Day 380 - Volunteer Service - Jorlenis' Birthday Party

It was Jorlenis' first birthday party. The quintessential Panamanian Cupliaños. We were the official photographers for the event. So we'll show give you a play by play.

The things you need for a birthday party are a cake and a piñata. And of course, a really cute Birthday Girl. The Birthday Girl gets the first swing at the Piñata. The Piñata was as big as she is.
The piñatas are full of more than just candy, also confetti and flour. Once the piñata has been broken open there is a mad scramble by the kids and teenages, and some of the adults. I don't envy their mothers and wives who have to hand wash that flour out of their clothes. After the piñata a dinner of arroz con pollo (chicken fried rice) is served with a potato salad that is bright pink because they boil beets in with the potatos and dice them into the salad.

During the whole day the grandfather shared out beers, so the male population was less than sober. Women don't drink in the country, at least not in our village. Men from all over came to partake in the free beers. They don't participate other than to down beers as fast as they can.
Jeff was accosted by one of these guys. The drunk guy said to Jeff, ¨You have learned a lot about Panama, but I haven't learned anything about your culture.¨ Never mind Jeff had never seen this guy before. So Jeff said, ¨At a party for a one-year old in the United States, I wouldn't drink a lot of beer.¨ The guy told Jeff that he hadn't learned anything about Panama and some incoherent ranting. I saw this from across the room. I was a little worried the guy might take a swing at Jeff, but Jeff walked away he sat down and asked for another beer.

While the men work on getting drunk the kids play games on the other side of the porch. Here's Jesus with his cousin. That's fake money by the way.


Day 376 - Volunteer Service - Article 5

Students, faculty visit Panama

Jeff writes: March 8 two students from McGill University in Montreal came to stay in our house for several days. They are working with Conservation through Research Education and Action, an environmental nonprofit organization working to save tropical ecosystems.

The students will be in Panama five months and are first gathering information to write papers about the spice, culantro, (similar in flavor to cilantro, not a misspelling). Since every man over the age of 12 in our little community raises at least a bit of culantro, this is a good place to be asking such questions.

Our community is small, up to 60 people if you count the suburbs, but only about 26 people within the city limits. We introduced the students to our neighbors and stayed with them the first night, then had to leave to meet 32 University of Texas, Austin students. They were from Global Business Brigades, an international program whose mission is to empower students and professionals to develop micro-enterprise solutions that strengthen communities in developing nations.

We left the McGill students in our house and spent the next two nights with the Texas students at Earth Train's headquarters. We helped give a presentation to the community. We had a good turnout. One of the little girls who came asked Foy if the students were movie stars. She was sure that one was an actress in Zorro, a popular Latin soap opera, because the student from Texas had red hair. Here's the group of Texans getting a quicky Spanish lesson.

The Texas students were working on an ornamental plants project. Foy has been providing suggestions because her degree is in horticulture, and she's worked at several major public gardens in the United States. The students completed seven double-dig beds for families and one for the school (picture left) to grow ornamental plants. We had to leave the Texas group to attend the Peace Corps All Volunteer Conference, but when we met them in Panama City, they were in high spirits and had enjoyed their time. After dinner with them, we went to a live performance of what the club hosting it described as symphony reggae.

Foy writes: My part in the ornamental plants project is to find local women who will participate. They will raise plants to use in micro-gardens. These mini-jungles will be sold in natural pots promoting and educating about the Rio Madroño Valley. The natural pots could be the fruit from the totuma or calabash tree. Natives use these to make bowls and spoons and some paint birds and flowers on them to be used as wall hangings. We've cut some totumas in half and drilled three holes to thread string to hang them. We need to let them dry before putting plants in but they look good so far. The Brigades group needs to help the women determine where to sell them and the price.

The culantro growers project is much more up in the air. When I asked a couple of guys if they would take some gringos (the McGill students) out to their fincas (farms) and tell them about culantro, their first question was, 'Solteras?" (Single women?) Sigh.

On March 17, I met with Iowa State University professors Russ Mullen and Dawn Bratsch-Prince at the City of Knowledge, an international complex for education, research and innovation located on the former Fort Clayton military base. A group of Iowa State students will come to Panama this summer on an agronomy and photography travel study course. I gave the two suggestions for places to visit and contact names. Here's the ISU group visiting mangroves.

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.



At 11:00 am today the one transport per day passed by our house. At 11:30 am a young woman in our community told us we had a call at the pay phone. The call was to inform us that Peace Corps is evacuating all volunteers East of Panama City. Now, before my mother dies of worry, let me make clear that it is ONLY A TEST evacuation.

We had a slim chance to catch the transport at an intersection about half an hour walk from our house so we started throwing stuff into our backpacks. In ten minutes we packed, locked down the house, Foy threw out the bread dough that was rising (it hurts me to lose fresh bread), I distracted the cat with some kibbles, and we made good our escape. We missed our ride by only minutes. Luckily we only walked two of the four hours to the road, then a private car came by and we caught a ride to the inter-americana. The first part is the easy half, less steep.

We usually make our way to the PC office in Panama City once per month. We were here less than a week ago. Also, because of our hasty packing and lack of planing time we don't have our usual array of things to get done in city. I understand that this exercise is necessary, but it sure ends up wasting a lot of our time.

On the positive side, all the volunteers that live in our region will be called in with as little to do. We will have a fun evening and PC will pay for our hotel tonight and the trip into the city.

In the office I put together this panorama from Stephen's site.
Stephen arrived in Panama with us as part of group 59. This is him naming the local landmarks from a hill top. His look and personality remind me of a blond Paul Hatten, for those of you who know Paul.


Day 365 - One Year in Service

It's true we have officially been in Panama one year.

Here's a quick over view of what we've done:
ISU students and Jeff at our fellow volunteer Stephen's site.

As a one year bonus, on the side bar we now have a slide show of our most current photos.