Sunday, September 11, 2011

Si se puede!

One of the things I love most about educating is that I almost always learn as much as I teach. It's both exhilarating and humbling. During my time working in the public school system, as I taught about subject-verb agreement and irony, my high schoolers gave me a primer on rap and fashion and slang. ("Who is this '50 Cents' character, and what the heck did he ever do to get shot NINE times? And those pants, why, you can see his underwear!" Yes, I had lots to learn. Still do.)

Teaching and learning don't just take place in the classroom, of course, and the pattern has not abated since my shift from teaching English literacy to educating about sustainable food. At a recent canning workshop in Takoma Park -- the first multicultural Padres Latinos/Linkages to Learning weekly gathering of the school year at Rolling Terrace Elementary -- I am certain that I learned at least as much as the dozen or so latina ladies I had been hired to teach. In this case, I was leading a hands-on workshop in Spanish on preparing and preserving fresh salsa, by special request of the group of local moms from a variety of Latin American countries. After an overview of the canning process and passing out of ingredients and equipment, everyone laughed and chatted away as we proceeded to prepare and process pint jars of spicy, aromatic salsa fresca. I found myself learning useful new words like "hervir" (to boil)... and realizing that I had mistranslated a few things on the worksheet I'd handed out. Luckily most of my errors were pretty obvious to the ladies -- one doesn't use "pepinos" (cucumbers) in salsa, but rather "pimientos" (peppers) -- and they helped me with a few of the technical terms like "higienica," which I said no less than 17 times as we sterilized and sealed our jars (kindly donated by the local ACE Hardware) filled with freshly made salsa (with beautiful organic produce donated by Potomac Vegetable Farms).

It was a lot of fun, and the women were kind enough to tolerate my Spanglish. (Michelle, my capable co-teacher, began far fewer of her sentences with "Como se dice..." than I did, to be sure, and often stepped in when I got flustered trying to explain concepts like checking to be sure the button on each jar lid was sucked downward during cooling to ensure a safe seal. Mil gracias, Michelle!) My vocabulary turned out to be less of a challenge than some of the technical limitations of the stove-less space: unfortunately, the electric, single burner contraptions we were using to heat giant pots of water didn't "hervieron con fuerza" during the 2-hour session. (Note to self: next time make sure a giant pot of water *can* get to a rolling boil on a single-burner stove.) I left the program director, Maria, with very detailed instructions and she told me later that after the requisite 45 minutes at a rolling boil and cooling of the jars, all but one of them sealed successfully. Hooray!

Even the principal seemed excited when a few of us brought some of the extra salsa to the main office at the end of the session, and a number of the ladies departed with extra jars and ingredients to try making more at home. Ah. What a day of learning for us all.

(5 points for those of you who didn't roll their eyes at my nerdy bilingual pun subject heading.)

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