Tasha Hernandez - Peace Corps Panama.

Applied Ecology major. Michigan Tech University.

Tasha is both a Peace Corps Volunteer and a graduate student in the Loret Miller Ruppe Peace Corps Masters International Program at Michigan Tech. Find out more about this program at http://peacecorps.mtu.edu/.

Friday, June 3, 2005.

Life in Panama is starting to become reality now, and less of a vacation. My Spanish is improving every day and I will begin to learn the Kuna language next week. This is the language of the indigenous people that I will be working with in the San Blas Islands.

Santa Rita is the name of the town in which I am currently residing. I live with an older woman and her granddaughter and they are both very hospitable. I am growing on them as they are on me. I will miss them when I have to leave in two months but I cannot wait to get to my site. I am going to visit a current volunteer in her site in Los Valdeses, Veraguas for the weekend. I will leave tomorrow and stay until Monday! This trip is to allow me to see other parts of the country so I can be more acquainted with different provinces for future travel. When I do reach my site, I will not be in contact for two to three months at a time so I want to warn you all now, but I will be keeping myself busy working in the cacao plantations and visiting nearby volunteers. There are three other volunteers that will be within rowing and walking distance of a day from me. I know this seems far to some but it is actually a treat for a Peace Corps volunteer and I feel lucky that I will have their support when I need it.

I have made many friends here with many volunteers and Panamanians. Even though they all say I will lose weight (the men that is), my host mother keeps calling me gorda which is Spanish for fat and she tells me I will be more gorda when I leave here. This is actually a compliment here and to be called flaca or skinny is actually saying you are not healthy and is worse. I eat 3 meals a day with a lot of carbs.. rice, bananas, and lots of fried foods. I do run every day however, taking a few days off here and there when we work a lot in the garden or when it is raining in the morning, so I am hoping everything will balance out enough to keep me in a healthy condition.

My friend was fooling around with a fruit from a tree called a jagua, one in which ancient tribes used for tatoos, and he was rubbing the fruit juice on his hands. In doing so, there was no color appearing so he kept rubbing it harder and harder wondering what he was doing wrong. Wehn we learned about this plant a few days before, our teacher forgot to tell us that it takes about a half hour for the actual color to show up. His hands have been getting darker and darker every hour and he now looks like he was crushing ink pens with his bare hands. He is the joke of the day! Sorry Michael..hehe!

12 June 2005

Los Estados Unidos Gana! Yes the United States and Panama played in a soccer game this week and it was a huge deal in Santa Rita. People gathered to watch the game on one of the few channels that people get here. There were doubles of every player but at least you could see the score, and we won. Working in the garden is getting harder. More people are starting to get sick here not only from food and water changes but because they are catching it from the families here. It is winter here since it is cooler than normal in the wet season and people are catching colds and the flu and I am actually getting a sore throat. This may be a result of yodeling with the Panamanians as well. They enjoy having drum circles and singing and dancing to Panamanian typical music. I love it! Other than the ´gripe´, I am still healthy and will be going to visit my island next Sunday... finally! And for those who want to visit, I have found in searching on the internet that there are actually resorts on some of the islands near me so you could still live in a little luxury while experiencing the culture. The hotels are huts but I am sure they have other services that may not be available where I will be living.

My personal garden is beginning to sprout and the asparagus is looking the best so I am really excited to see what sort of food I will be making available for my host family. I have to chase chickens away every day because they are trying to eat my plants. People think I am crazy when I run after them with rocks screaming but I think the chickens are crazy because it is almost as if they are testing me. It is the same chickens every day and they never make it to the garden so I dont know what they are thinking. Anyhow, I will eat them later. HAHA.

This week we learned how to make orgainc fertilizers and insect repellents for our gardnes, using available reasources in the area such as manure, leaves, soil, peppers, other smelly plants and vegetables, and more manure... yummy. I am learning tons and I am definitely going to come back with a better understanding of gardening. I can´t wait to get my own yard!

20 June 2005

Well I am in Panama City preparing to leave for the islands to partake in two weeks of intense technical training in cacao and cultural and language training. I will be living with a host family there and sleeping in a hammock. My excitement has dwindled to a feeling of fear and wonder if I am ready in any of the three areas in which I am training for. I have found out some bad news that one of the sites in Kuna Yala has been terminated and they are working hard to find another. They have ensured me that I have nothing to worry about and that I will be going there without a doubt but it is a little frightening to know that they will be choosing a site within a month when normally, site development occurs over long periods of time. Its Peace Corps, right? government first hand? I am more excited about not knowing my placement, however, since it adds more adventure to the experience and makes me feel more like the other volunteers here. The most fearful part is that it may end up that the new site will not have had a volunteer before, making this the first volunteer. This type of situation may be more difficult for someone wanting to do research since most of their time should be spent on developing the site and motivating people to want to change and to take action. I am taking all of this in and realizing that it is definitely for the best, since the island was removed from the list for an obviously good reason, according to the government... ha-ha... but of course everything happens for a reason and while I must refrain from having expectations
during this experience in order to prevent from disappointment, I must also be prepared to expect things like this... the unexpected.

Funny story, Casey and I are beginning to really love buckets. They are useful for all sorts of things... even toilets. In Kuna Yala, the sea is where the deed is done, and there are no latrines, just oh shit bars to hang on to when it is real windy. ha-ha... I will have to take pictures of that.

26 June 2005

¡Deguimalo Kuna Yala! (Goodbye Kuna Yala)

The shore of a Kuna island.


I have returned from my week long visit to the island of Tupile in San Blas, Kuna Yala. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget and hope to someday enjoy again.... latrines over the ocean (not so fun), uninhabited islands, huts for houses, hammocks for sleeping, fish, lobster, and crab for lunch and dinner, women making molas (traditional handcrafted shirts), and much much more. Of course there has to be bad news following such a wonderful experience. On our way to the beach yesterday for an adventure on our one day off before a week of intense agricultural training, we were confronted with a surprise visit from our assistant country director to the island. The unannounced visit gave us the feeling that something was not right. We were informed that there were not longer going to be sites developed in Kuna Yala and that all volunteers in the area were being pulled immediately. Apparently, last week was the peak of a very long drug market between Columbia and surrounding countries. Kuna men were arrested from one of the islands with over a ton of cocaine and a Columbian boat was shot down. Even though volunteers can be at risk in any site they serve, this type of incident increases suspicions of our hypothetical and not true connections with the DEA and CIA. Therefore, the risk of danger from drug guerillas becomes higher. For this reason, I feel it was a good decision and I am happy to know that I have intelligent, aware people taking care of me from the Peace Corps office. However, I do feel deeply for the Kuna people that have to stay and deal with the situation. They are very kind and generous people only trying to make a living and feed their children. It is a hard decision for them to make when drugs wash up on their shores every week, whether they should turn in the Columbians and risk death, or simply take their money and keep good relations while feeding their families at the same time. It is really hard to explain to the Kuna that I have to leave because it is too dangerous but that they have to stay and deal with the guerillas. I am hoping to someday return to the islands to visit those hospitable people who took me into their homes and fed me, entertained me, and accepted me, and I hope to see the extinction of the drug market and a more, safe and sound Kuna. The people are so peaceful and kind, but of course they need to survive.

Anyhow, it looks as though I may be going to a site in Bocas del Torro which is on the northeastern part of Panama, more near Costa Rica, hopefully near the beach and with a lot of culture. I will most likely be working with cacao still but who knows with the Peace Corps. Things change suddenly every day. I have a meeting tomorrow to find out all of the possibilities.

7 July 2005

I have received the most exciting news today about the new site in which I am being assigned. First I have to tell you how the site was ever so developed over such a short time. Two weeks ago, a group of students from our training group went to the Bocas del Torro province for cultural and technical training. While chilling over a game of cards, a sweet old man walked up from his two hour hike over the hills from the town of Renacimiento. He explained how he had heard about the Peace Corps volunteers that were in the area and how he wanted to meet them and express his interest in bringing a volunteer to his community. The word was brought back to Jason, my placement director-APCD, and after visiting the site he knew it was perfect for me. Here is the description I received from him on the site word for word....

An enchanted 15 minute hike through a dense cacao forest full of green and red poison frogs brings you into the community. The community is set against a backdrop of lush virgin and secondary forest. The population is 350 and many live in thatched roof houses on stilts. Several have an incredible view of the Caribbean Ocean. There is much work to be done in the community, with their main cash crop being cacao. They also have several other agricultural projects including corn, rice, bananas, and plantains. They also have a close association with the Smithsonian, the cacao co-op, and MIDA as possible partners. There is no electricity and water will have to be filtered. The nearest community, Quebrada Pastor is a center of activity where many in the community go to participate in several sporting events.

Peace Corps Volunteers hard at work.

So there you go.... a summary of my life for the next two years. I am mostly excited to be working with cacao again, living on stilts overlooking the Caribbean, being one to two hours by foot from other volunteers, and learning about another language and culture.. the Ngobe. The community is 100 percent indigenous but they all speak Spanish so although I will be learning another language, it is not critical for my start of service. I will be working in agriculture, women's groups, in the school, and improving the aqueduct as a water source. I am super pumped and I can't wait to tell you all about my visit next week. Until then, I have compiled a short list of some of the important adaptations I have encountered while being in the peace Corps. Tolerance and patience are two of the most important characteristics that volunteers must have or learn to have in the PC but along with those come other adaptations and learning experiences.... here are some of them.....

1. Sweaters are only worn when it is 75-80 degrees outside. And only crazy Americans like me that for some reason are cold actually wear them at all.
2. Watching the massacre of a cow, pig, or chicken does not make you stop eating meat.
3. Bathing 3 times a day is not enough even though the water supply is scarce. People are very clean here contrary to what some may say.
4. Painting your mails is not for prettiness but to hide the dirt that lies under them.
5. Eating crabs with hair still remaining on the shell is okay. (Blair, this is the weirdest think I have eaten.) I did not know crabs had hair!
6. The tongue piercing is finally gone and I am okay with it!
7. Drinking out of reused beer bottles leaves a stench on the outside of the bottles and also allows for an alcohol content range of no greater than 3.8 percent and no less than whatever the bottlers please.
8. Playing with poop is a daily activity whether it is for making fertilizer, compost, or a clay mix stove.
9. Riding in a vehicle named after an animal is the only way of transportation. (Chiva means donkey and is a truck with a bed and a cab with seats, generally filled with smoke from the exhaust that dwindles.)
10. Spiders no longer scare me and can actually be helpful for eating other insects.
11. Sleeping through the loudest storms ever, dogs barking all night, and roosters crowing as if dawn came 10 times HELPS me to sleep now.. ahhh music to my ears.
12. And last but not least, nothing starts on time and everything lasts longer than necessary since Panamanians love to talk and never get to the point... But time is never wasted here in Panama!

21 July 2005

Two more weeks as a trainee and then I receive my official status as a volunteer and will be in my site living the life of a Ngobe. The visit was.. let's say different. The scenery is beautiful, with my bedroom window overlooking the Caribbean and the tourist islands. I see the sunrise every day over the ocean and watch the lights twinkle on the islands at night. I bathed in a lagoon below a waterfall about a 10 minute hike from my house. The terrain is very steep and hiking is very difficult but fulfilling. The nature is amazing! As far as the people, they are more reserved than most people in Panama but not as reserved as I had expected. Most of them cannot speak perfect Spanish and therefore are embarrassed to use it. The men will talk with me often, and the children as well, but communicating with he women will have to come with time as I learn their dialect. I live in a house with 20 other people, men, women, children, all family. I have my own room which is very lucky in a Ngobe site even though I do not have much privacy in the room with children coming in all of the time to check out my gringo stuff.

The Training Group.

My first projects will include building latrines, since they only have a few in the community and mainly use the river at present, also building a new tank for the aqueduct since it is not working very well with no pressure to transport the water to all of the houses on hills, and of course building my house and teaching English. Agriculture will not be a focus until my second year most likely, since I am a first time volunteer and the community has more important needs and wants before agricultural improvements and economic benefits. I will first focus on health and then move towards other projects. I spent my week there meeting people in the community and explaining my purpose of being there. I also visited the source for the water and hiked to a nearby community for a meeting about the construction of a new school. I am hoping to get my house built in time and at a reasonable rate.

My host family is trying to charge me too much for the use of their home and so I have to figure out if I will be moving out or if they will bargain with me. So I have a lot of work to do. I will return in two weeks to sleeping on the wooden floor and bathing in the lagoon for one week in which I will explain my situation and give them time to think it over while I go to cacao training for a week. Hopefully it will all be settled when I return again.

11 August 2005

Tasha with Lobo in Panama.

17 August 2005

I have been out of my site for 3 days now and I am happy to say that I am glad to be going back. I have been in Changuinola, a nearby town, meeting with all of the organizations who fund projects for the area and finding out what sort of help I can get for projects in my site. It was a very informative week and I am tired of the city with the cars and smoke and loud people. I have a friend, Rylan, whom some of you may know, coming today to visit for a few days. He is not staying in my site but nearby in a hotel and will be hanging out and relaxing for a few days in the middle of his journey throughout Central and South America. I have already started my compost pile for fertilizing my garden and hope to start my manure compost this week which maybe Rylan can help me with.. yeah! School is starting back up so hopefully I can start to work in the school teaching. I also want to start a volleyball team so I am going to buy a ball today and have the kids help me make a net with tree limbs and old hammock pieces that are hanging around. I am using available resources like they taught me.. yes!!! My birthday is coming up next month so we plan to go to the tourist island for a little celebration.

29 August 2005

Today is a good day. I am out of my site talking with a local organization named MIDA, which stands for Ministerio de Agropecuaria, or in our terms, an agricultural organization, who has helped with garden and chicken projects in my community. I wanted to find out why they had not worked, right from their mouths in addition to what I have heard from the teachers and the community members. I also want to figure out how we can continue them but improve them so they are sustainable. Good day, yes. It is hard to describe a good day, but usually they are the ones out of site, relaxing, enjoying the internet and different food other than bananas. In site, I am either having a ´really´ bad day or a ´really´ good day. The really bad ones are easily fixed by hiding and finding a place to read or play with my dog. They usually occur when the kids are being annoying and asking for money or something or when I am not receiving food but the family is eating in front of me. Really good days are those that cannot be ruined, when I am so darn happy about a conversation I had with someone about a project or something, that the kids do not bother me, and as much as they pester, I just laugh and laugh and smile.

Things are moving along at a faster pace than I had expected. Rylan and my counterpart (host father) helped me construct my compost bin and the first bucket of poo went in last week. It is a grand achievement and everyone thinks I am nuts. I gave my first charla yesterday and it went very well. We did not start until a half hour after expected and people were showing up until an hour later, but that is Peace Corps for you, and it is definitely Panama for you. They asked for coffee but I explained to them that they should want to be there for the charla and not the free stuff. They agreed. I introduced my family in Ngobere, their language, and showed them pictures... I showed pictures of beautiful Michigan and answered all of their wild questions like ¨can you walk on the water there?¨ What? They asked a lot about our marriage laws and who lives with who. It was nice to see two of the three goals of Peace Corps in action, us sharing our cultures with one another at the same time. It felt really good. I followed this with an explanation of the Peace Corps and why I am here and then talked about the potential projects we have here. I am currently teaching English in the school and talking with the teachers and the Padres de Familia about the chicken and garden projects in order to supply food and an income for the school. I am working in the monte (with people's plantations of banana, cacao, etc.) in nearby neighborhoods with people that live in the outskirts of my community. Hopefully people from my community will see this and want me to work with them too but for now, I work with whoever wants me to. I have also been asked by people from other communities to help them with artisan groups in order to start selling their handmade purses and dresses, as well as helping with a community who wants to start a fish pond project with their school. The aqueduct improvement project is underway and I am having a man from MIDA give a charla about the cacao and how we can eradicate the plagues here in Bocas. I am really excited about everything but taking it slowly. In my charla, I had everyone (adults and older teenagers) vote on which projects they wanted to be a part of including, latrines, cacao work, other agriculture work, gardens, and artisan groups. Of course, they all know they will not be getting free stuff and will have to work to receive any help of any sort. They are all in understanding and all still interested in working with me. I am pumped! We also talked about the building of my house and many people are interested in helping not only with the construction, but the lending of tools and the help with cooking from the women for the men who help with the construction. The only problem that arose was that some people believe my house should be more in the center of town, and right now the location I had in mind is at the top of the hill, farthest from the entrance. We are going to have another reunion specifically to talk about my house and I hope all goes well and they let me keep it there because I have already started preparing the land and have both of my composts there. I did not even think this would be a problem since my counterpart suggested the area, but of course it makes sense that the rest of the community is jealous and believes that if I live there, I will only work with him and his family. It is a great location though, with a beautiful view, close to the school, close to the office, and to the community house. And the community is not that big so it is not hard for someone to walk to my house. I can see every house from my house. They are just trying to make a point I think, but we will have to resolve this. Other than that, I am moving in with a new family on Thursday. I will be living at the church house with the pastor and his family. They seem wonderful and peaceful and are allowing me to help through food and work rather than money.

Excerpts from the September quarterly report.

The last month of training began with lectures on integrated pest management and how to execute a successful community analysis. These lectures were followed by two weeks of technical training in which the first was spent on the island of Tupile in Kuna Yala, San Blas, and the second was spent on the chicken farm of technical trainer Jesus. Training in Kuna Yala consisted of farm system management, including intercropping, shading practices, fence lines, organic pesticides, etc., in addition to learning how to plant seeds of many species and how to harvest the seeds. The practice of creating and using an A-frame level was also included in a lesson on hillside management and soil erosion prevention. Learning how to harvest many different species including bananas, platanos, guinellos, yucca, pineapple, etc. was also a treat since snacking on the fruits followed the harvest. Included within the technical training were times for cultural and language training as well. In returning to the mainland after receiving band news about the site location change, training continues promptly with visits to a chicken farm, lessons on proper chicken farm management, how to create and maintain worm boxes, with practice cleaning one, a visit to a slaughterhouse, a visit to an organic farmer who uses horse, cow, and bat manure, a visit to an animal husbandry farmer, and more practice using the A-frame level, planting green manures, and making composts. All in all, the volunteers became peons, but the practice was advantageous to the learning process. The rest of training included a week long site visit and lessons on lorena store construction, planting with the moon, first aid and CPR, and how to teach English. My site visit was very fulfilling, since every day was as busy and diverse as the day before. My counterpart accompanied me to the nearby town center to reunite with government organizations that assist in development projects of the area. I spent an entire day visiting the houses of the community, meeting families and recording their names, trying to remember them as the days passed. A visit to the aqueduct source followed, assisted by the president and committee of water for the community. I spent an entire day with my host family, getting to know them, practicing Ngabere and making a map of the community. A three-hour hike to a reunion about the construction of a new school in a nearby community lead into the solicitude of the Peace Corps. The entire week was spent asking questions and discovering important aspects about the community and projects they are involved with.

I am so happy I listened to the advice about not bringing anything valuable. I have seen people's reactions to stolen materials and lost treasures, as if they were surprised, when I on the other hand, was prepared for such incidents. However no one seems to want my cheap camera or my cheap walkman or anything else I own. Unfortunately, I decided to gain a tag-a-long new friend, my dog, Lobo, who takes advantage of his strong teeth, and eats those most valuable materials I own whenever he feels. I no longer have music to listen to since he ate my headphones, and my alarm clock is deformed thanks to him. He had a hold of my watch (free from a cigarette box) and my cell phone (free from the Peace Corps), but I managed to save them in time. Even though these cheap materialistic things are my most valuable possessions, I am glad I chose to go to cheap route with them, since now I can laugh about the destruction my puppy causes instead of cry over a destroyed digital camera or I-pod, as I have seen others do. My actual most valuable things that I guard more safely than anything are my books and important papers. If anyone were to get a hold of those, life would be miserable. It is amazing what is really important in life.

10 October 2005 - Unedited Housing Frustration.

....Well not exactly. While I am supposed to be moving into my own house in November, since that is the idea, that I am settled in and pretty well accustomed and ready to live alone and get down and dirty with work, I am having a tremendously rough and stressful time getting the damn house built. As of now, I am the only volunteer in the Bocas province from my group who is building a house since most of them are either follow up volunteers and already have a house built by the previous volunteer or are renting a house where noone is living at the moment and therefore it is much easier. I, however, have the pleasure of learning through many mistakes how to deal with Panamanians, and Ngobes in addition, in the planning and construction of a house.. not too fun! I have had to find someone to cut the wood for cheap which is turning out not to be so cheap since the wood I found donated from people in the community is not very good and is taking too much time to cut and not producing enough wood, therefore costing me more money. I also have to deal with people that dont work at the same pace as me as in they dont want to work constantly throughout the day and they dont want to work all day even though I am paying them. I am finding that noone wants to make this easy for me and simply donate good wood or roofing material (made from leaves of a penka palm tree) all at once or for a cheap price, but instead they have to make it more difficult for me by giving me half ass materials from all over the place and it ends up wasting my time and my money anyhow. It is also really hard to motivate people to even want to help me.. to donate wood or penka.. there are a few yes, but to help with manual labor without giving food.. what a nightmare. I do plan on having food on the day of construction but just to help carry wood from the tree where it was cut to the house location. Come on! I did more work than the adult men.. which is fine for now, but I am remembering this of course when they ask for help. I did however recieve a lot of help from the kids and in return they got chicha and crackers and a fun volleyball game. The thing is that they were not even really expecting anything and the adults did not even know, but if they would have helped, they would have gotten some too. I am afraid that the day of building everyone is going to want to help only because there is food but I am only allowing those who came to the reunion and signed up for it and those who have helped in the past since I cannot feed the whole community, as again, my wallet is shrinking by the minute. Of course, you know me, I wanted a huge plan drawn out on how we would build the house and what days we would work on what, etc. But I listened to the members of the community when they said dont worry we will take care of it.. relax and take it day by day. Little did I remember that this is why I am here.. to teach planning and organization, something that they are not very good at.. and so that is why I am having sooo many problems... because I did not have a plan and because I did not make it with someone else in the community that can help me to make others stick to it. Therefore, I have canceled the construction for now, not only because I need to wait until next month when I have more money to spend on materials, but also, so that I can make a long, boring plan that will aggrevate my counterpart a ton, but make me feel great! In many ways you cannot imagine:) Until then, I am planning a meeting on the 1st of November to discuss where I can stay until the house is finished whether it be for free or by renting on a monthly basis. No matter what, I need my own place. I have been offered to stay with families the entire time for free but I dont feel comfortable doing so since I dont have my privacy and also not everyone in the community can feel comfortable coming to me for help in someone elses house. I would also like to start my garden soon and other yard projects I have planned such as composts and experimental plots and worm boxes, etc. While others have offered to rent their homes the entire two years, I do not want to be helping only one family for income the entire time while others are bugging me to rent their homes trying to fit their family in the shed, and the homes are not in good condition and I dont feel safe in them, therefore, this building is necessary. I sure hope the next volunteer appreciates all that I have prepared for him or her and is ready to open their wallet to help me out and buy all the crap I am going to want to sell when I leave this place. Other than the house, I am still working with the Ministry of Health with the aqueduct problem and they are coming to my community this month as well as the Ministry of Agriculture to talk about cacao maintenance in the fields. I am working in the school garden and still teaching English classes once a week. My favorite time is spent just sitting around with the kids smiling, laughing, and remembering that I am in Panama!!! My first visit out of this side of the country back to the city will be in ten days.. I am counting down until I can have a margarita and a vegetabley Italian dinner:)

Excerpts from a 26 October email.

So as most of you know I am a sucker for losing things and I need to be covered in some sort of glue whereas everything can be stuck to me permanently. Yes, I lost the second phone I was issued by the Peace Corps, but this time I INSIST it was taken from my bag on the bus back to my site from the city. The good news is that after being on the phone all day when I returned calling the station, the office, and the phones trying to track one of them down, someone answered the first phone and to my surprise, hung up immediately leaving me to receive the voice message thereafter. So I left a ton of messages about working for the government and how we were3 going to track him down and I had people from the office call as well, so in the end he turned the phone in saying he bought it on the street which is possible. So I now only have to pay for the second phone unless I can track it down as well.


my raspy voice I am getting due to all the stress and business and change in weather here. the rainy season is approaching and I am actually cold at times... it reminds me of home:) Other than this, I am working on getting help to fix our aqueduct still and the agency who is helping came yesterday to show us what we need to do and I am visiting them today to sign off for the materials.. Tomorrow we will be meeting with another agency to talk about our cacao situation and how to maintain the trees and the plagues they are encountering. My posts for the house are being put in since I and five other strong men carried them a half hour up hill to my site, and they were very amazed by my womanly strength;) The school garden is going great with 17 beds total which is amazing and abnormal for a small community such as mine but I am very proud and will not tell them it is too much. We are planting beans, squash, and cucumber for now since they are the fastest growing and we will start other types that need to be transplanted from nurseries next year when we have more time. All in all, I am busy and I feel great about it… You know me, I can't be bored.. but I have been reading like crazy.. going through the Harry Potters like lightning and starting to read up on the history of Central America.. interesting stuff. I really like my community and I am making wonderful friends. they are great, warm people.

4 November 2005

So as I am sitting here reading emails from my worried friends and family about all the hurricanes wandering about the world and whether I am affected, and I feel as if I should explain Panamas fortune with this topic. It seems as though Panama is protected by some magical force in that we are not affected by the winds of the Caribbean any more than through tropical storms that cause flooding and really fun but sometimes dangerous mudslides. I do not quite understand it myself and even though the Panamanians insist that God is simply protecting them, I feel as though there is a more scientific reasoning behind it and that God is not only trying to punish those people in the US, Nicaragua, and other countries near us. I think it may have something to do with the winds from the other side of Panama on the Pacific affecting the winds in the Caribbean but I am no scientist of the sea. If it was due to the trees, now then I might know;) Anyhow, scientists are trying to figure it out and when they do, I will let you all know. But if for some reason, God does decide to start punishing Panamanians for their tardiness to my charlas and their slowness to build my house, then I am assured Peace Corps will be lifting me away in a helicopter away from the danger as fast as possible. I was reassured of this by their promptness this past week when a hurricane was running along Costa Rica headed toward us but at a very slow rate. The Peace Corps set us at a standfast phase in which we were not allowed to travel from our sites until receiving further notice. I was afraid since I don't get very good service in my site at all times, especially those of rain, in order to receive further notice on the warning, but they reassured me that they would make sure to get a hold of me somehow in person if it was an emergency by coming to my site and that messages are only left when there is no longer an emergency. So, of course I heard nothing but had tons of messages that I cannot check due to the change in my passcode by that idiot who stole my phone, and when I called, I found out the standfast was lifted and that we were only on alert now which by the way has also been lifted since the hurricane is now far gone toward Nicaragua, etc. It is horrible to feel good about that, isn't it? So I am safe and sound and celebrating one of Panamas Independence Days in the town for the night. Lobo, my dog is getting fixed at the vet.. no little Lobitos for me:) As for the house, we are putting in the posts Monday and starting with the floor next weekend so little by little (poco a poco), the saying of the Panama Peace Corps, my house is being constructed and should be done by February or so... until then... bananas bananas bananas and RICE!!!!!

27 November 2005

I just wanted to extend a late happy turkey day to all. Mine was fabulous. I spent two days and nights in the mountains hanging out with other volunteers, hiking around to waterfalls with cool crisp air without sweating my butt off and sitting by fires at night drinking wine or hot chocolate listening to guitar. In all, it reminded me of home and it was great. Lobo loved it too, especially being around all of the gringos with whom he can play with and be a dog without fear of being bothered. We all ate a huge dinner too and had a little dance party afterward to work off all the cals. I miss the place and want to go back someday but as for now I am off back to hot and rainy humid Bocas where my clothes mold and sweaters are not necessary except for a pillow. I hope to find my community prepared to continue my house and work in the school garden. In addition, I will be spending my free time working on my personal garden, writing my school reports, and trying to start a dance class. I have found that I really do miss it a lot, and if I could use it as an activity for the children toward Phys ed and since we don't need any materials besides music, it could keep them focused and out of trouble and in shape while helping me to share my culture, keep in shape, and be happy getting to know the kids in my community. I am pumped and I hope it works, even if there are only a few who stick with it. Then we can do performances for the families on special holidays:)

19 December 2005

I have been sick ever since Turkey Day when I came back to the hot rainforest from the cool mountains. In returning I found news that I had only three days to pack and move my things to a new house. My host family is leaving for the holiday season and they wanted to make sure I could find a new place before they left. Their reasoning behind the specific date was to be sure I had only stayed the four months total that I had requested of them. I found this odd since they had at one time asked me to stay with them the entire two years. So we spent an entire day cleaning the chicken coop house with the kids at school, using bleach and water and soap to ensure that I wont get some sort of disease from the poop remains. It was cleaned very well but who knows what I am really living in. It is only temporary thank goodness and it was the only choice I had at the time. I can honestly say that even though I am living in a 5 by 7 foot room with bats and rats, I am happy to have my own place. I am staying in the room where the tools were being stored for the school garden and the larger room where the chickens were actually kept is where I bathe and play with Lobo. I have a garbage bag curtain set up and bathe with buckets of water while looking over my view of the islands and the ocean. It is beautiful. I also have a porch out front where my hammock hangs and I chill with my dog drinking tea or cacao watching the sunrise every morning. I love it!!

Moving onto Lobo, he is eating more chickens and I am becoming broke paying for them all. I however, am accustoming him to staying in my site when I go out for days at a time. He stays tied up and my neighbor feeds him, well at least I hope he does. I feel bad leaving him tied but he is on a run leash so he can go pretty far. I just hope he is not mad at me when I get back. I have been gone almost a week now.

I just finished some more in service training where we mostly discussed political paperwork matters for projects and emotional battles that all of us are having in site. It was a good counseling session for some and for others like me... a good time to go to the casino and win nine bucks!!!! I had a good time but am still a little sick. The docs say it is not an infection and I just need to rest. I say I will try on my two by five piece of wood I sleep on but anyhow, I went to get x rays as well since my shoulder and knee have been hurting me. I have no bone fractures but some weak torn tendons and now I have to do daily physical therapy sessions with a band the doc gave me. As if the people in my community dont already think I am strange. They are going to think I am performing some sort of withcraft on them when they see me doing the excercises. Hehe.

28 December 2005. Excerpts from the quarterly report.

We have had several work days building my house, including those days when we only carry wood and roofing materials, but I always provide more than enough food and we always quit working early afternoon.. oh Panama. As of now, we still need to cut more wood for the wall and to tie the roof together and then we can finish the work in about two to three days. I am in the midst of finding someone to cut the wood and collecting trees that people are trying to sell me and I am trying to get donated:

I have been playing a lot of volleyball and soccer which shows in the flatness of both of my balls and I now have to buy a device to blow them up. I have also made sure to spend time with all of the families at each house visiting and asking questions about their culture while sharing my culture with them as well. They love to make me laugh and dance and howl like they do. It is a big joke to them.

An agency technician form MIDA came and gave a charla on the maintenance of cacao trees and I have been planning a follow up charla with him to visit individual fincas of those who attended the first charla. I am making great relations with the cacao coop in order to receive information I may need if I decide to write my thesis on cacao. They even give me free rides sometimes when I am waiting for the bus on the side of the road. I also attended a second cacao training in which we focused on the entire process of cacao processing into the form in which they use to make chocolate as well as the grafting of cacao trees from the selection of the grafted parts to the maintenance of the grafted tree.

Panama Information:

Information on the web.


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Page created 19 May 2005.

Updated: 28 December 2005.

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