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.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Blog entry 10/11/2010

First order of business: I have a new address! And hopefully it will work better than the panama city one, which hasn’t been getting me my letters. The address is:

Molly McCumber

Cuerpo de Paz

Correo Santa Fe 0504

Provincia de Darien

Republica de Panama

It should work! Also, for Zach’s family, it’s the same address you should use to write him. I’m not 100 percent sure about sending packages there, but I’ll keep you posted when I find out.

Anyway, it’s been an INSANELY busy month, and I can’t believe I’ve been here for nearly six months! As always, life has been full of adventures. We have been cutting endless rice this month, and I have been working hard. The first few months here I got pretty frustrated with getting the farmers to take me to work with them, since women here (in my area anyway) simply don’t work on the fincas. But by now I have a good camaraderie going with them, and they take me along, if only for entertainment value. We crack a lot of jokes (mostly revolving around my ineptitudes) and spend a lot of time salomaring at the top of our lungs. A salomar is a half-yodel-half-shout they do here. A lot of the jokes revolve around my machetes, and El Tigre usually accompanies me to the fields. This has inspired the farmers to name their own machetes, and we have a whole zoo up here, including La Pantera Negra, El Cheetah, El Leon, El Puma, La Anaconda…you get the picture. The other day we hiked waaaaaaaaaaaay up into the mountains above Candelilla to cut rice. The hike was brutal, so we camped up there in the middle of the jungle in a hut they made. It was absolutely gorgeous – thick jungle, giant cuipo trees, a waterfall, and views out over the mountains to the ocean and La Palma. One day after working in the field all morning I headed back to the village for a meeting, and that afternoon they happened upon a bushmaster. I guess they’re not that uncommon up here, but fortunately people find them during the day when they are sleeping, and therefor much less aggressive. We also ate lots of freshly caught shrimp sand canejo pintado, which along with iguana is perhaps the most delicious of the obscure animals I have eaten. Parrot is by far the worst and I would recommend bypassing it if you ever see it on a menu.

Speaking of freshly caught shrimp, I participated in my first SUCCESSFUL shrimp hunt. I speared 2 shrimp with a fork tied to the end of a stick. Who knew that a fork would yield higher success than a machete? I guess you learn something new every day.

There have, as always, been plenty of adventures getting in and out of my site. Once, in a rare turn of events, the chiva left Santa Fe promptly at 3 PM, and Zach and I proceeded to count our chickens well before they hatched first the chiva got stuck in an uphill mudpit, and the efforts to extract the unfortunate vehicle dislodged the bags, boxes, giant bottles of pesticides of which the farmers are so fond, and sacks of seeds, tossing everything willy-nilly about the back of the truck. For some reason I can’t quite fathom, someone had a sack of pig parts, and it came open, spewing recognizable pork appendages among the more benign cargo. In trying to rearrange the chaos, Zach unwittingly grabbed ahold of a detached pig tail, which was a bit of a nasty surprise. Half an hour later we emerged, much the worse for the wear, from the mud pit, and again began to let our expectations rise above reason. You would have though by now we would have learned, but one clings to the merest slivers of hope when there is so little to be had in the world of Darienita public transportation. A mere 5 minutes after wards, the tire leapt to attention and made a hasty advance down the hill, leaving the chiva far behind. There was no reattaching the tire, and wanting to get back to our respective villages within the region of nightfall, we decided to start walking. Which we did for the next two hours until we arrived in Cucunati at dusk. I’ll spare you the frightful details, but suffice it to say I saw a 4 foot fer de lance. Another time, I had to forge the quebrada up to my chest (but don’t worry mom and dad I had someone spotting me on the other bank). Whatever else it is, campo life is never dull.

Having been in site for 3 months, I moved out of my final host family and into my own house. It’s much larger than I need – 3 large rooms and a porch with a cement floor and zinc roof (fancy!) and an adjacent wooden and palm thatch structure with an open sided kitchen and a large porch. I had a work junta to build a latrine, a bathing area, some furniture, and generally clean and arrange it. The major entertainment consisted of ridding the house of its former occupants, namely a rat which was pursued from room to room to room and back again by a pack of shrieking children and a bunch of men wildly flailing machetes, hammers, and old lengths of garden hose. I remained don’t eh fringes of the melee chuckling and taking photographs. We also found a giant, hairy and oddly orange tarantula. The work momentum began to flag the the junta degenerated when everyone started demanding to know why Diablo Rojo was being lazy and hadn’t come to the junta. I was sent to remedy this oversite and of course this resulted in a repetitious Jolene sing along, with some of the words changed to fit a man in town by the name of Tolin (which rhymes with Jolene). Then someone discovered a charred teddy bear which was declared the mascot and had to have its photograph taken with nearly everyone. The day wrapped up with some fart jokes, which are apparently funny in every culture.

I have been pretty psyched to have my own space – I’ve strung up a few hammocks and been bombarded with visitors, who bring me food because they are concerned that I don’t know how to properly deep fry. I’ve also been inundated with fire ants, or “candelillas” (for which the town is named). They have taken over the kitchen, eaten everything not sealed in jars, bitten me all over, and generally succeeded in incurring my wrath. In fact, they were crawling up my legs and into my shorts in droves as I wrote that sentence out (I compose these by hand at home and then type them up when I come down to town). Fortunately they don’t leave marks, since between the wide variety of bug bites, foot funguses, barbed wire snags and unidentifiable skin infections I perpetually have all over my legs and feet, there’s not much room for a herd of vengeful fire ants to leave their signature. I also had a pig stuck in my house yesterday, and I spent a good five minutes chasing it around, smacking it with a broom and cussing at it while it squeeled at the top of its muddy little lungs and ran from room to room knocking over all my neatly stacked piles of belongings.

Last time I came down to Cucunati I showed up on Damian’s door step soaking wet and covered in mud, with my raincoattied like a cape around my neck and my hair escaping every which way in the humidity, with a collection of interesting seeds and rocks I’d found along the trail clenched in my grubby fist. The first words I uttered upon my arrival were “Hey Damian, you want to see my nifty jungle treasures?” Upon reflection I imagine I must have seemed like I had escaped from some sort of remote insane asylum and spent a week wandering through the woods to civilization. Damian, being an amiable fellow, seems to be largely unphased by my eccentricities, but he must wonder sometimes. Still, he always gives me a seat and some beef jerky and lets me wash off the quebrada stench and leave my boots and machete in the corner so that I go to town looking fractionally more like a presentable member of soc iety and less like something that should be kept in a wildlife rehabilitation center. Thank goodness for Zach and Damian, without them I would be liable to go all Dances-With-Wolves on you guys. Or maybe dances-with-fer-de-lance. Side note: I thought botflies were rare where I live, since leshmaniasis seems to be so popular, but Damian got a botfly last week. On his left buttocks. The worm was 1 inch long. Not to gross you out or anything.

That’s it for now, but I will post again soon about my trip to the All Volunteer Conference, and hopefully I’ll get up some more photos really soon.

And thank you to my mom for typing this all out into the blog since I wrote it all out and then couldn’t copy and paste it. You’re the best, Mom!

Friday, September 10, 2010


I just almost had photos to show you, but for some reason I can't explain the internet refuses to cooperate. So I appologize, and Mom I promise they are coming some day. Anyway, about the pigknapping. The other day this sow gave birth to piglets out in the monte, which is the overgrown hillside. The sow belongs to a farmer named Pedro, who wants to bring the piglets back to the house to raise them. So he hands me a motete, which is like a basket that you wear as a backpack, sort of like an adirondack pack basket. And we grab some machetes, and track the mother pig up the mountain through the brush to where she's stashed her little porquitos. Pedro lassoos the sow and wrestles her to the ground, shouting, "quick molly! grab the piglets!" So while he and the sow are in an all out hand-to-hoof combat, I run around the monte trying to grab up the seven fat and sneaky little porquitos and pop them in my basket. When I get the last one, Pedro yells, "now run!" And I book it down the jungly mountainside, with a load of squealing, writhing piglets on my back, and the furious mother hot on my trail snarling and hurtling down after me in hot pursuit. Needless to say, I ran pretty fast, fairly convinced that my adventures were about to be ended by several hundred pounds of enraged pork. Luckily I made it to the house without falling into a mud pit or getting stuck in a fence, and here I am to tell you all the tale of my pigknapping adventure.


Interior decoration in Candelilla

smoked iguana for dinner mmm......

Outside the school at my first community meeting!

The successful huntress of shrimps

Hanging out at the tienda

80 100lb sacks of "name" we hauled to cucunati on horseback

The view from where we were throwing our machetes one day

The 6 foot equis (okay it might have been 5...I didnt have a ruler)

Making bollo (corn logs, basically)

Cowboys, hammocks, you know. Good times.

Me and Elsie with our coco locos on Isla Grande

Zach dangles Sammy and Jess my their hair. This si my community's favorite photo of all time.

According to my host family, we look just like twins.

The asSASsins!

Pilaring corn, dang its a work out.

Swimming for hours and hours and hours in the quebrada and then posing for photos is always a productive way to spend the day.

My village!

Suzanne and Zach cook up teh chickens we raised into delicious tacos!

What can you do when teh quebrada floods except for hang out taking gangster photos?

Paulina daring me a cuento

Marc and Jes cook Guacho for our Panamanian Fiesta

I pose as the ninja while Ruby draws, for our bear/ninja/hunter asSASsin team t-shirts

Zach and joe prepare to head off on a beach trek- a plan that was foiled by the maliante gangsters from Colon.

Pina coladas, ceviche, friends, beach....I hate to complain, but Peace Corps life is so hard sometimes.

Magic Cirlces! One of our favorite sassy techniques. We'll teach you how to make your very own. All you need is some plantain plants...

This is the house I lived in in Santa Clara during training

I'm not sure why Pablo's eyes are so wonky, but hey, its art.
Pressing sugar cane juice

I did it! Dont expect any more for awhile though....