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.

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