The end is coming

This is it. We are in our last weeks as Peace Corps Volunteers - exciting, scary, happy a whole mix of emotions.

We started selling off the big items in our house like the stove, mattresses, gas tanks, hand grinder and such. Some of them are already gone, but somethings like the stove and mattress won't be taken out until our last day.
Our final day in our community is July 11. Then we have a couple days in Panama City before we fly into Des Moines, Iowa on July 16.
For our last couple weeks we will be enjoying the beach one last time with a couple days at the Decamaron Resort with other volunteers in our group, walking to the waterfall one more time, saying good-bye to the friends we have met along the way. It's been an interesting journey.


Our Last Month

My father and step-mother visited us for five days. We spent a peaceful several days at our house and a less peaceful day in Panama City.

They are our last international guests, but we have some fellow volunteers visiting later this month for our despedida (farewell party) .

We are approaching the end of our time in Panama. I have bought my tickets and will be flying into Des Monies July 16th. We have completed most of the requisite paperwork and have been selecting which items to fly back with. The rest we can try to sell or more likely give away.
People have asked or told me I will miss Panama. I am sure I will, but I came here intending to stay for two years, and now it is time to go. Panamanians rarely use adios the most common translation of good-bye. They usualy rely on chao, or hasta luego (until later). To them adios means you do not think you will meet again. Maybe it is an expression of hope that you go to God (a Dios) when you die and they will not be there to say it. We are approching the time to use adios.


Day 738 - Volunteer Service - Article 23

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

Guest commentary: A tragedy in Panama

There was a machetazo (machete attack) in our village on Mothers’ Day, celebrated on the day of The Immaculate Conception. It followed the normal mode of holidays in our town. The men were drinking and the women were making food.

It was between cousins and their fathers (brothers-in-law) over something we still know little about. We heard the yelling, but our neighbors are usually noisy on weekends and holidays so we didn’t think much of it until a woman came to ask Jeff to call for ambulances. It had to be two ambulances because if all the injured were put in the same vehicle, it wouldn’t have been good.

I took over some first aid supplies. I was going to stay and help put on bandages, but the ground was covered in blood and the smell was overwhelming. The ambulances, a fire truck and some military type police showed up about two hours later and left with roughly one fifth of our community. Only one uncle’s injuries were bad enough to keep him in the hospital. He returned home in a week but his hand is still bandaged a month later.

The irony is that he was the one trying to break up the fight. All the violence was within a family so the police didn’t do much. One cousin spent one night in jail and paid a fine. The others should have received the same punishment but they left the hospital and came home. The police came back up to collect them, but by the time their truck rolled noisily into town, the three people they were looking for were all mysteriously gone. The police left with a big bag of oranges instead.

Machetazos are fairly common in Panama. Someone died in a nearby community from machete wounds when we first arrived. They frequently happen at bailes (dances) and often start as drunken disputes.

A machete costs less than $2 and every house has at least half a dozen sitting around, poked point first into the ground or stuck with a causal chop into a sideboard. Children use the old dull ones as toys and camposinos (farmers) use them for everything. Rare is the camposino who doesn’t have impressive machete scars, and not all of those scars were accidents.

Junior has been sent to live with his half brother. He’s the one who started the fight with his dad.

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.


La Palma and Darien Regional Meeting

For our last Darian/Panama Este regional meeting we made our way to La Plama, the provinical capitol of Darién. There are no roads to La Palam, so all 14 Peace Corps Volunteers east of Panama hopped on a boat at Port Quimba and made the half hour trip to La Palma.
Small and rustic, I would not recommend it as a vacation destination. This picture does it more than justice.
After the meeting most of us stayed the night at the hotel Pablo y Benito. This the view from the porch that evening. 
There are about 170 (scheduled to increase soon) Peace Corps Volunteers in Panama, but the bulk of the population and development are west of Panama City. Our small group is spread across the whole eastern half of the country. At times it is isolating being so far from other volunteers and without any means of communication. (The public phone has not worked for the last seven months, and we have no cell reception.) We have a great set of volunteers in our region and have enjoyed the few chances that we got hangout with them. 
La Familia Darién
June 2009
(stern faced style of Panamanian portraits)
Thank you, for the best and probably only game of flip cup La Palma has ever seen.


More Americans turning to Peace Corps - Los Angeles Times

The LA Times had a reporter out in The Darien of Panama and he interviewed two Peace Corps Panama Volunteers living out that way for his article on the Peace Corps, More Americans turning to Peace Corps - Los Angeles Times.

Yemimah and Alex smile for the LA Times camera.

Panamanian Stuffed Yuca Fritters (Carimanolas)

Carimanolas are fried yuca wrapped around a savory filling; a favorite carnival food in Panama. You might also be lucky enough to find them as appetizers or breakfast food at local restaurants.
Yuca is a starchy root crop, not unlike potatoes.
The base of this recipe is the pureed yuca which is made into a sticky dough and then filled with a beef, chicken or cheese filling, coated in flour and fried until golden.
A plate full of carimanolas. Photo from Cooking in Panama.
4 pounds yuca root
Oil (peanut or palm)
Flour - enough to coat the fritters
1/2 pound ground beef
1 teaspoon salt
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons fresh culantro, chopped (or substitute cilantro)

  1. Remove the peal and the stick-like middle from the yuca. Chop into large chunks and boil in a large pot of water with a tablespoon of salt. Boil the yuca until tender, but not sloppy.
  2. Meanwhile, brown the beef and other filling ingredients until the meat is cooked through and you have a thick sauce. If the filling is too liquidy you will have trouble filling the dough. Set aside the filling to cool.
  3. When the yuca is done drain it. Then pure the chunks with a grinder or use your hands to mash. The yuca will become very sticky and dough like. Taste the yuca dough to see if it needs salt. Kneed in salt if desired.
  4. Use your clean and floured hands to make flat circles about a half inch thick out of the yuca dough. Add a spoonful of filling and close the dough to make a Twinkie like shape. Roll the carimanola in flour.
  5. In a frying pan over medium heat, add about a half inch of oil (preferably palm or peanut as they can take the high temperatures with out cracking).
  6. Fry the yuca fritter in the oil, turning to ensure even browning. When it is golden brown remove and set on paper towels to absorb the oil.
  7. Serve hot and enjoy.

I am working on writing up how to cook some of the classic Panamanian dishes. Food is very much a part of culture. If you want your own little slice of Panama try some of the recipes here Recipes from Panama.