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!