February 16, 2010

Carnival is winding down, although I can hear the bass pounding on distant Via España in the Panamá city. I had a fun afternoon of Penonomé Carnival and then into the city to help Isaac and Andi finish all the prep work for the 2010 Youth Conference. It is happening! Thanks to any of you who donated, we had brief moments of panic thinking that it might not happen, but the funds were raised! Tomorrow 50 kids from all over the country will be braving the traffic nightmare after fat Tuesday to head to the city.

Isaac and I finally took some time to visit our towns people in Chumungu where they plant onions in the summer months. For 15 years, many of the locals have packed up there entire families to work for three months.They get up at 4:30 to cook rice and chicken and start work at 7:00. The wind blows had enough so that you can't feel the intense sun and the mosquitoes don't have time to land for a meal. We are going to try and make it back for the harvest to help for a day or two.

We had a really successful rice harvest from our rice tanks. Increasing our harvest from 1 bucket to 3-5 gallon buckets. It is enough rice to keep my hands good and callused beating the rice hulls off and our bellies full with rice and its favorite summer time accompaniment guandu.

Not much better to do in summer time. Start the day and end the day with a trip to the water hole.

November 23, 2009

My grandmother passed away this past week. She had 94 (or maybe 96 bastante años pues) years. A woman with strong convictions, a strong mind, and the love and admiration of all of her family and more. Love you Grams! I am heading to the states on the 4th and on the 7th will be the memorial service. She always thought and said that you should celebrate ones life at a funeral and not mourn…..so we will celebrate, a life well worth celebrating.

October 12, 2009

Tengo Pereza…….

Where does anyone learn the feeling of laziness. Laziness that is the excuse to not get up out of your hammock….the heat? Laziness that keeps you from visiting your neighbor….shyness? A laziness that keeps you from planting yucca….my kids don’t like it? Or from studying multiplication tables, going to high school, going to your 3rd grade class, starting a project on your own, breeding your goat, selling your nursery plants, reading a book, or going to a meeting. The list of things not accomplished because of “pereza” could fill a page and is the cause and in turn the affect of Chumicosan poverty???……Pereza.

The word comes out of my mouth at times with spite I want to spit it out and at times a joking laziness of my own finds joy in using that word to reason why I am not going to cook more than pasta and sauce. However, when a young boy of 4 years tells me “tengo pereza” to pick up the trash that just fell on the ground I want to shake him, or maybe just his father and mother and grandfather and aunt and cousin who echo this sentiment in their excuses for everything.

Clemente asked us if it is an illness that his son has. “He drinks beer with the guys while they work and then says tengo pereza a trabajar (he feels too lazi to work)” and sits down for the rest of the day. “I am not sure what it is” I answer. But it is something they learned from you and the neighbors. Maybe it is because there is little hope for change or that fighting for the smallest of your rights has sapped all your other energies. There is something to say about the dreadful heat. Most afternoons I myself have little energy to do much and often fight with myself to stay out of the hammock. Not having a schedule seems to discourage any hope for really productive use of your time. There is no boss to answer to, no tax collector to pay, only those 7 small mouths to feed in a land where you can stick I stick in the ground and it grows. That is not to say that growing a nutritious diet is easy. But to have enough for 1 or two meals a day will not fill your day with planting and weeding.

Parents wonder why their kids don’t want to go to high school and some finish sixth grade not knowing how to read. Is it because they don’t have to? We always say in the states that the work of the kids is to study to go to school and learn prepare for your future for that good job. But, no one seems to understand that today effects the future and that there are opportunities. I get the feeling that the people here (chumicosa, here) think that if the kids don’t learn that it is the fault of the teachers. I find myself having the same thought that the teachers suck…. Maybe they do but really they are a product of the same system. I don’t think you can blame a teacher completely when the parents don’t work with their kids to study and the kids don’t take the time to study.

As I has cutting up banana trunks in my garden for compost I pictured myself in the parent school meeting tomorrow. Asking what the responsibilities of the parents were…..To provide for your children, food, a home, love, support. I would hope for an answer like this. And then the work of a child? What could that be? To study, to prepare for their future, maybe to change something, to make their lives a little bit better or just prepare them to provide for their children.

So today, now the day after the parent teacher meeting (not done individually, done with 31 parents and the 5 teachers) I left sad and frustrated. The teachers tell the parents that the kids leave class, they rip bad grades out of their note books and write in good grades, they tell their teachers to their face that “I don’t want to do my home work”, the kids hide under desks, and out behind the school, the list goes on. The talk about the problem, we have to have strong hands, discipline our children, check up on their work, blaa blaa bla. They say it every meeting.

Could the pereza that seems to exist in most parts of the country, but festers here, come from the gifts the free projects, the welfare checks that get sent out, the free food, and the lack of education. Or is it something else. I told Muyo my frustrations and thoughts and wondered what he thought about this condition. He agreed on the overall existence of laziness on a national level but that Chumicosa was better off than most places. It is not any better here.

Anyway, not always are things great and productive and rosy. There we are, a rant session of frustrations. We will go back to positive the next time around.

Otherwise we had a great visit with Tommi and Mariah. I am doing some research on cooking Sorgham, Millet and Amaranth. There is an organization working with families in the area and have a great little food mill set up and are growing some different grains. Any one have any experience? The Amaranth seems to grow great and I have a bunch in my own garden for salads. Isaac has been busy most afternoons teaching computer classes and the locals are cranking out letters to the government on all their needs (road, bridges, cell tower, ect.). Summer is approaching quickly and most likely it will be quiet with a lot of families leaving to work. Happy Halloween everyone! We are going to hunt down some (bruhas) witches and (dwindis) fairies to scare some people.

September 9, 2009

As usual it has been a while. We enjoyed a semi vacation for my birthday at La Iguana agro tourism hotel. It was a really quiet and beautiful coffee farm right outside of Penonomé. A movie, some river shrimp for lunch and a dip in the Rio Zarati. Right know I find myself dodging all the computer work I need to do. I will just call updating the public some of the work I need to do too.

We have become professional letter writing machines, continuously writing letters to our local agency reps. to ask for help with seminars and projects. I tried to write a business letter in English the other day and it just came out sounding silly with lots of directly translated flowery Spanish like phrases.

this past Monday another volunteer and I did a sex ed. class up in another volunteers sights. It was eye opening to read all the questions and responses especially from the girls. It was a class of 6th-8th graders. There understanding of where babies come from was next to nothing. There were questions ranging from does love hurt to what is sex. Afterward I met Isaac in town. He had the local town gossip that 2, 13 year old girls are pregnant and a 17 year old. the fathers are 14, 16, and 40ish. One of the responses was "well we tell the kids that having children is good". I am not sure that any one thinks it is a problem. Well, a sex ed. class is on its way.......

As for a weather up date....it has been hot! Really hot. Isaac is continuously struggling with heat exhaustion. This year is nothing like the last when we had evening rains to cool things down. We are just getting enough rain to keep the rice growing, but I think that we are close to drought. It is mostly just unbearable to work in the sun and that goes for the Panamanians too.

talk soon hey we just have 10 months left! Time is flying!

May 29, 2009

It rained….hard, really hard. The sound is so loud that all conversation ceases and waits for just a pitter patter. The lightning and thunder introduce themselves forcefully at the beginning of the season. The water runs of the roads a cream chocolate color (oh how I crave chocolate sometimes) straight for the river. It grows fast and changes color at the same time. The sticks and debris become larger and more often. Most importantly everyone can plant…..Hoping that the rains keep coming now and again. The corn is already up on a lot of the burned hill sides. If the rice seed that was planted wasn’t eaten by mourning doves (palomas) then it should be spouting in a couple days. If the palomas did eat the rice, I feel bad for them. The chances are that they will end their lives there on that hill side with a dose of poison, and who ever shows to benefit from the carnage likely ends up the same. There will be harvest. An old man told me back in April and then I heard it again from someone of that generation that the 24th of May is the Cambia de la luna and that on that full moon it always rained. Sure enough it seems as though rainy season started that day.

Megan's flat Stanley cooking with Joel

I have been at “Technical Week” this last week of May, helping with the new group of agriculture volunteers that arrived mid April. It is quite a reminder of the changes that I have gone through. First of all language, everyone asks if I am fluent yet….well I think I might achieve that my next Peace Corps service (some days I think I could do this all over again) but I understand. I think I have been able to take advantage of this tech week a hell of a lot more than my first time around, only because I understand the Spanish (it isn’t campo Spanish that makes it easier). The other change I get emotional taking about the difficulties related to development work here in Panama. When I hear from the director of the Ag. School that during the 40 years that he has been working as an ag. Extensionist not really anything has changed and he says the country is in Agricultural crisis. What the hell can I do??? I am not really sure but maybe I can learn to play some good music. Oh yeah the changes….the food here at the ag school, I remember being pretty bad and these new volunteers say just the same. I am thinking damn this is good , one than two things on my plate and at least one of them has flavor (that doesn’t count what we cook for ourselves – although that can get boring sometimes too).

Tech week female and male fish parts

Malaysian shrimp with eggs

We harvested this little guy from a fish tank. Only bites a little.

Isaac and I are taking up our own rice planting. We have borrowed a rice tank from a friend who doesn’t really grow food any more (he runs the best managed store – of the 5 in the town of 200). He makes enough food so that he doesn’t need to grow food. We have divided into three small easily managed parts and are going to practice what we preach. So far we have made new enemies with the leaf cutter ants. We learned our lesson about this so called arriera (leaf cutter ant) killer canavalia. It is best that this nitrogen fixing plant sticks to nitrogen fixing and we take other measures to save the beans for the umpthtilionth time from this voracious eater. Our compost pile is sinking and we have just a few more weeks to wait to us it. There is a delicious mango tree nearby, mango guayaba, it tastes something like a sour apple jolly rancher. And the other tree has some loud baring branches with, mama llena mangos (full mother mango), a fruit that is larger than a soft ball.

Roasting cashews with Jhony

The boat ride on the canal with my folks

mom and dad's ride up to La Chumicosa

The season started with the marañon (cashew) that we roasted when my parents were here. My mom’s doctor in the states identified her strange stomach rash as a virus that she picked up in Panama. I am pretty sure that was the smoke from roasting the nuts. They are in the same family as Poison Ivy and leach a super flammable oil that ignites to finish charring the shell of the nut so that you can get to the nut. Right now we have mangos and next to grace our chicha glasses is Nance, a tiny yellow fruit the size of a pencil eraser with the initial flavor of something a bit rotten yet sweet and greasy. You have to learn to like that one (Isaac still doesn’t like it), I can’t wait! Anything not not drink double sugared koolaid.

May 16, 2009

It’s May….rainy season thought about feeding the cracking soils and subduing the moondust that covers the roads. But it may have been some sort of trick. May 3 was election day and the Panamanians voted for change. I think that they actually do that every time they vote (every 5 years). The parties switch back and forth every voting cycle. The people have a somewhat pessimistic undertone in their voices when they say they are really happy about the change in the political party. From the stories we hear and the poverty we see, really change is a fantasy. However, it doesn’t jade their hope and our communities showed up in numbers that make the Americans look disinterested. Along the lines of obsessively buying lottery tickets the people keep at the political system in hopes of something new. Oh yeah…rainy season….we had our first rain on election day, after 5 months, 2 days of that and we are back to dry. The line of oral history says that we are guaranteed rain with the change of the moon. I think that is the 24th.

If I had written this blog two weeks ago I would have had contrary news to report, but this week things are going great. I started teaching in the elementary school 2 weeks ago. They are called “English classes” but really this can mean anything. So, I am going to take advantage of that slot and do some self esteem building, conservation stuff and maybe some ag. Really the kids are what really make the difference, not only in the selfish part by rewarded my work, but they have started thinking a little different from all their time with us and maybe that is really the only way to make a difference. We were pretty excited a girl that we took to a youth conference, a boy that spends some afternoons reading at our house and our community guide’s son all decided to go back to school after dropping out over a year ago (after 6th grade). Really, that is still a struggle and two of them are already lagging on attendance. We might be called pest as Isaac and I attempt to encourage the kids and more so their parents to push the kids. We will see.

Tamborito is a form of Panamanian music with 3 drums, singers that call and respond, and a small dance troupe. I did some drum revival with deer skin and a friend and I am learning the drum beats. I love it. I hope that our Wednesday night dance parties continue and the plan is to teach some kids from the primary school. Either way we are having a good time. Yo sembre la hierbabuena donde la agua no corria.

We had a mama dog try to have her babies under our bed in the house the other week. See snicked her way into the house when I wasn't looking and scared my to death when I heard something thumping around under the bed. I was sure that it was the witch everyone is so worried about all the time. MY discovered cookie (we did not name her) and relocated her to the empty side of our worm bin where she had her two puppies, Bamboo and Teka (we did name them).

January 7, 2009

Happy New Years Everyone!

Año Nuevo has come and gone. It was a fun time overall. We set off some fireworks and burned a life sized stuffed doll that resembled Isaac quite well. Enough so that people shouted out to the doll where it stood on the fence corner. They thought that Isaac was biding time. Two of the kids that spend a lot of time at our house (Lorena and Oriel) helped me stuff it full of dry leaves fire crackers and then light it up at midnight. Apparently this is the tradition of burning off past negative energy to make room for the good to come in the new year (None of the negative energy directly related to Isaac-just so happened that we had some of his torn up work clothes laying around to use).

By 6:30pm on the first, most of the men hanging out in town were still very intoxicated from the night before and still putting 'em down (rum and Seco-a clear grain alcohol that could burn a hole in your stomach). The holiday seemed to be mostly a mens' day. The men partied, the women hid out in thier houses from drunkerds and the Evangelicals went to church all night.

We spent New Years eve at our first host famlilies house helping to make tamales (that were ready at about 6 in the morning-we went to bed at 1:30) or avoiding too much alcohol and dodging the dance floor where I could have had severe damage done to my feet from my dance partners.

This past Sunday, just about half of the town left to plant onions at a farm down near the Interamericana. They pack up with all there family, young children included, to work the fields for 2 months, until school starts in March. Everyone works.

We did a pre-Christmas excursion to the Mountains, where another Peace Corps couple works Brooks and Jenny, and a lot of people in our community have unmaintained coffee fincas. We did the 6 hour hike with our community guide to visit his farm and harvest coffee. The hike is very amazing as you do the transition from the almost completely deforested desert like climate on our side of the cordillera to the rainforest on the other side. What we have been able to figure out is that our side of the mountains use to be forested but was a drier forest. Perhaps through logging or maybe just slash and burn agriculture the hills have been striped commpletely of all their topsoil and the ability to rejuvinate forest. What is left is grass and an extremely dry hot climate for the tropics. A huge contrast to the lush forest on the other side

We were able to bring back about 8 lbs or so of fresh beans to do some experimenting on toasting coffee. During this trip to the mtns. our community guide decided that he really loves the mtns (or thinks he can make a lot of money with his finca) and we are not sure if he will return to La Chumicosa. The funny thing is that he was about to sell his land, before we convinced him to go up and do a harvest (he hadn't been up there in a few years). It will be interesting to see what happens.

As for our work, I feel like things are a little slow right now. We are building a clay bread oven, which a lot of people are excited about. So far it is beautiful with a stone base (Sorry no pictures). We have been working on getting a good irrigation system set up at the community farm (La Granja) and have been selling green peppers at the local store. It is a start to some agribusiness.

Isaac's parents arrive tonight. We are going to spend some time in the city, go to the mtns and then to our site.

I should have a functioning camara soon to actually show you what is going on.