Tuesday, September 27, 2011

September 27, 2011

Snippets of Life:

The blow-by-blow accounts are just going to bore everyone, myself
included. So instead, here’s a couple of short stories about life in
the past few months. The biggest event was my family’s visit in July.
My mom and dad wrote an excellent letter about it, which I will link
to this at a later (but not much later!) date. They do a wonderful
and thorough job, so I won’t repeat it, except to say we had a
wonderful time and it was really nice for me to have my two worlds
meet. I also had an excellent visit from Kim, a dear friend from
college, and she was a great sport and hung out with me in candelilla
for a few weeks, bird watching, helping with the biodigestor, and
playing the guitar.

“English Event”/Saga of the bunny-Fairies: This “english event” took
place in the Santa Fe gymnasium, with area schools participating. The
first several acts, staged on a bedazzled high school musical
recreation backdrop, were absurdly inappropriate dances performed by
gangs of scantily-clad middle school girls executing dance moves that
I definitely didn’t know about in 7th grade. You could barely hear the
music over the riotous cheering of the proud parents in the stands.

Despite the late hour, a niggling feeling in the back of our minds
told us we should stay long enough to watch the adorable 3rd graders
who were dressed as blue and pink bunny-fairies. There were three
little boys dressed in black cloaks and masks (magicians?) and maybe
about 8 bunny fairies. As the music started a magician grabbed one
bunny fairy by the hair and dragged her into the middle of the floor.
He yelled at her, and made her cry. At this point I said, “oh my
god, he’s making the bunny fairy cry!” Little did I know her tragic

Next he started pretending to savagely beat the bunny fairy as she
late prostrate on the ground. At the point I said, “oh my god, he’s
beating up the bunny fairy!” and I composed A haiku. Which I forgot
in the tumult of what followed: the magician grabbed the bunny fairy
off the floor, pulled her head up by her hair, produced a fake
machete, and slit her throat. She crumpled to the ground in a heap of
pink glittery wings, disheveled bunny ears, and fake tears. Then the
three magicians proceeded to take each bunny fairy, one by one, from
their cowering corner and methodically beat them, slit their throats,
and leave them in a heap. When they got down to the last bunny fairy,
SHE pulled out a fake machete too, and did battle with the evil
magicians. But the magicians slit her throat anyway. Then, as all
the bunny fairies lay in their mass grave, a bunny-fairy-angel
arrived. She ALSO had a fake machete, which she used to raise the
bunny fairies from the dead. Then she battled the magicians. After
a dramatic sparring and chase scene she stabbed them, slit their
throats, and gave their crumpled bodies a final vindictive kick as she
flounced away with her posse of zombie bunny fairies.

The crowd erupted. I was in hysterics. We had to rush out before I
peed on the bleachers (though I’m sure it wouldn’t be the first time
those bleachers got peed on, judging from the smell). I have never
seen anything so simultaneously hilarious and disturbing in my life.

The only unifying theme among the various acts (and the only
indication besides the high School Musical set that the event was
English-related) was that all the songs were in English. We were
supposed to be judges for this, but thankfully we got out of that one
and it was judged by an assortment of friendly neighborhood
Frontier-Patrol Police Officers.

I try to Buy New Glasses:
I was recently thwarted in an attempt to purchase new glasses. The
incredulous doctors and salesgirls at Optica Lopez, no doubt trying to
rescue me from social suicide, staunchly refused to sell my chosen
frames. They insisted that the glasses would touch my face, thereby
giving me an allergic reaction. They finely, begrudgingly, agreed to
sell me just the frames, but insisted on issuing a receipt that
response: “you’re so fashionable that even fashion won’t take your
money.” So I bought the frames, and took them next door to the other
optometrist, who happily agreed to fill the frames with my
prescription without imparting fashion advice of any sort. And now I
am the proud owner of slightly-funky, unpanamanian glasses.

I just got back from a trip to a folkmusic Festival in Guararé in the
Azuero peninsula. There were lots of traditional music and dance and
fancy outfits. My favorite dance was a bunch of colorful dwarf dolls
who had fits on stage. We stayed on the beach and had a fun time
playing bananagrams and inventing. There was a frog named Don Baño
and a crab named Derecho (because he always scuttled to the right)
living in the bathroom. There was a big parade with intricate floats,
and lots of people dancing and singing in the street including a bunch
who had dolls heads hung all over their elaborate raggedy costumes.
There was an accordian competition, some great panamanian style
fiddle, and my favorite, a toothless old man who rocked the harmonica
hardcore. It was a lot of fun to go to such a cultural event, since
people in the Darien don’t really do the traditional festivals.

So those are some highlights of my recent life. And now I have to
finish up glusing the sequins on Hannah’s new Security Warden Hat.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

So now i have a computer thanks to the efforts of my parents and Cassidy, and so it will be easier to keep this baby updated for you lovely and dedicated folks at home.

I have now been in site for a year, and in Panama for nearly a year and a quarter. I can't believe how fast time has flown, and now instead of being newbies us Group 65ers are Old Fogies, with three more recent groups subject to our dubious advice and only group 64 and a few straggling 63ers to look up to. Most of us have now embraced tacky Panamanian fashion involving neon, spandex and feathers as well as Panamanian expressions and redneck accents (people in the city sometimes ask me where the hell I learned spanish...).

Life in Candelilla continues to be rewarding yet challenging, as i suppose most Peace Corps experiences are. Tasty has several new compatriots, an aspiring rooster named Sancocho (Panama's national soup) as well as a new little bugger named Don Juan. Tasty has gone ferrel, but Sancocho is a very dedicated chicken. He follows me everywhere I go including the latrine, and sometimes I see him observing me through the slats in the walls of my kitchen and bedroom. He broke a leg, but it has healed with the help of a splint i fashioned from a stick and some jungle vines. Two weeks ago, when Don Juan arrived in the Barrio de Molly, Sancocho was increadibly jealous and indignant, guarding me ferociously against the advances of this new and suspicious character. After a few days they established an accord, and now they snuggle together every night in my rancho. Another recent addition to Molly's Marvelous Menagerie is Wilbur, my horse. He is well trained and sturdy and together we embark on many adventures. Another domestic addition has been my garden. After several failed attempts at growing flowers I have had some success getting some cooking herbs, squash, peanuts, pineapples, ginger and lemongrass going. However the things I plant are consistently endangered by rampaging cows, a group of which trampled my lawn into a mud pit, ripped my clothing off the line and destroyed it, knocked over everything, managed to smear mud and excrement all over the maps tacked to the outside wall of my house, and left me a large and partially hardened present smack dab in the middle of my porch. It's given me a new appreciation for the pigs.

Recent work has mostly been focused on a biodigestor I've been building with a community member. It is a pilot project, and we are using pig manure to feed the biodigestor, which creates gas with which you can cook and hopefully run a mantle lantern. There have been so many complications and set backs that now I just find it funny because it's no increadible that things can be so difficult. Still, it moves along and it will work out in the end. I also spent a great deal of time getting the Panamanian equivalent of the EPA to give us some coffee seeds to reforest some pasture land. After 2 long months of deliberations and endless inneffective meetings and letters of request they told me that while they couldn't get me any seeds they would love to take me out to dinner, or maybe one of my gringa friends. Sigh. We have also been planting a lot of rice and root vegetables and corn, though the rats have eaten a good portion of what we've planted.

I have had some excellent collaborations with other volunteers. In April right after PML (mroe to follow) my friends Elsie and Andy came to visit. Andy works with reforestation and Elsie with cacao, so we had a presentation about reforestation and then about planting, harvesting and processing cacao. Elsie brought cacao seeds and we planted the seeds with teh community and distributed them. We also had some hot chocolate. People have been really excited about their cacao trees and give me weekly updates on their progress. Liz also came up to do an english workshop, which the kids in the shcool really enjoyed. I also had a new trainee come visit me, just as I went to visit an established volutneer in Chiriqui when I was in training. We had a great time (she helped me with my garden!) and now she is in Canglon, Carmen's old site.

Back to PML - stands for Project Management and Leadership. This is a conference about organization, management and leadership that we attend with a counterpart from our communities. Of course my counterpart backed out the morning we were supposed to leave. After spending the day tromping from one far flung end of Candelilla to the other, I found a replacement in the 19-yr-old son of a neighbor. He nearly didn't come through either (as we were leaving his parents said he couldn't go..) but I frightened them with my near-hysteria and he came after all. I spent the evening in Santa Fe watching television shows about obscenely obese British teenagers and shoving my face full of foil-wrapped chocolates in an attempt to feel better about my life. Javier, my newly recruited counterpart, turned out to be a source of vast entertainment for everyone at PML. During introductions we each saaid something about where we were from. Other people's counterparts said things like, "we produce lots of chocolate!" or "there are beautiful flowers in our town!" Javier said, "I am from the Darien. I like cows and women." He spent the sessions talking to his girlfriend on his phone, humming out loud, and periodically retreating to the back of the room to do push-ups. One day at lunch he jumped in the fish pond and tried to catch the coi...ah well. It makes a good story in retrospect.

I also recently went to El Valle to visit Cassidy and Yorhani who work at an orchid farm there. It was a beautiful area, very toursity but deliciously cool. We went on a hike in teh cloud forest, visited teh market and the orchid farm, made mango jam, had ping pong tournaments, and generally just had a lovely visit. They will hopefully come visit me here in a few weeks.

Another exciting recent event was a regional meeting slash goat roast. This time the goat was named sprinkles. I once again drew #2 for goat-killing duty, back-up for Omar. As I went for the knife however, I left omar holding him down only half-heartedly. Sprinkles leapt up and took off running, escaping through the barrios of Meteti and into the pasturelands outside town. A herd of gringos took off in hot pursuit, though Damian and I stayed behind believing the cause to be futile. An hour and a half later, however, they returned with a trussed-up sprinkles in the back of the frontier-police's car. Casey, a new volunteer, had leapt out of a taxi as she arrived in town and run sprinkles down in the pasture. Omar was fired from goat killing duty. Sprinkles was turned into a delicious Thai curry, a delicious Indian curry, and some soup which we accompanied with homemade fermented pineapple "chicha fuerte" and fermented ginger "chicha fuerte". Other provinces have their regional meetings at hotels or in the office in Panama city, but that is not how we roll in the Dirty D.

The asSASins (Group 65 SAS) continue to dwindle: from our original 18 we are left with 11. Most recently we lost Susanne, who went home for family reasons, and my dear friend the beloved Tim van den Boom, who had to leave due to political upheaval involving mining in the indigenous area known as the Comarca Ngobe Bugle. Other volunteers have also been affected by this upheaval, and we are really hoping we don't lose any more. I found a journal entry from when I first arrived in washington saying that I suspected that 7 of the original 54 would go home. We have already lost 12 and we still have a year to go...i hope we don't lose any more!

Speaking of people going home, just yesterday Damian left Cucunati. We had a "despedida" (goodbye party) for him at which we ate a bunch of chicken soup and observed a horse castration. Nothing says party time like wrestling a horse to the ground and cutting off his testicles with a kitchen knife. The Darien will be a different place without him, and I will miss him and his Julia Child impressions terribly. Now who will I show my jungle treasures to? (see entry of sometime last fall)

So as you can see I have been busy with all sorts of absurd and hilarious activities. In my free time I have mostly been reading lots of books, plunking away on Diablo Rojo, explaining the phenomenon of Donald Trump, weaving my own sombrero, scratching chiggers, cursing rats, avoiding snakes, accrueing an impressive collection of hideously crocheted sweat-rags, and getting my toes bitten savagely by my neighbor's pet toucan Charlie. Like we say, it's always an adventure in the Darien.

Friday, May 27, 2011


Once again, sorry for the long silence. I have something good coming soon, and it will be worth the wait. But to tide you over until then, here are some videos Liz made when she came up to my neck of the woods. one video is of zach´s site and the other is of mine, so enjoy, and thanks Liz for your cinematographic skillz.


(And more coming soon, I promise for real this time)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Apologies for falling off the map there for a minute. I won't even bother making excuses, suffice it to say that the adventures have been numerous, and I will relate them to you presently. I'll begin where I left off and give you the highlights of the last three months.

In December I went home for christmas and had a lovely time wearing my precious union suit and lots of plaid while chilling with my family and some good friends. One highlight was a stocking full of cheese, which has been fun trying to describe to my people ("I hung up a sock and an elf in a red suit was supposed to fill it with gifts, but really it was my dad and he filled my sock with cheese..."). We also found a beaver dam, so I have been explaining beavers and ice to everyone. They are very interested in hearing about wildlife, but are puzzled as to why we eat so few of them. Beavers, for example, they think would be both delicious and big enough to feed a fair number of people. Anyway, it was a fun visit, nice to see everyone. I was surprised at how much I missed Panama though, even the loud noisy city full of cloying sticky humid heat.

I got back to Panama right before New Years and went to Chiriqui and Bocas del Toro. In Bocas I visited my friend Elsie's site, which was a lot of fun. We hung out playing music, pasearing, building a magic circle, and checking out some cacao farms. I saw some cool frogs. Elsie's people were wonderful. She lives in an indigenous Ngobe site. They enjoyed teaching me useful Ngoberi phrases such as "I'm going to wash my underwear" and "how are your balls?" They found it hilarious and frankly so did I. We had a great time.

On the way home I had another ridiculous chiva ride, this one involving a truck packed to the brim with 22 passengers slogging up what should be described as one very long mudpit rather than a road. One lady from Catherine's town (Santa Rosa) started right off the bat with expounding to us the imminance of Jesus's return in a rather abrassive manner, peppering her sentences with exclamations of "hallelujia!" and "jesus viene!" This prompted some of the more irreverent passengers to start cracking dirty religiou-themed jokes, which caused even the proselytizing lady to stop shouting religious exclamations long enough to snicker a little. Then the chiva started sliding all over the place in the mud, causing the woman next to me to burst into hysterical tears. The Santa Rosa lady patted her knee and assured her that whatever happened was the will of God. This only made the girl cry harder. So everyone took off their sombreros and started fanning her. As this point several passengers became concerned that I would also fall into hysteria. My counterpart assured them, "don't worry about her, she's an adventurer." Oh and lest I forget, this entire trip was spent trying to avoid the gaze of the "incourageable winkster," an old man who sat conveniently catty-corner to me and winked at me once every 2 to 5 minutes. He never spoke to me, he just winked like clockwork for the entirety of the 2 hour trip.

Other notable events in January included helping out at a children's art camp and making some nun friends, and the sad sad day when I learned that my dear friends Carmen and Jake went home.

February was another interesting month. It's extremely dry now, no rain at all, and no mud either! Though its very very very hot, the road is dry as a bone as easy to walk on. The summer (jan through april) is the time for "vacunaderas." These are great fun. Farmers herd all their coaws into a corral. Then a few people on horseback go into one side of the corral where all the cows are and lasso cows, then drag them into the other side of the corral where people physically wrestle the cows to the ground. Then they vaccinate them, brand them, and cut off their horns with a saw. The cow is then understandably quite angry, so as soon as they let the cow up they run as fast as they can up the side of the corral to escape the enraged rampage that follows the cow's release. This whole enterprise is of course accompanied by copious amounts of "chicha fuerte" (homemade fermented corn drink) and seco. I have been learning all sorts of useful skills - my cow wrestling is improving every day, and I have successfully lassoed three cows from the back of a horse. My branding skills leave something to be desired though, as I accidently branded several of Esteban's cows upside down. The vacunaderas are rowdy, but lots of fun, and I've got the people saying "what's up cowboy" and "she is cowgirl."

I still don't have a pet in the normal sense of the word, but I have had some interesting additions to my household. The first was a spider named Betsy (pronounced "beksi" in campo spanish). Betsy is one of those huge spiders that have a picture of a skull on their backs. She guarded my door for a good month before she ran off for other more exciting propects. The whole town misses her - they used to come by just to look at her. Now every time anyone sees one of those spiders they come running to my house saying "molly! come look! I found a beksi!" My other pet was a gift from my neighbor's daughter. It is a chicken which I am supposed to be raising to make a arroz con pollo when my family comes to visit. I named her Tasty, and she is an escape artist. She spent most of her first week on the lam from the law (the law being me and zach). For this reason Zach calls her Tasty the Bandit.

In the end of February I went on a two day trek to the Kuna Yala. It was by far my best experience so far in Panama and one of the best in my life. If you have a minute you should look up the Kuna, they are a very interesting indigenous group who live in an autonomous and inaccessible province of Panama bordering Darien to the north and Columbia to the south east. They fought the Panamanian government for independance in 1925 and have since maintained their autonomy. They have their own system of governmnet of the traditional headman and a council. We planned teh hike to coincide with their annual celebration of the revolution they fought to gain their independance. There were 11 of us - 11 guys and me and Catherine. It was a really fun group. We started from Mateo's old site, Pigandi. From there we hiked through the jungle for about 4 hours to a Kuna village called Nurra (well actually we accidently went to Wala and had to pay a little kid 5 dollars to take us to Nurra, about 45 minutes away). In Nurra we met our guide (who had tattoos of a T Rex and a naked lady on his arm) and had a deliciously cold soda, a soak in the river, and some peanut butter sandwiches before heading off into the jungle again. We hiked the rest of the day, then made camp on a river bank in the middle of the woods with total wilderness stretching off in every direction. We rested our poor aching limbs in the water, washed our clothes, made a fire and strung up our hammocks. We spent the evening chatting by the campfire, making smores, playing cards, and resting our poor aching bodies. We slept in hammocks strung up between the trees, looking up at the stars through the rainforest canopy.

In the morning we headed off again on the trail. It was intense. Huge portions of the trail had been washed away in the December rains, and we found ourselves clinging to the sides of steep embankments and pulling ourselves along using our arms. It was increadibly steep going up the cordillera, and even steeper coming down the other side. We hiked for about 10 hours and finally straggled out into a trash-strewn inlet where we collapsed amid heaps of rusting cans and trash, too tired to move. We were a mess. A boat came and picked us up and took us to the island of Ustupu.

On Ustupu we stayed with a lovely family who gave us the whole upstairs of their house to stay in. That evening it was all we could do to eat and collapse into our hammocks and a few grimy mattresses on the floor. In the morning, feeling slightly refreshed but still limping noticeably, we explored. The independance celebration involved daily reenactments of the fight for independance, including intense portrayals of the capture and torture of kuna fighters. We spent the day exploring the island. It is densely populated with houses of thin bamboo and palm thatch roofs with narrow alleys between them. During independance women are required to wear traditional clothing for a whole month, which was very picturesque. Considering everything I had heard from Latinos and gringos alike, I was surprised to find how welcoming and friendly everyone was. They were excited to talk about traveling, politics, history, literature, and teach us phrases in Kuna. For meals members of teh community all gathered in the main community building and then divvied up to eat at different houses all over town. They invited us along, and at breakfast and lunch time we were taken in small groups of a few gringos and a few kuna to eat in people's homes. In the afternoon we joined a volleyball tournament in which many tall gringo men were thoroughly defeated by some tiny, fierce, kuna ladies in full traditional outfits.

The next day was the main celebration and we were awakened at 4:37 AM by a parade through the streets. We again spent the day wandering, meeting people, and exploring. In teh afternoon there was a big parade. Everyone wore red and marched, including us. It culminated in the square and then there were reenactments of the defeat of the Panamanian army. At the end, as the kuna fighters flew their flag as the panamanians retreated, i saw men and women crying and embracing and shouting "we're free! we're free!" It was a very highly charged atmosphere. Afterwards we played with a whole gang of children until nightfall, and then sat around chatting with some neighbors who were playing pan pipes and dancing until all hours of the morning.

Getting out of the Kuna Yala was a bit of a challenge. We went by boat between islands all morning, which was beautiful. The area is a tropical paradise. When we arrived, after 7 hours, at the only road out they told us they were only letting kuna leave. We wound up hiking for nearly three hours before we could get a ride. We finally got to Meteti at 11 PM exhausted, filthy, smelly, and sore but very very happy. It was an increadible experience.

This week was another exciting one. I went to celebrate Carnaval in Las Tablas. It was a crazy week of mobs being hosed down in the streets, elaborate floats, and all night dancing. I thought I would be totally overwhelmed because it's not really my normal scene, but even though it was a little crazy I really enjoyed it.

So those are my major highlights of my recent life. I will try to not let so much time lapse before my next post. Much love to all of you!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Here's an attempt at loading up some new photos. I have more pictures of people and activities on facebook, so check that out too when you get a chance. I am home in Vermont for Christmas, and it is cold and snowy and I can't get over the fancyness of the bathroom sink. It's really incredible. Anyway, I have nothing else witty to say right now. Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

December 12, 2010

Sorry for the long silence folks, it always seems to work out that I have oodles of time for this sort of thing when I’m in site, but whenever I am within range of internet access I have eight million things to take care of and no time to do it in. So I will give you some highlights of the last six weeks.

One major one was the Darien Halloween Goat Roast. This is how we roll in the Darien. Mateo, our fearless regional leader, and Carmen found us a goat (or rather a “chivo”, which is more like a cross between a sheep and a goat). We named it Muffin. Me, Zach, Guy, Mateo and Alan were in charge of slaughtering Muffin (Zach was on actual machete duty). Once this business was finished, Damien , who has lots of goat-butchering experience, set about expertly turning him into edible bits (and some not-so-edible bits as well). Then we spent the rest of the day cooking: Carmen the ex-vegetarian on the side dishes, Catherine on the soup, Guy on a delicious BBQ, and Damien on one of the most phenomenal curries I’ve ever had the pleasure of consuming. But now I shall tell you the tale of Muffins Revenge. In transporting the soup from the make shift oven (created with a campfire, an old oil drum and the rusting body of an old wheelbarrow), Zach spilled the soup on his foot and got third degree burns that had him posted up in his hammock for the next two weeks and left scars that are still there. And thus Muffin sought his revenge. But despite his vindictive nature, Muffin sure was delicious.

Panamanians don’t celebrate Halloween, but they sure do celebrate November 3, which is Panama’s Independence Day from Colombia. A shady case of political tomfoolery on the part of the US, but it makes for a good holiday. I won’t go into to detail about the celebrations now because I’m writing an article about it for the Peace Corps Panama newspaper, and I’ll post it up here when it’s done. For now, suffice it to say that there was duck-lassoing involved. I promise I will describe duck-lassoing and the other exciting activities in which we participated.

Thanksgiving was a whole lot of fun, even though I was far from home and family and there were no musical chairs to be had, as is the tradition in Vermont. Most of the volunteers (about 150) go to Cerro Punta in Chiriqui each year, which is a beautiful and amazingly chilly place where the people are quiet and gentle and hoe their neat hillside rows demurely. Not at all like the Wild East of Darien where everyone gets rowdy, hootin’ and hollerin’ through the mountains, swinging their machetes, lassoing things from the backs of galloping horses, guzzling chicha fuerte from old pesticide containers, and shouting about who’s wife ran off with the neighbor after marching into the cantina and punching her husband in the face because she found out about his mistress. All sorts of shenanigans in which the calm and tranquil people of the Chiriqui Highlands seem not to indulge.

I had a heck of an adventure getting TO Thanksgiving, of course. This one consisted of me accidentally going to Colon instead of David which you will notice, if you pull out your handy dandy map of Panama, are in two very different directions. This came to be through a series of events that were partially but not entirely my fault – I failed to check the destination written on the front of the bus and also to realize that the number of the gate in no way corresponds to the number of the bus, which is not at all marked or displayed in any way, but also the conductor assured me on three occasions that we were in fact headed for David which it turned out was not the case. But such is life and it was fun in the end because I made it to Santiago (thanks to Damian who waited for me in Panama) and in the morning rode the bus to David in the company of Gobbles, who was destined for the T-Day table. Kenny brought Gobbles all the way from the Azuero peninsula in a box. He was quite a trooper and also very tender. In fact, all the food at Thanksgiving was extremely delicious. And not just because I survived on nothing but oranges, plantains and beans for a week before hand. I even ran out of Peanut Butter which was a tragedy. We all had a grand old time hanging out, cooking, playing ping pong, cards and settlers of catan, and having guitar sing alongs. All sorts of tasteful debauchery. There may have been a point in time when the tastefulness of the debauchery was called into question, but such is life. All in all it was an excellent holiday.

After Thanksgiving a few of us went to some hot springs and played with a monkey and then went to beach at Las Lajas for a few days to await our week of In Service Training. This was a group reconnect with all of Group 65 in Divisa, where there was noticeably less Spam than last time for which I was thankful.

Zach and I had quite a time getting back from IST, but we managed somehow to get ourselves to Cucunati just in time for the town fiesta. This involved hiding 70 lbs. of seeds I’d brought from Tole in the forest on the other side of the river, which turned out to be a poor decision because I had to ford the raging river with the seeds on my back the next morning. The fiesta was quite a cultural experience. We met Damian and Mateo there. A Cucunati Baile (dance party) is a debaucherous event which can in no way be described as tasteful. Except maybe the fried dough hojaldras which actually were pretty tasty. The rest of it mostly consisted of the good people of Cucunati imbibing entirely too much seco and then betting on cock fights until that got out of hand and it degenerated into heated bouts of dice throwing in the bloody cockfighting pit and trying to dance with the gringa until who knows what ungodly hour. I don’t, because I went to bed at 2:30, but they were still there the next morning at 9 am…anyhow, I enjoyed the raucous welcome-back-to-Darien after the civilized calm of Chiriqui.

This time of year is chock-full of fiestas. The most recent was Mother’s Day, which in Panama is December 8, and a very important holiday. The typical way to celebrate is for the men to go out and drink themselves silly so that their wives and mothers not only have to cook and clean and care for the children, but also worry about their whereabouts and possibly go pull them out of a ditch or a machete fight. In Candelilla, though, the people are a bit more wholesome. The teenagers had saved up their money from their work as peons and bought gifts for all the mothers in town. They also put on a big feast for everyone in town, which the mothers cooked of course, but the kids served. There were even two cakes which a couple of boys brought all the way from Santa Fe. After the rough chiva ride and the muddy horse-back ascent to Candelilla, the cakes arrived fairly disheveled, but were still delicious. And the mooshiness was very conducive to an icing fight.

On another note, in addition to Selma who seems to posess at least 9 lives, now I also have a bat named Mordecai. Mordecai is increadibly loud and destructive for a bat and also likes to swoop as close to me as possible when I least expect it.

And lest you think that the lull in holidays between mother’s day and Christmas is in anyway a lull, let me tell about the recent series of events. You may have heard it on the news (or maybe not since not a lot of the international community cares too much about Panama’s shenanigans), Panama is FLOODED. It has been the first time since 1914 when the Canal opened that it has been closed down. Roads and bridges are collapsing, and Lago Bayano has flooded, putting several volunteers in Panama Este and Darien’s houses under water. The road between Darien and Panama City is impassable, probably for the next week, and everyone is beginning to worry about shortages of food and fuel. Zach and I came down from Cucunati yesterday to get groceries, and we are now stuck out here, as the road to Cucunati is impassable because of increadibly deep mudcaused by all the rain. There is talk of evacuation if the food runs out (we are thinking the riots will start just about the time they run out of sugar and seco) and fuel is already short. The teachers of Meteti got out by private plane this morning, and a few volunteers in the Lago Bayano area were evacuated by boat yesterday. Zach and I are both trying to get home for Christmas, for which we need to get back to site to get our passports, but right now we’ve been ordered to stay in Meteti and wait for further instructions. Not to worry, it is not flooding here, and we are all safe. Oh Panama, the adventures never stop!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

¡Ai la vida!

Well life just keeps getting busier and busier and this is an update from October that I´m only just now getting to put up. I will do a November update sometime soon, I promise!

One of the exciting events of this month was the All Volunteer Conference in Chitre, in teh Azuero Peninsula. It was a lot of fun. I got to reunite with the beloved asSASsins and meet a whole bunch of super cool volunteers. I was, however, a bit put out the first day because the schedule promised me snacks and the snacks were not forthcoming. I found this irksome, as we all know how much I love snacks. My favorite event of the AVC was the ¨Campo Olympics,¨a series of competitions including a soccer match, a ¨pop a squat¨competition, water bucket relay, orange peeling race, sardine eating and banana eating competitions, and human cock fighting. I personally represented my team, Group 65, in a gritaring contest (I think I´ve mentioned gritaring, or salomaring, before, it´s sort of a cross between a yodel and a yell they do in the fields). My teammate Chris and I placed 3rd, but our group won the overall competition and were presented with a Golden Machete and the title of ¨Most Dominant Group¨. This will soon be witnessable through first hand videos at Liz´s video blog, www.lizwilkie.blogspot.com, which you should check out anyway because Liz is a fellow Darienita and has lots of neato videos about life here (albeit in Meteti which is positively metropolitan in comparison to Candelilla, though not in comparison to anywhere else in Panama). I make a slightly awkward appearance in several of them. Anyway, even though AVC was a lot of fun it was also really intense. I was happy to get back home to the Darien, where at the border a billboard of a friendly ex FARC gives you an enthusiastic thumbs up and reminds you that there is¨another way¨ and the border polics assure you that your security is ¨one of¨their priorities. Perhaps not their TOP priority, but it´s up there with the others.

This month I have been spending a lot of time working on my house, which is still a little ghetto. Much larger but not nearly so charming as Zach´s cute little `palm thatch hut up the mountain. I have an obtuse pile of old cement in my yard along with old piles of burned trash and a few brush heaps, a dilapidated rancho, no windows, haphazardly nailed boards as siding, lots of termites and fire ants, cows and pigs who routinely destroy EVERYTHING, a latrine that at best can be described as unpleasant, a ¨shower¨(really just a spot to haul in a bucket of water) that is knocked together with old sticks and a collection of mismatched, hideously patterned sheets of plastic, and a mouse named Selma. Selma is incredibly destructive and also very noisy, often waking me up at 3 am and driving me to grab my broom or machete and rampage around the house flailing my arms and cursing her, her ancestors, her progeny, and life in general before grumpily collapsing back into my mosquito net, only to be awakened once again 10 minutes later with her incessant scurrying.

Yesterday I faced the problem of my table. It was outside, you see, and I wanted it inside. This may seem straightforward, but as it turned out was actually quite complicated, as it wouldn´t actually fit through the door. I started to solve this problem by sawing an inch and a half off the four legs. This seemed promising, and I started to get cocky as I wrangled the table through the front door. I was chagrinned to discover that, due to the fact that the doors don´t come in standard sizes here in Candelilla (and consist primarily of wood scraps hammered together willy nilly with odd pieces of metal which are deffinitely not nails), fitting through the front door was no guarantee whatsoever that it would fit through the adjacent door into the hammock room-library for which is was bound. So I twisted and turned and jammed the thing at every conceivable angle, to no avail. I then decided to be Panamanian about the whole affair, made a cup of coffee, and sat in my hammock contemplating the table, which was so near and yet so very far away. And, as hammocks and coffee are extrememly conducive to ponderous endeavors, it dawned on me that I could remove the door from its hinges, thereby increasing the width of the door frame by a good 2 inches. Having arrived at this conclusion I energetically (and a bit proudly, I´ll admit) set about removing the door from its hinges. No easy feat, considering the whole business was held together with variously sized, bent nails and random bits of wire all rusted into a sort of metallic birds nest one might find in the home decoration section of a country living magazine. Just replace the quaint wooden New England style song birds with giant cockroaches. Anyway, after removing the door from its erstwhile hinges, I was crestfallen to find that no matter how I cajoled, cursed and pleaded, the table simply wouldn´t fit. After another stint in the hammock, I realized, abashedly, that I could have just lifted the thing through my giant tienda window at teh start and have done with the whole rigamarole. So I wrested the table back out the front door and lifted it through the window in a matter of minutes, and there it sits in the corner, calm as can be, as if it hadn´t been the cause of me getting my knickers in an increasingly aggravating twist for a good hour or so. Side note about my tienda window - when I go out it is held shut with a piece of bent rebar and an old branding iron belonging to APVUC, whoever that may be. And that, my friends, is my table saga.

So as you can see, my life is very exciting what with all the tables and all. Not to mention the children who like to come over and stare, sometimes for hours at a time (Melvin is especailly adept at silent staring), the jovenes who like to drop by and tell dirty jokes which i pretend to understand (and sometimes pretend I don´t understand) and the adults who like to drop by and show off their freshly slingshotted parrots headed for the frying pan. People are also always sneding me food. This week I had oranges, bananas, yuca, plantains, chicheme, rice and three full meals sent to my house. The gente are not wholy convinced that I am capable of feeding myself. Their doubt arises from teh fact that I don´t buy rice much, so they are confused as to what I could possibly be eating, and are thus concerned that I may starve.

Anyway, you can look forward to an account of our goat roast and Panamanian independance day in my next update.

Love to you all, and don´t forget to keep it hip to the jive up there.