Rabid Panda?

Less than a year remains of our Peace Corps service. When we arrived in DC for staging in May '07 they had a list of 34 names. Only 32 applicants showed up. Two volunteers left during training, two more right after we went to our separate sites, and a married couple went home this April to have their first child. For those of you who can't subtract that leaves 28 and 20 of us made it to Isla Grande to celebrate.
To make the trip interesting there was a transportation strike in Colon (the city on the north end of The Canal). We were almost the last to get there, the first to arrive were eventually taken by the police to headquarters. The amazingly helpful officers then provided a private 30 passenger bus and driver gratis. Our Peace Corps security officer is more than effective and I suspect the Colon police are still shaken up from the last interaction they had with her.

By the time we got to Colon all this was done and we got off our bus to try and flag down a taxi. Due to the strike all the taxi drivers avoided us like brujas. (witch or evil spirit) Foy caught the eye of an ambulance driver who took pity on the stranded gringos and gave us a lift to our friends. That's right Foy hitched an ambulance.

All that remained was an easy ride to port and a short bit by boat to Isla Grande.
The hazy central one is Isla Grande from shore at 6:00 am, as we waited for the bus back to Colon.

We had a great time with our group but the accommodations were not amazing especially the second day when the power went out. There is a nicer resort on the other side of the island. Foy and I hiked over for a good but rather expensive dinner. On the way Foy walked within six inches of a fur-de-lance (very poisonous and aggressive snake). I saw it sitting along the trail just as she was walking past. Luckily it seemed sick or very sleepy and quite uninterested in Foy's lovely ankle.

We are currently in Panama City for our one year medical exams. While we were waiting in the office Marcela, our embassy family hostess, called saying that her neighbor had met my godmother's sister. She gave me the number of an embassy nurse who was having lunch with said sister. I called and Foy and I ended up have a pleasant dinner with Jim and Jan Irene. That's networking!
Jim and Jan Irene on their 7th floor balcony.

I think the camera lens must have fogged up going from the AC to the humid air so the picture is poor. You can see the roof of the Peace Corps office and The Canal in the background. They have just moved to Panama and we shared their first meal in their fine apartment.

Foy has been working on the Volunteer Cookbook. When she finishes it Gender And Development (GAD) an organization within PC will sell it as a fund raiser.

I set up a Panamanian themed still life to paint for the cover.
Foy is aiming to finish the cook book in time to sell it at the volunteer Thanksgiving celebration.

Now for a non sequitur.

My mother sent me an email with pictures of unstoppably cute pandas. If people could have those as pets they would be universally popular. They would be crammed into tiny apartments. We would have feral populations of street pandas that people set "free" when they got too big to care for. I know they are called gentle giants but their near genetic relatives are raccoons. Raccoons can get rabies. That's the next Cujo. A rabid giant panda.
We'll keep Zeus.


What to Wear in Panama

We have now lived in Panama a year and I think I can answer the question ¨What to wear in Panama?¨with actual experience rather than Internet speculation. Also Jamie is visiting at the beginning of September and Adam and Emily are comming at the end. So this can give you some ideas of how to pack.

Rural Panama

Out in the campo clothing is more for decency´s sake than anything else. We live in a small rural Latina community that has little money to spend on clothes.

Women wear shorts or skirts of light weight material. These are usually accompanied by tank tops or tube tops. For footwear flip-flops, also known as chancletas, are universal for men and women. Although I have noticed the younger women have been wearing a knock-off versions of Crocs. You will never see leather shoes in the campo, they just mold. For working both men and women wear black rubber uninsulated boots. Clothes do not need to match, and holes and stains are acceptable. For women makeup should not be worn. Our women neighbors think that only prostitutes wear makeup. After having the "only bad women wear makeup" conversation. One of the moms turned and asked me if I wore makeup and I had to admit I did own and wear makeup. But I quickly explained, ¨I only wear it in the city. In the USA wearing makeup is the custom for all women,¨ in hopes of negating any ideas about me.

Men wear shorts or pants often with out a shirt for working. Although when visiting your neighbors it is etiquette to wear a shirt. Jeff has been living in a pair of board shorts, they dry quickly and are light weight. Younger men tend to favor t-shirts while older men favor button up shirts called guayaberas that are made of light weight materials and have four pockets on the front. Straw hats are worn for sun protection by the older men, but the younger favor ball caps. Especially those with a NY logo. The traditional shoe is a cutarra which is a woven leather sandal.

Panama City

In Panama City the clothing is more a la moda.

Women wear skin tight pants usually jeans, with tight bright colored tops. Long pants are generally forgone in favor of capris or high-water length. Skirts are acceptable, but shorts are not common. It rains often and puddles are frequent. Don't bother to bring a rain jacket, it is just too hot. An umbrella is a good alternative. Older women often wear matching shirt pant sets made from linen. High heeled sandals tend to be the most common foot wear although you will also see dressier flip flops and every now and then tennis shoes. Fancy pedicures are often displayed peeping out of the sandals. Makeup and jewelery are bright and accessorized and all the better if they involve rhinestones. A little side note, bras sold in Panama push up and together for maximum cleavage and pants are really tight and also seem to have a lifting qualitiy to show off shapely rear ends, even at the expense of having a muffin top.

Men wear pants and nice shirts in The City. Jeans with fancy embroidered back pockets, with nice trendy t-shirts. Name brand sports shoes are popular as well. Older men favor slacks with button-ups or polos, generally short sleeves. The shoes are almost always nicer leather dress shoes. For any guy carrying a backpack or messanger bag is a convient way to go. Most people do not have cars and they have to take everything on the public bus system.

As far as going out at night in the city. Men should be wearing collared shirts with dress shoes, and women can wear a nicer outfit or dress with heals. Keep in mind that many of the streets and side walks are uneven, making stilettos a bit tricky. I also usually bring along a scarf or light sweater because restaurants and theaters can be chilly. Makeup is perfectly acceptable and often very bright. Cleavage is the most common accessory for the ladies.

What's in yer pickup?

We are in route to our one-year-here celebration, at Isla Grande. First we need to get one of the youths from our community to a sex-ed camp. He is standing behind me right now watching me type. We will drop him off tomorrow.

The transportation from home to the real road can be dodgy. This time we came out in a extended cab pickup not the regular chiva. This is the first time I have ever seen people chose not to get on any vehicle because it was too full. We had:

20 people (5 children),
4 70lb sacks of culantro (each about the size of a large duffel bag),
2 propane tanks,
1 five gallon gas tank,
10 or more backpack type bags of varying sizes, and
1 puppy.

It must be scorpion season. I have now been stung 5 times and Foy just got her first. I used to relocate the bichos (a fun word for pests) but after receiving enough pain from them they now receive the flat of the machete from me. Yesterday I smash-Oed two. The last time I got stung while helping/demonstrating basic carpentry. I was commenting loudly in English so as not to offend. To be helpful a young man squashed the offending arachnid and rubbed the guts on my stung finger. The young man's mother made me a bitter tea of cedrone (a tree, I believe) to help with the pain. I don't think one helped any more than the other but it was a cultural experience.

This is our host father and me making a estufa lorana, or mud stove.

It is now finished and functional. Other people have expressed interest and I have made a list of things that must be collected before starting. Why make a mud stove when most people have burners that run off propane tanks? Because, many of them still use open cook fires almost everyday. The mud stove has an environmental and a health benefit. It uses about one third the wood of an open fire and the smoke is funneled out the chimney instead of being breathed.

Two idle thoughts that do not connect to anything.

Both of my grandfathers were in WWII. Back home, one ran a service station and the other had a dairy and farmed 120 acres. I have always been proud of them but they didn't usually come up in conversation. In the past year I have frequently called up the Spanish translations of ¨Yes, both my grandfathers were in WWII.¨and ¨My grandfather was a farmer.¨ Our grandparents led lives quite similar to our neighbors here in Panama, and it gives me an credibility boost to say, ¨My grandfather grew corn.¨

Foy and I were walking through the jungle in silence having used up interesting conversation in the first two hours of hiking. I finished this train of thought and related it to Foy. Peace Corps is a way of putting off real life. We finished school and instead of getting real jobs we are here in tropical Panama. But what is real life? Get a job, pay off school loans, save money, but people are always looking forward to vacations. And where do people go on vacations? Frequently to tropical locals. Maybe Peace Corps is less putting off, and more of a shortcut to real life.