¡No se vaya, espere los bollos!

Or….what I´m really doing as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

My mother asked me the other day, “Are you working, or are you just having fun?!?” Obviously I´m doing both!

So, to those who are wondering what kind of work I´m doing as a volunteer, here goes:

I work with a women´s group that makes jewelry out of recycled materials. The previous peace corps volunteer in my community helped found the group. They make beautiful necklaces, bags, and earrings. They need help finding places to sell their goods. They are also volunteers with a local environmental organization that is bringing them a tree nursery project, a compost latrine project, and an eco-stove project. These projects are still in their beginning phases. I help facilitate their relationship with the agency and with these projects.  

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I am also working on a grant for a Solar Panel for that group and another group in the community.

Recently, I started making Tower Stoves (Fogónes Torres). They´re fun and relatively easy to make. These are stoves that save firewood and don´t emit as much smoke as the traditional kind of stove used here, which is made from 3 stones. Most people in my community use gas stoves to cook on a regular basis, but they still use their fogónes to cook traditional meals like arroz con pollo and for large quantities of people. I´m going to have a workshop in December about how to make the stoves. After that, if people are interested I am going to help them make them at their houses. The bricks are made from clay, horse poop, and ash. A few people have asked for larger versions, so I´m going to work with some community members to see if we can make a larger stove that works. 

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Those are my three main “projects,” if you will. I also work in the school. I teach Environmental Classes in the elementary school. I try to coordinate with the teachers and their science curriculum. This trimester I have been teaching about the ozone layer, acid rain (contamination of the air and of water), and the composition of the air. November is full of National Holidays, and the school year will be over in December. I help out in the garden as well, but that project is also winding down for the year and at this point really just requires maintenance. Corn was harvested from the garden this week, so we feasted on all things corn on Tuesday. 

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I am also going to be a facilitator at a Peace Corps youth camp in January and February. The camp is part of the Gender and Youth Initiative in Panama. There are sessions about values, goal development, and sex ed. And games and fun of course.

That´s all for now!

 

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Haiku´s for my Mother

Haiku´s for my Mother….

….written in my head at 7am, winding through the Panamanian countryside sitting in the passenger seat of the Chiva.

 

Morning dew on an 

iridescent field of green

skies of vibrant blue

 

Breathe deep air into

your lungs, taste the golden sun

inside your cold bones

 

Driving backwards is

better than turning around

the road tells you why

Coexisting!

10 Things I coexist with as a Peace Corps volunteer in Panama:

1. Dogs – they usually casually stop by the house to say hello and see if I´m in a good mood (if I´m in a good mood I might throw them some stale bread or leftovers of some sort. Conveniently for them there are no refrigerators and I´m still perfecting the art of cooking exactly-the-amount-of-food-I-want, no more, no less, so there is usually something for them). A couple of weeks ago one dog (Coral) actually slept outside my house all night. I thought that was very nice of him, until he started barking with the chorus of dogs and chickens that always start singing at night, and then I just thought that was rude. Below is a picture of the culprit. You can´t resist that face!

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2. Chiggers – almost microscopic, red, evil bugs. I am learning from them to be very patient and NOT ITCH. I think they´re trying to teach me a lesson in self-control. A woman in my community once helped me pick them off my legs. First she picked them off her kids, then off of me. I think we bonded.Image

3. Mosquitoes – okay, so these are supposed to be the worst, right? Well, thanks to my mosquito net they usually don´t bother me when I´m sleeping. After about 6pm they can get angry, but I still think I´ve been bitten far worse during NYC summers, ie in Sheepshead bay after 6pm or in 4F when they were all lurking in the corner of the ceiling waiting to eat alive the poor souls that slept there. 

4. Fungus – Yep, I had a fungus on my skin. I have just accepted funky skin things as a part of my life. It was really annoying when I was sweating, which, in Panamá, I´m sweating almost 100% of the time. The med office prescribed me some pills to kill it and I think it´s gone now. We´ll see if there is a comeback.

5. Spiders – I love spiders. I wish there were more spiders in my house. They eat cockroaches. I saw one with these giant pincer looking things on its face devouring a cockroach, it was beautiful. The cockroach was halfway inside of the spiders mouth. It seemed like the cockroach was bigger than the spider, so they must have some serious digestive aids to get those things down. I wanted to give it (the spider) a high-five or a hug, but alas spiders don´t have arms made for hugging.

6. Cockroaches – I despise cockroaches. In 7 months of living in Panama I´ve seen more cockroaches than I saw living in NYC for 5 years (and there are supposed to be a lot of cockroaches in NYC, right??). I found a bunch living inside an empty jar that wasn´t closed all the way, and I quickly filled it with water and sealed the lid tight. In the morning there were about 10 dead cockroaches in there. That was very satisfying. I have smashed a lot with my sandals, too. It´s helping improve my reflexes. They reproduce too quickly though! Every once and a while I´ll just see all these little miniature cockroaches popping up out of no where! They´re everywhere! Inside, outside, and halfway between the two. I saw one just chilling on the street eating a piece of bread like, “no big deal I own the place, just chewing on some bread someone left here, carry on with your day” OH YEAH?? Whatever, superior survival skills. Maybe we should learn from them.

7. People – This one is obvious. People are everywhere. I love them. There are some differences to be noted. Living in a community in Panama means that people will always stop by your house at all hours of the day (especially if you have good cell phone service on your windowsill, like I do), to say hello, to ask you about your celery plant, to ask for help using their cellphone. Adults will usually receive coffee if they stay long enough to let me make some. Children will stop by your house, try to run inside and ask about everything, ask to color, not ask to touch things, usually listen to you when you tell them to please go sit outside, and quickly lose interest and carry on with their day. Sometimes they´ll stay longer than you want them too and you´ll end up feeding them spaghetti. I usually have books on hand to let them read or to read to them. I almost always enjoy the company.

8. Trees – I had to throw this in here. I love trees. There are lots of them. Sometimes people knock them down. They build houses, stools, bridges, and latrines with trees. Other times people put signs up on them or eat their fruit. People breathe oxygen from trees. I like to just look at them, mostly. I also like eating their fruit. I like trying to grow them. I am having some success with this. I like trying to get people excited about trees. I ask a lot of questions about trees in my community. Trees are mysterious and powerful. The tree below is one of my favorite trees to look at. Bask in its glory!Image

9. Sweat – I sweat a lot. There is always sweat on my body here. I like to take showers, I shower at least twice a day. I like to think I´m getting used to all this humidity, but some days I am pretty sure I just tell myself that to make my self feel better.

10. Darkness – It gets really dark at night, especially when there are no lights! When the sky is clear of clouds, the stars are so beautiful and numerous! I would say I enjoy looking at stars even more than I enjoy looking at clouds. People sometimes walk by my house at night on the way to the store, and I play a little game with myself trying to guess who it is (usually I cannot see anything other than their flashlight). I´m getting better at this. The darkness also seems to bring out the cockroaches. I think they fear light. Only the bold show their faces during the day.  

 

pfunk

Where did I leave off?

I had INSERVICETRAINING for two weeks, which was a mix of all things. We learned about stoves, grants, and other fun peace corps stuff. We traveled to cold land full of pine trees way up high in Herrera. Image

That picture is of some ant hill dirt and chicken poop we were mixing up to make mud for the stoves.

Anyway, after this was over, I returned back to site for a few days. It felt strange to leave and strange to get back. I left again for my Regional meeting and the long awaited day Ryan´s flight got into Panama! We went back to my community the next day. We went climbing hills with some kids, to a spot where you can see Lago Gatún. We watched boats pass through the canal form a far. The kids found out they could get Ryan to run around like a maniac with them, so they had races all over the place. Ryan also played frisbee with the kids, which was really just him throwing the frisbee and them trying to catch it. They were jumping and screaming like crazy the whole time, and they would have played all day if we let them. I gave a charla about soil quality to the elementary and middle school students, to supplement their agropecuaria work in the garden. We watched the Sunday soccer games, we went to Tres Hermanas on my birthday for a religious festival (the arrival of a statue of their patron Saint Matthew), and on the last day we hiked up the Loma. We also spent lots of quality time in hamacas and drinking coffee at my host family´s house.

Now, for my vacation! We made the trek to Boquete, a journey that started at 3:30am. We got on the 4:30am chiva out of my site, to La Espiga where we got on a bus to David at 6am, got to David around 12,1pm, got to Boquete around 3pm, got to our hotel around 4pm, bam! The hotel was lovely, a little outside of the main town area of Boquete, and so peaceful. We went on a tour of a coffee farm at Café Ruiz, super chevere, delicious coffee.
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We ate at lots of restaurants, explored gift shops, and so on. The day after the coffee tour, we went looking for the entrance to El Sendero Los Quezales, but ended up going on a different adventure. We saw signs for a waterfall near where we got of the bus, so we followed those. It was drizzling rain all day, and we didn´t see very many other people at all. We found the entrance to the trail and followed it. It was a privately maintained trail that lead to three waterfalls. It was lovely. Also, at the visitors center kind of place, the toilet had the BEST view, and no door! So you get to sit down and enjoy staring out at the mountains while you do your business.
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Miraflores Locks

After I finally got back to loving COOL weather and wearing scarfs, it was time to head back to Panama City. Yesterday we went to see the Miraflores locks, after a failed attempt to go to the Anthropology museum here, which was closed and apparently will be closed for a while. The locks were pretty impressive. They´re huge, obviously. There is a museum that you can walk through, and an observatory where you can look at the locks. We saw some small boats pass through.

Today I´m not sure where adventure will take us. We spent yesterday afternoon lazing around Albrook mall, escaping the rain. It feels funny to be a tourist here, but it is nice to relax. I´ve got all sorts of stuff going on when I get back. I have to start working more fervently with the group who wants to get a solar panel through a peace corps grant. I´m going to give them educational charlas about solar panels and work with them on a business plan for maintaining the panels. We´re also having a work day with ANAM to start vivero construction! I am excited, but I am approaching this project with trepidation. I hope that the women´s group can maintain themselves through the changes ANAM is bringing them. More to come on that later. For now….

giant boulder!

giant boulder!

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posing for the foto in the garden

posing for the foto in the garden

ryan rides a horse

ryan rides a horse

puppy finds icecream in Las Minas

puppy finds icecream in Las Minas

La vida.

It has been a while since I have updated the blog. I am adjusting to life in my community. I have completed three months in my site! Time has passed quickly. In August, I will be presenting my community and environmental analysis to the community. I moved out of my host family house and into my own house this past Friday. I really enjoyed their company, so living on my own is going to take some getting used to. I have been spending a lot of time in the school and pasearing in the community.
I went through a phase of consuming at least 2 mangoes everyday, but unfortunately mango season is basically over. Pivae is the new fruit in season. It grows way up high in a palm tree like a coconut. They grow in clusters and one has to knock them down with a very long pole. They sort of look like acorns or miniature less developed coconuts. There are tons of spines on this particular kind of palm, so they have to be knocked down carefully so as to not get spines all over oneself. Once they are harvested, they are boiled with salt and consumed by pealing the outer layer off. On the inside, there is an oval shaped seed an if you crack it open there is a small nut on the inside that tastes remotely like coconut. Also, even though oranges aren´t really in season yet, I have eaten a few that are still green but already sweat on the inside. Delicious. Corn is also beginning to be harvested, so I have been enjoying all of the delicious products made out of corn (vinuelas, tortillas asadas, tortillas fritas, chicheme, etc…).
Though I keep hearing people say it is raining less than it has in the past, I would say the raining season is well underway (ie winter). There have been some crazy thunderstorms. It seems like it always rains in clusters. Some nights we can see and hear thunderstorms happening very close by even though it isn´t raining there. Other days or nights it pours in Paraíso and we hear that it didn´t rain one or two communities over. After some seriously heavy rains the creek that crosses the road near the entrance to the community flooded into the road. I can only imagine what it is like when it rains more!! Interspersed between days full of rain are the ever persistent hot sunny humid days.
I learned how to make chorizo out of pig meat and pig intestines! We cleaned out the intestines with lemons , turned them inside out, and soaked them in water for a while. All the pig meat was fresh off the pig, and we chopped it up into little pieces and mixed it together with garlic, culantro, onion, pepper, and so on. Then, the intestines were stuffed with all the ingredients and tied off into sausage links with string. Before eating, they were smoked over a fire for about a day. Then they were fried up and we ate them with yuca!! They were very tasty.

I saw a tucan last weekend. I also learned a new word for ice cream (helado) = barquillo. One of my best friends is 10 years old. I finally have my own hammock.

The adventures continue!
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Campemento Juvenil 2013!

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cuttaras!!

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the kids with all their signs!

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“Antes de morir quiero….” a project inspired by Candy Chang, a wall we created for the kids and their families to share goals that they have.

ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageThis week I was able to help out with a camp planned by Lauren and a few other peace corps volunteers who are close to finishing their service in the country. It was very fun! The camp was an opportunity for kids to meet new people from other provinces of panama, learn about leadership skills, goal setting and planning, sexual health, and to express their creativity! They made a giant quilt, signs about the environment, instruments and songs, and puppet shows!! 

3 Months in Panama!!

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The winners of the recycling competition in school this week. The students collected 7,221 cans this month!

The following are photographs from my first few weeks in site! Today marks three months of being in Panama! I have been drinking coffee, eating mangoes, learning how to gut chickens, exploring, taking jumping photos, learning what it means to be Peace Corps volunteer, and so on. I have been spending time in the school getting to know the kids and teachers. I have also been doing a lot of pasearing. I have started helping with the women´s group that makes jewelry and bags out of recycled materials. I am really excited to work more with them in the future! Next week I will be helping with a camp that Lauren (the volunteer I am replacing) and a few other Peace Corps volunteers have been planning. The camp will be about leadership, future planning, and creativity! I am going to help teach (shout out to Battery Park) making musical instruments out of recycled materials. Until I think of more to say, enjoy the photos!

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If you look closely, you can see Lago Gatun behind me!

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The piñata exploding with flour at a Birthday Party.

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Students wearing polleras, preparing for a traditional punto.

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The view from behind the house I am staying in.

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My host brother and sister!!

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Lauren (the volunteer who has been in my site for the past 2 years) and I were convinced by the teachers to be the marching band for a parade around the school with torches.

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The 9th grade class with their torches.

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Two members of the women´s group and myself at a Recycling Fair. The women make all of the bags and jewelry out of snack bags, magazines, and other recycled materials.

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coloring on a rainy day!

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A bullet ant!!

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There are tons of these huge rocks spread throughout the community!

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ARROZ CON POLLO!

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Chocolate Volcanoes and Mountains of Fruit.

Before I delve into the exciting long awaited site visit, I will tell a tale about my host current host family. I have baked things a few times for the family here, so; one night when we were watching television there was a cooking show on TV. My host mom asked me to write the recipe down so we could make it, and then they suggested I take a picture, but by the time we decided on a way to save the recipe it was off the screen! We watched the rest, about how to make it, and at the very end the cooking show lady said she had a facebook page with all the recipies! So, I found the recipe online the next time I was somewhere with internet and brought the recipe home. After discussing the ingredients, my host mom said she would get them so we could make the dessert that weekend. This epic tasty treat is called a “volcan de chocolate.” When I got back from working in the garden that saturday, we began to make the dessert. We started and all was going well AND THEN we realized there were only two eggs and we needed FOUR. So, my host sister ran over to her aunts house to ask for two eggs, but she only had one! My host brother then quickly shuffled out the door and came back 15 minutes later with three eggs from the store. Finally, with more than enough eggs, we continued to make the chocolate volcano. There are two layers to this volcano. First, you have to mix frosting and melted chocolate together and then freeze the mixture (this is for the center). Then, you have to mix eggs, melted chocolate, sugar, butter, vanilla, a little flour, etc..until suave. This mixture goes in cupcake molds and then gets a scoop of the by now frozen chocolate frosting mixture. This gets baked in the oven until it explodes like a volcano! Just kidding, it should not explode. Some of them might have, though. For some reason this was the most amusing thing ever; some of them were really tasty but one batch that we cooked too long actually looked like it exploded and was more rock like than anything. We brought them around to some neighbors and I gave some to some fellow aspirantes…all the while telling everyone that if they were bad it was my fault and if they tasted good it was the fault of my host mother, sister, and brother. I hope this was remotely interesting.
NOW: The moment I had been waiting for all throughout training — visiting my site for the first time! I just got back from a week in the community I will be living in for the next two years. There is currently a volunteer there, and we will be overlapping as volunteers there until the end of June. This has proven to be incredibly useful. Between the current volutneer, Lauren, and members of the community, I received a very comprehensive tour of the community. I have not visited every house yet, but we definitely did a lot of walking and talking! There is a verb, “pasear,” which literally means walking around to peoples houses and sitting on their porches and probably receiving a snack or some fruit or a juice drink or if you´re lucky maybe a meal or some sugar cane! This is how to get to know people in Panama. My first 3 months in site will probably consist of a lot of pasearing. I have met a lot of intersting people! Not only that, it is really incredibly beautiful. A few people live about and hour walk or more away from the center of the town, and on these walks there are some incredible views! I did not bring my camera around very much this week, but I definitely will in the future. Another really exciting detail: there are A LOT of coffee farmers! I have had some very tasty coffee. They sell a lot of it, but they also drink a lot of it! There are also a bunch of people who grow rice and other things like that. Plus, there are fruit trees everywhere you look.
As far as what my work will be like, I shadowed Lauren, the current volunteer, when she was working in the school and moderating the women´s group. She teaches environmental classes to a few grades and also has an English Club after school, which are things I will most likely pick up doing. There is also an already established group of women who make jewlery out of recycled materials (beads out of magazines, bags out of old snack bags or plastic shopping bags, earrings out of soda cans, among other things). I have also heard a lot of expressed interest in learning how to make compost and having home gardens. When we were there for our tech week of training, we had an “escuela de campo,” which is essentially a class outside, about compost. The woman I stayed with for this week was turning the compost since we made it near her garden, so I helped her do that this week. The first three months will be a lot of observation and getting to know everyone. If I had not said it already, it is really beautiful there and I am super excited to start my 2 years of service. Our swear-in as official Peace Corps Volunteers is quickly approaching! 

Here are some pictures, I feel like they will say a little more.Image

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If the captions don´t show up these are: myself and my community guide at the community entrance conference, my host family during training, playing dominoes,the room on stilts that I stayed in for the week (awesome, but not where I will be living for the first 3 months). and COFFEE BEANS in my site.