It looks like Glow Worm tail, smells like vomit, and is ubiquitous throughout Panama. (Remember Glow Worms? The plush doll with the glowing hind end.)

Indian Mulberry
Morinda citrifolia
Foy took this picture in our back yard. The noni is native to the Pacific islands, Asia, and Australia. It is a small rather pretty tree with large, dark green, waxy leaves. You have just been edjumacated.
Panamanians say the fruit is either a cure or preventative for a long list of ailments. I usually ask people who tell me this if they ever eat the fruit. The answer is always, No. Despite this you can find a noni tree or two in most peoples yards. This is the norm for fruit trees. Many trees here bare fruit that is sampled sparingly or entirely ignored.
January has been a month of leaving our site. Fortunately our road is drying out and the one transport that still works has been running most days. Today we are on our way to our last obligation of the month, the Project Management Leadership (PML) conference. PML is interesting because each of the remaining volunteers in our group (30 of the initial 34) should be bringing someone from their site for training in ¨soft skills¨. As always I am excited to see the group 59 ers and this time to meet the group of Panamanians selected to learn leadership skills.
Last week we came out of site for our quarterly regional meeting. These meeting are to get the volunteers in each region together for general information distribution, organization, and to keep tabs on our sanity. Each quarter the site for the meeting is different. This time we meet in Chepo... AT A POOL. It is a very small public pool with two water slides about four times larger than the pool. In a stroke of ill luck the pump had been broken for the last several days so no sliding, but some day I´ll slide those slides.
While playing the pool game Sharks and Minnows I pushed off the wall and jetted across the bottom of the pool for about two feet, then ran my head into someone else at top speed. I came up and turned to apologise to whomever it might be and Foy had blood streaming down her face. That's right I basically headbutted my wife. It was a complete accident and it wasn´t as bad as it looked but still painful. I apologized profusely and got her a cold beer.
After dinner we gathered at the house of a nearby volunteer and in a stroke of good luck, thank you karma, it turns out wrestling is a tradition of our region. Growing up my twin brother and I wrestled (beat each other to a pulp) every day, and as time passes the urge to throw down in a somewhat friendly manner builds in me. The area east of Panama city is large but it boasts a meager 13 PCVs and by the time we got to wrestling only four guys in the 150-180 lb weight class remained. Of those four I am champion until the next regional meeting. I walked with a limp for two days and the scratches on my knees and feet are now nearly healed. Next time we will look for a hallowed competition ring with fewer sharp rocks and spiny bushes. Four of the women also partook in this Grecian/Panama Este tradition. Foy chose to abstain saying, ¨One bloody nose is enough for today.¨


Day 249 - Volunteer Service - Double Dig Beds

Well my first Peace Corps project is off the ground. It is now the dry season which is supposed to be the best for growing veggies. There wasn't enough time before the dry season to compost organic matter, so I am using a technique called Double Dig Beds. I'd never heard of it before coming to Panama. Basically you dig down 18 inches into the soil. Then you throw three different layers of organic matter down, half the soil you dug out and then three more layers of organic matter. Top it all off with the remaining soil and your done. The three organic layers are balo, platano and horse manure.
Balo is a legumonous tree, so its leaves are full of nitrogen. As an added bonus it has a natural insecticide in its sap. You only use the leaves because the whole branch would just root into the ground and start growing a new tree.
The platano is basically a banana plant. The whole tree - trunk, leaves and all is machettied up into little pieces to make the second ingredient. This adds some nice potasium to the soil. Most of what you are seeing in this picture is pieces of the thick stem. It breaks apart like layers of an onion.

The last organic level is horse manure. It a great sourse of nitrogen, but it is smoother than say cow manure. (I don't have a picture of this one. I didn't want to touch my camera after messing with the horse poo.) All these things will compost in the soil to make a nutrient rich food source for the vegetable plants.

Here's the finished bed, it lookes a lot like it did before I started. You´d never know all that good stuff is under the soil.

It took me a week to do the bed in front of my house. I was lazy and generally only worked a couple hours a day, or not at all. However, I got to talk about the different stuff that goes into it with the neighbors and they could see it develop. After I finished it, I had two different women tell me they would like a garden of their own. So on Decemeber 27th, Jeff and I helped Jorge and Jeni make a huge double dig bed near their house. It has all been planted with tomatos. I'm really curious how well double digging will work, as I've never seen one in action before. Hopefully, it works well because I've got plans with another woman and a care taker at Earth Train to make double dig beds with them. It will be a grand old time.
Here's my bed a week later with lettuce seedlings and tomatos coming up. The squash has not come up, I think I got some dud seeds. The bright yellow things are oil containers cut in half to make a funnel. I stick the funnel into the ground and fill it with water so the water seeps out. The water goes more deeply into the soil, so it all just doesn't run off.

Roads, Mannequins, Drawings and Zeuses.

It rained for four days and four nights and I built one tenth of a really big boat.... That was a joke. This was not a matter of steady light showers. For the four days before Christmas we received pounding, pouring, road obliterating water. There was a landslide and we didn't see a car for three weeks. That is not a joke.
Last Thursday, six days ago we were planing on visiting the city, we were invited to spend some time with 30 or so college students instead. They were in our area with an organization that is new to Panama, named Business Brigades. The students represented large clubs at different colleges that plan to work with and invest small capitol in micro businesses. Their leader has been working in Honduras which is rumored to have bad roads. He said our road is the worst he has seen, and he didn't see it when it was wet. One of their trucks got stuck in the middle of a river on the way up. The same spot, in the same river, that our chiva got stuck in the one time we tried to ride it to the community where Business Brigades stayed.

This is some random chiva that was at our stop while we were waiting for our chiva. Just so you know what one looks like.

Our chiva is somewhat older and more broken down looking. It can hold about 20 people and some fighting cocks, and puppies, and gas tanks, and an amazing verity of things. When it is really full, people ride on top and hang off the back.

This is the truck of a friend who was nice enough to bring up our stove, mattress and two weeks of food for us. This was right after Thanksgiving. He got stuck, but eventually made it out. Hooray!
In the last week we have had wonderful weather and it only rains a little bit every day, so the road is drying out and the transports come almost everyday. When it is not raining the climate is nearly perfect and I can't help but marvel at the paradise we are lucky enough to be living in. There was a rainbow on my birthday.

In Albrooke Mall many of the stores have mannequins and a fair number have impossible, gravity defying, ginormous, ... er earlobes. Apparently taking pictures is not allowed in the stores. One of the guards appeared and said, "No cameras." And I said, "but look it's funny," as I tried to show him the picture on the camera. He did not crack a smile. So we took the second one outside through the display window and took off when a different guard started walking our way.

I did a series of 11 drawings for a Peace Corp manual. Here are a few:

Now Zeus:

Peaceful reading Zeus.

Zeus bravo.

Foy touches his tongue when he does this and I tell her not to. Its not his fault. We all look dumb sometimes.

Zeus helping me pack. Or maybe he just doesn't want to get left behind.

Toilet Cat

We will spend two years in this beautiful country and come back with a bunch of cat pictures.

Day 247 Volunteer Service - Our House Tour

So we have offically been in our house for two months (we rent). Jeff has been been busy cutting in new windows, building a shower, hanging hammocks, making benches, - you know the usual.
It is hard to take a picture of our house because we have a big cashew tree in the front yard. Imagine a house a kid would draw. One door, two windows, sloping roof. Now imagine the house crayola green and draw a bright crayon blue fence all the way around. Now put a big tree in the front yard to the left. That's our house.

We have a house with one big room for a bedroom/kitchen. There is a second room that will become the guest bedroom as well as the tool room, but right now it is just storage. Here's our bedroom. The mosquito net is a hammock for Zues the cat. We don't let him sleep with us, so at night he climbs up the net and sleeps looking down on us. The bed frame and bench came with the house. We were very lucky we got a lot of furniture from the owners.

This is our closet. In the big main room of our house, one corner has a loft over it where a bunch of stuff of the owner's is stored. The area underneath Jeff hung poles to hang clothes on. This area also has the bookshelve that I made. Jeff says he's going to make a new one all out of wood. I think this works just fine. The kitchen is really fancy. I have a stove with oven, most people just have gas burners on a table. Also, Jeff has made a window that folds out of the wall and makes a countertop on one side. One of the highlights of the kitchen is the extensive collection of spices in little red jars that I have aquired. They make cooking so much tastier. The two big tupperware containers were a stroke of luck. We happened to choose two containers with wheels, so they roll in and out from under the shelves with ease. Jeff also built a handy little counter top above the gas tanks. That's what Zues the cat is sitting on in the photo.
This is how our porch looked before. Notice the exposed rebar and unsitely planks of wood that are just slapped up there. Here is our porch now. Notice the nice bench seating/fence as well as the hammock. Also, the friendly plants in coconuts that soften the roof support beams. The window the hammock hangs through is also new. Those fabulous wooden rocking chairs - yeah they came with the house.
This is the before picture of the side porch. We do most of our living on the this side. The dinner table, sink and clothes lines are all here as well as the side door to the kitchen. Just off the side of the house is the fagon (raised cookfire table) which shares a roof with the shower.
Here is the side porch after. Isn't it inviting?

There's more to our house, but that will have to wait for the next post.