Merry Christmas

Internet cafe closes in 10 min. must write quickly.

There is a grandontote mall connected to the bus terminal for all Panama and it is a slice of good ol´ USA. Christmas decorations look really weird in a tropical summer, but inside the mall it looks like home.

Merry Christmas


Care for a walk?

The heads of our respective sectors in PC are coming to visit our site tomorrow (12/4/07). The road to our site is very bad right now and the transport (a 4x4 truck we ride in the back of) can´t make it to our community and has not been able to for weeks. This morning I asked one of the men in our community about how long it would take to walk to where we could get a ride. He said he planed to walk to the nearest large town, it would take 2.5 hours, and I should walk with him.

It usually takes the transport more than 2 hours to make the same 17 km trip. I was pretty sure that it would be a steep and very muddy walk of more than 2.5 hours. We walked at what I would call a fairly quick pace given quality of the road and having only a small bag apiece to carry. At the 2 hour mark I commented that we were still a long way from our destination. He said that if I were to do this walk regularly and time it during the dry season it would be less than 2.5 hours, which was his best time when he was younger and used to walk to town once or twice a week....
We started at 10am and a little past 2pm me and my bloody feet caught a quick ride to the Hotel we usual stay at in town.

On the plus side.

I will catch a ride with our bosses tomorrow. Whom with me and 2 weeks of food can hopefully make it to our house. (PC has a few white Landcruiser that are in much better shape than our normal transport)

There was a work crew fixing one of three worst spots on the road when we walked by today.

In the last 3 days we have seen less rain than usual so the road is dryer than it has been (it still rains everyday)

A friend who works with one of the NGOs nearby took us, and a stove, and 2 tanks of propane, and a mattress, and our gigantic backpacks, and 2 large plastic containers full of stuff, to our house last time managed this trip.

Verano (the dry season) is coming. According to the same source as the 2.5 hour time on our trip, a non-4x4 can make it to our house during verano.

It is much easier to get up to our site than it is to leave it. If our bosses get stuck it will probably be on the way out.

Sorry, no pictures I did not bring the camera.


Day 203: Volunteer Service - Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! We spent our Thanksgiving in the company of 100 Peace Corps Volunteers. Our location was beautiful Cerro Punta at the Los Quetzales Lodge and Spa. Jeff and I were part of a twenty person kitchen crew that made all the big dinner. I love cooking, but it was really strange to make these huge vats of food. There were four turkeys and two big hams, huge sheets of stuffing and broccoli cheese casarol and huge bowls of mash potatos and gravy. Here´s Darleen with the mashed potatos.

We had a lot of left over carrots, so Jeff cooked them with molassas to make tasty side dish.

Here´s Jeff and Rebecca working on the stuffing.

This is part of the hard working turkey crew. This was the best turkey I´ve had in a while. It was moist and well seasoned. I´ll be dreaming about Thanksgiving dinner for a while.


Ca Ma Ra

With a camera comes the impressive ability to share my perception of light that was reflected in a different time and place.

Foy and I are headed to IST (In Service Training) and because it would take too long to go back to our site and then cross the country again for the volunteer celebration we will stay out of site through the Thanksgiving holiday.

Right now I have the time to make this post because we are staying in Panama City at La Casa De Carmen (www.lacasadecarmen.net) which has a friendly atmosphere, reasonable prices, and free internet. The cost of internet cafes does not really deter posting, it just happens that when we are out of site, we always seem to be short on time. Either our only ride home is leaving in 5 minutes, or we have to get to the PC office before it closes, or the bus is leaving. But now the unthinkable has happened, I am now an early riser. The sun sets about 6:20 pm and before too long we go to bed. ¨But look, the sun in russet mantel clad walks oer the dew of yon high eastward hill¨ between 5:30 am and 6:00 am and unless it is really grey we get up between 6 and 7. Today I was up and showered (hot water even) with time on my hands by 6:30 am.

Now Photos

This is our cat, Zeus. In these pictures he is between 1 and 2 months old. He still thinks biting is the best game ever. It turns out bug repellent is also a good way to keep a cat from biting your feet. I made him a toy. Stick + string + anything = perfect cat toy. He is very attached to us and cries when he can´t find us or can´t see us or wants food or wants us to get up before 6 am.

While Foy and I were eating breakfast, our host father instead of getting out and sharpening his usual one machete, this day he was duel wielding. After they were both sharp he stood there sliding the fresh edges along each other making that metallic ringing noise. If I had asked I bet he would have told me he did it to make the blades sharper or some other rubbish. I know exactly what he was doing, the same thing I would be doing if I had a sharp sword in each hand, enjoying the feel and sound. He then went and cleared jungle growth out of his steep field. Hot hard work.
There are a ton of evil looking caterpillars in Panama. They probably have something to do with the many butterflies and moths we see. Most of them make your skin burn if you touch them. These were eating some pretty plants near our table.

For the week before PC swearing in, some of the guys agreed to Stephen´s plan and grew (tried to grow) stashes. Mine came in thick enough, but it was not very dark and in the bright sun it is hard to see. Ever ones looked more full in reality. The picture does not do them justice. Really. You will just have to take my word for it. I learned that I will never grow just a mustache again, every time I saw myself in a mirror it made me cringe just a little.

This is a scan out of my sketchbook. I have been drawing the people of our community. The pages are much larger than the scanner making it hard to scan.
One of the volunteers ask me to make a cover for an educational text that is one of her main projects. The title is Pueblo Sano Vida Sana (healthy community healthy life).

November 9th we spent the first night in our house. The view is excellent and the front porch usually gets a breeze. I have nearly finished building the outdoor shower. We usually have plenty of drinkable water, but I have not got a battery to set up with our solar panel yet so no electricity. We will try to get a stove by the end of the month. We have been walking back and forth twice a day to Ramiro´s house to cook and shower. Pictures later.


Day 183 - Volunteer Service - Quicky Update

We have just a couple minutes in the internet cafe, so I´ll try to give a quick update.

  • We just spent about $200 on stuff for our house. That´s a lot of Balboas! Although more impressive will be trying to put it all on the Chiva to get it up to our house.
  • Our gatito (little cat) is growing out of his Budda belly and starting to look like a real cat
  • Jeff is starting English classes today, actually
  • I have now read 30 books
  • We are going to have Thanks Giving with a bunch of volunteers
  • I saw a cockroach the size of my hand - no kidding - Jeff killed it
  • It rained a lot for two days straight. Apparently the left overs from some hurricane.
  • The camino (road) up to our site is still ugly. Although one transport is passing per day. However, the cost went up 50 cents per person.


Day 178 - Volunteer Service - Kitty and House

The bad part about not having a computer is the infrequency I can turn out a post.

Know what else is bad? Our camino (road) up into our valley.

Okay, so it isn't as bad as this photo, but it the same color mud, just mix in more rocks, and replace the ruts with minature ravines. This has resulted in both of the chiva drivers throwing in their hats and refusing to drive until the road gets fixed. When will the road get fixed? That's a good question. The answers range from tomorrow to the end of January. To get out of our site this time, we hopped the first vechical we had seen in two days, a logging truck (of possibly illigally harvest wood). We knew the guys who had hired the truck. When the logging truck got stuck in the mud, we hopped on a Jeep of some other people we knew and sat in the back with the sacks of platanos (plantains) until we got to the Interamericana Highway. We are hoping to have the same type of luck to get back into our valley.

Another exciting developement is we have a kitty. His name is Zeus. He looks a lot like a smaller version of Jeff's mom's cat, Spoof. He's yellow with a hint of tabby and a white belly and paws. He looks a little comical right now because he has a giant budda belly. His mom and siblings were killed by dogs. He was found by some people in another community and given to their Peace Corps Volunteer. She took care of him from the time he was about two or three weeks old until about five weeks. However, the volunteer's full grown cat didn't think much of him, so he needed a new home. That's were we stepped in.

And speaking of getting new homes, we just rented a house. It is made of tablas (wood planks), with a zinc roof and cement floors. It is one of the few wood houses I have ever seen painted. It is park bench green with a crayola blue fence. The best part is the relatively big porch. There will be lots of room for hammocks. Our house also has the added bonus of being a little a part from the community and up on a hill. Hopefully, we'll have decent air circulation and the mosquitos won't quite be so bad. We haven't actually been inside the house yet. Jeff had to traipse four hours round trip over very muddy ground to find the owner. The owner said he'll come up this week and clean out any possesions that are still in the house and give us the keys. We have agreed to pay $25 a month for rent. Can you imagine renting a whole house for $25 anywhere else?

I have photos, but the pop up blocker on this computer is blocking me from putting up photos easily. I'll see if I can work something out.



Lappy and his tecno friends sadly have departed. Our blog entries will most likely be shorter have fewer pictures and on my part worse spelling. That sadness aside here is some stuff that has happened or is happening.

I am currently reading The Decameron its a bit like Canterberry Tales only more bawdy. I think Mr. Carlson, the former Ames High teacher, probably loves this book but is not permitted to use it in public schools.

I was bit by another bird on a different finger. This one is a pet/wild parrot about half the size of the falcon, which has recover and returned to the jungle after a taste of me. This bicho (pest. usually an insect or animal), belongs to a member of our community. He told me the bird does not usually bite, but probably wanted to see what a gringo tasted like. He could not stop laughing, but his wife looked a little embarrassed and gave both Foy and I duros (frozen chicha) to assuage my pain. My finger should be fine in a few days.

In addition to bicho, here are some Spanish words I like:
Ye ye = a thing that is nicer than it needs be, all gringo houses are ye ye
Raca taca = a female thug or nasty girl
Cartucho = plastic bag from the grocery store
Bomberos berachos = drunk firefighters (Only funny when spoken together)
Por alle = the location of anything out of visual range. Both China and a person in the bathroom are por alle.
Chicha. = fruit juice. Also Tang, CoolAid, or any liquid of any color usually with bastante suger.
Bastante = Translates directly as enough, but is used as a lot or more than enough.

I went on a horse ride a few weeks ago. It was my first time in the saddle so I guess the six hour trip was bastante. I'll start from the start. There are two teenage boys in our community and no teenage girls. This is a very important and much bemoaned if you are a teenage boy. One of these boys, Abrham, said I should visit a small near by village with him to meet the people. I asked if it would take more than a day, and he said not if we used horses. I said I do not have a horse or saddle and he said he would borrow one for me. I asked if my wife could come and he said no.

We set out and at first I could not split my attention to speak Spanish and ride at the same time. But the horse was small and calm and quite easy to stay on top of. I said I was too big for the horse and he said it could carry at least 300 lb. I said the stir ups are too short and he laughed. I know from reading fantasy novels that horses have more than one gait so I tried out second gear. Trot I think it is called. I did not try for third because second was more than painful enough. And so with my knees by my nose we rode for a few hours and I saw a school with many children. I wanted to stop but my young friend said to keep going. We passed a store with people out front and I wanted to stop but we kept on. We got to Abraham's brother's house, thankfully left the horses and continued on foot for about half an hour. Finely we came to a house and my suspicions were confirmed. The family was very nice and the mother made us lunch, and Abraham passed the rest of the afternoon talking to a pretty young woman. I having nothing better to do drew her and her little brother while they talked. Before we rode back I adjusted the stir ups but I was already sore and the return trip was longer by an hour due to night coming on. I walked the 15 min to our house from Abraham's in full dark around 9 pm but the night was clear and the stars were beautifully bright.

I have never really desired to ride horses. They are fine an noble animals but if I was riding properly and that is what it should feel like, only masochists would ever ride horses.

Day 153 - Volunteer Service - Robbed

Well, I´m not sure how fast the bochinche (gossip) has traveled, but if you didn´t know, Jeff and I were robbed last weekend.

Jeff and I went to visit Bonnie, a gal who started a bed and breakfast in her old Peace Corps Site. She´s originally from Iowa and worked in Extension for Iowa State. We were staying for the Festival de Majorana in Guarare, Panama. While we were in at the festival on September 22 with six other Peace Corps Volunteers and Bonnie, her house was ransacked. They stole our laptop computer among other things. We lost about $900 worth of stuff. Between all of us who were staying there and Bonnie about $9,000 worth of stuff was stolen.

We are fine and no one was there to be injured. It was a long night and we have filed the appropriate paper work and I froze my bank account. We have insurance on our personal possessions so we should be able to get money to buy a new computer. However, we lost all the personal information on the computer. The theives, didn´t even steal the power cord, so they won´t be able to use the computer for more and a couple hours until the charge runs out.

Jeff and I decided to stay for the rest of the festival at Bonnie´s, as did many of the other Peace Corps Volunteers. We went onto Panama City Monday to start pushing the paperwork through for insurance and what not. Peace Corps will reimburse the cash lost.

It´s a crappy situation, but the festival was really wonderful. There were many women dressed up in Polleras, the traditional dress with the pearl flower hair pieces and gold combs . That´s the picture at the start of this post. They have a bunch of different contests and a parade where all the floats are ox drawn carts. It was fun three days despite the robbery. We even got to dance a little at a baile. It is the first cultural event we´ve gotten to partake in. It was well worth the time and effort to go to. Although I wouldn´t have traded the laptop for it.


Day 142- Volunteer Service - Article 1

This article appeared in the Ames Tribune Newspaper on September 9, 2007.

Guest column: The toughest job you'll ever love, in Panama

We flew into Panama City on a hot and steamy night, the only kind of night
there is in Panama City. Everything is packed into a camping backpack on my
back, a school backpack strapped to my front, and a kidney bean shaped bag
lashed over one side. I would feel a ridiculous except I am in the company
of 34 other Peace Corps Volunteers all awkwardly laden, and the one next to
me is my husband, Jeff.

We traipse all our bags up to the cielo (sky-colored) cinderblock house the size of a two-bedroom apartment. This is home for Julia and Sergio and their two 20-something daughters. They are our host family for the next 10 weeks of training.
Sergio and Julia have moved their bed into the back of the kitchen so that Jeff
and I can have our own private bedroom.

The first night, through a combination of pantomiming and fragmented Spanish, we answer Julia's question, "What do you like for breakfast?" Trying to keep things simple, I try to explain cereal will be just fine. Except it comes across as, "I like food of breakfast in box," because I don't know the word for cereal. Eventually I discover we both know the words corn flakes. Ah, yes, there are some universal words with enough advertising behind them to transcend language. So I say in my woman-child
Spanish, "I like cornflakes or similar thing for the breakfast."

For the first 10 weeks we will be here in our host village. We are scheduled tight.
Of the 72 days in training there are two days that might pass as open, both Sundays that read "self-directed activity with host family." The rest of our time is divided into health and safety lectures, language classes, cultural classes, site visits and technical training. My technical training is in Sustainable Agriculture Systems, Jeff's in Community Education Conservation.

During our training we are questioned over our skills and what we would like to work with and if we have any preferences of location. One thing becomes clear: Panama maybe the size of South Carolina, but it is incredibly diverse. We could be placed in an indigenous site in the mountains with canoe access only or a Latino community accessed by 4x4 transports on the beach. We could be in a large town or a very rural village. In any location, we will be expected to live and work for two years with the people and give them access to information and leadership to improve their lives.

Foy is a Peace Corps Volunteer placed in Panama with her husband Jeff, both graduates of Ames High and Iowa State University. They are scheduled to return to the United States in August 2009.


Day 128 - Volunteer Service - House Tour

A tour of Ramiro’s House.

I decided it was time to do some show and tell. Blog posts are always more fun with photos. So I am going to give you a tour of Ramiro’s house complete with photos.

Let’s start with a broad view. This is our little community, we actually live up the road about 15 minutes. We’ll probably rent a house somewhere down there in the near future. Here’s Ramiro’s house, where we are staying. The bedrooms are up top on the left, the living areas below, and the kitchen is on the far right.
We will start in the general living area. The porch has two hammocks. The one on the left is way more comfortable, being made of cloth rather than rope. The enclosed area below the house has the shower and storage. Note the glass windows, this is the only house I have seen here with glass windows. Normally they just have a wooden shutter than can be pulled shut at night or when it rains.
Next up is the dining room, basically the opposite side of the porch, and in fact many people when visiting sprawl along the benches at the table. The chair out front is Ramiro’s Chair. It was made from a cross section of a trunk of a tree. He carved it out using a machette.
The table is also one of the places I like to have a flower arrangement. It’s something I enjoy doing and it’s fun to play with the exotic flowers around here. The white flower they call heilotrope (Although I suspect they are not realated to the English flower of the same name) . However, just like the English flower it smells wonderful! Just off the dining room is the kitchen. The kitchen is a stand alone room. I assume that this is because it could burn down and also they used to (and some still do) cook on fagons (raised cook fires) and the smoke would stay out side this way. Ramiro has a gas stove and oven. There is a fagon as well out the back door with a little shelter to keep the wind and rain out of the fire. I have not tried cooking on a fagon.
The sink is accessible from inside through a window, but it is actually sitting outside, and the water drains into a open gutter. There really isn’t a basin either, it is just a sloping painted piece of zinc, with a faucet over it. There is usually a big metal bowl under the faucet that functions as the basin. Also, close to the kitchen is the fregador, which is an outdoor sink. In this case the laundry area. Jeff and I do laundry about twice a week. Here it is beneficial to do laundry often because mold will grow on anything left wadded up very quickly. It takes about two hours to do the washing and four to six hours for the clothes to line-dry in the sun. Needless to say, it is an all day affair, unless of course it rains, and then it is a two day affair.
Another handy feature of any campo (country) house, is the latrina. Ramiro has actually built a little roofed walk way that keeps you dry if you need to visit in the rain. Outside of the house, I have started a little seed bed called a semillero, mostly flowers, with a few vegetables sprinkled in. The seeds are almost all locally collected. I recently expanded to the right as you can see.
Jeff is also testing out our solar panel, on an old battery of Ramiro’s. The panel does work and will charge. However, the battery doesn’t hold a charge long. This pile of bricks will hopefully be a nice building for a flush toilet and “real” shower some day.
The last stop on the tour is the horse. He doesn’t have a name, Ramirro just refers to him as his Caballo Blanco (pronounced Kab-aye-yo Blan-ko meaning White Horse). He’s pretty nice, he lives in the pasture across the road from the house. I take him guallava fruits off the tree in the back yard, and now he comes running when I go to the gate and call, “Caballo”. It’s just like in Zelda Ocarina of Time, except I don’t have an ocarina and I haven‘t learned to ride a horse, yet. *Jeff noticed today that Ramiro went out to the pasture to get the horse with four guallava fruits in his hand. He must think getting the horse to come when you call, instead of traipsing out to him through a muddy field is a good idea.


Day 121 - Volunteer Service - Culantro Visit

Last Thursday Jeff and I were visiting our neighbors and some how we got to talking about culantro, the local cash crop. It tastes a lot like cilantro, but looks very different. Jose offered to take us up to see his parcel of land where he farms culantro with his two sons.

So we set off at eight the next morning. We start by walking down to the creek near our house. Then we walking up, pretty soon we are really walking/climbing up a really big hill. Having grown up in the plain states I would call it a mountain, a really lush green mountain. We pass through a hillside of cattle before making a final ascension. I am much relieved to realize we are almost at the top, I‘m still not sure where the farm is, but it can‘t be much higher. Then we cut over across a field of corn, and suddenly I realize I am standing in a slash and burn field of culantro.

The soil is black in a way that the soil in town and near our house is not. I can see why slash and burn is so beneficial, all that ash and organic matter gets worked into the soil and it is black. Of course I realize slash and burn is only a temporary augmentation to the soil, but never the less it makes an impression on me.

The hill side is at an angle between 40 and 60 degrees depending on where you are standing. There are stumps and huge fallen tree trunks everywhere and in between are bright green low growing plants of culantro. We walk along the edge and cross a steep culvert caused by erosion. I can hear the soil I am knocking loose bounce its way down the culvert. At this point Jose tells me to stay where I am and he cuts a sapling down with his machette to make me a walking stick for me. I am grateful. Jeff is left to fend for himself.

We pick our way down the side of the hill to where his two sons are cleaning the culantro. They use an insecticide and herbicide to keep out the grass type weeds and grillos (their name for any grasshopper or katydid type bug). However, they clean out the broad leaf weeds, cut off the flowers and remove the older leaves to control fungus all by hand. The only benefit I can see for working on the side of the mountain, is that you can more or less stand up when you clean the culantro.

We asked a lot of questions and learned they began farming culantro only three years ago. The first person to start farming culantro was someone in the neighboring community about five years ago. Right now they take about 120 lbs of culantro into Panama City every week to sell. They earn about $160. For a family of six that is about $18 per person per week. Jeff and I receive about $70 a piece per week from Peace Corps. Granted we have to pay rent and buy all our food, where as our neighbors own their wood plank house, do not pay taxes, and grow all lot of their own food. In addition to culantro they also grow corn, ñame, yuka and tomatoes. Also, they pay no electricity, water or gas bills. All the cooking is done over a fagón (raised cook fire), and at night a single kerosene lamp provides light.

It’s definitely a different way of life. On our way back down the mountain, I was holding a bunch of culantro, and my new walking stick, looking out over a beautiful vista of cattle with the valley spreading out below me like a map. It was one of those “Wow, I am here, in Panama. How did I wind up here?” Then I snapped out of it and continued my muddy decent along a cow trail and headed home to put the culantro in water before it started to wilt.


Day 94 - Volunteer Service - Our Host Family and Starting a Garden

Today I am in luxury. There is an incandescent light bulb overhead and a fan, the kind that requires electricity. Also, my computer is not running off its batteries. Jeff and I came into town to visit with the local extension agencies. We talked with several, one that deals with aqueducts, one with domestic education like family abuse and adult literacy, and one that deals with agriculture. I don’t know what to quite think of it all. I am sure later on they will be useful contacts, but right now they just seem like a side note. We also got a fair amount of time at the internet café. I still am not all the way through the emails that had built up. We plan to go back tomorrow so I can publish this and finish up some other things.

Here´s a picture of our host family´s house:
Here´s is our host father making something with his machette.
This is our host mother, her name is Amelia. Things have been going well in our valley. We have had three weeks in site. The locals can’t quite figure out what to make of our names. More often than not they say Jack for Jeff. And more often than not I am The-Wife-of-Jack than Foy. Everyday we talk to people and that helps with the language. I also try to learn how to conjugate two new verbs a day. Little by little we are improving our language. I even had a conversation with a women who had lost more teeth than were still in her mouth. I think I understood most of what she said. I still have to actively make myself listen. Some days it is easier than others.

We have also taken one day to travel to each of the communities that are about two hours away on foot. They both require a major river crossing and several stream crossings. We haven’t figured out just what we are going to do with ourselves. Although, Jeff seems to have found enough guys to play Ultimate Frisbee with him on a regular basis. In fact just about every day some guy comes by and asks Jeff if he is going to play this afternoon. They refer to the Frisbee as a Platillo or "little plate".

I have started my own little set of flower seedlings that I have been collecting from our neighbors´ gardens. I have found zinnias, cosmos, cleome, firecracker vines and several flowers that no one seems to know the name of. There is actually one really pretty light purple vine flower that I really want, but it doesn’t seem to have seeds. There are also some really beautiful heliconia and ginger (right) I would like to get a plant start from, as I don’t think they will be easy to start from seed. I kept some seeds for tomatoes a neighbor lady brought us, we’ll see if they germinate. I’d like to get some seeds for peppers as well.

The thing I miss most if having fresh herbs. If anyone comes across some good deals on cheap herb seeds you should send them our way. It should be the end of the growing season in Iowa and places should have them discounted. However, don’t mark the mail as containing seeds, as they could be confiscated as illegal contraband.. However, what they don’t know won’t hurt them.

I’d love:
Basil (Genevieve - is my personal favorite)
Lemon verbena
Flat leaf parsley
I’d actually even go for mint, because it would go great with some of the chocolate drinks here. And you know any type of squash, zucchini, pepper or tomato seeds you’ve found wouldn’t be turned down. I’m excited this is the first time I get to really try growing a garden all my own with out anyone else’s inputs, plus I get to grow in a tropical year round local!


First 3 Weeks

We have been in site for about 3 weeks now. Here is a panoramic taken on the return end of the a recent hike we made to the closest community.
In total we hiked 4 hour and crossed 4 river/creeks each way. The whole area is steep hills and invariable my shirt is half soaked with sweat but the top of the first hill. Frequently I wonder why my body is so much more inclined to sweat than any one else here including Foy. I have witnessed one of the young men chase a horse down the road and when he returned with the caught horse he was breathing hard but still baby powder dry. More importantly I wonder if there is some way to change my bodies sweat settings.

We caught a ride to visit one of the local NGOs and in the car was an injured falcon.

The Laughing Falcon was wrapped and tied in fabric, but on a rough down hill section of the muddy path it escaped. In the process of catching and holding this creature it got hold of my middle finger with its rather powerful beak and bit through my finger nail. I bleed some but it turned out not to be too bad. One of the Embera boys at the NGO told me the bird thought my finger was a worm and it was hungry. The head of the NGO, Nathan said it was just afraid. Nathan is likely right, but at the time it was biting me it looked more angry than afraid. Probably just a matter of perspective.
The service guys fixed the public phone in our community it runs off solar panels that charge batteries and connects via satellite not a hardline. When the skies get cloudy the signal is patchy or nonexistent. Considering the weather here involves rain nearly everyday this can be an inconvenience but its better than not having a phone. Foy will send out the number via the massive email list and you can all run out and buy international phone cards and try to call us. If its not cloudy be ready with “¿Foy o Jeff estan cercita? ¿Los gringos de cuerpo de paz?” because some random person at the nearby tienda will answer the phone. This is not really a good idea until we live closer to the phone. We should be moving in 3 months. I will remind you to call us then. Right now we live 10-15 min trek from the phone. Now that I think about it I am not sure people in can call a public phone from the US even with a phone card. Some will just have to try it I guess. I try to walk in and talk with people once a day if we are not doing some other all day activity. My Spanish is improving but talking with Foy in English as much as I do really breaks up the whole immersion process.

Other than chatting to improve my Spanish I play ultimate Frisbee with people when enough people are willing. I sat through one day of school, and taught an English lesson. Walked the aqueduct and made several repairs. More on all these things later Lappy is running out of juice. No more typing till we can recharge.


Day 76 - Volunteer Service - First Week In Site

So we are official, really and truly Peace Corps Volunteers. The Swear-in was surprisingly both short and fun. We were at the Canal Museum in Panama City there were about five - two minute speaches. Then we took an oath promising to help those we could and faciliate the exchange of culture between the United States of America and Panama. Then afterwards we got a private tour of the museum. It was quite nice. Everyone went out to dinner afterwards to an Italian restaurant. I had a salad that was almost half feta cheese.

Side note: My salad of feta cheese was delicious. One thing Panama is ripe for is good world cuisine. Cheese in Typico food is usually oily individually wrapped American style cheese, simply referred to as "the yellow cheese". The white cheese, know as queso blanco, is crumbly and tasteless. Ususually a chunk of it is served with breakfast. I guess one of the benefits of being in a site with out electricity is we won't be subjected to the terrible cheese. Although the downside of that is we won't have access to cheese at all, and you all know how much Jeff likes his cheese.

So back to the night of Swearing In, after the lovely dinner we went on to a wine bar. It was a nice evening, however, I tripped over a piece of pipe sticking about two inches or so out of the sidewalk and ripped a big chunk of skin off my pinky toe so I didn't feel like dancing. After tripping over the piece of pipe I started to notice that it is really common for bits of pipe or rebar to be sticking up out of the sidewalk. How the women here walk around in super high heals with out serious injury is a skill I need to learn.

We had the Friday and Saturday off after our Swear-In and Jeff and I and about 14 others from our group headed down to Santa Clara for a weekend at the beach. We rented two cabanas, one with a complete kitchen, for $15 a person and had a lovely time on the white sand beach, sipping drinks on the deck.

Sunday we arrived in our site after about six hours of traveling from Panama City. It is nice to finally unpack for a while. We have settled in with our host family easily. I have learned how to make Pataconies, the Panamanian version of French fries made from fried plantains. Basically you heat a pot with a half inch of oil then cut the plantains into one inch sections. Fry the plantains in the oil and then take them out of the oil, squish the plantains into flat disks then refry them. Put some salt on top and serve them for any meal you wish.

Right now we are actually back in Panama City because Jeff has a doctor's appointment. He did something to his back and if he bends back too far it hurts. They've done X-rays and stuff and they don't seem to think it is serious. He's going to a follow up appointment right now, and they are going to give him some exercises to strengthen his core muscles. Since Jeff is in for the appointments I get some free time at the computer lab.

By the way, Jeff did get the virus eliminated. Our lap top is great, although we currently have no way to charge it in site.


Day 68 - Service Training - Swear In

We Swear-In today. That's right we are going to be real Volunteers. We have a swimming test in ten minutes then an hour to shower and change and we are off to historical district of Panama where the ceremony will take place.

I guess the next time I update. I'll have to write "Day 70 - Volunteer Service".


Day 63 - Service Training - Site Visit

We visited our site. It is absolutely beautiful, also really wet. They weren´t lying about the beautiful flowers. I saw orchids and weird ferns and other things that I think of only being able to grow in an conservatory. I spent a lot of time asking, ¨What is this plant here called?¨

The first day we stayed overnight near Chepo and our two guides took us to meet some of the local officials; medics, agriculture extension, the public school organization and that type of thing. I didn´t know what was going on so I was dress in jeans and a t-shirt. Panamanians are a stickler for appearances, so I´m sure we made a great impression. Also one of our guides kept calling us Jovensitos which translates more or less as the little youths. Yeah, lots of respect being garnered already!

The next day we went up the mountain in a chiva. It is no coincidence that these four wheel trucks used to transport goods and people share the name of the Hindu god of creation and destruction. While chivas allow access to very remote sites they are by nature, dirty, slow and cover incredibly rough terrain. Our chiva goes up a mountain, a very steep, always muddy mountain. There were only 15 people in it for our first assent; four guys in the cab and 11 people on the two benches that line the sides of the bed of the pick up. And only once did people need to get out and push. Although, I did loose track of the times I felt the wheels spin or slide.

We got off at the very end of the line. Right in front of the house that belonged to Ramiro. Ramiro is wonderful and he´s actually going to be our host for our first three months in site as well. His house is really pretty and is right next to the edge of a river. It´s actually a small cliff, that´s why he can build so close to the river. The other bank is much lower, so if there´s too much water it floods the other side. He has a house of wood planks with a cement floor, a latrine and four bedrooms. With their kids all living down in Chepo, we had pick of bedrooms. There is no electricity, but Ramiro has a solar panel that runs two light bulbs at night.

After hanging out with Ramiro for a day, we went visiting the neighbors. They all live up the mountain aways. In fact, no one lives very close to each other. We saw the tiny one room school and its six kids. We also saw the two stores, which have the same six things: oil, rice, sugar, cookies, soda and fuel. The people seem nice, if a bit shy.

The following day we helped build a tank to hold water. Basically a water tower, but on the ground. There were several guys from the community there as well as EarthTrain. We wound up staying the night with EarthTrain. They have got five American high school students and six Embera youths living together in this beautiful campus type place. Campus is a lose term, bascially they have some really nice buildings with electricity, Internet and phone coverage. We stayed the night in one of their bungalows. It was quite interesting. I´ll have to write more about them later. But right now let´s suffice it to say, they are basically building a botanical garden to showcase the local flora. So what´s not to love?

After another day or two of meeting the community and going to the school´s party for the kids, we headed back for our final weeks in training. It´s all very exciting. There are lot´s of good stories from our visit that I don´t have time to share, but I hear once we get in site we´ll start having lots of time and maybe I´ll publish some of them.

The only other news is our laptop has a virus right now, and doesn´t want to run. We more than likely got the virus from down loading everyone´s pictures to make a slide show for the going away party for our training community. Hopefully, Jeff can get it all sorted out. I have faith.