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!