Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Soy un playero pero no hay playa. OH MY GOLLY! OH MY GOLLY!

Hey HEY hey! These past couple weeks have been an emotional roller coaster and super busy! It started on a bittersweet note with Thanksgiving. The sweet part was that I had a great time with my fellow volunteers in Cerro Punta enjoying the cool mountain weather and GREAT food. I could have bathed in that vat of mac and cheese. Seeing everybody again was cool, I wish we could have spent more time to catch up. I got to call my family too! My friend from the mountains of Chepo, Deidre, came back afterward to my site with me and helped us look for turtle eggs. We didn't see any but she got to see eggs that the other group found at least. Plus she got to hang on the beach!

T-Day Dinner

There was some bitter afterward though. I had been working on getting the Centro de Salud to do a talk for World AIDS Day (Dec 1st). I was hoping that they could actually do testing in my town. They said they couldn't so I came to terms with that. Then they were too busy on the 1st. Fair enough, I accepted that as well and we made plans for them to come on the 2nd. On the 1st I ran up and down town inviting EVERYONE to the talk but what happened the next day? No one showed up. No explanation, no nothing. I took it really hard because I had been doubting my work and am starting to feel like I'm running out of time here. I tore myself up and got all angsty but when I chilled out and got proactive and gave the hospital a call, it turns out that there was MASSIVE flooding in Tonosi and not only were they in emergency mode, the road to my site was underwater. Wow... so there was a very good reason that we got stood up. We'll just have to reschedule for later. At least I have a giant box of condoms from my homeboys at NIDA.

A wonderful ex-pat and I partnered up like last year for making mothers day cards. It was a lot of fun. SO MUCH GLITTER! It's wonderful to see the kids (and parents too) getting creative. The ex-pat has the idea to put on the Nutcracker for Christmas. I think it's really ambitious but a wonderful idea. It's asking my community to go completely outside their comfort zone but I think that might be a good thing. I hope I can be a help! I did direct "No Exit" in college... same thing right?

My neighbor volunteer, Katie, and I are also being ambitious. We're trying to arrange a sort of environmental festival in Tonosi, the capital of our district. The idea is that we invite our respective turtle conservation groups, the government agencies, and eco-tourism business owners to do talks for the community so they learn about conservation and learn what groups are doing in our district. While that's going on we'll have fun games for the kids like a toss the recycling carnival-style game, dramatizations of a turtles life, and maybe a bob for seaweed game with grapes or something for actual seaweed. To finish the event we're thinking a movie showing. I'm thinking "Finding Nemo" but we'll see what works...

Speaking of the turtle group, we're doing ok. We have 15 nests in our vivero and one is Leatherback eggs! Very endangered, and in terms of the groups success, the fact that we have Leatherbacks will definitely get big, well-funded, international conservation organizations interested in us. I hope we keep finding them. I have yet to see an actual turtle in my site but I set a batch of eggs in the vivero myself! I hope I did it right and that the turtles don't die.

The turtle group, CTTC, made it through their first trial by fire when one of the directive members misappropriated funds. Really blatantly... like... really stupidly... shockingly... wow. What happened was that we are working with Conservation International and they wanted us to make some food for their workshop and they needed a place to stay as well. The directive agreed to sell plates at $2 but the individual proceeded to make a separate arrangement with CI for $4. So half the money essentially disappeared. The member maintains that she moved the money around for lodging and a separate, second meal, and that none of the extra went into her pocket. This was supported by a handwritten "receipt" written by herself. I like to think she really was acting with good intentions and was ignorant of how bad what she was doing looked from the outside, especially since she is the one who essentially set up the reformation of the turtle conservation group. In the end her "crime" is not so much robbery as acting in secret, which is something we will correct at our next meeting when we write the bylaws. The icing on the cake was that Conservation International actually offered to pay the CTTC what they should have received on the $4. In other words, not only were they misled, THEY OFFERED TO PAY FOR OUR MISTAKE! This was super embarrassing for all of us and we declined. It was quite a gesture though. They will not let us fail. They are inviting a national news channel to do a story on us too! Look for us on your Panama stataion, I guess.

Working hard has gotten me through the spazz-out I had over the AIDS day event and things are going well. On top of all of the stuff I've mentioned I also met with my community to choose a course from INADEH, a government agency that offers a wide variety of classes within communities. The people have spoken and they chose beauty classes. Good for me because I just gave myself a pretty terrible haircut.

I was going to go around and sign more people up for the class yesterday but I had another one of those migraines and couldn't get out of bed all day. I'm fine today I just wish I knew why I keep getting them. I thought it was connected to this sinus problem but the last Dr. I saw gave me some medicines that cleared up my sinuses so now I don't know... Also, my top left wisdom tooth has broken through the gum and that's kind of hurting too so I'll probably get those yanked out when I'm in Panama the 13th to do PML training. In funny (sort-of) health-related news the last time we went to look for turtle eggs, I had to walk barefoot because of mud and I stepped on a giant thorn. I thought I had taken the spine out but it was still hurting a week later so I grabbed a pin, tweezers, and matches to do some campo surgery and when I started digging around in the pad of my foot it started pussing... A LOT! Like a tablespoon or more there. It was pretty awesome. I squeeze and then all of the sudden a quarter inch long piece of thorn shoots out!!! How did I walk around on that for a week? I felt much better. Not as cool as bot-flies or anything but I wish I had video so you all could appreciate the wonders of the body's immune system.

Anyway, as I mentioned I was selected to help with PML (Project Management Leadership) for the new group. I'm really excited because when I was a participant, it totally turned my service around. It might have helped me even more than my counterpart in terms of getting confident and getting priorities straight.

I hope everything is going well with all you readers. I'd love some comments about what's going on with you. Until next time, much love. I'll leave you all with a picture from Hailey's birthday celebration. We're watching a trailer for an awesome movie about aliens and cowboys and I like that everyone it laughing. I don't know... it's cute

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Life is Calling

[An essay I'm going to try to get into our volunteer magazine "La Vaina"]

When the John F. Kennedy administration created the Peace Corps on September 22nd 1961, the United States was suffering a major public relations crisis. That year, Fidel Castro's victory in the Bay of Pigs thoroughly embarrassed the country and solidified popular support for Cuba, which at that time, had few allies among the governments of Latin America. In response to this black eye, and to make less tempting Marxist rebellion in the region, Kennedy proposed the "Alliance for Progress", a $20 billion program for land reform and wealth distribution in the region, and the creation of the Peace Corps, in a move Castro called "a very astute strategy for putting the brakes on the revolution". By 1962, there were seven Peace Corps countries in Latin America alone. So, if the Peace Corps was created in part to kill Marxism, where does that leave patriotic, leftist volunteers who have asked what they can do for their country? Can a government employee be a progressive?
Firstly, it is important to acknowledge that the Alliance for Progress, although an ultimate failure, and the Peace Corps were concessions to the Left. This is why they were effective, for a time, in corralling Cuba's growing regional influence. While certainly as far as possible from Marxist, the Peace Corps is leftist in the sense that it is designed to address root causes of poverty by aiding the advancement of disadvantaged people and in that we work with local cooperatives as opposed to corporations. Further, we are internationalists as opposed to nationalists, inclusive and not exclusive, capacity-building and not patronizing.
Secondly, we must remember that we are here with a political agenda. Of course, it would be incredibly inappropriate for us as foreign professionals working in a sovereign nation to instigate political activities of any kind but, as staff reminds us, we are representatives of the United States. We are part of a public relations campaign to bolster the image of the US abroad and, we are symbols of the friendship between our home country and our host country. The fact that we are Americans volunteering in disadvantaged communities is designed not only to give community members greater capacity to improve their own lives, but also to make the point the Americans are awfully nice people, so maybe our political agenda is not so bad either. This is goal number two. This implicit campaign of which all volunteers are a part carries with it great responsibility (think of our compadres who have been sent home for inappropriate behavior) but it also presents us with unique opportunities.
As community leaders we are in the perfect position to seek out and aid those who would like to see Panama become a more progressive country. However, as a politically neutral entity we cannot do so directly. Just because Che was in the business of exporting his own Latin blend of Marxist-Leninism does not mean that we should. What we can do, and what we have the responsibility to do is support groups, programs, and events that advance progressive ethics. GAD's work with community counterparts in addressing Panama's immense gender divide is a wonderful example. And all volunteers who attack racism, misogyny, homophobia, lack of access to education, etc. are doing their part in the struggle. Every time we help a cooperative or community group make itself stronger and more independent, we are moving forward. The most revolutionary thing we can do as volunteers is helping campesinos appreciate their own worth and feel that they can control their own destiny. Slowly but surely we are encouraging the development of a culture that one day may allow real, fundamental changes to the economic structure that disproportionately rewards the already wealthy and funnels scarce resources away from the poor.
As hard as we work here in country, it would be a waste to abandon our efforts when we return home. The experience we are gaining ought to be used to bring about change in our own neighborhoods. We could organize organic community gardens to reduce our dependence on corporate agriculture, start literacy classes for the homeless, teach English to recent immigrants, start sewing clubs so we don't have to buy sweat-shop products, or an adaptation of any one of the great projects Peace Corps volunteers are involved in here in Panama. Taking our experience into more political territory, we could work with labor groups. Think of a PML with fruit pickers or bus drivers! Dare I imagine hosting a GAD-style camp with Baltimore's young gang members!
Marxists might say that these activities are nothing more than a band-aid on a severed limb because they do nothing to change the "system" i.e. the marriage between big business, the military, and the government. But it is time to expand our definition of a revolutionary. It is not just a group of bearded men in green hats running around the mountains. It is not only a cloister of priests setting themselves on fire or men in wigs signing parchment. Change can come peacefully and without a media circus or a place in the history books. In this age of constant police surveillance and a US military budget of $533.8 billion, we should not be tempted by militaristic reactionary action. Violence, even the illusion of violence, only provides the corporate establishment with an excuse to crack down on any progress in wealth distribution, making it futile. The murders of 19th century strikers at the hands of the Pinkertons, the 1968 Democratic National Convention debacle, the assassination of Black Panthers, and the attack on the Kent State protesters demonstrate that our government has no problem eliminating citizens that are even perceived as a threat. In such an environment, change can only come quietly from the heart.
We need to work calmly but tirelessly in order to advance our cause based in our own values. If nothing else, Peace Corps has taught us patience and the value of slow but sure progress, and we can outlast and survive the most frustrating setbacks. We are an endless fount of creative solutions. In this era of complacency, it is vital that we give as much as we can to as many as we can, that we animate as many as we can. I would encourage you all to practice what you learn here back home and never forget who you are, an agent of change.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Everything that happens will happen today

So much to catch up on as usual! I've had my bestest buddy from the states come visit. We had a blast although it was too short of a trip. I've gone back home and got my malieante on shooting with my fam and boyfriend. I went with my brother, sister-in-law, niece, and nephew to Busch Gardens and had one heck of a time! Sadly, I did not have a camera at that time so there are no pictures of how adorable they are. More recently, I've been traveling a lot this month. I spent some time in Pedasi, helping my NIDA friends establish a recycling program there. I think this thing will get easier as we go. I got to meet the famous Pucha, a surfer who came to learn about the project. I went to Isla Canas again (that place is like crack to me apparently) to help with a self esteem charla at the school fair. I'm not sure I'm the most qualified person for a self esteem talk because I'm not sure about... anything really... but it was still a great event and I hope I contributed something. I made some time for fun travel as well when I went to Guarare to enjoy the Mejorana festival, the prettiest party Panama has to offer. It's a celebration of the patron saint and a time to indulge in all thing tipico. It's supposedly illegal to play any music that isn't tipico in the town center during the festival. My friend Dave got himself a pair of cutarras and I even picked up my very own Panama hat finally! I also saw off two of my good buddies from the previous group who have finished their service. I'm sad to see them go but glad to have met them here. Good luck Azuer-bros!

In site, I've been working my tail off, trying to compensate for the fact that I have been out of site so much. I held a recycling competition in town. It was a blast but one team missed the point and just started grabbing bags of trash from people's houses. I admire their will to win, but trash isn't the same as recycling so we ended up sifting through a calf deep pile of filth for about two extra hours. We took the recycling to the plant but it was also kind of a disaster because the plastic machine is broken so they didn't want to take our plastics... which was pretty much 2/3 of the trash. I also apparently misunderstood the definition of "carton" so we had to eat that too. Que va? In the end, we're raising consciousness and even though I'm fairly certain this project will collapse the day I leave, at least the town has heard the word "recycling".

In brighter news, the computer thing is off to a much better start. We're starting fund raising as I write this and have almost finished our proposal. We still lack a treasurer but I'm sure someone will step up. I'm going to propose that we sell snacks during Dia de Campesino so I might get to be one of those meat on a stick ladies I love so much! I'm starting to feel like my time is winding down so I'm getting a little panicky about getting things done. I feel like I'm just starting to act like a real volunteer but it's almost time to go... sort of. When people ask me about if I'll request a follow up volunteer, I've talked a lot of smack about my site not really wanting or needing one but things have changed. All of a sudden there is a lot of work to do and finally people are involving me in it. At this point, I'll probably want to request a follow up just to finish the stuff I won't get to.

The other day, guides from the Isla Canas turtle cooperative came over to talk in the school. It was fun to have such energetic and enthusiastic people around and they loved my site. They did a really great job but I got nervous when the talk went from teaching the kids about a turtle's life journey to talking with this one teacher about the failure of my town's cooperative. She just got unbelievably defensive... or maybe it's just her way of talking. Anyway, I really just wanted to get the thing back on track with the kids but it took about twenty minutes. Then a weird thing happened today that might have been fallout from the class. I don't want to be paranoid, but a grandmother here that usually is super nice to me (she made me sleep in her house when I was sick with one of my vomit-inducing migraines) saw me coming down the street and didn't say hi. I say hi and ask how she's doing and just shakes her finger no at me. I'm just not sure what that meant. It's possible that she didn't want neighbors to know she was passing by for some reason or that she was sick and didn't want me to be so loud and enthusiastic in my greeting. She is a dyed in the wool turtle egg hunter though and I'm afraid that she was offended that I offered her son a class that essentially said that it was wrong. She's pretty quick to get brava with people so I wouldn't be surprised. I don't blame her or look down on the family for poaching eggs. This family in particular has almost no options in terms of making money and so they do what they can. They also just like going out and seeing turtles at night. I think they may not see the connecting between selling eggs and seeing turtles though. Anyway... In a weird coincidence of timing, the turtle coop here is restarting and invited me to a meeting the day after the talk in the school. I hope it goes well.

"Classes" are going ok but I really shouldn't call them classes. When they are in the mood, kids ask "Hey when are you teaching classes?" and I almost always respond, "Come by in the afternoon" and we go from there. The thing is, I've learned there is no point in planning a class when the kids only come when they feel like it anyway. I've gotten better about putting something together in about five minutes and I usually just try to reinforce what they are learning in school so it's not so bad. My little buddy Maria has been a solid rock star though. She shows up everyday I'm home and she is amazing. She's eight years old and can form simple English sentances. Today we were working on "to be" using emotion vocabulary. I ask "Are you happy?" she goes, "Yes, I am happy". "Are you sad?". "No, I am not sad." WHAT??!! How does she do that!? She's a pretty amazing kid. She's super into animals and the other day a cat ate one of her birds. She said it was bad that animals eat other animals. I tried to explain that it's just how nature is and she said that nature is bad... deep yo. I'll leave you all to ponder that until next time.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Eso me da pereeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeza

Well, I'll come right out and say it; I'm sure I want to keep up with this blog anymore. Everytime I actually get some time to sit down and write, too much has happened and I get overwhelmed. And even then when I do start I feel like I'm holding back all I want to say or feel like I can't explain myself to folks back in the US. God knows if we want to be marketable we have to be relatable :-P. If something truly exceptional or funny happens, I'll be sure to share it here but right now blogging feels like a chore and I have enough chores.

To make this entry easier, I'll just ask myself, "What's new?"

Thanks for asking.

I finished digsitting my friend perrita and we had SO much fun together! If it were easier to travel with a dog I would totally get one. Mabe a little one...

My friend's friend regalared me a rabbit. He escaped the 3rd day but then came back! Who ever heard of a rabbit comming back?! I was so relived. I'd post a picture but my camera is broken again. I don't know what I'm doing wrong with my cameras but this is #2 dead. He is white with blue eyes and a light-light barely there gray spot on his nose. Cute! I thought it was a girl so I named it Rosa but everyone insists it's a boy. When it gets older it will be more obvious but I'm going with boy for now but I don't have a boy name for it yet...

Today we brought out first shipment of recycling ot Las Tablas!!! WOOT WOOT! We make about $20 which covers the bags and gloves so that's great news! I want to see if I can sucker... I mean encourage... the guy who gave me a ride into heading up a group to actually sort the recycling because right now that's still all on me and it's not sustainable.

I went crabbing with my kiddies and peace corps friend from the island yesterday. I was really muddy and my chancletas broke again but it was still fun. The thing is, one of the kids randomly found a crab in my back yard (not their normal habitat) when looking for the rabbit and so I wanted to see if we could find enough for dinner. These are mudcrabs and so crabbing for them is way different from catching blue crabs out of the bay. You can either shoot them with a biombo or stab them in their holes with a metal rod-thing. It looks easier than it is but we had fun.

I had an issue with my alcoholic neighbor that I don't want to get into on a public forum but suffice it to say he's dead to me and I want to move but nobody's renting it seems. We'll see. The thing that sucks is that he's actually a pretty good guy when he's not wasted. Just this morning he helped me load the recycling on the truck but I'm still so mad at him I couldn't look at his pendejo face.

Other than that, I'm still working on getting a group together to handle the computer project and will probably do a turtle charla in the school for the kids. That's about it for major activities. Other than that I'm living life and trying to be a good example for the kids. I hope all is well in the states. Hold down the fort for me.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I look at you all and see the love there that's sleeping

Life goes on here at the edge of the world. There has been a lot going on so I don't even know where to begin. I'm feeling kind of psychotic these days so I'll just throw things into a list.

1. I've been trying to think of a project I can do with the English teacher because she's pretty cool and I'd like to help. The problem is, she's got her stuff almost TOO together. She's fluent, uses materials pretty well... I mean... I'd like to talk with her about US teaching styles with her just so she could have a different point of view to work with but, we'll see. I'm moving slow so she doesn't think I'm trying to mandate or belittle her style or anything. She's offered to proofread my Spanish on Vida Sana, Pueblo Sano so that's something.

2. The recycling thing is progressing poco a poco. We were a little naive to think ANAM would be able to help much with transport with its limited resources and whatnot so I'm getting ready to see if we can organize community members to do it themselves. DIY is always the best option!

3. Just got back from another visit to my friend on a nearby island. Me and my counterpart went on a whim after she came to my town (also on a whim... think there is a pattern). We went to the beach here and basically just shot the breeze. When we went to the island we tried to see some turtles but they weren't laying. The beach was beautiful at night though! We painted some signs to direct tourists, worked on the Vida Sana, Pueblo Sano book, watched Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and hung out with kids and stuff. It was a really good time and on my way back I finally got to talk with my brother and his family! It had been forever and day.

4. Today they buried my neighbor's mom. She was in Panama with family to care for her because she was sick and they drove her all the way back to be buried here. There have been about four funerals since I've been here but this was first time I attended all parts; the viewing at the house, the mass, and the burial. Even though I never knew the woman who died I feel like it was important to show support for the family. It was also an interesting cultural experience. The rituals for grieving can vary but we all still miss our loved ones where they're gone. Pretty much the whole town was there and the woman was apparently was one of the first to settle here. You could see that a lot of people care about her.

5. The biggest news in town is another crazy narco-traffic story but it's not really clear to me what went down because I've heard the story like seven times and it keeps changing. It's better that I don't know anything anyway. This guy has a hotel way down the way and one of his workers got beat up either by police or drug dealers looking for stuff. He's ok but was in the hospital about a week. The family that owns the hotel is fed up with this town and leaving.

6. It looks like my 1st counterpart is excited about an idea to put computers in the Centro! It would be a great way to raise funds and also give the kids a place to do their work. Right now they have to do all their printing and such in a town 30 minutes a way and many of them are struggling to pay bus fare much less the fees they have to pay to use computers and print their homework. I think this could be a pretty successful venture judging by how many people are interested in it. I can see it being my 2nd year focus. It's going to be a lot of hard work but my boss gave me proposals from other volunteers who have set up computer centers so that takes a load off. Having a guide is so much easier than working blind. I gotta say, even though the office feels likes it's soooo far away, when you come to them needing something, they do their best to get it to you.

7. A friend of mine who works for a local NGO is getting married!!! CONGRATS!!!

8. Soon I'll be celebrating one year in Panama with most of my training group at a resort. After a year, it'll be interesting to see Panama through the eyes of a tourist. I'm super excited to catch up with friends. It's really interesting to see how we've all changed over the year. When I see my friends doing something that's "Panamanian" or "Ngobe" I just have to crack up. It should be good times.

9. GOING HOME SOON FOR A VISIT!!! Almost peeing myself in excitement.

10. My bestest buddy from home is coming to visit. My first visitor! I wish she had more time but I think there will be time to see a bit of Panama City, my site, and hopefully the island, if my buddy can host us. Almost peeing myself again... time to buy some new pants I guess.

11. I've been playing a lot of guitar lately and even though I'm freaking out my neighbors, it keeps me happy. I think I might have enough material to start a new project when my service is done. I've been playing so much that I GOT BLISTERS ON ME FINGERS again. Whoop whoop.

12. I've been feeling a little out of sorts these past couple months. There are times when I start to panic for very little reason or just beat myself up needlessly. I think it's that, as volunteers, at the end of the day we are our own bosses and some of us, like me, put way too much pressure on ourselves to have everything be successful and perfect immediately. I never really feel like I'm doing a good job. It even got to the point that on my trip to the island, I had this intermittent jealously of my friend there. I whined to myself about how she is more involved in the community, has more going on, actually works in the school etc. It kills me that I couldn't just be happy for a friend instead of making it about me. There is always a bright side though, and I learned something very important when I came back. As I was waiting for my bus, I happened to run into the other volunteer in our district. I immediately became aware of how stressed I looked because he told me. My hands and eyes were moving every-which way and it was hard to concentrate on what he was saying. We parted ways and I made my way home. On a day like this normally I would kind of hide in my house but I didn't have the keys. I went to hang out with my first host family until their son, who has a spare key, got home. Then I noticed something magic happen. As I hung out with the kids and listened to the older folks update the narco-traffic story for the seventh time, I stopped fidgeting. I could breathe easier and could concentrate on the world around me. By getting out into the world and actually being a human being, everything became ok. I think the main reason I've been so stressed is because I'm just too darn selfish and self-involved. I think I was trying to be some kind of self-serving hero which made me close myself off when really the largest part of my job is just to watch, listen y meterme con la gente. So now I have a new personal development goal of caring more about people, being more social, and stopped getting locked in my own head. Peace Corps just might make me a better person yet!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Garbage, garbage everywhere and no real place to put it

Posing in front of the recycling tanks

¿Que sopá? There is a lot going down in the pueblo these days so I think it´s time for an update.

The recycling thing is off to a good start. There are problems but that´s ok. There is always an adjustment period. People are throwing straight up trash in the bins... shoes and whatnot, we have a bin for tetra-pak (milk and juice boxes) but the recycling center doesn´t accept tetra-pak, and we still need a committee to run the whole thing. At the meeting we had to present the project we had zero volunteers but, that´s how it goes. Panamanian culture in general does not have a big focus on volunteerism but, there are always exceptions. Tuesday I try again.

I spent a couple days with my homegirl on a nearby island to learn about turtles because there is talk of creating turtle guides in my town. There was a two day charla about how to identify and unobtrusively observe the tortugas. I´m super excited about the possibility of this project. I was talking with a community member on the bus ride over and she already has plans to seek support of the hotels in the area so maybe I can help guide that process if they want. In any case, it´s really important that people see that they can legally make money off of turtles without selling their eggs and wiping out the species. At this point, there have been enough visits from the maritime authority that people know if they take all the eggs, it will be only a few short years before there are no turtles on the beach. It´s not a lack of knowledge anymore. The people that still hunt for eggs do it because it´s part of their culture and they really don´t care if their grandchildren never see any sea turtles. It´s just not that important to them. Fair enough. A handful seem to do it because the resent the government telling them that they can´t. Mostly, though, it´s a lack of alternative. ARAP (the maritime authority) comes in in their air conditioned cars with their pretty powerpoints and tells the community to snitch on their family and neighbors they see stealing eggs, because there are no police or rangers to do the job themselves. And, then, to add injury to this insult, they never once mention a possible alternative. I hope that becoming a turtle guide for tourists might become a viable option.

Usually, egg hunting is hard work with little pay off. You´re out on the beach late at night (hiding from all those scary ColumbiMexi coke runners) getting DESTROYED by mosquitos, chitre, and sand fleas and even then sometime you come home with nothing to show for it. The problem is, on a good night an egg hunter can make about $40 or more which is way more than most families make in a week. It´s a gamble that some people really don´t mind, unfortunately.

It´s a really tough, polarizing issue but, I don´t blame people that look for eggs. I wish they wouldn´t but who am I to tell them they can´t. I´m not with the government. I´m not looking for enemies in my community and I don´t want people to think I´m going to rat them out. If there is anything I learned from living in Baltimore it´s "stop snitching". But anyway, it is my place to present alternatives. Tourists will pay lots of money to see these beautiful creatures and people won´t have to exterminate them to get money to feed your family. They won´t have to be out at all hours getting a haphazard blood transfusion from the bugs on the beach. Please wish us luck as my community members and I go down this scary, everyone-including-best-friends-might-hate-us path. It needs to be done and I´ll put my neck on the chopping block if I have to. If we do this well, it will be a huge boost to the economy and a huge leap forward in bringing the community together but, if we screw up we´ll have even more animocity and bruised egos than before. I don´t mean to get too dramatic but this is a potential minefield, albeit a necessary one. I´m scared. I´m psyched.

In other news, I´ve gotten involved in Peace Corps´ Gender and Development (GAD) group. I´m the new secretary. They do good work like give small donations to projects that have to do with gender or youth development and host a camp where kids can build self esteem and all that good stuff. I´ve volunteered with a group to help edit this super informative book, Vida Sana, Pueblo Sano (healthy life, healthy town). We´re going to update and clarify information from the old edition, especially the AIDS section. Sadly, Panamá has the second highest HIV-AIDS rates in centroamerica (with the new census they just took that rank may change) and a huge factor is cultural myth and lack of education. The book represents a good, neutral source of information on a wealth of issues that could be used by teachers or service providers to start the behavior change process. Most teachers are not permitted to touch on the sex education aspect but there are also many chapters on self-esteem and healthy choices in general so it can still be useful.

All in all these are exciting times.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

And now for something completely different!

Hi! Honestly, I'm writing more out of compulsion than having something to say so bear with me. First, I'll feed the beast and give y'all a Peace Corps update. I'm doing well but traveling a LOT, for me. I've been in Panama more in the last week than I have in the last year. The thing is, I've been taking care of my one year med check up and there was also a regional meeting. Plus, I'm trying to coordinate the recycling thing on the Las Tablas end so I've been on the road a little more than I'd like. My health is good. I've got a little ear thing to clear up but when do I NOT have a little ear thing to clear up. I mean, really.

Umm.... story I want to share: Recently a friend/ NGO leader asked me to invite some women from my community to a woman's empowerment meeting. It was focused on domestic abuse but I wasn't comfortable saying that outright. So, one of the women I invited seemed really excited. "Oh yeah! I'd like to go." THEN WHAT DOES SHE DO?!! ASKS HER HUSBAND IF SHE CAN GO! TO A WOMAN'S EMPOWERMENT MEETING! I laughed inside but, really, it's just the way life is. He's got the money so how can she take the bus if he doesn't give her the money to leave. He said she could go but, he seemed a little concerned. We'll see. The thing is people here, male and female, think their significant other will cheat on them if they ever leave the house. The truth is, just like in the US, people cheat... A LOT. It's just that in the campo, everybody hears about it right away. Not everyone is an adulterer but, it does happen, so I understood his concern. It's like they say in Arrested Development, "You gotta lock that down".

Ok, what I really want to talk about is music. Even though I'm working my butt off lately, I still have time to fill my nights with tunes, so I've been a little studious about my rock y roll lately. I've figured out why I can't get into Rock Latino. The stuff I've heard is way too processed. FINALLY! Cased closed. It bothered me that I didn't get it but now I feel better now that I think I know why. Compressed vocals, cymbals that sound like glass, guitars that sound like synths... not for me. I would never dismiss a whole genre but, at heart, I am a punk rock girl, so that belabored studio aesthetic isn't for me. Case closed. On the other hand, I kind of dig reggaeton for the exact same reason I dislike Rock Latino. If you hyper-process dance hall/hip-hop based music, it can sound AWESOME! My friends hipped me to Calle 13, a Puerto Rican group that I recommend to anyone who even remotely likes Latin or Hip Hop and doesn't mind lyrics that may or may not be ironically (or not) sexist/ homophobic. [I'm pretty good at Spanish now but the last thing one learns in a new language is humor and irony].

I've been thinking about what kind of band I'd like to start when I get back to the states. Lately, I've been listening to some classic stuff based in blues. T. Rex, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, Lou Reed, and the Wig in a Box pseudo-soundtrack (not so classic and not so blues but in the same spirit). I want that. That feeling. That SINCERITY. I have no idea what's going on in music these days but when I left, I didn't see any sincerity in Baltimore at least. Even I'm guilty of it. I think I only wrote one sincere song in my old band and I apologize to the boys for that. I think I was trying to rip off the stuff I was listening to at the time and it came out very repressed and awkward. Also, I need to learn how to write riffs.

Messing around on a night much like this one, alone in a hotel room, I stumbled across an interview with Tori Amos about her cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit. I'm not a huge Tori fan but she said something that blew me away. She said that the most political songs have nothing to do with politics. She's right. Teen Spirit is a political song that doesn't want to be. But what really got me thinking was what she said next. She said, more or less, that in her version she wanted to tap into the male anger of the song and make it her own, i.e. express her FEMALE anger.


I can't really think of many female artists who have effectively expressed female anger. Janice Joplin, Billie Holiday, and (of course) Tori Amos, even though she sounds like a cat on a hot tin roof, are key exceptions. In the old days, the breakup songs where written by men and were all about men. For me, and I acknowledge I'm being general and even maybe dismissive, the riot girl thing was mostly about copying men being angry. It was never their own. It was never real. To use examples, You Ain't Nothin' But A Hound Dog done by Willie Mae Thorton (and yes, it was written by men, and later co opted and made famous by a man) is more real than Doll Parts by Hole or I'm Just a Girl by No Doubt. I think female anger is something I'd like to start to attempt to express. I've never been good at breaking new ground but I least I have this idea in my head: tap into anger. Because, rock and roll should be angry or at least express some longing so why not express female longing. Female longing that has nothing to do with men. SCARED YOU DIDN'T I??!!! In other words, instead of writing about looking sexy on the dance floor or how much you want to hit and quit some dude in the club as means to facile empowerment or, alternatively, how all men have done you wrong just because they have a male appendage, maybe you write about love. Maybe you write about how intimidating child birth is. Maybe you write about being a wife. Maybe you write about being alive. You just write. Don't write as a woman, just write and be a woman.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Victory is ours!

This past month has been crazy busy and I'm greatful for it. Next month looks like it will be filled with adventures and hard work too so I've got that to look forward to. Yesterday, I got some great news about our recycling project, all of the main infrastructure is in place, tanks and transportation, so now we are ready for phase two, which will be training a group to manage the project. There is already a fairly effective aquaduct committee so I hope we can just copy their structure and organization. This will probably be much more challenging than gathering the equipment but it is still such a huge relief that the project is ready to go. I do have one thought on my mind that concerns me though. The recycling center is a two hour drive from town so I'm not sure if the gas we are burning in transport is actually MORE harmful than the good of reusing material. If anyone knows how to do a cost/benefit analysis on this kind of stuff, let me know. In the big picture, I suppose it's better that we haul the trash. The town will be cleaner, we will no longer have to inhale burning plastic constantly when people burn trash, and there will be fewer cans and stuff to choke the fishies and turtles. I hope we're doing the right thing.

In other environmental news, I helped my counterpart with an Earth Day event in the school and, as always, it was totally insanity. We came up with a plan to show a movie about the beauty of nature and then do drawings and write little poems for the Earth. It should have been super fun but as soon as the movie went on the kids started running around and screaming... not talking in their seats, mind you, SCREAMING, so the few kids that were trying to watch the movie couldn't. It was a real shame. And even greater shame was that the teachers present did nothing to control the zoo. Nothing. So, like any good PC volunteer, I asked my counterpart if we could shift tactics and turn the movie off so we did. I invited the students to come to the Centro to do the drawings and read the Great Kapok Tree. It was great. The opposite of the school experience. Sometimes I feel like the school environment here is more damaging to learning than not going at all... given the attendance rate, the students feel the same way. People talk a big game about how important school is but nobody really enforces that sentiment with their kids. It's frustrating.

I was also a little frustrated with the tourism group here. I held a group organizing/ goal setting skills workshop and only three people showed up. I guess it's not so bad because I invited 20, hoped for 10, actually expected 5, so in the end 3/5 isn't so bad. They also showed up 1:30 late. But, even though I was frustrated with the turnout the even went well. They participated, seemed to have fun, and we all got to enjoy arroz con pollo. Everybody wins. I'm very interested in working with the tourism group but I think the bottom line is, the community is not interested right now, which is a shame because they are letting the extranjeros continue their stranglehold on the industry while they are missing out on opportunities. I get the sense they don't think they CAN have a part of the action, which is a belief I hope I can change.

Today I have two trainees coming to visit to see what the PC life is like. I'm excited to meet them and hope they have a good time. I think I'll introduce them to the English teacher and we'll do some more work on the recycling thing, stuff like that, and then for fun, hopefully surf. I tried surfing for the first time this month and it's a blast. I couldn't stand up but I caught a few waves. It's a real rush. I think surfing has the potential to become my favorite sport because there is no boring standing around. In baseball, you stand around until the ball comes. I do the same when I play soccer with the kids too (but that's cuz I'm too lazy to run after the ball). But surfing requires 100% focus, all the time. It's like that moment when you're under the ball waiting for it to come into your glove and nothing else matters, except it lasts longer. Right now, I'm not a strong enough swimmer but I'll get there. The second time I went the waves were pretty rough and I could barely stand up, much less take the board out.

Other than that there is not too much to tell. I've definitely settled into a rhythm and things are pretty smooth for the most part. To whoever's reading this, I'd love comments about how you're doing. I miss news from back home!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

It's ok to eat fish because they don't have any feelings

It's been almost a whole year since I've been in Panama. It's quite an accomplishment but I still feel pretty numb about it. The significance of it has yet to sink in and I feel like I am still struggling in some areas but in others I have made some pretty big strides. All in all it doesn't feel like a year has changed that much. I still wake up and go through a similar routine day in, day out. It does remind me, though, of how long it's been since I've been home and how much I miss my family and friends. There are still days when the complete lonliness and alienation makes everything seem impossible. Lucklily, those days are few and far between now. I'm really focusing on work now, but I need to get more comfortable getting people to work with me. My counterpart from Aguadulce is always ready and willing to help with whatever but my actual
community members aren't really interested in anything I have to offer unless it's an on-demand English class (meaning I will be at their beck and call all hours to teach them whenever they feel like it). My awesome volunteer friend from Colon came to visit and demonstrate how to build a vivero (seed planter thing) and absolutely no one but my counterpart showed up. I was hurt because people have been asking me about gardening and stuff. The thing is, I always end up taking it personally and blaming myself... maybe I didn't give enough notice, maybe I didn't explain what we were going to do well, maybe a semillero wasn't what they had in mind. It's a cycle in which I get angry at everyone here for not working, then turn it on myself for not being good at my job, then I feel guilty for being so angry all of the time, then sad because I think that maybe people don't approach me because I'm angry all of the time. Grr. But enough with the venting. Please excuse it, I'm just trying to share the real experience of being a volunteer, good and challenging. It helps to put myself in the community's shoes. If I were them I would ignore the gringa and lay in a hammock too. Absolutely I would. So I need to let it go. That doesn't help how it makes me look to the office though but that's a whole other can of worms.

The last volunteers built an events hall and a playground, two huge projects, and I just can't for the life of me see how they coordinated that. I wish I could talk to them for advice. I always go back to thinking that I don't "get out there" enough. I have defintely come out of my shell with my volunteer friends, my counterpart, and my tutee, but not the community in general. Maybe I'm afraid of seeming unprofessional. I just wish they knew I have a sense of humor. I could probably get more done if they knew.

But, with the things I have planned for after Semana Santa people should start to see me as a resource, I hope. I'm doing two teacher trainings, one with counterpart (but he's already on team Peace Corps) and the new English teacher who seems amazing. I framed it as an observation period followed by a presentation of the methodology the embassy trained us in so I should definitely learn a thing or two from her as well. I'm also hoping to do a group building training with the tourism coop and while the government agency for coops (IPACOOP) loves me for trying to do this, the community members in charge could care less. Even more, I think the leaders I've been trying to get interested may actually dislike me. At the very least they look at me like I'm a mentally challenged iguana with one leg sawed off. Maybe I'm paranoid but they try their hardest to talk about anything BUT this training I want to do. You can try to get people to work smarter but you can't force them. The recycling project is chugging along and we have all the letters and project description hand outs to get started. Now we just need community and government support.

I've had a few adventures since I wrote last. I visited Aguadulce with my counterpart. It was pretty cool and his mom made good food. Where he lives is as suburban as it gets for Panama which was an interesting contrast. Really my favorite thing was just talking music with him and his buddy Carlos. Carlos is a Nirvana obsessed rocker and my counterpart is into to pretty much all forms of rock/ indie. I hipped them to Yo La Tengo and they layed some Cien Fue on me. It was really good stuff. This one song "Somos Terroristas" got in my head fast (in a good way). They inspired me to listen to some Led Zeppelin. I've been meaning to listen to more rock to understand Walt's songwriting better and now I'm finally getting around to it. To balance that out my friend from Colon let me burn her new Vampire Weekend album, which I liked a lot. It's kind of like they perfected what they were trying to go for in the first one and now they sound less like ripping off Graceland and more like they have their own sound. It's a little hard for me to admit I like a band that has songs called "horchata" (which includes the word "balaklava" by the way... and they're not European), and "Oxford Comma", and "Campus" but they are on to something. I guess it's redeeming that they wear their hipness on their sweater sleeves.
I also listened to Nevermind again after years and years and it was like hearing it for the first time. I think it's time that bands got loud again. The whole pop church choir, string quartet thing is cool but probably about to run it's course. The thing that the alterna-rockers never got was that what made that album interesting wasn't the whining... (in fact, that the lyrics don't really make enough narrative sense to whine saves it) it's the controled catharsis. It's turning the guitars up way too loud, beating the drums too hard, and screaming your melody. It's the tension between the feedback and the melody. Anyway, it was nice to enjoy the record out of the context of the hype and could shake the image of Saint Cobain and simply say, "that boy was a fine songwriter. Cheers". What else...? The water has been on for only a few minutes a day lately and it killed most of the vegetables I planted. It never rains in this part of Panama in the summer you see so I need to water them. That was sad. Oh well... when the rain comes, we'll start again. This week is Semana Santa so HOARDS of people, literal busloads, have decended on the beach here. I have never seen so many cars on our little road. People celebrate Easter time here by going on vacations and drinking a lot. It's way different than back home. Nary a chocolate egg in sight. It's funny because it's illegal to sell alcohol on Friday and Saturday of the week but people just stock up before hand. Seems like a silly law since people just "pre-buy" the hooch. Last week my visitor from Colon and some local volunteer buddies went to a feria nearby. There
were all kinds of craft tents and food stalls and even a carnival! We went on the bumper cars. I wanted to crash into this kid from my community who is always really obnoxious to me but he got off right before we got on. There was even a PH (pretty sure I explained what that is in the last post). Tons of my community members were there and our dance group performed. We
watched some cow wrangling games and one of my friend's teams whooped up on my town's team. Sad. He also bought a belt buckle that had a lighter built into that said "Tupac". It was the greatest thing I've ever seen. MY other buddy finally got herself a Panama hat! She was doubtful but I hope by now she has learned to love it. And then unfortunately my friend from Colon lost
her wallet and camera at the PH. Luckily, she said there wasn't much in the wallet and that she had a good time anyway. I would hate for her to walk away with a bad impression of the Azuero because of that. Other than that, there is not much to tell. I'm thinking of going to a baseball game tomorrow but am not sure I should spend the money getting there. We'll see!

Friday, February 19, 2010

We can't stop here. This is bat country.

It's been a while since I posted because this month has been pretty busy. I was out of site for the first two weeks for seminars. The first was a TEFL conference all the way in Changinola, Bocas del Toro. The idea was that volunteers from my sector would take teachers from our communities to be trained in the SIOP model, which is basically a system for making sure your classes and super interactive, built on previous lessons, and offer stronger students a chance to help those who need more time to catch the lesson. I didn't have a teacher to take because the English teacher here lives outside the community and speaks no English. This is a pretty common problem, especially in the campo. Since the seminar was in English, she would have spent 12 hours on a bus for nothing. I did, however, get to work with some great English teachers and brush up on my own understanding of SIOP. I even met a teacher from my province and we had an English/Spanish bad word exchange. It was pretty silly and now I know that a lot of the shouting from the cantinas is just cursing. I'm so glad I made the trip. I learned a lot and it was so heartening to see teachers open and receptive to new ideas. I'd like to put together a training for the High School teachers in town nearby but it would probably have to be in Spanish. We have agency meetings coming up so I'll see what's up with the ministry of education to see how feasible it is.

It was also pretty cool to see another part of Panama. I've been to Bocas once for my volunteer site visit but never to Changinola. I was surprised at how different it is from Los Santos. Our capital of Las Tablas is an attempt at a Spanish pueblo. It is centered around a cathedral and a plaza. A lot of the buildings have a Spanish flavor but Changinola is much more Carribean. The colors are wacky blues, pinks, and yellows instead of Mediterranean tones. Plus it was green and all the trees didn't look dead. Around here everything is dry grassland now but over there it's relatively jungle like. I even took a walk through a Chiquita Banana plantation and got crop dusted with pesticides! Another difference is that there are way, way more Ngobes (Don't think I've ever seen any in Las Tablas) so culturally, people are a little more reserved on the street yet more likely to hit you up for spare change.

After that I met up with my new counterpart and headed off to PML (Project Management Leadership). This was another great seminar on leadership and running groups. For me, it was invaluable because we came away with a game-plan for starting an environmental group here. Counterpart even came up with a great logo. I can't really put into words here how good it feels to have a plan after trying to nail down specifics with campesinos (who are allergic to specifics) for so long. For the first time in my service I feel like I have control.

On a personal level, it was cool to get to know Counterpart. I feel like we could call each other friends now which is nice because I still feel like I don't have many friends in site. Maybe it's more accurate to say I don't have friends I have anything in common with but Counterpart and I like similar music (a FIRST here in Panama!) and he is dedicated to starting a project so we can talak about that. Sometimes I just run out of things to say to say to my campesinos. We both know it's hot... We both know it hasn't rained in months... My family's fine, thanks. Anyway, it's just refreshing.

The only bummer was that my ear infection I've been fighting on and off since November came back with a vengeance. I got super dizzy and had to miss the last half of the final day because it was too much work to stay vertical. The next day I headed to Chitre to meet my buddies for carnival so I stopped in at the doctor before they all showed up. I got my very first shot in butt. I have to admit, it was the most painful, most sore-making shot I've had in memory. Way worse than tetanus. The nurse was down there for a good 7 seconds which is an eternity when you can feel medication forcing its way into your rump. It was worth it though because my ear stopped pussing pretty quickly. Right now I'm on antibiotics that make me exhausted all the time but It'll be over soon. I'd been pretty healthy for a while so I guess it was time for a crash. Panama catches up with you.

But way more interesting than my little boo-boo is carnival! This guy from Miami who owns a hostel in Chitre left my friend in charge of the building so we turned it into a Peace Corps club house. We had water balloons, a kiddie pool on the roof, and even a megaphone! So, how carnival works is that they have street food EVERYWHERE! Yum. They bring in trucks of river water to hose people down (the mojadera) and play loud music all day and night. There are also floats of gay dudes... I guess carnival is the only time they can be openly fabulous in this machismo culture... and of course there is... the REINA! All feathers and sequins. There is something magical about it.

We had a good time apart from the fact that I got peed on and two of my buddies got robbed. Apparently, it's custom to pee your pants at carnival because there are so few bathrooms and you're getting hosed down anyway. Well, this dude let loose while my foot was nearby. As for the robberies, it wasn't so bad considering we were almost all gringos, or would be mistaken for gringos by Panamanians. It could have been a lot worse seeing as we're just giant targets. But, nothing was lost that can't be replaced and although my friends were annoyed, they remained unflappable.

So now I'm back in site ready to work but my community isn't. Apparently carnival isn't enough so I have to wait until "carnivalito" is over this weekend to pick up tutoring and work on the group. I'm thinking I should give up work ethic for Lent...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Back in the U S of A!

My vacation home for the holidays went too fast but it was wonderful. I didn't get to see all the people I wanted to but I did my best given the limited time and I am pretty pleased. Even though there was two feet of snow on the ground my heart was warm and toasty being around my loved ones. (Yeah, I said it. Cheeeeeeze). I suppose it hadn't been that long compared with how long some PC volunteers wait to go home but I was still overwhelmed and sniveling with joy when the plane touched down. Then I was in full on tears when I saw my mom and boyfriend who had come to pick me up. It's hard to describe that pure joy of suddenly being surround by people you love and love you after being an alien for 7 months. There is rush of belonging and understanding. All of a sudden everything around makes sense. You know why people are acting the way they are. Order is restored in your little world.

I never thought I'd say this, but the thing I missed most about the US apart from mi gente is convenience. You want hot water? BAM! You want to call someone? BAM! You want to find your favorite chocolate bar? BAM! It's at the store. It is utterly amazing how fast and easily things happen. It is pretty easy to adjust to having a grocery store trip take all day but it is so much nicer when it doesn't.

The only bad thing is that my bag got lost on the way back. The airport thinks that a woman who left a very similar bag probably took mine. I'm doubtful though because why would she leave her bag there for week while she carting around mine? She likes my clothes better maybe? I don't know. The whole thing is suspicious and really inconvient. I even brought home my sheets to wash them and they were in the bag so now I'm sleeping on a filthy bare mattress.

Filth is also taking some getting used to. I'm not a neat freak but I came home to a house full of roach and lizard poop and my water has been running on a trickle or not at all so it's been difficult to make the place liveable again. I swear the roaches launched a colonization campaign while I was gone. I haven't seen this many before but I'm hoping the spray will do the trick.

I started my English tutoring classes yesterday and one household decided to go to a party during scheduled class time and didn't inform me. Big surprise there. And at the other class I only had to wait an hour for the girl to show. Not so bad. The class itself went pretty well. This morning the representate asked me for classes! I would really like to open up some sort of relationship with the dude because theoretically he can help me get stuff done but we'll see how it all pans out.

I hope everyone had great holidays!