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!