Day 582 - Volunteer Service - Article 19

This article was published in the Ames Tribune December 19, 2008.

Choosing between water and electricity

Before leaving for Panama, Foy and I looked on the Peace Corps Web site which claims about half of the volunteer communities in Panama have electricity. Portable solar panels are somewhat costly, but we decided that being able to charge our computer would be worth it.

Foy's father suggested that before I order something I check out PowerFilm, a company that makes unique flexible solar cells in a building on the edge of Ames.

Unfortunately, PowerFilm does not sell out of the Ames facility, but after explaining that we were planning to use a solar panel during our Peace Corps service, they offered to donate one to us. Foy's parents mailed us a second panel.

Foy's father built a light for us that runs off batteries charged by the panels. The batteries are smaller versions of car batteries. Car batteries can accept low levels of energy that picky laptop batteries will not use. Our first laptop was stolen and the XO laptop we got next turned out to be less than waterproof so sometimes we have a computer to charge.

But the solar panels power the light in the evenings. We are at about 10° north latitude so we get between 11 1/2 and 12 1/2 hours of daylight year round.

Using the solar light to make dinner.

The country director for Peace Corps Panama asked the newest group, "If you could have only one, would you prefer running water or electricity?" Several chose electricity, and I thought, "You have chosen ... poorly" (think Indiana Jones and The Holy Grail).

After a strong storm, it is common for the aqueduct that provides water to our community to be out of commission for a few days. Usually a tree falls breaking tubes or the tubes becomes clogged with debris. Compared to a day without water, it surprises me how little I miss electricity. You can live without electricity in your daily life. Living without water isn't possible.

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.

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