As always things have been adventurous and busy around here. The last few weeks have gone by in the blink of an eye. We had a final goodbye party for our host families in Santa Clara, for which we got up at 7 am and killed 20 chickens that we had raised for the party and turned them into delicious tacos. Our Swear in Ceremony to become real volunteers was eventful. The Panamanian Vice President and First Lady came, and you may have seen us on CNN. The day of the ceremony was the day Obama announced increased funding for Peace Corps, so CNN had a little snippet of us. After the ceremony I decided not to try and meet the famous people, but true to form I parked myself by the refreshment table for a solid hour and a half, making it my business to sample everything at least twice. I succeeded, of course. We also got the rest of the day off, so we explored Panama Viejo, which is really the only part of the city I like. It reminds me of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. After leaving Santa Clara we had a final week back in Ciudad del Saber, clinging to the last shreds of cushy existence before campo life, and sitting around acting like hippie peace corps volunteers with our guitars and mandolins and frisbees. I bought a guitar, and its red, so naturally I named in Diablo Rojo. Before heading off to site we had a few days off, so a bunch of us went to Isla Grande, a beautiful island off the caribbean coast. We spent the time lying around on the beach drinking coconuts, snorkling, and entertaining ourselves for hours, literally, with mary´s underwater camera. Zach and Marion attempted, in vain, to go spear fishing with sharpened sticks.
I have now been in my site for 2 weeks, and I still am really excited about it, though it's definitely intense. Though Im actually in the city right now due to inexplicable jungle diseases. To get here, I had to go on horseback through a flooded stream, hike through mud and rain for an hour and a half, cross a river in a boat, take a chiva to the highway, and then i got stuck with the diablo rojo bus for 5 hours. I arrived, COVERED in mud and sweat and feeling rather out of place, as always when Im in the city, as rubber boots do not blend well. In my village I have spent most of my time pasearing. Pasear is a verb for walking around visiting other people, and I really like that Panamanian tradition. We've had a coupleof work juntas, complete with chicha fuerte (which is not actually very fuerte, it turns out), to build a house for the rice husker, or piladora, that the farmers cooperative bought. It has yet to function, of course, but its here, and it will make a big difference to the farmers in this neck of the jungle because up til now they have had to take all their rice to cucunati on horseback to pilar it.
Mostly though I spend a lot of time sitting around at various peoples houses. Fortunately there are lots of hammocks, which make the awkward silences which are so popular in Panama much more comfortable. Making fun of my silly gringo antics is another favorite pasttime. Fortunately I'm full of absurd self deprecating stories. They are very popular conversation pieces and can be told over and over again without loosing any hilarity it seems. So really, this is the perfect place for me, since the Panamanians actaully LIKE my repetitious story telling tendencies. And the stories pasear around town faster than I can, so I often arrive at a house for the first time and they immediately ask me to tell them about how I told my host mother I was hiking to Cucunati in boats (instead of boots), or how the chicken jumped in the cake, or how I named my machete, which is probably their favorite story of all.
Safety standards here are a bit different from at home. Example. In my host family there is a toddler who is almost two. The other day, he started off with a large mug of coffee sweet enough to make your teeth hurt. Then he played with some matches. Then he found a plastic bag and put it on his head and ran around a bit. Then he proceeded to squat down a drop a deuce on the floor, while simultaneously eating cheetohs off of it, for which he was belted (hes supposed to go in the yard). A few hours later he found the lighter for the stove, and played with that for awhile while turning the knobs of the stove on and off. The hissing noise the gas makes as it comes streaming out into his face apparently delights him. Later on he chugged pepsi out of a 2 liter bottle. Despite this, the children are alive and well and quite delightful. I have a little gang that follows me everywhere i go, including to the bathroom. I also have several dog friends, because I usualyl leave more fat on the bones than the panamanians. Some of my favorite dogs are Strongman Kaiser, Michael Jackson, and Esparky Esnoppy.
Generally, life is good. I visited Zachs site, and boy I tell you. I am going to be a cardiovascular super champ at the end of these two years. Trekking through mud is a lot more work than normal hiking, and these hills are steep. Zachs got a lot more hills in his site though, lucky him. Though the parasites and chiggers have done a number on me, I have successfully avoided the vipers so far, of which there are many. I think I will become quite adept at getting them in one machete swipe. The food in my site is pretty good, though lacking in the vegetable department. People grow pretty much everything they eat. We get GIANT delicious shrimp from the quebradas. I asked how they hunted them and they said ¨with the viuda negra!¨ which I thought was a joke, but it wasn´t. They actually do hunt shrimp with a machete. Or they use the machete to sharpen a stick to spear the shrimp with. I am looking forward to learning this particular skill. I have also eaten more corn products than I ever before imagined existed. The new corn is coming in right now, and you would not believe the number or things you can make out of corn. Elsie is keeping a list.
Shockingly, I never thought I would say this, but some days I look back fondly on the deep fried hot dogs. Here, where there is no refrigeration, the people favor SPAM because of its longevity. Deep fried spam, stewed spam, spam and spaghetti, spam and rice...its a disturbingly persistent menu item.
Anyway, Im off to quitar these e.coli. Love to you all!