Day 596 - Volunteer Service - Article 20

This article was published in the Ames Tribune January, 2 2009.

Living in nature in Panama

Being an Iowan and not too far removed from farmers, I am used to talking about the weather. "Looks like rain. We sure could use it." But never before Panama have I been so attuned to it. I guess that's no surprise considering we spend most of our day outside or on our porch. Our porch on the hill often lets us hear rain coming. It gives us enough time to bring in the wash, shutter the windows on the north and bring in the solar panels.

View from our porch.

Our tin roof makes sure we don't sleep through a storm. The weather can't surprise us.

Because our solar panels are put out every day, I am acutely aware of the changing position of the sun. I know exactly what place in the yard gets the longest sunlight. Not having electricity, I know exactly when the sun goes behind the other wall of the valley. That's when we get out the candles, head lamps, or if it was a sunny day, the solar lamp.

I am even aware of the moon. In the United States, I was aware of the moon, but I couldn't have told you if it was waxing or waning. Now I know a waning moon appears in the west in early evening. As the moon approaches full and then waxes, it rises in the east and later into the night.

One of the first sentences I learned in Spanish was "La lluvia viene." The rain comes. In fact, I know more words to describe weather than people in Spanish.There is something refreshing and elemental living in a simple house in an area of the country labeled "rain forest." Instead of nature being something to visit or take note of from a car window, we live in it.

Civilization is marked by man's ability to rise above and ignore the climate. The United States has fancy regulated houses, concrete roads and big tanks with lots of tubes to control everything from temperature to water. There are definite advantages to living that way. But I much prefer my lifestyle on the edge of the continental divide of Panama. Peace Corps has given me my own Walden Pond. It will be a big change to go back to traffic, computers and warehouse size supermarkets.

Can I have this way of living when we get back to the U.S.? I don't think many spots in the United States have perfect temperatures and the year-round climate of Panama. But I think if I can, I will hang my wash out to dry, keep the windows open and have a really big porch. Oh yes, and a garden. Nothing is quite as connected to my environment as a plot of vegetables.

(I definitely will not regret going back to indoor plumbing.)

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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