use as much as you like–I like it spicy)
Let’s do it:
- Heat a small skillet on med-high heat. While the pan is heating chop up those leeks.
- Add the oil to the pan. When it starts slightly sizzling add your leeks and turn down the heat to medium. Cook leeks for 7-10 minutes. They should be translucent and fragrant.
- Whisk the eggs. Add almond milk. Add salt and pepper to your liking. Add the eggs to the pan with the leeks. Keep heat on medium.
- Occasionally shake the pan so some of the still liquid egg falls underneath on the sides.
- When just the center has liquid, flip the eggs over. Let cook for another minute.
- Warm tortillas in microwave for about 10-15 seconds.
- Cut the cooked egg leek patty in half and divide them between the two tortillas.
- Top with a tbsp. of salsa and sprinkle feta on top.
- Smile and eat.
I paired this with a nice mango, banana, and peach smoothie.
Many people have reached out to ask why I am back in the US. So, here it is! I have this whole hip thing–aka femoral ascetabular impingement. This basically means that I was born with the head of my femur having too much bone; any movement irritates my labrum in my hip socket, which then leads to micro tears. My pain started roughly two years ago, and it has not gone away since. I am home exploring my options–surgery or no surgery. If I don’t have surgery, I can return in May–ish. If I have surgery, I cannot return until August.
Before leaving for China, I was still confident I could handle the injury. I moved to beautiful Liu He, had a surprisingly good first semester of teaching, and fell in love with Johan Luiz Rocha–the sexy Brazilian man I somehow got placed with. I love my life in Liu He. As it turns out, rural China is also hard on the body though. Many other TFC fellows can relate to the lugging around of water buckets, wearing low-support backpacks to go on three, four hour hikes for student home visits, and of course, the wonderful piece of wood we sleep on. I also fell down a rice terrace after celebrating a little too much for the Chinese new year. Strangely, my back and hip started hurting more as the semester went on.
As my physical therapist and chiropractor did my evaluation last week, they were blown away by the changes in my body and were fairly confident that the water bucket was the biggest culprit! They said even without surgery I need a minimum of six weeks of physical therapy before returning to Liu He.
Before today, my consult with the surgeon was scheduled for April 23rd. Lucky for me, I got a call this morning asking me to come in tomorrow morning! This is fantastic news! The surgeon’s opinion will most likely inform my decision more than anything else, as he is specialized in treating my condition. Furthermore, I can now get the surgery in May/June, versus having it in June/July. This means an earlier return to China.
Leaving China so unexpectedly was the hardest decision I have ever had to make. I am in my first year of teaching; my students would have greatly benefited from my growth in that second semester. They had such confused looks on their faces when I told them I was leaving. My third graders are especially disappointed. They often come skype with me when I am talking to Johan and beg me to come back. May, arguably my favorite student, said, “You are our English teacher. Ms. Qiong Qiong is giving us too much homework and I don’t know how to say the Unit 1 vocabulary words. ” I distracted her by quizzing her on Unit 1 vocabulary words; she nailed it.
I am lucky that my teammates have stepped up so much. I want to give a shout out to Johan, Qiong Qiong, and Yunte. Johan is now teaching an additional five periods a week for my fourth grade; Qiong Qiong has an additional seven periods with third grade; and Yunte has all of my activity classes. This is a significant increase in workload for them; they are the shit. Luckily, my school has a powerpoint room, so I am still able to plan all classes for them. I am thankful that I have been able to stay involved in my students lives through planning and through photo bombing powerpoints. This is a family tree slide I made for them last week. I might not be in Liu He, but they still know every member of my family.
I do want to let all of my TFC peeps know that I miss the shit out of you guys! Shawn Martin, I can’t wait to get a Beer Lao and some Sweet Tooth with you in Dali . Matt Venker, take care of Shawn Martin and kick ass in your first semester of teaching. For all the other first year fellows, I am sure you are rocking it in your second semester. 加油！If you have any requests for candy or school supplies send them over!
In addition to the PT or surgery, I will make sure to eat the necessary amount of cheese, chocolate, and bread that it takes to get healthy.
After spending the weekend in Dali to bring in 2013, I returned to LiuHe on New Year’s Day. I thought I could get some relaxation in before classes started up. Of course, we ran into government officials on the way back to our dorms. There was yet another pig killing that we could not escape. What is a pig killing exactly? At this time of year, everyone in LiuHe kills the pig that they have been fattening up and invite everyone they know to come eat that pig and drink copious amounts of 白酒 (rice wine). When I say eat pig, I actually mean eat pig fat. Pig fat, along with every other unusual (to americans) part of the animal, is eaten. The actual meat is cured and eaten for months. Eating the pig fat is how you show respect to the family that has killed that pig. So, you often get asked “how many pieces of pig fat have you eaten?”.
At this particular pig killing dinner, we were lucky enough to also eat beef–a rarity in my village. We can always buy pork at market day, but if we want other types of meat we have to buy our animal of choice, kill it, and cook it. With this being said, this pig killing (relative to the 15+ I have been to this month) was fantastic.
After the meal, I was asked by the local Baizu women to put on Bai minority clothing and dance with them. A mother of one of my students happily walked twenty minutes to her home to get her Bai clothing for me to wear. I felt so honored to have been able to wear that clothing. The baijiu was flowing, a bonfire was lit, and the dancing started. Local Bai men started playing Baizu music with instruments I have never seen or heard before. There were about 50 Bai women, men, and children (along with me and Johan ), dancing to traditional Baizu music around a bonfire. It was fascinating to see them collectively take part in their customs. Lucky for me, I have been practicing two Baizu dances that local teachers taught me. This came in handy.
Up until this point, I had not felt I was part of the Liu He community–I did not feel connected. This is not because I did not feel welcome; it was and is because the challenges that accompany language barriers and cultural differences. With this language barrier, there are fewer opportunities and methods to connect with people. By dancing and singing with the people of Liu He , I felt the cultural exchange was on their terms–something they are clearly more comfortable with. This got me in touch with the soul of their culture. We did not have to say a thing to one another. I imagine we were all feeling a similar feeling–joy. Everyone kept asking the person next to them “你开心了吗？” (Are you happy?) Their energy, in addition to their response, said “yes”. By learning their dances, wearing their clothing, listening to their music, I say to them “I respect you, and I want to learn from you.” My efforts were well received to say the least.
This dinner was a classic case of “Surprise–don’t plan anything. You live in rural China” I often complain about this sort of thing, as these pig killings usually come at inopportune times (i.e. when I need to plan for classes, when I need to sleep, when I actually have class, when I have 拉肚子”aka the world’s worst stomach ache”). This one in particular was a well-needed reminder of the fact that these pig killings are my opportunity to connect with the community– 关系via 杀猪(connection via pig killing).