Daniella Zanin - Peace Corps Panama.

Agroforestry Extentionist.

University of Illinois - Chicago. Anthropology major and Women's Studies minor.

Daniella 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/ .

Daniella working on wildlife habitat at Fall Camp.

Kate, Marge, Daniella (in yellow), Adrienne.

Late May 2002.

I´m sitting in an internet cafe in the biggest town closest to me, Chorrera. It´s unbelieveably humid and hot here and it´s wintertime. We´re in the city today and everyone one seems relieved to be away from our lil towns. I live in a town called Valdesa. My family consists of a mom, dad, grandma, and son. There is another daughter who studies in Veraguas during the week and comes back for the weekends. Where I live is like how the families live in Africa. It´s a compound consisting of extended family. We do have electricity most of the time and we have a gravity fed water system, which usually runs out during the day. It´s the first time that my family has a volunteer and they were pretty timid and quiet with me the first couple days. Well, maybe it had something to do with my Spanish; I would ask them a question and they wouldn't answer - I figured something went wrong in the translation. But everything is better since last Saturday, when I arrived at my family´s. We talk and play bingo. I forgot, included in the family is 20 roosters! Yep, I have a natural alarm clock that wakes me up whenever they feel like it. My dad raises the roosters for cockfighting and his are super famous throughout the couple towns in the area. The scenery by the way is spectacular. There were double rainbows yesterday. The house is small, made of wood with spaces in between. This is much better that the concrete houses because of ventilation. I have a zinc roof and a concrete floor. The house is divided into 3 rooms. The living room with a TV and to chairs and then my room and the other bedroom. Yes, the other 4 sleep in one room together. Our kitchen is outside, it is constructed of bamboo and has a thatched roof. They have a burner and a forno (wood fed stove) that Marina cooks with. We have our dining room outside too. It also has a dirt floor and a thatched roof. Thatched roofs are quite refreshing. This is also where I have Spanish class with another PCV, Mike. My bathroom is a latrine made of concrete and has a deep pit, Thank GOD. A couple volunteers have been telling me about theirs that are almost filled to the top! My shower is where our dish sink/laundry area is- It is a big bucket in a bamboo closet. It´s quite refreshing, I don´t mind it at all.

So this past week we made a compost bin, a bocashi compost (fermented compost), and organic pesticides. The 9 permaculture people also visited 3 different farms with a PCV in his site. That was great. This weekend we´ll be in Panama City on Sunday learning how to take the bus to visit our sites. Saturday my dad wants to take me to a cockfight, we´ll see.

June 2002.

Mom, I got the underwear you sent. The aduana (male) had to look through the package when it arrived and he held them up and asked, panties?

This past week I had a lot of technical training and it really was great. Well it´s really great to know that my grad education has me now teaching other Volunteers and giving me enough knowledge to ask the right questions. We´ve visited all kinds of farms and NGO´s. We checked out Lizard farms, pig farms (Hey Tiffany!), and painted rabbit farms (which are not rabbits at all but one of the biggest rodents that they eat here). This weekend we´re going to try to see the new Star Wars film and then go to the beach on Sunday morning. We went to the beach once before and it was fantastic. Clean and the water was great. I didn´t think that I liked to go to the beach so much but it was nice just to get away and tan some of my bug bites. Hopefully that will get the itch out.

22 July 2002

We climber Cerro Trinidad. Oh my, it was hard. It was incredible and the view, wow. Everything is green and rolling. I wish I had an sped-up aerial view of Central America when it was forming. We saw all different types of fungus and plants that you don´t see in the tropical jungle. Afterwards we walked down to Cacao to jump in the river, but as soon as we got to the river it started downpouring. Yes, a huge aguacero. So we rinsed off and had to agin hike uphill - Except thru the mud, our feet were getting stuck, the ruts in the road could have been a troll´s house! There were lil rivers on this road of any color mud from purple to orange. We began at 9 and finished at 6. So today we ditched class because we´re unbelievably sore and tired. I woke up in the same position that I fell asleep! Like a rock, dude!

Some of the other volunteers went to Chorrera yesterday and on the way home in the mountains they had a head on collision with a pick up truck. Everyone is fine, a lil sore and shakened up and thank God jen, who was sitting shotgun was wearing her seatbelt. PCV´s ! Wear a seatbelt whenever your up front. So the whole permaculture group ditched today. We needed it and we´ve been really good so far.

So everone now has my new address in Panama? Don´t send anything to Chorrera, I don´t think that I´ll be coming here again. Chorrera is like the non-fun Tiajuana. This is the old Noriega town. This is where they caught a lot of his friends. It looks like crapt but it has cheap stuff.

I´ve been having some amazing dreams since I´ve been in this country. I feel ready to go to my site. My emails will be less frequent and I will not have a phone close by. Maybe this year we´ll get a phone in the village. Otherwise I have to walk to teh Kuna Yala Comarca and pay them 10 cents just to use the phone. The Kuna are good business people. I´ll have to get the Embera up to their standards. The Kuna have a lot of albinos in their communities and they are respected as the leaders and heads of their people too. You think that you see another white person but when you see their face, it is completely Indian and white. It´s pretty interesting and shocking.

We´ve sold almost all of our chickens. They stink! We will have to kill a bunch this weekend so we´ve come up with a bunch of different executions styles that were told to us by the Panamanians. The noose, grabing their necks and pulling, grabbing their necks and whipping them around like a helicopter, smoothering them when piled in to a bag (actually this is how one of the live ones died as we were delivering them. We gave it to them for 60 cents off.), and cutting the vain in the neck (they don´t like when the head is chopped off).

My garden is awesome. I have a pineapple growing, spinach, beans, cucumbers, radishes, lettuce, green onions, and carrots. I also planted some flowers that keep the bugs away and some prarie peanut as a Nitrogen fixer and erosion protector. The Panamanians hardly ever eat fruit or salads. They laughed at me when I brought home Spinach from MIDA (NGO) and ate it. I told them all the benfits and my lil brother loverd it. They made me salad the next day! They also are trying to not serve me so much fried food, after I asked them. I´ve lost 10 lbs., ha ha Blair! The boys in the group are all really really skinny now. Some girls have gained weight too.

The group that I´m with are all pretty cool people. There´s always a couple duds and then there are people who like to complain a lot but I´ve found some people who really just like to be happy and talk about things that are both deep and intellectual and also things that are funny and stupid. I think that I got really lucky coming to the Peace Corps in Panama. I´m happy and happy to not be in the United States right now. I do miss a lot of you and wish that you could be out here to live like I am. I think that you´d love it too.

August 6, 2002

First whole day in site and all I can say is that I'm very lucky to be here. I feel welcomed even after following a couple that was pretty amazing. First of all, this bed that I'm sleeping in is more comfortable than any of the crapty beds that I've had in any of my apartments. Sometimes I look around and think, "Whoa, I'm really living here!" It's quite beautiful and I have a sweet pad. Simple things become such a big deal while in the Peace Corps. So what might seem great to me now might have scared me when I first got here.

Talk about good karma, I had 3 big bags to bring into site yesterday and the bus driver wasn't going to bring me in, but right before I got off, Jaime and Pacho got on. They both live in the village and were just visiting family in the next village. They each took a bag and walked to Ipeti-Choco together. (As a side note, people end up calling the Embera and Wounaan tribes "Choco", because that is where both originally came from which is now part of Columbia.)

I woke up this morning and decided to clean all of the guano (bad turds) off of pretty much everything in the kitchen. I filtered and chlorinated my water and had some cereal and a huge mango that a friend gave me as a goodbye present on Sunday. After returning to cleaning, a volunteer named Chris, who lives over in Ipeti-Kuna came over to visit with his Kuna girlfriend and a traveler from Israel. We talked for a while and ate mame'. Chris' girlfriend is a dance instructor in the city. She said that she does not like rules when she dances, she likes to be free, and I guess we'll be dance buddies then, huh? She also complemented me on my Spanish and not having a gringo accent. (There's a moth in my room the size of Volcano Baru).

Willy and Karan, the previous volunteers here told me a few stories about Chris and the amount of food he eats. He once ate 12 mangoes after a huge lunch. He once bought Pifa (which needs to be peeled in order to eat) and ate the whole thing, peels included. So as he was leaving today he asked me if I cook and I hesitated to answer, but told him I do if he brings the food.

Since I'm not living with a family I decided to (Wow, I feel like I'm getting the "Batman Call", this moth is actually casting shadows over my light) eat dinner with a family every night. Tonight I ate new corn bolos, rice, and a fried egg. It's pretty scary but I missed Panamanian food being in the city all last week.

Last week was unbelievably busy. All 15 of us stayed in a hostel that was too crowded because all of the damn bags we had. It was great though, to meet travelers and brag that we actually live here. Everyone really loves Panama, they say that the people are great and it's a great country to travel around in because it's not packed with tourists. The view from the hostel is incredible; it was a penthouse at one time.

We graduated on Friday and we had the ceremony at the house of the residence of the American ambassador. My speech went well and everyone laughed, where they were supposed to. The benefits of being a volunteer and not an aspirante are:

1) I have diplomatic status so I don't have to pay sales tax,
2) I make more money, not a lot more, but more than the $15 a week we were given as aspirantes
3) The electricity stays on until 10pm whereas in Valdeza my grandma shut it off at 9!
4) Finally, I have somewhere to put all my shit.

Uhoh, the first whistle just went off, 5 minutes til elec. ends.

The Training Group.

August 17, 2002

Listening to some Cd's on my new CD player. I know that I should be living more as the people are, but they have TV, plus it makes me feel better and appreciate everything more. This last week I went to a seminar on Eco-Tourism in La Pintada in the Cocle Province. This has been the furthest west that I've been yet. It was up in the highlands, which were refreshing and beautiful.

August 25, 2002

I just finished my 3rd week at site and it has had an equal amount of ups and downs. Someone once said that, "There is more guilt in Peace Corps than the Catholic Church." I'm beginning to believe it. I've struggled al week with how much time I should be spend organizing my stuff and prepping for charlas, meetings, and how much time I should spend visiting. I'm happy to have a bit more organized and I can start feeling like I have more of a starting point instead of just being thrown into the mix. I've begun to realize that when I'm not with people, I'm not accomplishing anything. An old meditation teacher of mine once said that you never get as much karma, good or bad, unless you're around people. Being out alone in Ipetí, I need all the karma that I can get. And you know what? Every time I'm with someone, really anyone, I'm happy, really happy.

I become disappointed in group meetings or realizing that people might have helped me to try and get some money out of me. But every time I feel disappointed and lonely and feel like, "Oh God! Can I do this for 2 years? Then I just relax and talk with someone and I'm unusually surprised at how quickly my moods change.

My mom told me that this is a time for introspection. Actually I feel like it's the first time that I'm really learning and I'm learning what are my abilities. One thing that they're not is that of the mind of an engineer. For example, a man named Steve Gele from Christian Medical Mission arrived in Panama this week to see about the possibilities of bringing the community a machine to purify water. He came with a PC volunteer who has extended for a 3rd year, Reed Palmer. Reed is an engineer and extremely gifted analytically and artistically. We sat one night at dinner in Torti (where they were staying for the couple days) at Padre Pablo's (a cheese head from WI, polish-catholic priest, who seems more like someone who would have frequented the Bucktown Pub) and Reed ended up figuring out cubic meter and other engineering feats that Padre Pablo needed for his project the next day. Reed pulled it off with a non-scientific calculator in a couple seconds while I was still contemplating a cubic meter.

Sometimes I'm so in awe of people that can pull math solutions out of thin air and not even brag about it. If I could have done it I would have made it known to everyone that I figured it out. It's one of the things that I'm learning down here. I'm not getting my back patted for every lil thing that I do and so I'm learning not to basque in the sun. Nor am I actually accomplishing anything near that of an engineer's, but I'm pleasantly surprised that I can get up in front of a classroom of kids and talk with them about garbage. (Yes Lil Jen, I am trying to clean up Central America too.) Or get up in front of all the women in town and talk about cleaning their water and planting cocobolo. I take a quick second and think, I'm actually speaking Spanish. Lil kids are the best out here. They are never shy about correcting me and so I love to have them around me whenever possible. Mom and Dad, you wanted grandkids, well come on down.

Tonight, I was feeling tired and my stomach achy and 6 kids came over, who are all in my English class, to look at my Natl. Geographics and ask me if I can teach them how to make non-bake cookies so they can sell them. I swear I hardly did anything. They wrote down who is bringing what, when and where. (Only if the adults can be so proactive.) They finished and went home and I realized how great it is to be idealistic, how good it is to be a supported, and how important it is just to be there and care. Though it wasn't a marvel of grand proportions, just to see the smiles and excitement on their faces, made me realize that I am important and helpful to the people no matter where my talents lie. It was my most favorite accomplishment this week. We all have different things to offer, sometimes I have to stop feeling disappointed in what I can't do and start appreciating what I can. 2 years will be a great education in appreciating myself and going with the positive.

27 August 2002

Hiking up through the forests at Daniella's site in Ipeti.

August 28, 2002

I'm laying in my air-conditioned hotel room where I'm getting over amoebas and parasites. I have blisters on my hand from wiping my ass. I was thankful to be here the night before last. I went to the bathroom so many times that I can't imagine crawling out from under my mosquito net, tucking it back in, scaling the log to get down from my house, avoiding the grass with the caluroso, (these tiny, minute, red bugs that just crawl into your skin around your ankles, bra line, or underwear line. I try not to wear any under clothes if I can help it.) jump over the trails of nocturnal leaf-cutter ants, unlock my latrine and go. It's a pretty horrible pain, but not as bad to know that I actually ate human feces. I like to try everything once.

I'm doing a bunch of office things that I need to do and I'm heading back tomorrow. My great friend John Reynolds called last night and we ended up talking for 2 hours. He asked me what drug I was taking for protection from Malaria and I told him, Laurium. He said that there was a special on 60 minutes about Larium and how 4 soldiers ended up coming back from Afghanistan and killing their wives. What they all had in common was that they took this drug. I have only been on it for almost a month now. I'm having some problems sleeping on it and I had to fill out a special paper from the US Govt. If anyone knows any other info on it please email it to me. Only the volunteers near the Darien are on it, everyone else is on a softer drug because they don't have all the strains that we do.

Russ, Daniella, and Kate.

Overall, this month has been a practice in figuring out how and what to organize. Sometimes I don't feel like I have enough time to organize and sometimes I'm just pushed right into the mix. I realize that living here would be a lot easier as a couple. It's so time consuming just to get the daily things to live done by myself, but I've been lucky to get help from others. I think that I will eventually pay someone to wash my clothes and bring up water. I also introduced the Daniella style of dance to the village. Man, did I have an audience. All the kids want to learn. The women said that they've never seen anyone dance like that; I told them that not many people do. Ha! Ha!

6 September 2002

What I've been doing:
" Ok, I know that I was really against it but I'm teaching an English class and I really love it. It's the only thing that I'm in charge of and it gives me a sense of accomplishment and grounding. It's only once a week and so many people wanted it.
" Tourism is a big thing here. They want it and they have the potential to have it. There have been an amazing amount of visitors to the village and they usually stay with me. There is a photojournalist at the house right now. I went hiking and canoeing with the women to find different spots we can take the tourists to and let me say, Ipeti is truly beautiful. A tourism ONG is coming out this week with a writer to check out the communituy.
" I work with the women in the artisan store a lot. It is new and they are insecure about a lot of it. This is the only real organized group that works together and its good to work with all the women in a group. They seem to be the ones holding the community and culture together.
" I hiked up to our aqueduct that was put in last year for $85,000 and doesn't even work. Next week when the new Environmental Health engineers come into town they will stay here for a night to check it out.
" I'm putting all my students to work with different favbors. One is checking rainfall every day and keeping a record so that if I need it later, or someone does, it'll be available.
" I've done a charla on garbage at the school.
" I'm working with some kids on a business project with selling cookies and goodies.
" I'm going to be harvesting rice this weekend with a couple of families.
" I'm learning to balance my time too.

Daniella and Whitney endure "The Toughest Job You'll Ever Love."

22 September 2002

I'm tired and its only 9pm. I have begun to wake up at 6am so that I have more time to accomplish things in the morning before people start to pasear. This evening I killed a white tarantula that was hanging on my mosquito net. I almost went to ask one of my neighbors, but I figured if I killed a scorpion that a tarntula shouldn't be too different.

I am finding less free time to write which is both good and bad. I have a work journal too that I need to upkeep for school. I don't miss TV and I am happy that we receive Newsweek here as a present, so I know what is happening around the world.
I get the best radio station here. There would never be a radio station this cool in the USA. They will play Red Hot Chili Peppers, old and new, Pink Floyd, the Cure, The Who, popular latino music, and random variety of Air Supply, or the song "Millions of Peaches". Every day is like a surprise and I get to taste a little piece of different feelings with every song.

Today I went with 3 people from my community to pick up the cocobolo trees in La Moneda, Darien. I had such a difficult time since I got here trying to find someone who would transport them for free. None of the govt. agenies that work with trees and agriculture could do anything. Finally we got the representante , Edwin Velasquez, to send a guy over to drive us there.

We were stopped at the border on our return trip by the customs agents because we were bringing plants from the Darien province into the Panama provice. The guy was young and was being badassy and a stickler, but I knew that if I could talk my way out of getting towed twice in Chicago that it wasn't going to be too hard to handle a bunch of latino guys who don't see many blonds.

I was down to my last clean clothes which were a pair of shorts and a diego-T that didn't match. As the guys look me up and down I make sure to look them up and down too and right in the eye to make them realize that I'm not someone to mess with. (Usually I'm much taller than anyone so I just make sure that I stand straighter and take up more room whenever someone tries to get machismo with me.) They offered me a chair while they were waiting for a response from their boss. I crossed my legs like a man (ankle to knee) to show them my incredibly hairy legs and to give off the aire that I won't succumb. My convincing eventually got me to write out a letter saying that I was a tree engineer and that these trees didn't have any disease or bugs. So if I get thrown into a Panamanian prison, you all know why.

Earlier this week 34 new aspirantes arrived to Panama to start their training. 6 of the Environmental Health engineers and their trainers and boss came over to experience the indigenous lifestyle and to see what a crappty job the govt. made of the aquaduct. They ended up bringing a chair that I bought 2nd hand in the city. The guy from IPAT was suppossed to bring it out but never did. But let me tell you, this is the grooviest, most comfortable chair ever. It can recline back so someone can sleep in it and it's perfect to sit and read and write. Better for my back instead of leaning over the table and sitting on a bench.

I talked with all te new aspirantes and answered their questions. During dinner, which was patacones with garlic (green platanos), rice, eggs, and lemongrass tea, I laughed to myself because they were asking the same questions that only 4 and a half moths ago, I was asking. I laughed not because of my high and mighty position but as a realization of how much I've changed and relaxed. I can now pick out bugs or hair from food or just end up eating them, knowing full well that it's just additional protein. Latrines don't even phase me. I'm pleasantly surprised when there is a toilet and enough water to flush. Sweat hanging on my chin or the sweatmustache doesn't even need to be wiped away anymore. I use blankets at night because my body has been accustomed to the weather. Can't imagine what my body is going to do when I get back to Houghton! All in all, I'm proud of where I am in life.

Before I arrived to the Peace Corps, I thought of this as more of a job that would develop some career skills and where I could apply my knowledge. The longer I'm here I see that it is a more personal development. How much I can take? How many times can I get back up? It's the power to keep trying. The hardest thing is that the only support that I have comes from me, myself, and I. Not that we are complaining, I just thank God for my keen imagination that helps to change my perspective when I feel like giving up.

There is a song that talks about, "the summer of my 27th year". Does anyone know what song this is and who sings it? As I'm now in the summer of my 27th year and I'd like to know what it's about. Some psychic told me that people don't begin to know themselves until they are 27.
I am also learning that taking a day off is really a good thing. Sometimes I can get so burned out and I keep fighting against the guilt of taking a time out. But the day off is such a replenisher to the mind and soul.

Sometimes I think that I've been too positive and I'm learning that it's ok to wallow in pissiness and I allow myself the feeling of giving up. It never lasts too long and it gives my mind and body rest. I think that in the modern world, one can quickly escape these feelings of anger and sadness by filling it with TV, bars, and other peoples problems. No wonder people are having such depression problems, sometimes people don't allow themselves to feel the bad too. Need the bad to know what is good. But you don't have to stay at bad, don't have fear of finding more happiness, there is no ceiling to happiness and most people like to hang on the floor because it has a definite bottom.

Coming face to face with my threshold taught me a lot about myself and how I deal with stress. Sometimes I have to remind myself to put a white light around anything that gives me stress and this helps me to laugh inside, that this is all happening and not to take everything so personally.

I miss a lot of people and a lot of familiarities, especially food. I loved renting movies and ordering take out from "Hi Ricky's". Then finishing the evening with Ben and Jerry. Wow, can't even remember how that all feels?

Daniella's latrine with Rio Ipeti in the background.

Received on 6 November 2002.

One of my neighbors was over helping me straighten up my house this evening. I've been away at a farm planning seminar all week and haven't had time to clean my own things. She was looking at pictures that my mom just sent me when she noticed the newspaper article that was written about me before I left. She asked me to translate and as I read I became embarrassed with the phrases like, "I'm ready for the challenge!" What must she think of these words? If I think this is a challenge and this is her normal routine, she knows no other way of life and I think is this insulting to her by saying that this is a challenge.

I've already come past the me and them. No more feelings of living with the natives. To me I don't see them as any different than anyone else. Yesterday was the last day of a "Gira Medica" (doctors that come down from the states to assist with medical and dental problems) across the road with the Kunas. (I just heard a coconut fall) They came over right before they left back to watch a dance performance. We talked and they thought I was courageous to live here by myself and for such an extensive period. I realized that they were still seeing the "Natives" and I think that we want to believe that there is a big difference between us and them, but there really isn't. It's a romantic idea, exploring the lost cultures, people who run around naked still. Kind of like the Discovery Channel meets REI. What one realizes is that they too are living in the same year of 2002. That sounds so futuristic to have people in this world who are still linked because of their culture, especially a forest people culture.

I see them as my friends now and can't imagine them as I did before. It is refreshing to see my first reactions mirrored in the eyes of tourists that come through. It helps me to take perspective of where I am and who I am with.

Oct 24, 2002

The "Colono" Panamanians don't bust out fruit but the Embera do. I've tried some awesome fruits. My favorites are zapote (kinda like a small sweet pumpkin), mamones (I overloaded on these during training), mamones chinos (this is the fruit that I fell in love with while in Costa Rica when I was a chile', it's red and has wierd tentacles coming from all sides), cacao (chocolate, wow, this fruit is amazing, tastes nothing like chocolate but the trees smell like it), guanabana (can feed a whole village), guaba (awesome), and pifa (kinda like a vegetable and has so many vitamins and protein that you can eat it as a meal). There is also mango (season has passed), guava, sugarcane, nanci, mame, pineapple, coconut, papaya, mandarines, oranges, and about 10 different types of bananas and plantains.

I wondered why an orange in the English language is both the fruit and color and not the same in Spanish. Anaranjado is the color orange and naranja is the fruit. My investigations led me to the truth that oranges here are green! And yes they are mature. What I find interesting is that for Xmas, the panamanians spend their money to buy grapes and apples (which are usually imported and costly). They think that they are so good probably because that's what the Americans eat. But the fruit here is phenomenal, it makes my hard days easier and I love when I walk through the forest and am able to just pick off the fruits of the Garden of Eden or when a family will just hand me a bag of fruit. They are poor but they're always giving me so much fruit.

When I went up to harvest yucca with Olga in the monte, we came upon a woman in the forest who was sitting in her little rancho with a little boy. The woman was older and when I asked her name in Spanish she just smiled. Then Olga asked her in their native tongue and the woman said that she doesn't have one, she forgot it a long time ago. I'm trying to figure out how to include her in the census I'm doing.

On Saturday nights, a man comes in to town to sell ice-cream. I'm a big fan of the shaved ice with juice and then topped with condensed milk! Reminds me of Costa Rica.

My entire body is painted with jagua, a fruit that has a dark blue tint. The color lasts for about a week and a half. Even my jaw and neck are painted. I love it, cool designs, has Vitamin B4 which helps protect against mosquitoes and the sun.

We are in the heart of rainy season. Yesterday it rained the entire day. When I say rain, I mean like an occasional foot an hour downpour. The river has totally swelled and today when I went to bathe, I couldn't even move because the current was so strong that I had to balance my feet and occasionally duck down to rinse off. If I fell I would have been washed way downstream. It was good exercise.

Nov 5, 2002

Just about to send this out. I got to the Saturday night and nothing was open because everyone was observing the Day of the Dead. I ended up hanging out with a bunch of Panamanians for the night. They told me to wait until midnight and that I would see real Panamanian culture. So at midnight the grocery stores open to sell liquor and let me tell you, it was packed. There was a line 1km long to just wait your turn to go in. These grocery stores are even the same size as the USA. People were drinking in the parking lots and blasting their music. A good time was had by all.

Then the music started in the streets. Trumpets, horns, drums. People celebrated for 2 days here. The next day was filled with marching (for their Independence Day). That's all they did, march! Different groups from all over the country came to march. Then on Monday was Flag Day and you know what they did? You guessed it, they marched some more.

This month I will be out of my site for 2 weeks. Every few months we have an in-service training where we get schooled in language and tech stuff. Then there is the All Volunteer Conference the next week. We will spend Thanksgiving (American style) on the beach! Oh, poor me!

2 January 2003. Excerpts from the December Quarterly Report.

Mena Kahu (Embera for hello sister), and Mena Java (hello brother) from Daniella Zanin here in Ipeti (Ibe di, which is a Kuna word for mountain and river). These past couple months have been trying to say the least. I wake up and try again and I have had as many positives as negatives.

The first couple months were definately a time of bouncing and trying to focus. I look at the card that you gave me Blair and you're so right about relaxing. When I arrived I felt that I was being pulled in every direction possible. There are so many ideas here and not enough people or time to pull it off. I would feel so guilty and didn't want to let anyone down and in the long run I couldn't figure out what was going on until I slowed down.

One of my great advantages was that I would eat dinner with a differet family every night. I practiced my Spanish, Embera, worked on my community analysis and was able to form personal relationships with the whole community. I realize now that if I'm constantly planing and running that I'm missing out on the stuff that has happened, the who's who, and what the community needs compared to what the community wants-money.

So it seems that once I figured out what was happening I began to juggle and balance what projects can work, what projects I don't want any part of, and in the meantime, hauling up water from the river.

I'm glad to say that I have helped with two important infrastructure necessities that the community has wanted, water and a phone. Steve Gele from the Christian Medical Mission has worked with the Embera bringing in doctors yearly to help with medical problems. He figured that since he was dealing with so many problems caused by dirty water that this year he wanted to bring in a machine to clean the drinking water.
When he arrived he was open to the idea that instead of installing this pricy, unsustainable, diesel guzzling water purifier that we would hike up to the springbox to check out the problems with the broken, year old, $85,000 aqueduct and see the possibility of fixing it up. Well it looked like it was close to hopeless but with the help of the digital camera we were able to show the man in charge of this project what a bad job they did of installing it. This sent in to motion a new team of engineers that came out to repair the problems and since I've come back from Thanksgiving, I have water!

The volunteers before me have been trying to get a phone installed in the community for the last year. They have tried dauntingly with no luck. Lo and behold I found out that my technical trainer was dating someone who worked in Cable and Wireless and he must be a good lover because we signed a contract within a week. It's true what I've heard about Latin America, the only way to get things done is from the top-down. This week I have a solar panel on my porch that is being installed tomorrow for the phone.

I have been working with the women in the store and held a charla on accounting at my site. I have done a bunch of fishing and I caught 20 tilapia in about 1 1/2 hours. Mostly I have been focusing on my community analysis and talking to families daily.

At Bocas on New Years.

26 February 2003

My bed constantly smells like it's molding. I just bought some cockroach traps because my house is infested with them. I had to shake out all my clothes today and there were tons, BIG ONES that fly. Another volunteer swears by these traps.

I have been out of my site most of this and last month. In November I had a week of training and a week at the All-Volunteer conference where we celebrated Thanksgiving on the beach. It was great until I was attacked by a sea urchin. Don't worry all the spines are out.

Thanksgiving was fun and sentimental. During the day we divided up by teams and had the annual "Campo Olympics" where we played games like, latrine squat, bobwire limbo, peg the mad dog with the rock (no animals were harmed in this event, just tin-can dogs, though I can't say the same for the rest of the mad dogs in Panama), and try to get the mail to the volunteer. This consisted of swimming through the sting-ray filled ocean with a watermelon, running on land, busting the watermelon and eating all of its contents.

Let me start off by telling you what I'm doing and my plans. In March I will be receiving a donation from Christian Medical Mission to make a new aqueduct. The aqueduct that we now have is decent but it dies out during the dry season and its better to find a source that has a more sufficient supply. There will be a new volunteer moving in to the town ext to me. She is a water systems engineer and she will be helping me with the technical side of things. Hey, I wanted to work with my hands, well here I go.

The pueblo still wants eco-tourism. I get pretty tired of being questioned, where are the tourists. So instead of trying to appease everyone, I ask, why would someone want to visit here. I'm trying to make them think. It's working, but they are quite impatient. I have a tourism committee and we came up with a menu of prices and what we need to do before the tourists get here. I'm writing up a grant proposal for everything from a rope bridge to bird classes for the guides. I do have to mention that a couple weeks ago I began to hear birds whistling that have just made it down from the USA. It was the day that I smelled the sweetness of the mango trees flowering.

Also there is a group of us in PC that formed a tourism group we're starting to piece together a brochure of our communities and hopefully with this we will be able to get more publicity and attention from the govt. tourism agency.

The newest thing and what I'm most excited about right now is the possibility of starting a sustainable farm. We are still talking about land and land titling and an irrigation system. I will give a follow up on this when I know more.

Then of course I'm still working with the women's group and artisanry. We have a couple connections to the USA and we've started some exporting to stores in Santa Fe, California, and a couple wholesalers. My latest project though which isn't huge but needed is scholarships.

I thought that this would be a bad idea to let people receive things for free. My job here is to help the people receive money from the betterment of markets and finding ways to make money. This would mean that kids would not be able to attend school this year. So the try for scholarships this year and hopefully next year the parents will make enough to support their children's education.

Even though I usually feel like 2 years is such a long time, I look at these projects and I get nervous to think that I won't be here to see all the results. So I try to make sure that someone from the community is right beside me as I work on these things so that there might be a chance that they become sustainable.

Yes, I do take vacation days and for Xmas I went up to Cero Punta in Chiriqui with 12 other volunteers. It was wonderful because it was cold! We had the fire going in the cabins during the days too. It's up in the mountains in the rainforest and there is no one around. I woke up super early on Xmas eve to take a walk by myself to see what birds an morning creatures were around. On Xmas day we exchanged presents from our secret Santa and ten watched the last Star Wars flick on the laptop of one of the volunteers.

I do really appreciate PC volunteers because when you need to clean up, go fish, prep meals etc. there are always ready to work, therefore I relaxed. I left xmas night on the late bus to get back to Panama City because jonathan was flying in the next evening. I had such a wonderful time with him, probably the best vacation I've ever had. Maybe cause we're in Panama or cause I feel satisfied with where I am in my life.

Jonathan came back with me to Ipeti and worked hard for a week before he went back home. I felt sad when he left but not as sad as I was when I got back to my hut. Sometimes I feel lucky to be here by myself but after experiencing the week with him, I wish that he could stay. I was also able to get more done with my groups because Jonathan would help me with everything from dishes to building me a worm box.

Last week a bunch of American doctors came in for a medical tour where I helped with coordinating and translation. It was great! We stayed at Padre Pablo's in Juacucco, which is a 10 minute car ride from Ipeti. They fed me and then paid for a hotel in Panama City the last night after a great celebration dinner.

We visited my site the first day where 7 doctors waited on over 300 patients. I saw surgeries performed right in front of my eyes. pretty cool this PC thang. Then we went to A Kuna site the next day. Culturally, they are totally different from the Embera. It was interesting to see how close in distance 2 groups are but how different. Then the 3rd and 4th days we went up to the mountain towns, wow, they are really up there. They're not even on any Panama maps. The first day was a 3 hour ride in an old American Army truck. I was staring to come down with a cold already and with the dust, heat, and truck with no shocks, I was feeling pretty bad. Good thing I was with doctors, huh?

So hanging out in the pool at the hotel was a nice way to finish the week. Yea, Peace Corps!

So this week. I just got to Panama City and finishing up some work. Tomorrow the 16th I will be heading to El Valle, Cocle to check out an artisan market an then meet my friend Whitney and stay in her community of Altos de las Estancias, way up in the mountains.

On the 17th I'll be going to visit an organic farm in Anton and then heading back with my friend Dan to Barrigon, his community in a National Park.

On the 18th, the 2 of us will be going to a meeting on the exportation of name, a tuber that people love to eat here. Later that day will head down to the beach where we will stay for the rest of the week at a seminar on project management and design.

Late March 2003

Finally I am into the swing of things. It took awhile but everything started coming together in January. I feel that I´ve figured out how I can work within the community and how to keep my sanity while doing so.

I realize now as a Peace Corps volunteer that we want to show something tangible when we finish so that we can take a picture and claim that we DID something. Slowly I´m realizing that this is as paternalistic as the different organizations that come in here to drop off something for free, take a picture and leave. What our job is, is to show them how to do this for themselves and hope that they learn.

An agency working with the World Bank came in and had a planning meeting with part of the community. Willem Beets gave a great lecture on the ignorance of most big aid agencies. This day I found out for myself that these agencies are more clueless than me.

Vermicluture: I finallly received the worms. They´re in my worm box which doesn´t have any ants but I did find a few cockroaches. Blair, is there any way you can send me some pine tar. I have not been able to find anything like this here and meanwhile I´m using motor oil. A few people have laughed at the idea of raising worms but when I explain or even better when a Panamanian explains theirs, than the laughing stops. I hope that we can include this into the farm so that we can do things organically.

The Panama Verde camp for kids did not pan out for us on the east. No one was going to pay for the transportantion. I asked the mayor, the legislator and the representative. The week that my kids were to attend this camp came down to the heads not knowing where it was going to be and them leaving 2 PCVs in charge at the last minute. So nothing happened. The kids were not disappointed, so different than the American kids, me included.

April 2003

Finally I am into the swing of things. It took awhile but everything started coming together in January. I feel that I´ve figured out how I can work within the community and how to keep my sanity while doing so.

I realize now as a Peace Corps volunteer that we want to show something tangible when we finish so that we can take a picture and claim that we DID something. Slowly I´m realizing that this is as paternalistic as the different organizations that come in here to drop off something for free, take a picture and leave. What our job is, is to show them how to do this for themselves and hope that they learn.

An agency working with the World Bank came in and had a planning meeting with part of the community. Willem Beets gave a great lecture on the ignorance of most big aid agencies. This day I found out for myself that these agencies are more clueless than me.

Vermicluture: I finallly received the worms. They´re in my worm box which doesn´t have any ants but I did find a few cockroaches. Blair, is there any way you can send me some pine tar. I have not been able to find anything like this here and meanwhile I´m using motor oil. A few people have laughed at the idea of raising worms but when I explain or even better when a Panamanian explains theirs, than the laughing stops. I hope that we can include this into the farm so that we can do things organically.

The Panama Verde camp for kids did not pan out for us on the east. No one was going to pay for the transportantion. I asked the mayor, the legislator and the representative. The week that my kids were to attend this camp came down to the heads not knowing where it was going to be and them leaving 2 PCVs in charge at the last minute. So nothing happened. The kids were not disappointed, so different than the American kids, me included.


Diana at the store.

Cleaning iguana.


I like insects.

Rio Ipeti.

Photos from May and June 2003

Big Trees



Looking up at the falls.



Genetic variation in maize.


More iguana

Even more iguana.

Ngobe medicine man.



Slash and burn agriculture.

Mid - July 2003.

As always, too much is going on and I try to reassemble a new puzzle every other day. I'm looking forward to a new business volunteer that I requested for the site. I've been spreading myself thin and the extra helper will let me concentrate and focus in on tourism, the sustainable farm, the medicine men/women garden, working with the traditional government, the aqueduct, and the Embera stories program.

In my site I talk to people from morning until I go to bed. When I'm alone they think that I'm sad, when actually I just want to read a book. It's very tiring to constantly talk and listen. Sometimes doing tough manual labor is my only escape. I don't need to talk, well, not as much.

We had an anniversary party for the artisan store. It started late but had a great turn out. Many NGO´s and government agencies came. They all gave a quick hello and explained their organization. It was a great way to make contacts and to have the whole community involved.

Arroz con pollo.

At the dance #1.


At the dance #2.


Storm clouds.

Daniella (left) with US Ambassador to Panama Linda Watt (center).





From an email on 11 September 2003

I am in Panama City doing some physical therapy for a newly discovered knee problem. Nothing big big deal, just some genetic mixups, thanks Phyllis and Gino!

So I was eating breakfast this morning and I heard something like gunshots but I figured that it was just the "money-laundering" construction going on outside. However it turned out to be teargas. There are big riots all over the city because they fired the director of social security and the govt. believes that this rioting will continue through the weekend. We have such an awesome view from the building that we're staying in and we have email, cable, air, and lots of food. So I will be hanging out here all day, you can write me.

Oh, by the way, Panamanians take lunch breaks during riots, so some people are leaving to their offices etc. while they have a chance. The teargas should begin promptly at 1 pm. Isn't that order?

I'm trying to figure out if I should hobble on over to my phys. therapy appointment. Maybe they'll catch me on film and think that I am one of the victims. I'll bring ketchup for affect.

20 September 2003 (Excerpts from the September Quarterly Report)

I need to give a shout out to my new site mate and home girl, Lian Carl. She feels bad that she hasn't made it to the web page yet. I guess the web page is a great success. All the new volunteers thought I was famous when they finally met me; they read about my life before even getting to the country.

Lian Carl shoots from Seattle. She is a very intelligent and great singer. She is a business volunteer. She has already rejuvenated the artisan store and will be giving English classes. She has been helping me out on the tourism project and this it how it goes…

The aqueduct is going slow, which is good and bad. Good because the committees of both Embera and Kuna are fixing their glitches; They are trying to figure out the way to run an aqueduct with their communities, paying for it and maintenance.

The donator for the new aqueduct, Steve Gele, was just in this past weekend asking about what work they have started. The groups are not even sure if the communities want to work on this project. So we have decided to run it by many smaller projects. The communities can start by burying the existing pipe. If they continue and things go along well then we can move on to stage 2 which is building the bridges for the pipes, so on and so on.

Steve just dropped off a water filter run off of car battery or electricity. Some engineer from New Mexico built it and is looking for more funding. I think it's funny that indigenous communities wouldn't have clean water but they will have both electricity and a car. So I get to see if people will use it. They'll take it back when they come in March.

17 November 2003

"I have food poisoning and let me tell you it's worse than amoebas."

2 January 2004. Excerpts from the December quarterly report.

Well over the last year as I look back on everything, I feel good about where I am and what I'm doing. I finally gained that extra female PCV weight. I think it is just the climate though, I have read that the most obese people in the western hemispherre are both from the USA and Panama. For being a tropical country, they surely don't eat much fruit or vegetables and they love everything fried. I don't feel too bad though, my good friend Whitney who just ran the marathon has too, put on weight. When the older people tell me that I'm "gorda" I feel good, you know, like a hot Embera wena. Nevertheless, the youth watch too much American TV and know that it is not seen as attractive to be fat in the US and end up teasing me. I tell them that I might be fat but that I'm still hot!

I have finally rid the PC guilt! I don't try to partake in everything going on in the community. I work with the farm group, tourism, and the aqueduct. I'll sit in on women's meetings and give my say and I feel fine. Sometimes, I wish that I came in with a higher level of Spanish because I could have figured out what was going on a lot earlier and possibly learned more Embera. No regrets though, I have done a lot of work and I realize that no matter what I can do, 2 years is not much at all. We come in with such great intentions but the time is just too short to make a great difference. There has been many changes, some people have changed their way of thinking and realize how important it is to plan in order to do anything. This makes me most proud. I work with individuals apart from the few groups and this is enough; this is the best I can do to keep sane.

April 2004.

Well as you know I am closing in on 2 years of service for our government and I decided to finish up and stay an extra month. Instead of leaving on my original date of August 5th, I am outta here on the 2nd of September. I am extending for a couple of reasons, the most important being that I need to finish up my thesis project. Afterwards I'll be traveling around with my boyfriend and thinking about being back most likely by my 30th birthday in December. In January, I'll be back in Houghton to finish writing up my thesis and from then on work somewhere doing something.

I'll probably end up sending another group email to everyone before I finally leave with a meaningful close of service speech, just in case this email sucks.

I feel good and ready to get back home. I think that the want to live overseas has finally been satisfied and I'd like to come back home to be again with my friends and family. Over the last 2 years I've realized how truly great they are. Packages, letters, visits and happy and excited voices has made it all very comforting and inviting to come back. My mom has been taking care of my BS paperwork and bank nonsense. My dad tells me that my Spanish is pretty good, my sister and Jimmy who are always sending me CD's and even letters from my bros. I'm excited to be with you all again.

I have finally calmed down and really fell in love with where I live. Being a city girl made it so difficult at first to not jump out of my apartment, into a car and go to see a concert, movie, or dancing. But there was no car, sometimes no electricity or running water, and I had to get used to it. And I did. This is also the longest time I've lived in a single address since leaving my parents house when I was 18.

I remember harvesting rice with some neighbor friends of mine, long sleeves so I wouldn't get scrathes, sweating, with a serrated machete to cut a bunch of it at once. I sat under the makeshift hut of palms, relaxing in the shade while Paula fixed our lunch and I remember feeling truly happy. Sitting in the breeze, truly free, with only fields and trees surrounding me forever, and I thought that I hope to remember all of this when 3 years from now I sit in traffic, sucking up the exhaust and being complicated with little nonsenses and possibly forgetting the little things, simpleness.

After my days of working with people, helping them to organize and realize that the only true development that is sustainable is of themselves through education and communication, I sit in my hammock on my little ranchito, overlooking a clear wide river with nothing to block my view, other than little naked kids running down to play. And I relax and smile that I am lucky to be where I am and I hope that this security of knowing what is real never gets too clouded. I sip at some Concha and Toro boxed red wine, watch the groups of tropical birds head downstream to wherever they sleep for the night until I wake up and bathe in the river in the morning to see them on their way back.

It is truly a simple life and I wish I can evoke how important a sense of community is to these people before I go. I can jump out of my house any time of the day and go and hang out with any of my neighbor and never feel uncomfortable about hanging out for an hour or two just talking, sitting on their palm floors, watching their kids just laugh and play with whatever they have in front of them and always receiving something to eat or drink.

18 June 2004. Excerpts from Quarterly Report.

I can't believe I've reached this point. I've wished at times that I could have come down with some sickness where they would have medically separated me from Panama. Not that I haven't had a good time and a great experience but, there were plenty of times when the only thing that kept me here was doing my research for a master's degree. So I'm almost done, I'm still working on projects but in conjunction with other volunteers who will inherit the projects.

Sustainable Farm
With the change of seasons, most of the farms' workers came back and still didn't come to many of the meetings that the president was planning. So we decided that we would try to involve the students from the agro forestry class as technicians. The week before we had our meeting with the class we finally had a full meeting of the farm and instead of questioning peoples dedication the president just went forward with the work that needs to be done. This meant that if a person really wanted to leave the group that they would have to bring up the subject, which no one did.

The meeting with the agro forestry class went well except that they as a group were to have a meeting to discuss joining the group but their president never put it together. At this point, all the students know that they can be involved and I believe some are waiting to join when all the hardest work is done. I'm not sure if the farm group will accept.

Our east Panama group had a meeting in Chepo with the ministry of agriculture and animals (MIDA). It was a fantastic meeting where us 5 women were able to try and organize with all the different regional sub-offices. With their blessing, I implemented the system of coordinating regional work with the PCV's in the area; once a month a PCV will attend their weekly regional meeting so that both MIDA and us can work to accomplish more with the communities without stepping on each other's toes.

At this same meeting I ended up talking about how frustrated I was with the granja and mostly because our technician for the area hadn't come out to visit us in months. We really couldn't progress without materials that we were promised awhile back. How when we are trying to work together and motivate the people but then things fall short without having the adequate supplies to build or plant. As I was speaking, the technician for our area walked in the door. I ended up talking directly to him without showing anger. I did it all very professionally but still, because I actually confronted him (which is not Panamanian) with his failings, the gossip spread to my regional office that I was really angry. He said that he hasn't stopped by because he didn't yet receive the supplies. I told him that it is important that the farmers feel motivated and at least know that you are thinking and trying for them. Something worked because our Patronato guy has come to visit a couple times since and even spent the night last Friday so that we could go and pick up the palm that we cut.

Work in the farm has started again and the farmers are once again motivated. We harvested the beans in December and January, distributed them and sold 100 lbs. The live contour barriers of lemons grass, valerian, pineapple and hibiscus that we planted last year have filled out and after weeding look fantastic. The yucca is growing and we are about to plant 100 more pineapple in contours, plant string beans and cucumbers, and make a starting box for both the tomatoes and bell peppers. We are also going to try using corn as tutors for the ñame root we want to plant.

This past week we planned out finishing the house that will house all future meetings along with the kitchen, which will be separate. Our tool shed has been finished but we are going to use it for the 50 chicks we just received until we have more time to construct a hen house. We went last Friday to cut all the palms for the thatched roofs. That was a hard job and I got ticks for the first time in my life. We are constructing the house in round like the traditional Embera houses. This job will be finished before the week is over.

My plan before I leave is to teach them how to plan. We will finish putting together the map of the farm, a farming calendar and a calendar of jobs for the next couple months. Along with this I am teaching the secretary of the group how to handle all the accounting on spreadsheets, yes the town has 2 brand new computers.

There is a regional meeting of all the farms in the area with a couple organizations that will be talking about commercialization of the farms products. Ipeti's farm doesn't want to strictly be an organic farm unless there is a market. I'm all for it too. I don't want to push them in to more work for nothing but we have talked about all the benefits they can receive from both the ecological and economic benefits. Since there are no organic farms on this side of Panama, Ipeti can be a model farm and in reality receive benefits from agro-tourism and other organizations that invest solely in organic products. Plus, the agro-forestry class was more about organics than anything and the vice-president of the farm group already practices these techniques in his own parcel.

I am working with another ag PCV that lives about 15 minutes away in bus so that the farm group gets to know her and that she might be able to help in the future with whatever. The group is 7 strong and was thinking of giving the farm the name of "Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs".

Embera Stories
We now have all the stories done, written, and in the computer. We also have all the pictures drawn, which, by the way, are fantastic. Bonarge will look over the stories this week and will make any changes he likes before we send them off to an editor. I am trying to make the contacts with the woman with the Canadian Embassy who has helped publish Embera books in the past. Hopefully I can get the process going and then Lian will be left in charge of marketing.

Wood Management Class
With all the work I am doing with my teak research, I am still planning on giving a day class of teaching how to plant trees, manage, and sell. I'm planning on finishing my research this month and putting together this class in July. After I teach it here in July I would like to go and visit other communities and give the same class.

Panama Information:

Information on the web.

Daniella and Eric's web page on vermiculture.

Back to the Michigan Tech Peace Corps page.

Page created 28 June 2002.

Updated: 18 June 2004.

Page created and maintained by Blair Orr.