I know it is election time back home and we are missing the whole glorious debacle. However we will still be in Panama for their 2009 election. Every 5 years all the political positions in the Panamanian government turn over at once. Take that continuity. Last Sunday our tiny community hosted a soccer game, was visited by a medical clinic and a presidential candidate.Ricardo Martinelli is a very rich businessman, so he has the money to run an effective campaign.

He also has the money to visit us in a helicopter. I talked with him briefly explaining what we are doing in town. He had heard of Peace Corps, and informed me. “It is good of you to give your time. These people have nothing. God will repay you.” I wanted to tell him not to knock our town, but I kept it to myself. In comparison to other rural communities ours is fairly wealthy.
Three days later another helicopter landed in the soccer field, and I wondered why Martinelli had returned. It was actually the phone company and they had come to collect the coins from the three public phones in the area. We have been told that they come in a helicopter to collect the change, but we did not believe. I told one of the men that it is not worth using a helicopter to collect so little money. He said that he didn't pay for the helicopter and that the phone company does not own the helicopter they only rented it... for $1300 per hour. I asked why they did not come in a truck, and he said, “You can get here in a truck?”

Ornamental Plants Project

So here is what's going on with the Ornamental Plants Project in El Valle de Madroño. Here's some photos of what's been going on.

The Group: We now have 10 participants. Two are new women who wanted to join. That's exciting. All of them live in El Valle.

Buying Pots:
De Ornamental Plants Project
With the help of Rolando from EarthTrain and the pickup truck with it's fancy new bed, pots were bought on August 14th and brought up to El Valle. We paid around $150 for 24 pots. The money used was GBBs.

Pots Growing:
De Ornamental Plants Project

The original eight members of our group each have 3 pots. Two that are urn shaped and one that is a bowl shape. They have been asked to plant them with a mix of three attractive plants. Jeff and I distributed one pot to each and when they were planted up, with enough plant material and with good soil we gave them their next two pots. Currently there are four pots that look good and should be ready soonish. I am keeping my fingers crossed that more will be ready by the end of December. We are asking the women to start with more plant material and give the plants more sunlight to help them grow faster.

Flower Beds:
De Ornamental Plants Project
The double dig beds that our lovely Texans built are being used in various ways and to different success. The school's is being used the way we intended and with the help of the kids, Foy and Jeff have been weeding and adding new plants. Some of the beds have been commandeered to grow culantro or tomatoes. Some are being used for their composted soil. You should see the soil! There are two layers about two inches thick each of dark black, organic rich soil. Obviously the idea of composting directly in the bed works.

De Ornamental Plants Project
Sophia and Andri came up to El Valle on August 25th and had a meeting with the group. A demonstration on how to plant up the pots and how they should look was given. Along with an explication of how GBB works and how the selling of the pots will hopefully work.

Article Published and Blog: I write a column on being a Peace Corps Volunteer in Panama and one of them was on the Ornamental Plant Project! So you got a little bit of press in Iowa. Our blog also now has a tag called "Ornamental Plants Project" with information about what's going on.

Future Plans: Andri and Sophia are planning a return to El Valle in November or December to meet with the group again and prepare for the arrival of the Texans.

Nathan would like a small group of the participants to come to Casco Viejo and help with the preparation of the gallery. Hopefully this will clear up some of the questions about where the plants will be sold and give the women a since of ownership. The date is looking to be in December.

The Brigade of Texans will becoming to Panama over their winter break January 10-17.

Can Chimneys for Estufa Loranas

Mud, sand, horse poo, everything you need for an Estufa Loranas is free, accept the chimney. Without this last vital piece the health benefit of diverted smoke is lost, yet frequently estufas go unfinished. The can chimney is an easy and mostly free solution.Collect larger KLIM type cans. The small size is not wide enough to work well as a chimney.
Start by cutting the bottoms into quarters with a machete. Continue cutting the bottom into 16 slices. This process is easier with a tin snips. You can find a decent tin snips in most feraterias for 5 - 8 dollars.
One at a time bend out the slices and cut them off about an inch from the edge to make tabs. On a KLIM can the first of the concentric rings pressed into the bottom is a good guide.
To connect the cans hold one on top of the other and bend the 16 tabs of the top can around the lip of the bottom can. Start by bending tabs on opposite sides to keep the cans from coming out of alignment. It is easier to avoid cuts if you reach down through the top instead of up through sharp edges of the bottom.
The chimney can be attached to the existing stove using a 3:1 mixture of powered clay to cement. Dig an inch or two into the surface stove to give the chimney an indentation to sit in. Pack the cement mixture in around the bottom end of the chimney. Secure the upper part of the chimney to the structure above the estufa. This will keep the chimney from being knocked out of place.

Over time heat makes the cans brittle, but families should have plenty of time to collect enough cans for a new chimney well before the necessity arises.


Day 512 - Volunteer Service - Article 15

This article was published in the Ames Tribune October 10, 2008.

Improvements for rural Panamanians
We made an Estufa Lorena. Lorena is a combination of the words lodo (mud) and arena (sand). It is a stove of mud and sand shaped like a box with an opening to put in fire wood with a burner above that and then a chimney.

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 every day. 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. It's much better for the women's health. Other people have expressed interest and we have made a list of things that must be collected before starting.
We've also worked with CREA volunteers on a burn barrel for plastics. The volunteers felt, and rightly so, that the women shouldn't be burning plastic wrappers, sacks and especially pesticide containers on their cook fires or in their yards. They found plans for a special burn barrel with a chimney. They found the two big pieces they needed - a metal barrel and a sheet of expanded metal as litter. We worked with the two volunteers and five Panamanians to cut the expanded metal to fit in the barrel as a shelf for the plastic.
Foy and Jeff's Peace Corps assignment is from May 2007 to August 2009.


Day 505 - Volunteer Service - Article 14

This article appeared in the Ames Tribune Newspaper on October 3, 2008.

Guest editorial: Becoming tourists when relatives come to visit

My brother Steven and his girlfriend came to visit. I have been looking forward to this since the tickets were booked months ago. We spent the first five days at our home and hung out with the locals in Panama City. We walked down to the river to collect bananas and upriver to the waterfall. We hiked part of the distance to the source of our aqueduct.

For the second half of their visit, we headed to Santa Catalina. To break up the trip, we stayed one night in Santa Clara. We happened to be traveling on Fathers' Day. It turns out only Carnival has longer lines for buses headed out of Panama City. All the people who live and work in the city return home to visit their fathers in the country.
With some difficultly, we worked our way to Santa Catalina the next day. We arrived late and stayed in the first hotel we could find with space. The next day, we moved to a picturesque cabaña right on the beach. We rented a long board and took turns catching waves. I was told by a surfer, "You can catch a ripple in a toilet with a long board." With the combination of a long board and steady waves we can now all say, "I have surfed."
Toward the end of the day, a group of four strangers asked if we wanted to share the cost and go to Isla Coiba the following day. We had been looking for more people for this same reason, so we took advantage of this serendipity. Isla Coiba, the largest island off the cost of Panama, is part of an even larger national park.

This experience was the highlight of our trip. We snorkeled around the smaller island of Granito de Oro inside the park and we all came out of the water grinning and awestruck. It was like swimming in an aquarium. There were sea turtles, sharks, an octopus, a giant ray, eels and uncountable fish of every color.
I doubt we'll ever snorkel in a place that beautiful again.
(Foy: We had a marvelous snorkeling experience swimming with sea turtles. And a more terrifying experience snorkeling with sharks. Granted, they were only 4 feet long and, according to the locals, not dangerous, but still I was just a few feet from real live sharks.)
We have done more interesting things in the last week than we did on our honeymoon in the Dominican Republic. Speaking Spanish and knowing our way around helps a bit.
We are now back in the Panama City, and it occurs to me that the city is very good for a short list of things: restaurants, shopping, movies, ice cream, hot showers, history and the Canal. We have exhausted all these options save the last two in one and a half days.
Foy and I never have enough time to get work done in the city, but we run out of touristy things to do pretty quickly.

Foy and Jeff 's Peace Corps assignment is from May 2007 to August 2009.

Day 505 - Volunteer Service - Seeders

Seeders is a program with in Peace Corps Panama that collects, distributes and stores seeds for volunteers. Megen, Tom, Jeff and I are the Seeders commity. We meet once every four months to put clean, and organize the seed fridge at the Peace Corps office. Then we sort the seeds into small packets and put the packets in tackel boxes. There is one tackel box for each of the 9 regions in Panama. The boxes are taken to each regional meeting and volunteers may take the seeds they need for their reforestation, agriculture or home garden projects.

In addition to the seeds we are putting together information on seed saving, collecting, and banking, as well as general instructions for growing vegetables and trees. This information is in booklet form as well as on PeaceCorpsWiki.org

Day 505 - Volunteer Service - Bocas Del Toro

Adam and Emily came to visit us from September 16th to October 2nd. We had a great time showing them around our Peace Corps community, traveling to Bocas del Toro and enjoying Panama City. Here's the photos.

Boat Tours:
We took two boat tours. One was arranged by a fellow vacationer and he invited us along. It was a private boat. It was $10 per person for an all day deal. We used the hotel's equipment for snorkeling, We visited:

  • Bird Island - Beautiful, there were three different kinds of Boobies and pica rojas.
  • Starfish beach - big starfish, lots of them, but not much else
  • Snorkeled near Smithsonian - the mangroves were amazing places to snorkel, sometimes there were so many fish you couldn't see.

The second one was through a boat rental owned by a Minnesotan couple. $20 a per person and included towels, a cooler, bottled water and all the snorkel gear. We visited:

  • Dolphin Cove - we saw two dolphins, but there were lots of tourist boats trying to get close and ti felt like we were exploiting the poor dolphins.
  • Coral Cay - Nice snorkeling, no big fish, but lots of coral
  • Lunch - we packed in our own
  • Hospital Point - More snorkeling more fish than Coral cay, but not that many

We stayed at the Mar Vista for $55 a night per couple. They were nice, hot water, good beds. Breakfast came with.


  • Ohm - Indian food, decent, a little pricey, not good for breakfast
  • El Ultimo Refugio - good, they have a new menu every day, good desserts, interesting fusion food
  • Peruvian - I don't remember the name, but it was disappointing
  • Sara's - home of killin' me man sauce, it was a nice place for lunch.
  • El Pecadors - I hear is closing down, but it was wonderful, go if you get the chance
  • 9 Degrees - In the Tropical Market, Delicious but expensive, go for lunch.
  • Super Gourmet - really a market not a restaurant, but a good place to buy food for day trips

Getting There and Back: We took the overnight from Panama City. It leaves at 8:00pm, cost $26 per person and arrives at 6:00am in Mirante. From Mirante take the water ferry over to Bocas $4. The way back the bus leaves around 7:00pm, and costs the same. You arrive in Panama around 6:00am.