Day 14 - Service Training - Upcoming Site Visit

We know the location of our site visit. We are going to an indigenous community North of Panama City. It’s not that far from here actually. Many of the other trainees who have to travel over night or start really early in the morning. I suspect we will leave about 9 in the morning from here. We get to visit another married couple. I’m excited to see how that goes. We will be there for the whole weekend.

Jeff asked on of the technical teachers here if he knew anything about the community. He said that in this community much of their income comes from tourism. Visitors come up out of Panama City. He claims that the indigenous women don’t wear shirts when the tourists are around and then when they leave they put their shirts back on. I’m curious to see if this is true or just bonchinche (gossip).


Day 13 - Service Training - Monkeys

I saw monkeys, little tiny monkeys! I didn’t get a very good picture because it was during class and I was supposed to be paying attention. A whole group of them, maybe 10 - 20 or so came out of the jungle and ate mangos right next to our rancho. Apparently the people with live in the near by house feed them bananas so they come up just to visit them. They are really cute and incredibly agile. No one seemed to know what kind they were. We got a couple nature gurus in the other group. Maybe they’ll know what they are.


Day 13 - Service Training - Brownies

When we were in Panama City on Sunday Jeff bought a brownie mix. Last night he made brownies for the family. They said they really liked them. This isn’t that good of an indication that they liked them, they’d say that just to be polite even if they tasted terrible. However, a lot of the family went back for seconds and at lunch today Jeff went to look for the leftovers and there were none. I am pretty sure they were a success. Our house mother, Julia, asked if there were vanilla brownies. I told her you can make blondies but they don’t come in the convenient box mix. We’ll have to think of something else to make for our family. I was wondering if I could find all the things to make rice-crispy treats.

This weekend we do our second site visit. Jeff and I will travel together to visit another volunteer (or possibly another volunteer couple). We get to take the local transportation by ourselves. It will be interesting to say the least. We have taken the local buses here as a group with out a staff person, but we have never navigated by ourselves. We find out tomorrow where we will visit. It could be a very close journey or all the way to Boca del Torres.

We have a marginal command of Spanish. However many of the people in our group of 34 have only one week of Spanish classes under the belt. They are going to have to be very self reliant to get where they are going. There are no bus schedules available in a lot of places and you just have to ask to find out when and where the busses leave from. Maybe they’ll consider who knows the most Spanish and send the not experienced speakers to nearby places. I’ll report back on that.

Tonight, we discovered that we will be separated on our first anniversary. Week six is the week we do technical training on site. The Agriculture is separated from the Ecology. It sucks, but I don’t think they’ll change the date for us.


Day 11 - Service Training - First Week

We took a little tour of Panama city today. That's why I have internet access. The key board is a little wierd, so excuse my mistakes.

We have been in our training site a whole week. It feels like it has been a month. We have yet to have a complete day off. The PC staffers are trying to cram us full of knowledge. We have eight hours of very intense class a day. I'm taking a lot of notes because I just don't have time to comprehend it all. My Spanish is improving or at least my ear for Spanish is. I can speak with our family pretty well. People out side in the big city speak really fast. If all goes well, in ten weeks we'll be able to understand them better.

Hopefully, I'll get a chance to update again soon. I did get a chance to rearrange some of the entries so they make more sense now. We only had 15 minutes yesterday when we came into the city for shots and lectures to do internetting. I'm going to try and get a look at my email now.


Jeff's Mega Post

Sorry for the redundancy I have not read what Foy wrote.

I am out of time but happy birthday Steven.

14,15 May 07
Staging. PC put us up in a nice hotel and passed on a lot of information in long sessions. There are 34 of us 5 couples which is more than normal. I am surprised at how well our personalities mesh, but then it is a rather specific set of people who want to go on PC and also finish the exhaustive application process. The oldest are probably in their mid 30’s and the youngest is 21. We are all very excited but there is not much to do with the energy.

16-19 May 07
We flew to Panama City via Miami. Here’s a picture of our packs and US at Regan in DC.

We arrived at 8pm in Panama and climb on a PC bus to be wisked through the city. It looks like any big city at night with its share of skyscrapers big yellow Ms and other familiar restaurants. PST (Pre-Service Training) begins in La Ciuadad de Saber an old army base. I can’t help thinking PC is spoiling us. We get our own room with a bathroom hot shower and the kicker AC. I guess its more of an incremental thing. I would not just drop new fish in a tank I would let it acclimate first. While acclimating I broke out all my stuff and Foy typed out the list as I sorted.
For posterities sake this is a list of what I brought for two years in Panama. In total my packs weighed in at about 95 lbs. Many of these items were gifts from friends and family. Thank you all. I had a lot of extra space but once I shoved in the double mosquito net, both our med packs, all the books and binders PC hands out I am packed tight.

1. Large Frame Pack (5100 cubic inches of space)
2. Duffle Bag
3. Backback (book bag)
4. Laptop back pack
5. Mesh bag

1. 3 Contact cases
2. 3.5 bottle of contact solution
3. Centrum multivitamins 1 large and 1 small bottle
4. 28 condoms
5. Tweezers
6. 1.5 tubes of toothpaste
7. 1 toothbrush
8. 1 razor
9. 14 razor blades
10. 3 padlocks
11. 2 small luggage locks
12. Shampoo 1 big and 1 medium
13. Conditioner 1 big and 1 medium
14. 4 small bottle hand sanitizer
15. Sunscreen
16. Obs (Foy’s)
17. Deodorant (Foy’s)
18. 2 Chapstick
19. 4 rolls of tums
20. Assorted tubes of medicine
21. Floss
22. 2.5 deodorants
23. 2 pair of glasses
24. 10 pairs contact lenses
1. Orange long sleeve
2. Hoodie
3. Light blue long sleeve
4. 6 button ups short sleeve
5. 4 t-shirts
6. Blue Jeans longs
7. Jean shorts
8. Quick dry shorts
9. 5 pairs of khakis
10. Foy’s Strappy black sandals that she didn’t have room for
11. Chaco Sandals
12. Brown Dress Shoes
13. Flip Flop Sandals
14. Tennis Shoes
15. 6 pairs Socks
16. 10 Underwear
17. 0 Ties
18. 2 swim trunks
19. 3 Bandanas
20. Brown belt

Misc Items
15 wire hangers
Pith Helmet
Gilligan Cotton Hat
Towel Real
2 Sunglasses
Flat sheet
Leatherman multi tool
Fake leatherman multitool
Camping towel
6 bungees
15” x 15” ziplock bagsHead Lamp
Dummy Wallet
Small Spanish Dictionary

2 Ultimate Frisbee
Filets knife
Athletic Tape
Mint Toothpicks
Wine Bottle Opener
2 boxes of zip lock bags
Magic wooden box
2 decks of plastic cards
2 watercolor blocks
2 large sketchbooks
1 small sketch books
Gift Pictures
Shake powered flashlight
Watercolors set and brushes
Pens, pencils and erasers
6” ruler
Laptop (about 7 lbs)
Stuff for laptop (about 12lbs)
Solar Panel
Digital Camera

20-25 May 07
We were dropped off one by one in our host community where we will train for the next 10 weeks. We arrived at our site about 1:30. We have host parents 2 sisters the guy on the end is a boyfriend.

A third sister that is in the house next door with a precocious 6 year old who is the queen of her class. They all have nicknames and Kiki the 6 year old is unstoppably cute, also unstoppable.
Our house is a 4 room cinder block construction with a metal roof, the standard in our area. We have electricity and running water we can drink. The latrine is a latrine and our shower is an enclosed spigot with a barrel and pan to dip water. Sounds rustic, but really it is quite nice. Our house is clean and neat. Our host family is generous, to say the least, and helpful in whatever questions we ask. Our host mother la ama de casa (the spirit of house) makes us three large meals and cleans the entire house daily. I am fairly sure our room was the parents' and that makes me fell a little bad but that is the way of it. So far my days have been up at 7am for breakfast, go to language class at 8am, come home for lunch, walk to tech class, come home at 5pm, shower, eat, do homework, and gratefully sleep. I thought I was a weak gringo in the heavy tropical air, I was having trouble keeping up and felt miserable, but turns out I got a little yellow fever from the live vaccine. I got better in a few days. So far no one has had an adverse response to the water here likely because it is controlled but a government agency that adds Cl at the source tank.
One couple has started a yahoo group that will be friends and family of PCV group #59. If you want to join the address is
Yahoo groups are free and very easy to join if you already have a yahoo account. You can join without a yahoo mail account too. I recommend the compiled daily message option.


Day 5 - Service Training - Corn Flakes

It is hard to believe we have had only five days in Panama.

Yesterday we traveled to our training site and met our host family and moved in. They are wonderful. We live with a mother and father and their two daughters (26 and 19) and one granddaughter (6). Their house is cielo (sky colored) and made of cinder blocks with a zinc roof. It is really loud when it rains, which it does every afternoon and often at night and sometimes in the morning. It’s the rainy season . . . for the next eight months.

We have our own room with a door. It is the only interior door in the house. Otherwise there are only curtains. Our family has four dogs and three baby chicks. Our mother feeds us really well. We had been warned they might give us too much, but so far it has been fine. We had chicken and mashed potatoes for lunch and for dinner seasoned ground beef with beans and rice and a salad similar to coleslaw. They really like hot dogs here and they will serve them for any meal of the day. Rice is really common and we’ve had beans several times. The fruit here is amazing. The fresh pineapple is especially good.

On the first day we told our host family we liked cereal, such as cornflakes for breakfast. That night the boyfriend of the 19 year old daughter brought us duros, which are frozen concoctions usually of frozen juice and sugar in a simple plastic bag. You bite a corner off and suck on it, kind of like a popice. Literally translated duro means hard in Spanish. Earlier we had pina duros (pineapple frozen juice). However, this time they were cornflake flavored. That’s right, cornflake flavored. It was a mixture of frozen milk, sugar and cornflakes frozen together. As the flakes unthawed they were soggy and limp. I couldn’t finish mine, it was gross. So I pretended to eat it and then fed it to Ken, on of the dogs. He thought it was really good.

We had our first round of classes today. In the morning I have Technical Agriculture Class. We will learn how to use a machete and grow different types of plants and how to become a good teacher. Jeff has language in the morning. Then we come back to our house and have an hour for lunch. After lunch we switch. Jeff goes to Technical Ecology Class and I go to language class. We have four hours of technical and four hours of language. That’s a lot! All our classes are in Rancheros, a house with no walls, only four posts and a roof of palm leaves. It’s a very traditional type of gathering place.

At the end of this week we are going on a field trip “adventure in the city” We’re not sure which city, there are two towns close by and Panama city is about an hour away. I hope to be able to post this all then. There are three public telephones in the town, however they run on solar power and do not work at night or when it’s raining. I have not attempted to use them, but hopefully I will get a chance soon. I have to figure out what I did with my calling card first.


Day 4 - Service Training - Visiting Agriculture Site

We’ve been busy from dawn till dusk every day this week. Granted, the sun comes up at six and goes down at six here. It’s weird because I connect hot summer days with long daylight hours. We are so close to the equator (about 7 degrees north) that the day and night are of equal length. I haven’t gotten much of a chance to explore because it is usually dark when they let us out. However, we wouldn’t be able to leave this compound anyway.

For the first week we are in a retreat in the City of Knowledge. This is a little compound that houses many of the altruistic organizations such as UNICEF and Peace Corps and soon will house the United Nations as well. We still have air conditioning, electricity and flush toilettes. There are small difference but, it doesn’t really feel like we’ve left the country. The last couple days they have treated us to a myriad of lectures on safety, the history of Panama and what the PC is currently working on here. An interesting fact we learned is that 95% of the volunteers have cell phones and about half of them have coverage at their site. So there is a very good chance we’ll have direct communication too.

In the afternoon yesterday, we had our second language assessment. I am in a group with two others. We seem to have a decent grasp of Spanish. However, I understand the other gringos much better than I understand the native speakers. I don’t think it will take long to understand the locals. I am just not tuned in yet. We have also received the Yellow Fever vaccine, Hepatitis and Malaria pills. Some of the women, including me, got to have a pregnancy test, because the vaccines could damage a fetus. This was of great discussion among the women in our group. Ask me about it later. I believe we still have several more vaccines to go.

Today we break into our two project areas, Agriculture (Foy) and Ecology (Jeff) and are going to visit a volunteer’s site. The agriculture site I am going to has rice tanks, fish tanks, traditional farming and an iguana project. This is the first time we will be outside the city. I’m really excited to see how it goes.

Late on Thursday we had interviews with the head of our project area. We got to tell our preferences. I took horticulture as my first choice, which would be working with home vegetable crop production or possible growing trees to sell. She alluded to the sites they have in mind for us. There are three places we could end up. One is a day’s bus ride away, one is in a remote place that they wanted to send a couple because it might be to lonely for a single, and the third is in one of the most populous sites they have. I’m not really excited about the remote site. However, Jeff thinks it is on an island and that appeals to him. Who knows, where we‘ll end up! But it is fun to hear they have ideas about where they are going to place us. We find out which community we are going to be in on Wednesday the 13th of June.

Later that day…

The trip was fantastic. We visited Jacabo (Spanish name for Jake) at his site. He has a beautiful village. They speak campo (country) Spanish, a dialect I could barely understand. We took two SUVs and there were ten people in an SUV. It was not comfortable, especially when we started bouncing around on the dirt roads. When we arrived we walked out onto a hillside where Jacabo’s host family was planting rice in a slash and burn field. When Jacabo first arrived at his site he worked with his family and taught them to only use each field for a year and then rotate through ten areas. In this way the soil isn’t exhausted. It isn’t the most earth friendly way to farm, but it is sustainable. We helped plant rice. It was back breaking work in the hot, humid sun.

After helping plant the field, we visited Jacabo’s house. He built it with the help of his community. It is quite nice and has a beautiful view of the mountains.

However, his Latrina (out house) has an even better view.
There is only one room and a porch with a little rancho out side. A rancho is four posts with a palm frond thatch roof. Ranchos are much cooler because the roof acts like a swamp air conditioner as long as the leaves are wet, which is most of the time. Jacabo also built himself a system to retain the water that runs off his roof and he uses the water for a shower. Its very clever.
Then we went to lunch. For lunch we had chicken soup. It was a million degrees out and we had hot, boiling hot, soup. Granted it was really good soup. The locals say eating a hot meal helps cool you off. Jacobo claims this is true as well.

After lunch we visited his other projects. He has worked with the locals on rice tanks and fish tanks as well as a vegetable garden. Planting rice in tanks both inceases production and allows for a third harvest each year. The fish tanks run into the rice tanks so that the fish poo fertilizes the rice. Jakobo also worked with a NGO (global organization) to harvest and start seedling native trees to reforest the mountains. It was really inspiring. This is our group looking at fish tanks.


Day 2 - Service Training - Ciudad de Saber

We have arrived in Panama. We left DC at 7:45 am for our 2:00 pm flight. This resulted in a lot of waiting around at the airport. I did get my power of attorney form notarized. Mom will rest easy now.

Finally we got into Miami and immediately caught the connecting flight to Panama. We came into the country around 7:40 last night.

We were greeted at the airport gate by the second in command of PC Panama and four currently serving volunteers. We got through customs with ease thanks to the presence of the Peace Corps staff. After collecting our luggage we exited and got our first breath of fresh Panamanian air and laughed as people’s glasses fogged over from the sudden humidity and heat. We were ushered onto a bus and driven through Panama City. It could be any other metropolitan if you ignore the billboards in Spanish. We arrived at our Peace Corps training facility an hour later, had a quick dinner and were given our room assignments. Our group of 34 was divided into little living groups.

Each in a little villa with three bedrooms. Our house mates are 3 girls and then Jeff and I. Apparently, they decided to house one married couple per villa and then all the same gender. So lucky Jeff gets to hang with the ladies. On a side note there are currently five volunteer couples in Panama. Our group has five couples in it and effectively doubles the number of married volunteer folk in Panama. After our late dinner we took showers and headed to bed.


Day 2 - Pre Service Training - Packing List

We did more of the same thing today. Lots of little group activities to make us aware of potential problems and think up some solutions. One of the more interesting things brought up today at lunch and other times just chatting with people was, “What luxury items did you bring?” Lots of people have i-pods, at least four other people are bringing laptops. A couple have books, the Harry Potter series appears to be pretty common. Jeff found several guys who brought Frisbees. There is one guy with his guitar. It’s interesting what you decided is something you’d really like to have with you.

This is a list of what I brought:

3100 cubic inch hiking back pack
Regular school type backpack
Eagle Creek kidney bean Purse
3 canvas / net bags

3 packages of OBs - 1 of panty liners
2 bottles of saline solution
1 bottle shampoo
1 bottle body wash
3 bottles of foundation
Toothpaste and brush
Collapsible hair brush
Nail kit
Cranberry Pills
Hand Mirror
Small selection of Make up

Teva Sandals
Brown dress sandals

Dark green shorts
Brown grey shorts
Blue patchwork skirt
Khaki skirt
Cargo khakis
Khakis Linen capris
Linen brown pants
Scrub blue pants

Dark Burgundy target dress

Socks - 5 pair
Undies - 15 pair
Bras - 6 bras
Swimsuits - 2
2 sets of glasses
6 sets of contacts
3 bandanas
Flat sheet
Sewing kit
1 Thermarest (sleeping pad)

8 tank or sleeveless shirts
4 work shirts
2 button up shirts
1 sweater zip up

My Luxury items are:
Gone With the Wind
My embroidery hoop and a project
A black dress and black shoes

I had a dream about bringing the black dress and shoe set, so Sarah and Sara if you are wondering, that’s why I put them in even though you convinced me not to take them. The Peace Corps allows 80 lbs of checked luggage. Mine weighs out at 39 pounds including the carry on. Jeff, however, is just under 78 lbs and that’s not including carry one. He gets up to 90 with his carry on. His luxury items are a tent, sketch books, the laptop and some mutual toiletries.

If a future volunteer is reading this perhaps you would benefit from a list of what I wish I had brought. There isn’t much but, I wish they had told us to bring more than two outfits of business casual. Today they told us we would need to dress business casual for the first six weeks of training and possibly longer. I’m sure we can buy clothes in country, but I wish I had known that. If I get a chance I’ll come back and update this list. I’m sure there are other things. However, it’s always good to keep in mind we will be in a town close to Panama city and we can always buy things we need, so if in doubt, leave it out.

One more thing, there are products such as silica packets that are sold to absorb humidity in electronic cases. Panama is really humid and it wouldn't hurt to invest in a couple packets before you leave if you plan to bring an I-pod, camera or computer. Or you can just go to Payless and take those little packets out of the shoe boxes.


Day 1 - Pre Staging - Leaving Iowa

We left Iowa behind this morning, really early this morning. We had to leave Jeff’s Mom’s house by 4:50 this morning so we would have enough time to drive to the airport and catch our 6:50 Am flight to Washington DC. We both forgot about the no liquids more than 6 ounces in your carry on rule. I lost a bottle of lotion and Jeff lost some toothpaste. Luckily it is nothing critical and we’re in no hurry to refresh our supplies. However, when we fly from DC to Miami to Panama I’ll be sure to have my liquids in a little zip lock bag.

We arrived in DC around 10:30 AM and were at our hotel by 11:00. Then we had some lunch and took a nap until check in time at 2:00pm. Check in was fine. We need to mail our student loan deferment papers. I need to get a notary to officially document my Power of Attorney form. Also, there are a couple issues with how we set up some Certificates of Deposit at the bank, but other than that, we are looking good.

After check in, we did a little icebreaker with the people from our group. There are 34 of us going to Panama. We are all either Sustainable Agriculture Services (SAS) or Community Ecology Conservation (CEC). Of our group there are five married couples, roughly one third of the group. Only 5% of the currently serving Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) are married to an other volunteer. It will be interesting to see how our experiences compare.
We did a little group activity where we wrote out what we were nervous about and what we were excited about. Here’s the list we came up with:

Not knowing what we’re going to do
Learning a foreign language
Missing family and friends
Learning new gender rolls
Trying to help people who don’t want to help themselves
Getting a disease that would cause permanent damage
Not having privacy
Bugs and animals

Helping people who need help
Keeping a garden
Keeping chickens
The possibility of canoeing to work
Living in a tropical location
Meeting new people
Becoming fluent in Spanish

It will be interesting to come back to this after we’ve been in country a while and see how things are going.


End of Packing in Site

We are officially approaching the end of the packing. Most of our belongings are packed away. I have a large pile of things I thought I was going to take on Peace Corps. I got a nice 3100 cubic inch hiking backpack and I have a duffle bag and my book backpack. That should hold everything right? Not a chance, I still have maybe 25% that isn't crammed into them. Granted I didn't really pack as efficiently as I could have, nor did I pack for weight distribution, but still way too much stuff! I have to be able to carry it all myself, so I need to par it down. The toiletries are the heaviest part. A bottle of shampoo and conditioner weigh quite a bit.

Jeff has offered to carry some of my things, but I don't want Jeff to be carrying my stuff. He is going to have the laptop and the solar set up, and the joint toiletries as it is. So we'll see. It is going to take an elaborate process of determining weight vs. worth vs. volume, but I'll get it worked out somehow. I should post a list of what I actually take for posterities sake.

*Update* With a little help from Sarah and Sara I have much less to carry. Jeff pointed out to me that I could even fit it all in two bags. I come in just under 40 lbs of stuff, which is pretty good considering that the maximum weight is 80lbs.


Post Labels

Look what Marigold made for us! Now you will know who is posting by the little box in the corner.


Writing a Column and Being a Pen-Pal

I talked with the editor of the Ames Tribune today. I had contacted him earlier about writing an opinion column on our journey to Panama. He's excited to "have eyes and ears in Panama". I'm excited too. It looks like I'll write a 500-800 word essay in first person that will relate to the average Iowan about Panama. It will be a quarterly. I am not sure what our schedule will be like, but I think I'll be able to get something out once every three months or so.

The Ames High crowd might remember Bryna Greenlaw. She's currently in Korea and writes a weekly column for the Tribune. I'll be writing something along those lines.

In addition to the column Jeff and I will each have a Correspondence Match , which is basically being a pen-pal for an elementary school class room. Jeff is taking Ryan's fifth grade class and I'm going to work with my Aunt's kindergarten room. In our own little way we hope to bring our experience home.

- Foy

One Week Left

We leave for staging in DC next Monday.

Right now, I have packed some things and the rest of our things have exploded through out our apartment. I am going to take a big run to the Salvation Army, pick up dry cleaning and drop some magazines off at the library exchange.

Right now I am feeling really excited. Later on I'll be apprehensive, but not right now. There is too much stuff to get done.

- Foy


Graduation / Wedding gift

My little brother and his girlfriend graduated this Saturday. Graduations are generally boring but this was a sub par example. The speaker was particularly poor. His speech can be accurately summed up as "You should read a lot. I will now give you short book reports on the last three books I have read." These are my best of shots from the three hour event.

On an unrelated note I finished and framed a wedding gift for my twin brother and his wife. Someone said I had one year to gift them. Their one year anniversary will be this July so really I got it done several months early. It is a 3 x 2 foot watercolor.Jeff


Time's Starting To Go By Fast

My last day of work was April 27th. It's been so nice to have a little time off. Not that I haven't had things to do, but at least I don't feel so rushed.

Saturday the 28th, Sarah and Tom hosted a going away party for us as well as for Brandon and Naomi who are moving to Iowa City. It was a fun time. I almost feel like there were too many people to get to talk with all of them. We should have had a big group shot, but I didn't even think of it until today. Lisa did get some nice candids though.

Sunday the 29th I had brunch with two gals I was in 4-H with back in the day. Both have been to Central America. Again it is made clear to me how necessary it is to BYOT, that is bring your own tampons. I went and stocked up today.

Monday the 30th was our Spanish final. It is so wonderful to have that class done! Pienso que hable español bastante se comprenderá.

On Monday our apartment was subleased! Excellent! We have to be cleaned out and ready for inspection by Friday the 11th of May. If anyone wants to help move and clean...

Yesterday and today I started packing. I saved a lot of boxes from work, but I think we will still need more. I've gotten a lot of the bedding/linens and my unnecessary clothes packed up. All that's left in my closet are clothes that may go on Peace Corps. I still haven't gotten it all whittled down yet. I am also missing one shoe. I have a single brown sandal. I know its mate is around here somewhere, I just haven't figured out where that is yet. I really hope it’s not in one of the boxes I already taped shut.

I am also toying with the idea of packing up the kitchen. If we can manage to eat out for the next 10 days we won't need most of the dishes. Tonight we are going out with my work people, and Saturday is Clarissa and Steven’s graduations, but our other nights are pretty open. Anyone want to go out for dinner?


New Template

Since Jeff is now included in this blog, I thought we'd commemorate with a new template.

I see that someone else has also been busy today.