Monday, February 26, 2007

March 2007

"Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man."

Benjamin Franklin

My most sincere apologies to all you out there in 1st world land, holding your breath until this latest blog entry came out. The majority of time I´ve had infront of a computer since Christmas had to be dedicated to the dreaded Trabajo de Papel (paper work).... the unavoidable first and looooongest step on my path to community development.

But the hours of translating word documents, calculating excel estimates, and justifying NGO proposals is quickly coming to a close. With paperwork soon out of the way, now begins the waiting... waiting for approvals and then re-waiting for re-approvals before the donations and transactions for materials can be made. Oh the day when we can finally pick up a shovel.

I can´t claim surprise.. we were prepared for this period of waiting in training... but that doesn´t make it any easier to be "working" for the peace corps and living what feels like such an idle life. Especially being a first time volunteer in my site, I can only hear "Why are you here? Don´t you miss tu mamà? Explain to me again what is the mission of this Cuerpo de Paz?" so many times before these questions start becoming my own. But then there is today, out of site and sitting at this internet café with the world´s news, holywood gossip, the updates of friends and family back home at my fingertips... it is being away from my community, even if only for a day, that I begin to see the past few months with that crazy little thing called hindsight.

While these months may not be full of tangible successes- no concrete structures to look at with satisfaction as of yet- they have given way to routine... an evening bath now enjoyed in the murky quebrada (creek), knowing to make enough of whatever coveted food Im cooking in anticipation of the visitors that begin as early as 6am, sitting waist deep in water and slappin my sweaty t-shirts against a rock and really believing they´re getting clean, seeing an unexpected down pour (that lasts 6 straight days) as a fortunate chance to slow down and find joy in something I otherwise would have missed, getting hungry at the thought of a platefull of yucca and unripened boiled bananas that taste even better if I hiked into the finca(farm), dug them up myself, and carried them back on the mochilla(woven bag) strapped across my own forehead.

You hate to hear I told you so, but a figurative Peace Corps is whispering it in my hear everyday. It really make all the difference that I´m living on the same level as the people, sharing both work and food- the confianza(trust) comes whether you want it to or not. "These people" are no longer "these people" to me... they are my friends, my neighbors, my family. They talk to me about the bochinche rounding the gossip circles in town as well as the dreams they have for their kids and their town in the future. We sit for hours at night talking about how we would solve the problems of the middle east if we were president of the US or what we would do if we suddenly had a million dollars. I sit here, at this internet café, and realize... could it actually be? I might... yep I think I actually do... I miss it. I´m excited to go back. It has become, in it´s own way, my home.

Soooo..... what is it exactly I do with my days here, so many of you have been recently asking? I hope the pictures posted throughout this help to paint a better picture.

Diving for lobster, netting for sardines...

Hiking to the farms, learning how to cook and pronounce the different varieties of verduras (root crops)...

Reading, painting, coloring with the kids on my front porch, watching them play with homemade kites and cows?...

Hiking, washing clothes, stumbling across beautiful beaches that emerge in the dry(er) season...

Teaching english, talking about basic health issues, trying to explain whats going on in world news, trying to figure out whats going on in world news, trying to explain the concept of the maps hanging on my wall to my neighbors, pointing to Panama and saying "That´s you!"...

visiting other volunteers in their communities or going to panama city, listening to live music, sharing ideas, and acting like fools

playing soccer... (ha! dont worry, i haven´t changed THAT much) watching soccer, listening to soccer on the radio, and mostly spending hours upon hours talking with the people about anything and everything... that´s what you can find me doing at any given point in the day, any given day of the week.

Though this story probably didn´t even make the five o´clock news back home, in my neck of the woods its all talk of the recent oil spill. I knew something was up when I was heading back to my site and the docks were swarming with young men in rubber boots looking for a days labor to be payed out in cash ($2 an hour and word travels fast!). After asking a few people, I discovered one of the foriegn oil companies in Chirique Grande, the port city from which all boats go in and out of my village, miscalculated pressure in some piping and had a 45 minute direct oil flow into the Caribbean Sea. Ocean currents soon brought this oil out to my beaches, along with tons of dead fish and a very short visit from one unamed oil company rep who informed us that no one should eat fish- including lobster, crab, sardines- anything from the ocean!.... for the next three months!!! I´m not sure if it´s clear how important fishing is to the people of my village, but it is their entire livelihood- 99% of all income sources, not to mention the main food group, and often times only food of substantial nutritional value.

These crippling dietary instructions were not accompanied 1) by any sort of suggestions as to how we could supplement this lack of food or 2) by any sort of explanation as to the dangers of eating fish that might be infected with petroleum. This news confused everyone for a few days, and was then just brushed aside as the poisoned fish stopped washing up dead on the shoreline. All have resumed normal lifestyle of catching, selling and eating fish. When I try to talk to them about my concerns with this their response is... "Cholita... I´m still standing here aren´t I? Todovìa estoy en vivo, no? What else are we supposed to do? I´ve got 10 hungry mouths to feed. Que Va?!? Life goes on..."
Do I share my gringo oatmeal and soy meat with a few of them, even if theres not enough for everyone?
Aye yay yay yay...
Alright, I am going to leave you with a few final things. First off, a sweet, sweet picture typical to a local ngabe political campaign. This man was recently elected, but I believe his campaign literature lives on as a.... shower curtian, it seems to be?
I also wanted to offer some other blog addresses from some close friends of mine down here. These guys are way more computer savvy than I am (engineer nerds), so feel free to skim their webistes for more pictures or different perspectives on a similar experience.
(I especially like Rob´s entry titled "Food for Thought." It is such a good depiction of one of the everday struggles of living here. )
Bueno pues amigos y amigas, I wish you all the best in your lives, wherever you are. Keep in touch, and, as always, my puerto siempre esta open to visitors!
Until next time, suerte y feliz en all of your vidas.

"If reality is a matter of perspective, then the romantic view of the world is as valid as any other- and a great deal more rewarding. It makes life an unpredictable adventure rather than a problematic equation."
Tom Robbins

Melissa Taylor CUERPO DE PAZ
Entrega General
Davìd Chiriqui
Republica de Panamà

Monday, December 18, 2006

Adventures in Babysitting,
Habitat for Melissa,
Mom´s Day

The past few weeks have flown by... in a sort of inch by inch kind of a way. But this is the adjustmet to be expected as a 23 year old American settling into the Indigenous/Latin American manera de vida.

I still struggle with the dual usage of Spanish and Indigenous languages in my community. I find myself hanging out a lot with kids. Our vocab is pretty comprable. Oh, and they´re fun.

The two boys below are two of my favorite people in the world now. They like to run and practice their slides for baseball and I rate them on a scale of uno to diez. They are also coming along very nicely in learning the lyrics to ¨Feliz Navidad, I Wanna Wish You a Merry ChristmasWe sing it every night before bed. (They sleep on the floor in my room.) The two girls are sisters and a couple more of the kids that live in my host family´s house.

Here´s some more.... kids that live in mi casa.

We started building my house!!!!! My counterpart and my host father are my two biggest helpers. Actually, they´re the biggest builders, and I would say I´m the helper. I am really good at handing them the saw, the tape measure, and the correct size of nail. If you ever build a house on an Indian Reservation in Panama, you have to first hire someone to chop down trees in the jungle and cut all your lumber with a chain saw. Then you convince a bunch of large, male friends to carry it all out for a free meal. Its called a Junta. Never underestimate the weight of a solid 2X4. I am convinced I have permanent dents in my shoulers. Here are the beginnings of the project- diggin some holes for posts and right after starting to lay the frame work.

Here is the view from my front porch.... jealous?

My english class is in full swing. Here is one of my most dedicated students below. Outisde of the classroom, she still loves going over what we learned in class. Picture me, acros from her in a hammock saying over and over again, ¨I... AM... GOOD. HOW... ARE... YOU

One of the teachers in the community surprised me with the regalo I am sporting below. These are the indigenous dresses women wear called ngabes. I call them cultural Moo-Moos, which are surprisingly very comfortable. In the background you will also notice my stylish interior decor: armoir (clothes line), canopy bed (mosquito net) and wall paper (map of panama).

The woman below is the wife of my counterpart. She has become one of my closest friends in the community. Women often take naps during the day. I caught her just finishing one.

The night before Mother´s Day, celebrated on the 8th of December in Panama, we stayed up til the wee hours of the night making Johnny Cakes. They are, as shown below, delicious bisquits of coconut and flour cooked over an open flame fire in a self-made oven. (aka a covered pot with an upside down tuna can inside)

This is what I gave my host mother for Mom´s Day. It was a perfect fit.

On Mothers Day, all the men are supposed to cook a huge meal for all the mothers. At the right is one of the gatherings in my town that day with all the mothers sitting and waiting for their food.

Below is an example of a man cooking- I tried to explain that culinary skills are actually admired among men in the US, but I dont think anyone heard me through the laughter at the site of their husbands in aprons.

This is Lupita. She and her husband own the town store. I see them once each day when I venture over to buy bubble gum or a coca cola classic. Because I have become such good friends with them, they asked me to start helping out in the store, so occasionally Ill get behind the counter. Its a good way to learn vocab and figure out which kids belong to who when moms send kids to buy a few things for dinner on store credit. Im also working with them on record keeping and business plans for expanding the store in the next year. See below for one of the many views I get while working.

Here´s the host mom and dad... The Grandparents of all those kids I showed up top. He is the local Doctor in town and lets me help out a lot in the Health Puesto, which has been a great way to meet people while introducing my work with health education. She is a machine and can get the muddiest pants cleaner from a murky creek than any US washing machine I´ve ever seen.

Bottom left is Kool and the gang... they said I wasn´t allowed to cross that bridge until I Sacar-ed their Foto. I was tired and I caved. Bottom right is some family time before cooking dinner. We like to sit by those windows and watch the sun set at night.

Here is one of my favorite old men working out the knots in a fishing net. It takes guys entire days to get these nets all unwound and repaired after a day out on a rough sea.

Below is my house at the end of Day one.

I am slowly becoming better friends with all the animals as well. They don´t name their cows, but I refer to them all by american farm names. Meet Bessie.

This is my counterpart and his wife on the way to the finca (farm).

Dats a big bowl o rice. These moms were cooking for the big party on the last day of school. Summer just officially started here and classes won´t resume again until March.

Its funny cause kids beeeeeeg you to take their picture, but no one ever really smiles when you actually do, unless you catch them buy surprise. Especially if you say ¨Smilethey just dead pan.

I snapped this last shot yesterday morning right before I got on my boat to leave site. It was about 6am and there was a man leaving in a dug out canoe to begin fishing for the day. With the sun rising over the hills across the bay, it was what I call a ¨Peace Corps Post Card Moment