Monday, December 14, 2009
I haven't actually BEEN to a junta yet because every - single - freaking - time I get invited, something comes up. Ah well... that's just how it goes here. I actually got lost the last time, no easy task where there is really only one road in town, then got sidetracked helping my counterpart in the vivero. I tried to go but on the way back I saw the guys leaving so I knew I had missed it. The community knows I want to learn how to cut so they'll let me know. They seem excited about me joining in, or maybe they just would like the novelty of a female in the finca. I think that being a girl is a plus for this, actually. I won't be forced to drink and I won't be made fun of if I don't work very hard! Unfortunately, I think the arroz is just about cortado all over town but well see if I can help out.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
MAKING DIA DE MADRES CARDS!!!
Things are pretty good here these days, in general. I finally feel like I'm starting to adjust to a more Panamanian way of life and what's even better is that I've got some ideas for work to do so I don't have to feel like I'm sitting on my butt all the time. I keep a list of project ideas now and while most of them will come to nothing, it helps keep me focused. Here's what's going on:
1. Work on the vivero to sell plants to support the maintenance of the Centro. (This is a really tough one because my counterpart works in construction so he's gone a lot. Also ANAM can't help when you want to sell the trees. I'm not really clear on the project yet but this group is the one that requested Peace Corps so I'm going to keep at this.)
2. Get a bathroom built in the school. (I'm starting with this one because there is already a plan so it's relatively easy. It's just a matter of coordination and fundraising. Still, something like this could take the whole two years.)
3. Get INADEH to come give a tourism course for the new tourism group.
4. Get a guide in Cero Hoya park. (Probably not going to happen because the guy that came in for ANAM with the new government doesn't really seem into the idea. Que va.)
5. Make signs for the park.
6. Put internet in the Centro. (The kids always come in to play with my computer so if there were internet that would be a huge fundraiser for this place.)
7. Tutoring program. (This is the only definite. I start in January.)
8. Start an English pen pal program with La Zapatosa school when the new school year starts.
9. Create a youth service group… kinda like co-ed boy scouts I guess… I need to think this one out more but the kids really need something to do and a few of them need serious encouragement in being good citizens.
10.Share some "best practices" with the teachers. (I have to do this carefully so I don't come off like some inexperienced snot telling these people who have taught longer than I've been alive what to do. They really do need help though. The teachers teach two classes a piece at once! I think that's the source of a lot of challenges.)
I'm writing this on día de madres which is a huge deal here unlike in the states. However, due to lack of planning and political backbiting there is no celebration this year in my site. I teamed up with an artist extranjera de canadá to host a card making event for the people though. It went pretty well I thought although my friend said it was a pretty small turn out. We were competing with a party for the Reina here AND the Reina in Tonosí though so considering that, I was impressed. [People host these parties to fund the campaign of the Reina, who is kind of like a prom queen but bigger… much bigger. They sell glossy photos of themselves and people vote for them during Carnival.]
On a mental health level, I know I'm starting to adjust because I wasn't miserable at the party for the Reina. I live next-door to the Salon de Eventos so when there is a fiesta there, it is going on at my house as well. The kids come over to play and I have to keep my bathroom open because there isn't one in the Salon, people use my electricity and water, which I pay for… basically I'm always helping at the fiestas whether I feel like it or not. This used to annoy me massively. So… sometime during the night someone dumped my shampoo and filled the bottle with water and I wasn't even really that mad! THAT'S how I know I'm starting to not sweat the small stuff. My expectations are become more in line with Panamanian life and behavior. OF COURSE some kid is going to steal my shampoo if I leave it in the bathroom… or maybe it was some drunk guys that thought it was hand soap… it doesn't matter. The point is I'm starting to expect things like that to happen and when you expect something like that it doesn't get under your skin. Same goes for people throwing trash in the vivero. Same goes for the used toilet paper on the floor. I've been here long enough to know that if I didn't want to pick up poopy paper, I should have provided a trash bag. So what right do I have to be upset? It took me a while but I'm starting to see things from a slightly more campesina view.
I've been visiting with a lot more people now as well, which helps adjustment. I realized that my initial shyness definitely makes me a horrible volunteer so I'm working on that. It's my biggest challenge I think. I need to relearn the way I've lived my entire life for at least the last fifteen years. Honestly, I spent most of my adolescence when I wasn't at school watching television, reading books, or listening to music... and now all of the sudden I'm supposed to be a social butterfly? But that's the Panamanian life. You’re rude if you don’t drop in on people, eat their food, and talk about other people. Everything my momma taught me about being respectful is turned on its head here. I was raised right but raised right for an American and, quite frankly, to be a good Panamanian I need to do things I was taught were disrespectful. This is the biggest challenge in part because it’s something the community absolutely cannot understand. They have no way of knowing what that value shift is like. They have no context for it so they just think I'm depressed or weird or not as fun as the last volunteer. Now that all this is clear to me I can start to make little changes like setting a pasear quota for the day and stuff like that.
This turned out to be more of a diary entry than I intended so I hope you'll excuse the indulgence. In other news, Thanksgiving was great. I opted not to go to the official PC event in order to join a smaller group that went to Las Lajas. Maybe I'll spring for the main event next year. I had some awesome German food though. No turkey. I guess that makes sense because there are a lot of German cultural trappings in the
It's been a while since I've heard from a lot of you punks so go ahead and comment letting me know what's going on in your world por favor.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Randy aka Tiburon
I got a doggie! My community guide and her son left town for Las Tablas weeks ago so they left him to die. He was sick so she probably thought he'd be worm feed by now. (Well... he still is technically, the de-wormer I gave him is still working). Anyway, I was passing by where she used to live and he comes running out to me crying and jumping on me. He remembers me from living at the house and pasearing there, I'm sure. He looks like a total wreck, has snot dripping down his eyes and looks like a twig so even though I wasn't planning on having an extra mouth to feed, I took pity on him. My buddy Mario helped me wash him with some anti-flea soap and picked the DOZENS AND DOZENS of ticks off him. I have never been so greatful for help in my life. I really don't like killing ticks. It's tedious and gross. Afterwards, I cooked the pup some rice. What else could I do? Now, a couple days and a few bowls of Pedigree (that's the generic name for dog food here... I think that's cute) later, he's too spoiled to eat rice anymore. What kind of Panamanian dog turns down rice? Thinks he's an aristocrat apparently...
I'm not going to lie, he's pretty much the ugliest dog I've ever seen. His mouth can't close all the way because he has and extreme overbite, he's scarred from fights and insects, and he's eyes drip goo. I don't pet him much now because I'm waiting for the parasites to clear out but he still wags his tail nonstop at me. He is already such a different animal then when I found him. I don't now much about dog psychology but I think he just needed to feel part of a pack again. And I'm sure having food in his belly for the first time in weeks didn't hurt either.
Because of how Panamanians raise up dogs he's already really well behaved. The only thing is he jumps up on people to greet them. I'm working on that. I used to be upset when Panamanians beat their dogs but now that I've seen how effective it is, I am kind of a fan. I feel weird about saying this but I have to admit, it works. I don't think I'll ever get a dog in the states but if I do, it might have to get smacked once or twice.
Other than this, there isn't too much going on. The new ANAM guy seems a little more aproachable than the old one so hopefully we'll find some work to do. I've been interviewing the teachers for In Service Training this weekend and I'm getting a lot of great information. I have to hand it to Peace Corps, just when it starts to seem like they ask us to do ridiculous assaigments that don't seem to make sense, all of a sudden the master plan becomes clear when you finish. I'm really looking forward to heading to Panama this weekend and coming back to site ready to work!
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
So instead, and I want to run this by El Jefe first so the kids will have to wait until the end of the month, I want to start a turtoring program. I want to go house to house at assigned times. I'm hoping this will reduce abscences and distractions. Truth be told, at the movie night it became apparent to me that the kids use my class to meet up with their little girlfriends safe far from parental or bochinchoso eyes. This explains why they were always leaving the room randomly without permission. They wanted to flirt in privacy.
I think going house to house will be a great step in the right direction, it will get me pasearing more, it will allow me to vary the classes according to English skills. The club had nine through seventeen year olds which was problematic in this regard.
The other news is that someone stole the propane tank and a garden tool from the school. Who does that? Jeez. The police are actually involved now which is a big deal considering that the nearest station is 30 to 45 minutes away. I hope they find the dude that did it but I highly doubt anything will come of the investigation.
What else... I've started mingling more with the extranjeros. Met a Spaniard and his French wife. Met an American/Canadian who is really interested in helping the community. We'll see what happens. I'm tired of taking baby steps but look at what happened when I just jumped into teaching English. It was a waste of two months of my time and now I'm back where I started. I know I sound like I'm ranting but I'm actually in a good mood. I'm just poking a little fun at myself really. I spent all day at the beach with my best buddies in town and then I introduced them to the glory that is Goodfellas. So I have no complaints. I'm even proud of being so quick to dust myself off and plan out this tutoring thing, which I'm sure will have it's own challenges. Also, there is a new ANAM guy I need to introduce myself to so I hope he will be able to help with the vivero thing. I'm not going to let myself get choked out. I am human too and want some dignity. I think you can agree with that, right?
Monday, October 26, 2009
So I was glad to be back in site and rock out a good English Club class even though I was super tired. The numbers for the English Club have plummited but I think that's a good thing. The kids that just come to play with the furniture or flirt with the girls don't show up as often now.
Saturday we had a big party and it was pretty cool. Though, I did lose my cool with this one old dude who would not leave me alone and I started cursing at him in English. I know that it's just a cultural difference but it gets under my skin when a man is that much of a pest and don't take "leave me alone" for an answer. I like almost everyone in my community but when there is a fiesta and the guys are all drunk and clingy it creates an illusion of danger and I get super testy. BUT! on the bright side this one woman started talking to the viejo for me saying "You have to respect her" and such. The whole time she was acting like I were her child (in a good way) and it was really comforting to know that someone has my back. The early hours of the fiesta were really great. There was a parade and singing. It was to celebrate campesino culture so there was dancing, polleras, tamborito and all that stuff I am fond of. And hojaldres. God I love hojaldres.
Honestly, today I'm a little down because I really need to have work to do. I have way too much time to sit and think about all the choices I've made in my life and the choices of humanity in general and if we have HAVE choices and so on that it's making me a little nuts. Plus, I've been taking a crack at reading the Bible again and that always puts me on edge. Divine justice does not look kindly on idle hands. And what does it mean that I favor justice over compassion these days?
TANGENT ABOUT JUSTICE: So I bought a copy of Che, the Benicio Del Toro flick, and while I haven't decided whether or not it's a good movie yet (leaning toward no), I give them mad props for showing El Comandante actually ordering an execution! He's always held up as such a martyr of struggle (Don't you know the man had crippling asthma!), justice and enlightened revolution that people forget that he was a soldier who went around Latin America killing people. Those were his actions. He gave people hope, gave good speeches, and wrote heart wrenchingly about the plight of the landless but really, in the end, he popped caps in people. So when does murder become justice? When it is defended with a myth, or something bigger? When you can say that it's for God? Or for the People? Or for the State? Being here in Central America is rekindling my interest in Che but definitely changing the questions I ask about his life and work.
Anyway... I've been three days with no water either so that's also bumming me out. Not the end of the world but irritating nonetheless. They always say that your service is what you make it and maybe I haven't been trying hard enough. Or maybe that's just the protestant culture that I carry.
Screw it, BAILAMOS!
Monday, September 21, 2009
WALT, THIS IS FOR YOU!!!
Things I Had Never Done Before Peace Corps (besides the normal speak Spanish/ meet Panamanians type stuff)
Eaten a turtle egg
Made hojaldres! YUUUUUUUUUUUM!!!
Been so excited to eat fresh black pepper. This actually goes for a lot of foods. MUSTARD!!! HONEY!!! BREAD!!!
Been so hungry that I didn't mind fake yellow cheese
Had someone offer to buy Maria cookies off of me
Seen that my cereal was crawling with ants but eating it anyway, after trying to sift them out, of course
Seen a cock fight
Seen a rodeo
Showered in a sink
Showered outside with a bucket in the dark but still in plain view of the Ngobe community
Desperately pooped behind a tree on the beach then wiped with my Spanish workbook
(In a related first) almost od'ed on antibiotics because the doc didn't say I should take each course separately
Been pooped on by a lizard
Been bitten by an iguana
Enjoyed being at a dance club
Had to wait by the side of the road for a good long minute because a herd of cows were passing
Played hand drums while we all jammed some tamborito tunes
Waded through calf deep swamp muck just because I was curious about where the path went to
Had so many 8 to 13 year old male friends... well... really they just like the SNES games on my computer
Swam in the Caribbean and the Pacific within the same month or so
Had bug bites on my privates
Friday, September 18, 2009
We lost another good one but at least there is a nice picture of her eating some dreds.
TREE OF LIFE!
So I'm slowing moving my way into my new house/ office. Almost everything was set from the beginning which was great but I have to buy kitchen stuff and things like that. I need to buy gas for the stove because it was supposedly jacked by the people who administered the building last. Hmm... I'm really excited to have a place to sort of call my own.
I'm teaching a lot of classes and running an "English Club" at nights. It's essentially another class because people are too pena-ed to participate but we do more fun stuff like translate "A Change is Gonna Come" by Sam Cooke. Awww yeah. I used it to talk a little about American history and racism and stuff but nobody looked too interested. I need to get the hang of making stuff seem important. I'd like to blame my students and say they don't care but a good teacher can make anyone care about anything. ANYhow, I'm looking forward to putting a more cultural aspect on the English Club. As far as my classes at the school go, I'm hanging on. About half the kids seem to have attention/discipline problems so it means that the others can't learn even if they wanted to. If I hear the phrase, "Mire que el me pego!" one more time I might flip. At first I thought it was a cultural thing... in Peace Corps you try to develop different (sometimes lower, sometimes higher) standards for host country behavior... but then I did a guest teach in a neighboring town and the kids were so GOOD! Nobody even talked over me. I got through my hour long pronunciation lesson without ONE hitch, without anyone grabbing my stomach telling me to give a drawing assignment, without anyone just walking out of the room, without anyone hitting anyone else! My mind was blown. I'd like to sit down and figure out why my students are having so much difficulty paying mind but I think it's beyond little old me. They're great kids, I just don't have the chops yet to maintain a positive learning environment.
Well... That's about all that's on my mind. I'll leave you with some Spanish phrases I really like now.
Echar cuenta - to toss stories - to chat
Echar arroz - to toss rice - to serve food
necio - means bratty as far as I can tell
Acha? la vida, or my favorite, Acha la - Oh drat!
Estamos refrescando - we are refreshing - we are drinking beer
My favorite of all time: WAH! This versitile interjection is used to express joy, displeasure, anguish, surprise, anger EVERYTHING. It's wonderfully useful.
and one that gets on my nerves:
Mire que - kinda like lookit! It only is annoying because my studest always use it to preface telling me that someone is being necio.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
I started teaching in the school. Thats going ok. Im a horrible teacher but, hey, no one is Joe Dimagio when they first pick up the ball. To my credit, Ive discovered I can change a lesson plan mid class and not miss a beat. This is really important because most of the kids I teach would sadly be labeled ADD back home. Theyre just being kids. The English teacher Im supposed to be supporting stares daggers at me everytime I ask to look at her lesson plans so I know what to teach the Thursday and Friday, the days she teaches elswhere. I really dont know what to do to break the ice really. She doesnt live in the community most of the time so I cant really pasear and get to know her. Im kind of at a loss. I started teaching night classes for the high school kids and adults. I had one adult show who can only attend once a week because hes in the finca. Two very bright kids from the high school and of course, tons of kids from the elementary school. DONT SEND ME YOUR KIDS WHEN IM ALREADY TEACHING THEM IN THE DAY! That was the whole point. It was lost. We are supposed to do more advance stuff here so if that means working intensely with the two high schoolers then so be it. I got the free time for it. Im at a loss here too. I dont want to have to tell those young kids that they arent ready for the material I want to cover but on the other hand its not fair to hold back the rockstars. Conjugate some verbs and then get back to me.
The tree selling project is at a stall. I want to make a work calendar to keep us on track. I hope that occurs.
On the personal front I did a very stupid thing and hung out with my hosts boyfriend when she wasnt there. In my defense she left me alone in the house, I was bored, and he was offering a showing of Slumdog Millionaire in English. I couldnt really refuse. Furthermore, we went to find her and invite her, and we did find her at her daughters boyfriends place, but she ran into the back room. Her daughter lied and said she wasnt there. We all saw her run so it was really awkward and we collectively said "screw it" and went to watch the movie. So for the past half of this week Ive been dealing with fall out of this situation, crying and feeling guilty about absolutely nothing, feeling paranoid... all that good stuff. My host and I talked it out and came to the conclusion that all parties share some guilt. She was CONSTANTLY finding excuse to leave me and the boyfriend alone and then being pissed about it later. For my part, I should have broke off the friendship and hidden at home alone because people dont believe men and women can just be friends here. (Ill admit that the situation wouldnt look very good on the surface in the states either). So, after talking and even HUGGING IT OUT!!! (my first Panamanian hug! Weve had problems, but I love my host) now things are getting back on the up and up. Im living with a new family anyway just because I switch every month. Its a pretty nice pad even though my student slash roomate cant stop rolling around on the top of the bunkbed. Hes a kicker!
The other issue thats come up is drugs. I was told that drug runners use my beach as a stop off point and then go on their merry way. This is not the whole truth. Some of the famers in the surrounding communities actually produce drugs and are affiliated with international shippers. I was really annoyed about this. Last weekend some folks nearby (not IN my community mind you) found about a pound of cocaine packed in those giant pixie stick wrappers on the beach. People say that Panamanians are anti drug in general. I have found this to be true for most. But not the guys that found the package. The friend who told me the story about all this was offered a pixie stick while disfrutaring in a cantina. Cantinas are bad enough I dont want to imagine one fueled by coke. This, coupled with the misunderstanding about the movie night, has made me really paranoid. Im terrified of people all jacked up, swinging machetes. Im terrified of bochinche being spread to get back at me for something I would never do. Im scared. High school level paranoia for those that new me back then. I dont know who to trust here. Somedays it feels like no one. Itll pass. Itll have to. Right now, Im just throwing myself into work for the classes, reading a lot, and not talking to anyone. I have Twin Peaks to watch on my computer but I just found out that its broken. Need the windows disk. Otherwise Id be watching that too. I need to keep a low profile for a while which is very much impossible here.
I really feel like Im this fount of negativity on this blog but at the same time I dont want to lie about the Peace Corps experience. We all have it rough. Today I found out another friend is leaving. She had stuff line up nicely back home so thats where shes going.
Ill end with this. I really like working with kids. They are hilarious. Even when they are laughing at me. ESPECIALLY when they are laughing at me. Now if the adults gave a rats patoot about the work wed be on our way.
Monday, August 17, 2009
There is a desperation to rock that tipico doesn´t have. Even when the lyrics are about desperation itself, losing a mujer usually, the songs just sound sad, not impassioned. I´m not saying that tipico is emotionless, in fact, the gritar can be very emotive. I think the bottom line is that, in the songs I´ve heard, tipico is afraid to be ugly. Apart from gritaring there is very rarely anything dissonant or uneasy about the rhythms or melody, which makes sense considering it´s dance music. You can´t change up the rhythm too much when people are trying to dance to it. I had a bunch of Radiohead songs come on my music player and they serve as a perfect example. What makes most of their songs so interesting is that they give you something really pretty to hook your ear but then the rhythms and melody always sound like they are about to fall apart but they never do. I´ve missed that tension.
On the other end of the spectrum, I´ve missed the swagger of old school rock. T-Rex, Thin Lizzy, and Immortal Technique all drove that home for me. They make themselves sound dangerous not so much because of tension but because of pure attitude. Tipico definitely has a difference attitude, a different worldview. Tipico is about keeping tradition and the past alive and strong while rock is about punching it in the face. Both very important projects.
Well, thanks for putting up with that. Let´s talk about work. I had a general "so what do you want Peace Corps to do for you" meeting since I last wrote. Way more people showed that I thought they would. 21. Wah! Nothing too surprise came up, people are scared (with good reason) that investors are going to steal all their land. People say they REALLY want English classes. Looks like I´ll be actually IN a classroom about 16 hours a week. With the time I need for planning lessons I´m not sure if that´s asking too much or not. Doesn´t sound like it but on the other hand I´m not here to teach full time. We´ll see how it plays out. I´m very excited to have something to keep me busy.
I thought I had killed all the trees we want to sell for the vivero but they are recovering from being transplanted. The worm compost idea went over well so that´s another thing to wark towards. The last thing that came up was and artisan´s group. I´m not really sure who all wants to do that yet. We´ll see.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
This week has been nuts. First off, I think my community guide thinks I´m trying to steal her boyfriend. I´m big enough to admit that this is my fault because I went to a cock fight with him and probably shouldn´t have, knowing how jealous she is. I should have respected that. I really wanted to speak some English though and see what cock fights are all about. (They are pretty horrible by the way but it was a good cultural experience. At least if the loser dies it gets eaten... more human than KFC.) We talked a while the next day and at first I got vibes that she was upset but as we talked I think she was more upset about things not going well with him in general and her daughter got hurt on a horse so she was worried about that.
Then yesterday I woke up with a 103 fever and the worst diarrhea of my life. When I get fevers I can´t really think straight so I just kept tossing in bed thinking I was going to die in Panama, a 7 hour flight and 7 hour bus ride from my friends and family. I went to the doctor which meant an almost three hour chiva ride with a fever trying not to poop myself. It was pretty brutal. Turns out it was just a bacterial infection and I will be fine.
NOW the icing on the mierda cake that has been these last few days is that I get a text message from one of my best friends in the region. Turns out he fell off a 50 foot cliff Sunday, doesn´t remember two days, and now is heading to the same hospital I just left. I really wish I were still there to offer support. I really wish it were easier to communicate so I could see how he´s doing. I really wish that these things weren´t happening all at once. Gracias a Dios he´s still alive. I just don´t know whether or not he´ll medically separated. I don´t know if he´s had any permanant damage. It would be heartbreaking to see him have to leave after all this. The most frustrating thing is that there is nothing anyone can do. It´s all up to luck now.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
This is where I will live after homestay time... I´m pretty sure it´s the nicest place in Peace Corps. You might notice the air conditioner. Sigh... I feel like I´m missing out on the suffering aspect of this job.
My Deutsch-Panameño buddy Jaime at novena
My best friend and hunting partner Jonathan. He later chased me around with a piece of cow shit. ¡COCHINO! "Pero es SECO" I don´t care... it´s still gross. This is why we tite son.
This pretty much sums up my site.
I'm finally settling into my site. It's been quite the roller coaster. I'll let the pictures do most of the talking but I do have one odd story to tell. This week was Novena, the celebration of la Virgin del Carmen. The story goes that in 1998 Santa Maria saved some people from drowning on the beach here. Well, every night there has been church services with songs and fireworks. Usually the women and children go inside the church (well… the kids usually run in and out yelling) and the men stand outside and talk. On the final night, the night of the procession, the Padre came to deliver a more formal mass and he was furious about that tradition. He told the congregation they were disrespectful and that he was ashamed and then he left. Keep in mind he got paid for this. Maybe you had to be there, but it kind of reminded me of a Marquez novel in the sense that some pompous authority figure comes in, takes the money, insults people and runs. Instead of the procession being led by the Padre, people would randomly spit out Hail Marys and sing whatever parts of the songs they knew. So, in the end, the Virgin got an awkward spin around the block. It was quite the topic of conversation the next day. Some people thought the Padre was really unprofessional, and some people were ashamed that we couldn't be more respectful of the service. It was a little of both really.
The next night was a baile and I'm happy to report that I'm alive. I live next door to the cantina so I was really apprehensive about the craziness. Luckily I managed to get some sleep. The two bailes I've been to follow a formula so I think they all go like this: first off there is one band but nobody really dances. Men use this time to get really hammered. A few women participate but mostly they just sit at the tables looking super pissed and checking out what everyone is wearing. Then comes the Panamanian version of freestyling. Last night's topic was whether women or men are better. At the other baile it was a straight up diss contest that ended when one dude killed the other with a line about his gallina sitting on his huevos. After this comes the main event. People push the tables out and a new band takes the stage and people start to get down. Usually there is a fight in there somewhere.
I was considering leaving at the first part of the baile because the singers' mics were up WAY too high. You know if it's too loud for me, it's too loud. I was really tempted to go up and help them mix that janx. The thing is… in most típico music, at least around here, you begin each verse by doing a modified gritar (yelling/yodeling) so if you have people doing that at the top of their lungs… while choking the mic… while it's turned up WAY over the guitars, it's going to be painful. And it was physically painful. But anyway. I'm glad I stuck around because the dancing part was fun. People were patient with me not knowing or caring what I was doing. The whole town was having a blast and it was great to see everybody tear it up.
Last night's fight was way better than the one last week. This one guy pushed the other off his chair and spilled a bucket of ice on him. There was only one really good punch but it cracked off the dude's chest like a whip. Other than that there was mostly a big show about throwing chairs. There were no police in town last night so my Brazilian (meaning he's a lot bigger than most Panamanians) buddy and about four others helped hog tie the offender until they could get there. As long as you keep your distance, it's all part of the entertainment.
On the work front, I'm going to start teaching in the school next month. I'm giving English classes Thursday and Friday because Maestra isn't there those days. On Wednesdays I want to share lesson plans with her in order to make it somewhat of a learning experience for the both of us since she won't be able to observe me. I'm planning the all-important first meeting of the tourism group. I think the most sensible avenues for this town would be to have an artisan group, figure out what services we can offer surfers, and/or sell plants, trees, and compost to gringos. Well see if the community in general is down with all that or if it's only the people I've been talking to who like the ideas.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
The tourism group is very promising. My first meeting with them was really awkward though, even for me, and I'm usually pretty awkward. I really hadn't put much thought into it so I just read a little speech. I choked on my Spanish but that always happens when I'm nervous. At least I expect it now. To be fair, my Spanish is way better than most gringos here. A few don't learn at all apparently. It’s a good confidence booster. Anyway, at the meeting I even forgot to ask people's names! Afterwards, things were much better talking to my counterpart Alexis and his brother. His brother spends most of his time in Germany but even he still seemed to take a real interest in the work here. There is a vivero set up to grow trees to sell to the hotel owners. It just needs some cleaning up before planting. The previous volunteer set it up as a way to combat deforestation while getting the community dollars. Genius! I wanted to do something with deforestation as a side project anyway. So, since the community has the motivation and material needed to do something good, it looks like my main task is to get the committee organized and set up a business model for the tree thing.
I also got to visit the school. The English teacher works only three days a week in my site and the rest in Tonosí. I'm getting the feeling that they will actually want me to teach in the school which is what I was afraid of. I have to ask myself how sustainable that would be to just teach the class myself but I suppose if the kids learn English they will still know it when I'm gone.
As far as where I'm going to live after my homestay, there are two options. One is actually the Centro de Communicación Ambiental which would be great because it's a modern building in the center of town with a flush toilet (for when there is running water). There is already a bed and a kitchen so I wouldn't have to buy all that much with my moving in allowance. Plus, I get to live where I work. The drawback is that I definitely would not be living like a community member, so it's not very good for pasearing. The other option, this house on a hill I have yet to see up close also has the same problem because it's so far for people to just drop in.
The people are really friendly here and they have lots of yummy fruit! Miriam's ten year old neighbor is totally in love with me so he brings me mangoes. He's this adorable kid with a hoarse voice that I assume he got because he yells all the time. He likes to catch pe'ca'o and play baseball and cards. I taught him and his cousin Slap Jack (he says it "Flep Jerk) and they wouldn't let me stop playing. I won him over when he saw I had a biombo (slingshot) I had made at culture week. We went iguana hunting right away. He hit one and made it made so it dropped its tail, fell out of the tree, and escaped. I'm glad it got away because it would have been too small to eat. We would just have killed an animal for no reason. I've noticed that my attitude towards animals is definitely changing. I kicked a puppy. Not hard though.
My host mom's niece invited me to watch a movie (Tropic Thunder… sorry Walt… again) with some of her friends. One of the friends was dog sitting for Americans so we watched it at the big house. It was super nice, even by my middle-class American standards. The owner also has a house on the beach! Mind you, we are already in walking distance. I don't think the niece understood why I was gritting my teeth when she told me that. I had been holding my poop, bathing in the creek, and bucket bathing because there was no water and now I'm watching a movie on a flat screen with Rock Band hooked up to it. You better believe the house had water too. I'm not complaining per se. The creek bath was really fun. It's just that my sense of justice was quite offended. My momma always said that life's not fair though. She's right.
I met an evangelical here who almost converted me. He's a good talker. Maybe I just liked him because he had a monkey.
The beach here is beautiful! It's black sand and I have to be careful because the waves are huge!!! I got knocked on my butt a lot. Also, every so often there are drug runners on the shore at night. I don't say this to embarrass the community (Peace Corps please don't send me home). They know it goes on. I don't say this to worry you back home. It's just the reality of life here. America's and Europe's bad habits are Panama's troubles. The truth is, there isn't anything to worry about as long as I don't do anything stupid like ask questions of a sketchy person. I feel really safe here already, in fact. The community is tight-knit and if I've got a problem, they'll help. Also, there are a lot of cars around so I can get out easily in case of emergency or illness. In Peace Corps you can't have a car but I'm mulling over the idea of getting a horse! It would be good for going to the beach. I think it's too far to ride out to Tonosí regularly but it would be nice not to have to rely on a bus.
That's about it for first impressions. I really lucked out with my site. I don't really feel like I'm in the Peace Corps, in a good way. Not that I want to rub it in the faces of my brothers and sisters in the Comarca and Darien but chances are good that I won't get amoebas. (Chiggers though… JEEEEEEEEEEEZ. I had a run in with them after my hunt for iguana. I woke up the next morning with my shirt bloody from scratching and my feet look like I have small pox). I'm just getting eaten from the outside and somehow that makes it seem better.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Jonah demonstrating some machismo for the camera!
This is Katie and I cooking some Chicha from corn. Yum yum. She´s clearly ready for lunch.
An iguana from the iguana farm! They raise them for food and release 10% into the wild to support the species. One of them bit me. It hurt and bled a lot but they are still cute.
So I´m getting tired of being at the internet cafe but I felt compelled to update this blog so I´m just gonna copy and paste a letter home. Enjoy! Culture week was a blast!!!
This week I had "culture week" which means that we went to our region to learn more about the culture in that specific place. It was a load of fun. The azuero is all about cowboys so it was a really wild trip! We went on a really long hike through beautiful cow pastures (and cow poop) and got to swim in a nice little swimming hole. Who knew that deforestation could be so beautiful. We worked on a little farm and also helped kids plant crops at their school. Little kids are really good with machetes here. Could you imagine a school in the states letting 11 year olds hack up the yard at their school? I got bit on the finger by an iguana when we went to work on an iguana farm. Those little jerks can bite hard! It´s pretty much healed up now though. They raise them to eat but they release a percentage into the wi ld to preserve the species. On our last day there we had contests and a baile (BIG OLD DANCE PARTY) with our host families. For the contests we had a sling shot competition, a rodeo competition (our host Jonathan and his buddy wrestled down a cow!), a dance off, and a salomar competition. Salomaring is the Panamanian equivelent of yodeling but it sounds like a cross between a dog and a rooster. It´s nuts. It´s very much the wild wild west out there. The only downside is the machismo. Men are men and women are... in the kitchen. Que va. I really hope my town is similar to the one we visited. My site is on the beach in so maybe there will be fewer cows but we´ll see. I can´t wait to check it out next week!
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Now, there is a telenovela here that my family watches about a Columbian cartel and in my Spanish class we had a quick discussion about why it's really important not to confuse "coco" with "coca" so it makes sense why that was part of my dream but I have no idea where 50 cent came from.
I was able to spend a good chunk of time with my host family this past weekend. My fake mom taught me how to sew… I thought I knew how but I was doing it all wrong apparently. I ripped my pants on the hike in Bocas and I went to repair them but she saw what a terrible job I was doing and coached me through it. It's a good thing too because it wasn’t going to hold for very long the way I had it. My fake mom has been great about teaching me stuff. She seems to understand that I want to be able to do things for myself for the most part. She also led me through doing laundry with the semi-automatic machine. It's kind of rough on the clothes but she got stains out of my socks that the washer back home never could. It's pretty cool to learn this home ec type stuff that no one seems to think is important anymore in the US. On Sunday we made tamales to sell to fund Christmas celebrations. Preparations began the night before and early in the morning I went to the neighbors where a big work force was already going full blast and helped grind some maiz for a while. Mostly, I watched and hung out with my SAS (Sustainable Agriculture Systems) buddy who lives there. I was so excited to try one of the tamales and it was well worth the wait. They were so good! They were cooked in banana leaves and the masa was well seasoned with broth from the chicken and all sorts of spices. There were bits of bone-in chicken and peas inside. Yum.
After cooking I went with my fake mom and sister to my fake aunt's house. It was a really nice place with a balcony that had a nice view of this beautiful sloping green hill. We played bingo and I got taken for 2 dollars. Some advice: never challenge a Panamanian at bingo. They will win.
After participating in the national past time, we all got eaten alive by mosquitoes while waiting for the bus. My fake sister did a little dance to keep them away. I've even got some bites on my butt. It's pretty amazing. I also have a perfectly straight row of bites on my left foot. I'm assuming it was an OCD mosquito that got me there. On my right, I've got one on my little toe that is probably getting infected. There is a lot I really like about this country but I have to say that I am getting really tired of feeling like a feed bag for the bugs.
Also, I just saw a cockroach the size of a mouse. For real.
But the REALLY big news is that I now know where I´ll be!!!
It´s a SURF TOWN in the Azuero region (Panama´s heartland... where all the traditional craft stuff and cattle ranching goes down). This is where the biggest Carnaval parties are so plan your visit accordingly. It´s funny that Walt always jokes about how I´m going to spend two years on the beach and now I actually am! Not too many sites were by the water. I don´t want, and am not supposed to, say the site name on this public forum but if I know you, you´ll hear me talk more in specifics. For now, let is suffice that there is all kinds of fun ecological side projects for me to get into, protecting sea turtles, beach clean up, giving information on why deforestation is bad... maybe I´ll even plant a few trees on my own time. My main goals though are working with the tourism organization (I´m so glad they have one) and teaching English. The town is really interested in learning the business aspects of tourism so I plan to put a lot of energy there. They already have surfers come in and people checking out the nearby national park so it´s just a matter of getting the money to stay in the community. There is a foreign owned resort in town so that could be good or bad. The good is that they hire people from the community to do dances for the guests and the bad is that the community has to compete with that kind of capital. We´ll see how it all goes. The site is pretty ye ye (rich-snooty-preppy) I should have potable water and electricity. The only thing is that it´s an hour´s hike to get cell phone reception. I might try to do without but we´ll see. The public phone in town is broken so I´d be bien incommunicado. Anyway, you should expect to schedule your calls with me ahead of time :-P.
Miss you all back home!!!
Friday, May 15, 2009
I really, really miss all you folks back home so please leave some comments saying how you´re doing!
Monday, May 11, 2009
This is where I have class
Crazy dancing for el cumpleaños de mi hermano
View of Panama City
This is my host house
The following day was my host brother's birthday party. His actual birthday was the election but there was no time for a fiesta. A handful of the guys got kind of out of hand in a benevolent way. One was dancing and gritar-ing by himself from about 5 when I got home from class until 10:30 when we all went to bed. One gentleman decided to take a rest in the grass for a while. There were fireworks left over from the election and a truck of beer. There was arroz con pollo which may be my favorite dish I've had here. Everybody had a pretty great time and a few other trainees even stopped by and met my family.
My day to day schedule is pretty off the wall during training. We have language class and technical class, in which we talk about development and teaching and whatnot. That is the basic day but we have also had field trips to Panama City, Arraijan, and Chorrera doing scavenger hunts to learn the bus systems and have talks on health and things. Tomorrow we go to visit current volunteer sites. I'll be going to Bocas del Toro, the furthest province to the West. It's going to be an overnight trip and I'm a little nervous about all that traveling but luckily I will have another trainee making the journey with me. Everything I've heard about Bocas sounds really beautiful. It may be too remote for my tastes but we'll see when I get there if I would be comfortable in a site like that. I'm looking forward to narrowing down what I want.
The other big news is that I have a cell phone! Let me know in an e-mail if you want the number. I can receive calls for free and calling Panama can be dirt cheap so don't hesitate!
Saturday, April 25, 2009
So today I am feeling mostly better which is good because we had a site visit today. We went to an Embera community where a current volunteer is serving. The Embera are a Panamanian indegenous group that subsist mostly on tourism. This particular community was built two years ago after a falling out between the old community and these guys. We had to take a boat to get there. It was amazingly beautiful. There was a monkey and I GOT TO HOLD IT! What more could you ask for? The volunteer there told us what he does and let us ask questions. He told us that a good way to combat the lonliness is to throw ourselves into work. I'm going to take that advice to heart. He seemed really excited about his projects. We discussed strategies for getting tourists in and getting paid fairly for it. The Embera have essentially created a union so the won't get ripped off by tour companies making them compete against each other to the point that they LOSE money by taking in tourists. They fed us really well. Fish from the river, lentils, and rice. It was the best meal I've had here by far. It made for a good day and was a real morale booster too. It's comforting to start to see what is expected of me.
Tomorrow we're going to meet our host familys for the rest of training. No more a/c, no more internet, no more hot water. Time to kick it Peace Corps style.
Embera women weaving. I bought a woven pot from them.
This was truely a dream fullfilled although not quite as nice as holding my little niece :-P
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
The people I'm meeting seem really cool but I'm in such shock still that I haven't really gotten to know too many of them. It's going to take me a while to adjust and I know I need to just let that happen. I was just getting comfortable and really settling in to Baltimore so it makes the change just that much harder now that I don't know anyone and don't know my surroundings. I'm keeping a positive attitude and an open mind though. I think when we start training classes I'll get really gung-ho but for now I'm just a bit tired and overwhelmed. On the plus side, I haven't had too much time to think about that because the Peace Corps staff really has it together. They keep us moving. To tomorrow!
*I in no way endorse Alice in Chains.
This is what the old army base we're staying in looks like:
Monday, April 20, 2009
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Thursday, March 26, 2009
So, in a nutshell, we collect in D.C. and go over some of the BASIC basics then we all ship off to Panama City on the 22nd and get into the heavier stuff. The 1st day is form day. Then we get all kinds of shots, safety lessons, language lessons, and cultural lessons. There is a field trip. It's been so long since I was on a field trip! I'm pumped. Also, I just ordered the biggest duffel bag known to man.
I got a questionnaire in my e-mail which I wanted to share:
1. What compelled you to join Peace Corps (PC)?
As someone from a developed country, I want to try and share some of the opportunities I have been given while taking advantage of the opportunity to learn from a culture different from my own. I want to challenge myself while providing lasting benefits to my community of service.
2. What attracted you to Panama and made you accept the invitation?
I have been fortunate enough to travel in Central America before and I enjoyed it. Having had that little bit of prior experience is comforting— like I have a little head start in adjusting to the culture. The more I learn about Panama specifically, the more pleased I am that I accepted the invitation. The variety of cultures and landscapes are exciting. I am excited about being selected for this project because I am interested in how tourism can used to create opportunities without destroying cultural identity.
3. How does PC service fit into your personal and/or professional goals? What does post-PC life have in store for you?
I am interested in continuing my work with nonprofits so the experience I gain will be invaluable as far as managing resources and organizing people are concerned. I am also considering some of the grad school programs for RPCVs. Lastly, I have studied Spanish academically for a very long time and am excited for the opportunity to actually become fluent.
4. What is the greatest expectation that you have about your service as a volunteer?
That I will be able to help create an autonomous project that benefits the community
on their own terms.
5. What is the greatest worry or concern that you have about your service as a volunteer?
That I will not accomplish anything lasting.
6. What do you think will be the greatest challenge you will face as a volunteer?
I think the greatest challenge will be to learn enough about the culture to properly
motivate the community and help them meet their goals.
Is there any specific information/background that might be useful to assist us in site placement? (Include even if also listed on your resume and aspiration statement)
• Technical Schooling/Training:
• International Experience: I have traveled for about 10 days each with my high school in: China, Cuba, and the Scandinavian countries. I have spent a little over a week at a home stay with an au pair friend in the Netherlands. I spent two weeks in Costa Rica with a volunteer group and one month in Ireland on a study abroad internship.
• Language: I have a minor in Spanish
• Work Experience: I am currently a Fair Housing Specialist with Baltimore Neighborhoods.
• Other: Part of my Costa Rica trip involved trying to encourage ecotourism. We helped maintain trails into the forest and built a bus stop as a way to encourage tours.
7. What do you consider are the most important/personal/professional strengths that you bring to your work as a Volunteer?
Personally, I can be very determined and so I would hope that my enthusiasm for potential projects would encourage the community. I am respectful of cultural differences which, with any luck, would give me some credibility as a community organizer. Professionally, I have very strong organizational and general office skills. I have had some informal experience teaching and in Costa Rica I helped teach English to children and teenagers.
8. What do you feel are your weaknesses?
My biggest weakness may be a lack of confidence in my projects. Sometimes, I have a hard time asking for help or clarification of instructions.
10. What might cause you to consider an early termination of your service in PC?
Illness and perhaps thinking that the community does not need a volunteer.
11. Describe your working style: are you a self-starter? Independent? Need structure? Etc.
I like structure while I am learning my work but then I prefer independence once I have it down.
12. How do you feel about being in a community with:
Alcohol use- It is not my ideal situation but I would be able to deal with it.
Volunteers reasonably close by- I would prefer this.
Strong religious groups- I don’t have a preference although I am not very religious myself so there would be culture shock.
Only dug-out canoe access- I am ok with this.
Only hiking access- I am ok with this.
Indigenous- I have no preference of Latino or Indigenous communities although since I have experience with Latino communities, I may be more effective there.
Only airplane access- I think I may feel too isolated if there were only airplane access.
Tons of kids- Kids are great.
No electricity- I would prefer electricity but I understand that it is not always available at PC sites.
No privacy- I like my privacy but I understand that PC service requires you to be willing to part with some of that.
Harsh conditions (Extreme heat, dust, lack of running water)- I would prefer running water but I understand that it is not always available at PC sites. As for heat and dust, I think I could adapt.
River crossings- I am ok with them
- Everything in el bosque will kill you, sting you, poison you, or lay its eggs in you. (just kidding but it's starting to seem that way).
- Speaking of... they have coral snakes! I want to see one because they are the prettiest snake but I don't want to see one because (SURPRISE!) they can kill you.
- There are several indigenous groups in Panama and they have the some of the most political autonomy of any native people in the Americas.
- Panama is on the US dollar... I had no idea.
- Cashews grow wild but are really poisonous before you roast them and even then the smoke during cooking is toxic.
- Some people have a poison-ivy-like reaction to mango leaves.
- The Peace Corps makes you take a swim test in which you turn your pants into a flotation device... I'm very curious to see how I will hold up.
- Hot dogs are a favorite. Really big. The breakfast of champions.
- Pasta goes with rice. They do that in Costa Rica too though. :-P
- A lot of pc volunteers adopt pets. I really want a dog! I don't want to feel like I'm cheating on Hobbes though. Maybe I'll stuff him in my bag...
- It is considered weird to live alone en el campo. I kind of already knew this but I had no idea of the extent of it.
- There is one active volcano in Panama. If you visit me, we're going there. I don't care how many times I see it.
- I'm going to need to buy high heels for la ciudad.
- Mother's Day is a massive blowout. Maybe not as huge as hotdogs but almost...
- Bob Villa is a Peace Corps Panama alumnus.