Day 603 - Volunteer Service - Article 21

This article was published on January 9, 2009 in the Ames Tribune.

The living can be easy in Panama

Panama has been difficult in many ways, such as adjusting to the culture, language and being more than a simple phone call away from family and friends.

Panama also has been easy. It surprises me how quickly we established habits and routine in our house in the valley.

It is hard to take a photo of our house because we have a big cashew tree in the front yard. Imagine a house a kid would draw. One door, two windows, sloping roof. Now imagine the house Crayola green and draw a bright crayon blue fence all the way around. Now put a big tree in the front yard to the left. That's our house.

(Cashews have two shells. Between them is caustic oil that blisters human skin and has potent allergens. When the nuts are roasted to inactivate the allergens, dangerous fumes are given off. Processing cashews safely is a complicated business.)

We are established. We get up without an alarm clock. After a trip to the outhouse, I put the water on to heat for coffee. Jeff and I sit and read as we drink our coffee. Then I make breakfast around 8 a.m. Something involving our allotment of three eggs per day.

Before it gets hot, we work in the garden, hand wash laundry or work in the school. Actually, now we think more about how we have to get outdoor things done early before the rains come as it seems the wet season is here. No more sprinkles. We watch big grey-blue blankets of clouds come over the edges of the valley. The rain sounds like a river heading our way. We probably could measure the rain in feet and dispense with thinking in inches. The road is still better than last year, but it will get worse rapidly at this rate.

We eat two meals a day. The second is an early dinner around 4 p.m. The sun goes down quickly behind the hills around 6:30 p.m. Out come the head lamps and candles. We close the house up and bring in anything that can be damaged by dew, fog or blowing rain. We get ready for bed and read under mosquito netting until 9 p.m. or so. Then it's sleep time. We must get our 10 hours of sleep every night.

Our days are relaxed. I never feel the pressure that "this must be done right now!" Deadlines exist more as seasonal dictates. Planting and cutting are determined by the moon. Our calendar with the moon phases is consulted often.

Jeff and I both do things for the administration of Peace Corps. We do the seed exchange program, edit the cookbook for a fundraiser and work on new volunteer training material. All that is done on deadlines, generously set to give us lots of time. And in the end, we are volunteers. We chose our projects and commitments. What a nice life!

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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