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!


  1. You and Zach stay safe. I hope you can get your passports but don't do anything dangerous to get them!!

  2. And "no" it was not in the news here that the Panama Canal closed down. Had to google it! Guess I will have to setup Google Alerts for Panama.