11.30.2008

Hermit crabs

These little guys reminded me of the multitude we saw at Santa Catalina.

11.29.2008

Photos of our Community


This is the family that lives above us. Abuela, Juan, Lidia, Iritsel and Carlos. For more photos of the people in our community visit this online album.

Day 563 - Volunteer Service - Accounting Workshop

Global Business Brigades is bringing a brigade of students from the University of Texas Austin. They will be dividing into three groups. One will becoming to El Valle to do a business accounting workshop for the women involved in plant sales.

The first day they will give a presentation about what GGB is and how they can help with the sale of plants. It will also give them a chance to meet and greet the community. Later that week GBB will give a basic accounting workshop. What follows are my notes on how to hold those two meetings.

Electricity
Be prepared to give both presentations with out electricity. El Valle does not have electricity and although EarthTrain's facilities do, some times they go out.

Dinamicas / Icebreakers
A good way to kick off your meetings, to loosen people up and create a more comfortable vibe is a dinamica. Jeff and I can help you pick one. Hombre, Tigre, Refle or Terimoto. Any little participatory game makes for a fun way to start.

Literacy
Many of the women have trouble reading. Either they can't read or they don't have glasses. They are embarrassed to admit they can't read. This is an indirect culture, so they will never tell you they can't read and write. Please use written word as little as possible. Instead try using symbols, images and photos to show your points. Also if using text, use a big font for those who's eyes are bad.

Math Proficiency
Most women can add and subtract. Many of them know how to use a calculator. The older women never attended school. The middle age only completed 6th grade. You will be dealing with smart women, who have never had the chance to learn formally. Consider using props or learning games to illustrate your points. Hands on experience will also get your point across.

Comprehension
Panama is an indirect culture, so rarely will someone say "I don't understand". They often won't say anything at all. I have found asking "Me explico bien? (Did I explain well?)" is a good way to ask. That way it is my fault I didn't explain something well. Not their fault they didn't understand. Also these women deal daily on a family level. When giving an example it is handy to relate it to their experiences. Buying food for the family, knowing how much their family eats to decided how much dinner to make could all be good ways to relate business accounting to their lives.

Refreshments
When having a meeting refreshments are expected. Cookies and Koolaid are fine, it might be fun to do something like popcorn because they have never had it. It could be a good opportunity to share culture, specifically Texan or just USA-ian. Or if you want some Panamanian culture we could arrange to have a Panamanian snack. Make sure you include that in your budget.

Invitations and Posters
Jeff and I will put up posters up for the "Introduction to GBB" meeting. Should we invited the whole town (as many as 30 people) or just the 9 women? I will also give out invitations to the "Basic Accounting" workshop to the woman who are participating. You should have 9 women for that seminar.

Random Information
Also be aware the women may bring their young children and babies to the meeting. This is perfectly acceptable in the culture. A little distracting maybe, but that's just the way it is. The time of day for meetings in the afternoon. The best times are between 2-5 pm. The women will still need to make dinner and lunch for their families, so be aware of that. School will be out for the year, so you can base out of the school and do your presentations there if you like. Our house is too small for a meeting, but you are welcome to come and use our house, bathroom, get a drink of water, or what ever when you are in El Valle.

Day 563 - Volunteer Service - Organizing Plant Sales

These are questions asked by the Texas students from Global Business Brigades that will becoming to Panama to help our local group of woman start a small plant sale business.

Will there be pots ready for sale in January? If so, will they be able to maintain them until March if we cannot transport in January?
There are pots that are looking good. If we don't have any big problems, you will have these ready to sell:
2 Bowls (1 Leonarda, 1 School) (out of a possible 8)
7 Urns (1 Leonarda, 2 School, 2 Sobieda, 2 Rosa) (out of a possible 16)

They can be maintained until January, no problem.

How long do the plants take to grow?
That's a good question. It depends on quality of soil, light, water and which plants and how big the plants they used were to start. The fastest we have done is one month. But there are some that are still not up to par after two months. Soil quality is something that we need to address. I will work on that before you guys come.

How many plants will be in each pot?

This is an example pot with Raya de Luna, Begonia y heirba buena.

I have asked the women for three, but some have more. I have seen as
many as seven in one pot. The instructions they were given we to have 3 plants 1 tall, 1 bushy, and 1 trailing (vining), and of those three at least one must have flowers. The others can be nice foliage.
How much does each pot cost?

Glazed Urns cost $5.00
Terracotta Bowls cost $4.00
The women have told they will probably earn $7-10 per pot. They have not had to pay for the cost of the pot. The money from GBB paid for the pots. I would like for them to start considering how to buy the pots themselves to make the system sustainable with out Earth Train, Peace Corps or GBB.

What kinds of plants will be growing?


This is a demonstration pot Sophia and I made at EarthTrain's Centro de Madrono.

There are many different combinations. They are not specifically wild plants of the jungle of the region. Many are domesticated species like coleus, jacob's ladder, moss rose, begonia, bromeliad. Some are plants collected locally like bromeliads, orchids and a trailing begonia. The pots have a combination of foliage and flowering plants. I only have one lady who is trying orchids. I kind of discouraged them from growing orchids, because they are so slow growing. I was also afraid they might start poaching them out of the jungle. Not every orchid in our jungle has nice flowers. Most orchids flower for a
day, or have really small flowers and are not appropiate. Nathan from EarthTrain would love for us to produce orchids though.

Do you think the women would prefer to set-up a cooperative for the plant sales?

It has been my experience that Panamanian culture does not work well in a cooperative. They work better in family groups. I think of this group as a "decentralized plant nursery". Each woman is in charge of her flowers and her pots. Although they will be sold as a group, they will receive the profits of their individual potted plants. This makes more work on the sale end, but it cuts down on the back stabbing that is prevalent in groups. It also rewards them on quality of their work. We need your help figuring out the best management system for them. I don't have anyone really stepping forward as a leader yet. What woul
d you all suggest?

Will they want to split profits evenly, or would they like a merit-based system?

So far, I have been considering a merit based system. Perhaps they receive a certain amount for the pot when it is selected to go to the gallery, and then an amount after their plant sells. Maybe a consignment system, where they receive 40% of the sale price only after the plant sells. This is a big question and one that needs to be an
swered. I don't know the best solution. I do know if they split the profits evenly, it will encourage slacking. Also we might set up one way to start for the first round of sales. Then when you guys come back next in March we can discuss and evaluate how it worked and alter it as necessary.

If you have any pictures of the plants they aregrowing, we would love to seem them.
There are some photos up in this gallery: Plantas Ornmentales.


These are the pots at the school. They are actually much fuller now.

Our digital cameral is crapping out. I don't know when we will have a working one again. So if I can get you pictures I will, but no promises.

11.14.2008

Day 547 - Volunteer Service - Article 17

This article was published in the Ames Tribune November 14, 2008.

The election's Panamanian angle By: Jeff

I do not know if either presidential candidate had any pro-Panama stances but I did run into two issues that swayed peoples' opinions. Early in the primaries a farmer asked me which candidate I supported. I was intrigued because at the time, I had not even bothered to learn who all was running.

Without prompting, he told me, "You must vote for the Panamanian."

I told him that a person born in Panama would not be permitted to run for president of the United States. He was adamant, and to my chagrin, he was right. John McCain's birth in the Canal Zone in Panama City, Panama, was hardly an issue. The area was U.S. soil at that time.

On election night, I walked to the pay phone and called my family to find out how the election was progressing. Barack Obama was ahead but it was too early for any certainty. To pass time, I walked over to a nearby porch were people were sitting around feeding the mosquitoes. I told them why I was trying to call home and one of them said in a loud confident voice, "Juan McCain will win!" Guessing, I said, "You want him to win because he is Panamanian?"

He said, "No, wait. Which one is black? I want the black one to win."

I eventually decided to go to bed and find out who won in the morning, but by the next day, the phone was not working (a distressingly common situation). That evening, the fickle phone was working again, and I was able to call a friend for details and the electoral vote results.

Race is an important issue in Panama, but skin color is not necessarily the distinguishing factor. There are "black" people (of African descent), but to be identified as black, you pretty much have to be 100 percent. The majority of Panamanians have skin darker than Obama, but would not be identified by themselves or others as black. They would be more like to say mestizo, Spanish, indigenous or just Panamanian.

On one occasion, I was told that if we have black people in the United States, there should be black people in the government. I pointed out Condoleezza Rice in an issue of Newsweek but the indignant response was, "She is obviously a chola; just look at her hair." (In Panama, chola or cholo refers to someone with indigenous blood. It is also a common nickname for anyone with straight black hair. It can be derogatory but is usually just a physical description.)

With the race over, I perceive slightly positive disinterest from Panamanians toward our president-elect. If the choice of the United States' president was up to my Panamanian neighbors, they may have decided based on a single, superficial, unimportant issue.

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 August 2009.

11.09.2008

Who would Panama pick?

I do not know if either presidential candidate had any pro-Panama stances but I did run into two issues that swayed peoples opinions.

Early in the primaries a farmer asked me which candidate I supported. I was intrigued because at the time I had not even bothered to learn who all was running. Without prompting he told me, "You must vote for the Panamanian".

I told him that a person born in Panama would not be permitted to run for President of the United States. He was adamant, and to my chagrin he was right. John McCain's birth in the Canal Zone in Panama City, Panama was hardly an issue, courts quickly ruled that the area counted as US soil. It would have been amusing irony if McCain, who defines himself by his service and patriotism, was ruled intelligible based on not being a native son.

The night of November 4th I walked to the pay phone and called my family to find out how the election was progressing. Barack Obama was ahead but it was too early for any certainty. To pass time I walked over to a nearby porch were people were sitting around feeding the mosquitoes. I told them why I was trying to call home and one of them said in a loud confident voice, "Juan McCain will win!" Guessing, I said, "You want him to win because he is Panamanian?" He said , "No, wait. Which one is black. I want the black one to win."

I eventually decided to go to bed and find out who won in the morning, but by the next day the phone was not working (a distressingly common situation). That evening the fickle phone was working again and I was able to call a friend for details and the electoral vote results.

Race is an important issue in Panama, but skin color is not necessarily the distinguishing factor. There are "black" people (of African decent), but to be identified as black you pretty much have to be 100%. The majority of Panamanians have skin darker than Obama, but would not be identified by themselves or others as black. They would be more like to say mestiso, Spanish, indigenious or just Panamanian.

On one occasion I was told that if we have black people in the United States there should be black people in the government. I pointed out Condoleeza Rice in an issue of Newsweek but the indignant response was, "She is obviously a chola, just look at her hair". (In Panama chola or cholo refers to someone with indigenous blood. It is also a common nick name for anyone with straight black hair. It can be derogatory but is usually just a physical description.)

With the race over I perceive slightly positive disinterest from Panamanians towards our powerfully polarizing presidential elect. If the choice of the United States' president was up to my Panamanian neighbors, they would have decided based on a single, superficial, unimportant issue. Making them unfortunately similar to many American voters.

Day 542 - Volunteer Service - Profiles of the Women of El Valle de Madroño

The students of Global Business Brigades University of Texas Austin Club, are gearing up for their trip to our community this January. They will be helping the women of El Valle launch a small business. Selling mixed pots of flowers to a gallery in Panama City.

EarthTrain, an NGO, with a center above us in San Jose, also has a building in Casco Viejo in Panama City. They are renovating the first floor of this building to be a Artes Naturala, a gallery show casing art made in the Mamoní Valley. Our group of women will be selling pots of mixed flowers from the courtyard a joining the gallery.

The Texas business students will be doing market research, getting the gallery ready to open and giving business tutorials to our women in El Valle.


Part of the marketing of these flowers will be the story. The story of the Mamoní Valley and its unique location on the thinnest part of the isthmus of Panama. As well as the story of the families that live there. This community is struggling with traditional farming methods, and a cash crop of culantro in a increasingly competitive market. Many families resort to hunting endangered animals, slash and burn agriculture and illegal harvesting of wood near the Mamoní River watershed. Our hope is to demonstrate a way to earn money that isn't destructive to the rain forest. One that will instill pride, give women an income, and increase awareness of the ecology of Panama. Through the sale of these planters, we have the opportunity to educate both the growers in El Valle de Madroño and the customers of the gallery.

The women who are participating in Plantas Ornmantales are:

Rosa - This lovely abuelita (little grandmother) has one of the most beautiful gardens in El Valle. She also has one of the best views. Her house is nested on the edge of a hill overlooking the community. All her children are grown. She has been collecting and trading plants with friends and family all over Panama. I often come across her kneeling in her garden with broken reading glasses on. Her eye site isn't very good, but that won't keep her out of the garden.

Leonarda - A mother of four boys, I suspect she likes gardening because it is one of the few feminine things about her house. She often collects wild plants from the jungle when she hikes out to harvest culantro with her husband. In Panama aloe is grown near the doors of the houses to protect from the evil eye. The aloe collects any negative energy headed towards the house. If the aloe dies it is because too many people have been sending the evil eye. Leonarda has flourishing aloe. It blooms and spreads around her house.

Sobieda - She helps run one of two little general stores in El Valle. All around her pink house and store are beautiful plants. This is a women who understands that good soil grows good plants. Her whole family has been involved in the process building containers and potting up flowers. She collects unique dahlias, orchids and begonias.

Andrea - Her family owns the competing little general store. She is a novice gardener, who is collecting flowers and growing them in a mix of recycled containers on her porch. She is the mother in-law of Yani and Jeni.

Yanissa (Yani) - A very intelligent woman. She has a quick mind for business and is very concerned with the education of her three young children. She sees the opportunity in working on this ornamental plants project. However, her husband has just accepted a job in Chame and she and her family will be leaving the community in December. She would like to stay involved, but I am not sure if it will be possible.

Arelis (Jeni) - The niece of Leonarda, the daughter in-law of Andrea and the sister in-law of Yani, Jeni can call just about everyone in El Valle cousin. Jeni almost finished high school, but dropped out when she became pregnant with her daughter, Jorlenis, now one year old. She feels she missed out on her education. She is looking for a project to call her own.

The School
- The primary school in El Valle de Madroño has also chosen to participate. The funds they earn will be used to improve the school. Currently the five students in elementary school help out in the garden every Thursday afternoon. In addition to growing the flowers, they are also growing vegetables to eat and culantro to sell.

If this project is successful and a regular sale of plants is established we will be looking to expand. There are five communities in The Madroño Valley, and two others have expressed interest, La Zahina and San Jose.

Day 542 - Volunteer Service - Article 16

This article was published in the Ames Tribune November 9, 2008.


11.08.2008

Day 541 - Volunteer Service - 100 Books Read

Friends and family have mailed me boxes full of heavy and therefor expensive books. Each box has been a little connection to home. Then I run out of those books, so I pick over the Peace Corps lending library every chance I get. I also greedily search hostel and hotel give-one take-one shelves.

Me with my stash in the Peace Corps Office.

Before Peace Corps I read, but I also used the internet, watched movies and other things that require electricity and proximity. In rural Panama reading has been my relaxation, my education and my touch stone. I have been steadily reading about a book a week. In November I hit 100 books read. Here's my "Best Of" List:
Humor Sex Lives of Cannibals by Troost
Informative Economic Hitman by Perkins
Prize Winner Interpreter of Maladies by Lahiri (Pulitzer Prize Winner 2000)
Fantasy The Name of the Wind by Rothfuss
Science Fiction Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep by Dick
Peace Corps Read The Poisonwood Bible by Kingsolver
I keep a list of all the titles with their authors. Next to the author's name I have been ranking each book on a scale of 1 - 10. These are other books that I gave top rankings, Honorable Mentions I guess. They are the books that I enjoyed reading the most.
Omnivore's Dilemma by Pollan
The Golden Compass by Pullman
This I Believe edited by Alison
Peace Like a River by Enger
The Stone Diaries by Shields
Kockroach by Knox
The Quiet Invasion by Zettel
The Thirteenth Tale by Setterfield

All of these books should be floating around in the Peace Corps libray.

11.07.2008

Visiting Panama City

Pretty much anyone who visits Panama spends time in Panama City. I've had the chance to explore a bit and this is my pick of what to do in The City.

Where to Stay:


If you plan to spend some time in Panama City I recommend renting an apartment in Casco Viejo. We stayed in an apartment with two bedrooms for $110 a night. It has a lovely balcony overlooking Plaza Bolivar and you get a lady who comes and makes you breakfast. Contact Acro Properties.

For a more budget friendly place look into La Casa de Carmen, which is near the corner of Via España and Via Brazil. They have a really nice homey/hostel fee. They aren't well located, but it is a $1.50 taxi to the Calle Uraguy are where you can find lots of restaurants and bars. And the price is $14 for the dormitory and $30-50 for a private room. Many Europeans can been found staying here.

If you want to stay in the old, more culturally interesting part of The City look into Luna's Castle. This hostel has dormitory space only for $12 a person per night. A young set of mostly Americans is who your likely to share your room with. If you want a quiet place to stay, go to Casa del Carmen. This is more of a party place. They are working on installing private rooms on the third floor. Their ETA is January 2008.

The Canal:

While you are in The City check out the canal at Miraflores Locks. Bring your Peace Corps lanyard to get the much cheaper resident fee ($3 instead of $8). If you're not Peace Corps, but you have a student university ID, bring it to get in at the student rate of $5. There is a viewing deck and a museum in English and Spanish. Skip the buffet at Miraflores as it is pricey $25 and not worth it, especially if your vegetarian.

Restaurants:
Instead head over to the El Mercado de Mariscos (Seafood Market) at the end of Balboa. Upstairs is a restaurant that is decently priced ($6-9 a plate) with really good seafood. Go for lunch or early dinner so you can see the fresh catches they are selling. You must try the civiche, a Peruvian dish made of marinated raw seafood. Jeff recommends the Fillete de Macho. I guess this restaurant isn't great for vegetarians either.

Another good restaurant is Pizzeria Athens for Greek lobsodosomo, and Imam pizza. The food is excellent and the beer is not overpriced. This is a good restaurant for vegetarians. They are on Calle Uriguay and Calle Cincuenta. There is a gas station right in front of them. If the taxi driver doesn't know where it is, tell him it across from Elite and Hooters. They always seem to know where the strip clubs are. I believe they are closed Wednesday nights, Athens not the strip clubs. I don't know about the strip clubs.

For fancy, but not overly priced Italian try Rino's near Calle Uriguay. The building looks like a huge white mansion. Wear long sleeves though because it is always chilly in there. They have a delicious maracuyá mouse($2.50) and lasagna ($6.00).

Shopping:
If you want to get some travel recuerdos (souvenirs), try the YMCA Mercado in the neighborhood of Balboa. There are two big buildings with all different types of indigenous and Criollo crafts at good prices. It is a group of individual vendor booths, so often you are buying directly from the artisan.

During the day visit Casco Viejo, the oldest neighborhood of Panama City. There are many restaurants and little shops to visit. This barrio is on the Bay of Panama and you can get a great view of the city skyline. On Sundays, Plaza de Independencia, hosts an artisan fair. The first Sunday of the month has the most vendors. I say to go during the day, because it can get a little sketchy at night.