2.08.2008

Day 178 - Volunteer Service - Articles 2 and 3

My lovely mother has been typing up excerpts from the long hand written letters I send home. Two of them were recently published in the Ames Tribune.

This article appeared in the Ames Tribune Newspaper on February 8th, 2008.

Guest column: The 8-year-old child of Panama
Foy and Jeff are Peace Corps volunteers in central Panama, some 40 miles northeast of Panama City. They live in El Valle in the Province of Panama. The town of about 50 people has no electricity. Foy and Jeff are 1999 graduates of Ames High School and 2003 graduates of Iowa State University. Their Peace Corps assignment is from May 2007 to Aug. 2009.
Periodically, when they can send them, Foy and Jeff will report of their experiences in The Tribune. The newspaper is glad to bring Ames readers a glimpse of life in another corner of the world. This message comes from late December.

Dec. 20
Jesús is always here. He's 8 years old and the most interesting part of his day is visiting our house. He's already been here twice today and it is just after lunch. School has let out for the summer. Summer is December through March. Here's Jesus with his dad.

Jeff is really good with him. He sits and reads with him. We have a couple of Spanish kids books, and he can't get enough of them. He'll even sit and read aloud to himself. He loves to ask questions and repeat our answers and quiz us about English words. The fact someone is paying attention to him is novel.
Here, parenting is done with loving neglect. Kids are pretty much ignored by their parents. When we meet new people, they never introduce their children unless we ask. Kids have no responsibilities except to go to school, and if they don't feel like it, they often don't go. It is amazing they grow up into good adults. I guess they just learn lessons the hard way. They learn the cat will scratch when picked up by his tail, the stove is hot and dropped glasses break into pointy shards when knocked onto concrete. It is just one of the many cultural differences.
Dec. 25
Earlier I had talked to Jesús about Christmas traditions and how in the United States we hang a stocking by the chimney, and Santa Claus will visit during the night and leave candy if you are good and coal if you are bad. There are no chimneys here so we put one of his socks on the clothes line. I conspired with his mother and during the night she put the candy that I gave her in his stocking. I am pretty sure that 8-year-old Jesús believes Santa visited him.
Dec. 27
Jesús lost a tooth this week. I asked him what he did with his tooth. He threw it on the roof. Apparently, the tooth fairy equivalent here is Ratoncito. After asking around, I discovered every house has a Ratoncito. He's basically a little mouse with great big ears that he uses to fly, Dumbo style. They say he's kind of a burnt-orange
color and only comes out at night.
When you lose a tooth you sing this song and throw the tooth on the roof. "Ratoncito, Ratoncito take my little tooth and leave me a new big tooth." This rhymes in Spanish. After their explanation, I told them that in the United States, the tooth fairy takes your tooth from under your pillow and leaves a gift. The locals thought this was hilarious and stupid. Like flying mice make perfect sense.
This article appeared in the Ames Tribune Newspaper on February 1, 2008.
Some nine miles in three hours
Foy and Jeff are Peace Corps volunteers in central Panama, 40 miles northeast of Panama City. They live in El Valle in the Province of Panama. The town of about 50 people has no electricity. Foy and Jeff are 1999 graduates of Ames High School and 2003 graduates of Iowa State University. Their Peace Corps assignment is from May 2007 to August 2009.

Periodically, when they can send them, Foy and jeff will report of their experiences in The Tribune. The newspaper is glad to bring Ames readers a glimpse of life in another corner of the world. This message comes from mid-December.
Anywhere in the United States, and we would have been arrested by now. Or at least asked to move on; no loitering allowed. But this is Panama, and the businesses profit from the people esperar (waiting/expecting, they are the same word in Spanish) for some sort of transportation to arrive.
We just found out Javier's chiva is broken and we hope that the 15 to 20 people waiting here will be able to convince someone to take a group of us up towards El Valle. Most of us have been loitering here since 8 a.m. It is now 10 a.m.
We are entering the dry season, the time of planting. At times between Thanksgiving and Christmas, no transportation reached El Valle. When a transport gets stuck in mud, everyone gets out. The women walk up the hill with the children, and the men push the truck out. Sometimes, pushing isn't enough. Sometimes, the truck has sunk deep into the mud and made ruts. Then the men pile stones or logs or whatever is handy under the wheels and push.
(A day later) Jeff and I are now safely back in El Valle. We mooched a ride
with some people who hired a private car. It really wasn't mooching as we paid
$5 each, and the others paid $2 to $4, as they could afford, per person. Without
us, I doubt they could have gotten together the $40 needed to convince the
driver to go up. (There were 12 adults and two babies.) The car did go all the
way up to El Valle; we were the only passengers left.
On the way up, we passed at least eight guys with sackos of cilantro (a sacko is a 100-pound rice bag which is quite big and heavy filled with cilantro). All were waiting for rides down into Chepo. If you consider gas costs about $15 to run the car up and back and the driver made $40 each way, he nets about $65, about $12 per hour. The average laborer makes $6 per day. It is profitable to be a chiva driver in our valley.
I would like to write a brief description of the vehicle that brought us up. The overall appearance is a really old, beat-up '70s style SUV. The driver and front passenger sit in torn fake leather bucket seats repaired with black electrical tape. Behind these seats is a bench of equally poor repair and then a large cargo area in back. This vehicle can hold three up front, four adults and a baby on the bench seat and five grown men in the back perched on top of all the groceries, gas tanks and sacks of rice.
The dashboard is a series of empty sockets where things like a radio and gas
gauge used to be. To cover up or maybe just distract from the gaping holes, gold
outlined stickers of Winnie the Pooh and Jesus on the cross have been applied to
the sun visors and steering wheel.
The gas gauge is irrelevant anyway because the gas tank rusted out years ago and has been replaced by a closed plastic tub that sits on the floor on the front passenger side. A tube runs through the floor to supply gas to the engine. To fill the tank, the hose at the gas station is passed through the window, the lid is taken off the tub and the gas sloshes in at the feet of the mother with her 4-month old baby. Obviously, there are no enforced vehicle road worthiness rules in these parts.
As long as I am not seated next to the gas tub or clinging to the tailgate, I consider myself in a decent vehicle and am only too happy to spend $5 to get myself and my groceries into El Valle.

Foy and Jeff are Peace Corps volunteers in central Panama, some 40 miles northeast of Panama City. They live in a town of about 50 people that has no electricity. Their Peace Corps assignment is from May 2007 to Aug. 2009.

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