Day 463 - Volunteer Service - Article 9

This article appeared in the Ames Tribune Newspaper on August 22, 2008.

Guest editorial: Growing and selling ornamental plants

We met with Brigades leaders and Earth Train staff at Casa Arias in Panama City. Casa Arias is a huge residence, probably built in the late 1800s. It's all stone with a mahogany and marble staircase. Of course, all of this is in terrible disrepair.

The plan is to restore it. The bottom floor is being reconstructed into two galleries, store spaces and offices. The second floor has a conference room and living space. The third floor has a penthouse rented by a real estate developer, a large roof balcony complete with a huge stone gazebo. There is even a partial fourth floor; it's a widow's walk that gives the most beautiful view of Panama Bay and the Bridge of the Americas. The house is in Casco Viejo, the colonial part of Panama City.

The gallery space will show art made in our valley. Our ornamental plants group will grow plants to sell out of the court yard that adjoins the gallery. It becomes apparent during our meeting that there is still a lot to be done. Our project work with college students in Business Brigades has been handed off to Erica who has been in Panama four days. Erica is the typical business student concerned mostly with efficiency and bare facts. This is the type of person Panama can destroy.

Prices, words and roads are all ephemeral. This is a country where you take the opportunities when available and roll with the punches. During the meeting we discuss logistics, food, transport, hiring extra drivers and house keepers. Eventually a schedule gets worked out.

Fortunately, Erica does adapt with grace and manages to run the Brigade [of 30 some Univerisity of Texas Auston business students] with more efficiency than Panama generally allows. Seven garden beds were dug for six different people and one school [by the Texas students].Jeff and I have had our first work day in the school. We planted flowers and some seeds. The students brought flowers from their own houses to share. No one has names for any of their flowers. It made it very hard to label them. "mystery purple flower No. 1."We have handed out plants and encouraged the women to plant their beds.

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.


  1. Foy and Jeff,
    You'll probably be surprised to know this is article #10 by my count. I think you missed 3 at end of May and in June. (Small wonder you would miss what's running in an Iowa newspaper.) And now another has run on Aug. 29. I think the editor has two more to run plus I've put 5 together today from your blog and your email about your first year. Hopefully they'll keep them running.

    Love, Mom

  2. I was thinking there were more articles, but the tribune archives don't show them. That's very strange. And the archives do not show the Aug. 29th one either. If you get a chance could you email me the text of the ones I am missing?