sábado, 27 de agosto de 2011

Wow! A month and a half with no new blog post!

To make it up to you, I'm posting pictures for the first time since I've been here. Elsie came to my site and took pictures of my house. I'm posting them as a facebook album.


It turns out that posting pictures is extremely easy and it's odd that I haven't been doing it. Maybe I'll post some more sometime.

Some exciting news: the fish pond project is a success! Yesterday we released tilapia into twelve ponds, with another four more ponds still coming soon. It is very uplifting to watch the little guys swimming around a new pond after so many months of digging and begging agencies for materials. Since it worked out, I'm starting over. More producers have told me they're interested so we're doing it again.

And for a long time I've been wanted a solar panel in the community. It would be a great business opportunity because people pay a dollar per cell phone charge and it would be good for the community because right now people are walking over an hour to the nearest panel or charging their phones with D batteries like me. This morning I applied for a grant with the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas for a small solar panel for a new co-op in the community. I think they would earn about $4 a day just by having a solar panel, a 50% increase of their profits. Plus I would have a place to charge my cell phone just next door. I'm excited and hope we get the grant.

I feel like I've finally got into my stride here. Work is going well and I've been having a good time in site. It seems like every day is busy and I keep running around doing different things. Well, I've got to catch a bus. Miss you all.

martes, 7 de junio de 2011

This week I´m in Atalaya at a workshop on street theater. I´m here with four kids from my Ecoclub, an environmental youth group. Like the camp we attended in January, this is a big deal. Although all of the students have travelled outside of the community before, it’s still very exciting for them every time they get a chance to leave home. And all the other students are latinos, louder and more confident than my Ngobe kids. I invited the most extroverted ones I could find, but outside of the community and with people they don´t know, they´re too shy to participate at all. So far the students from Cerro Papayo are running to the corner to hide by themselves every chance they get. I still think they might benefit from the workshop though. We´ve done some activities teaching projection and basic self-presentation and I think my students might be learning something even when they´re passively staring off into space.

I, of course, am bored out of my mind. I don´t really have a job to do, I just needed to be here because parents wouldn´t want their kids to travel alone. Oh well though, maybe I´ll learn some street theater.

Back in Cerro Papayo, everything has completed the yearly transformation from dust into mud. So I’ve planted again. In addition to my gardens, I have two plots of monte, traditional slash-and-burn agriculture. One is a small experimental plot where I´m planting mucunu. It´s a large inedible bean that is used as a green manure and supposedly suppresses weeds while making rice or corn more productive, so much so that cleared land can be used continuously without being let fallow. All that sounds so good that I figure it must be lies. I´m going to experiment on my own before teaching it to community members. My other monte is just one day´s work clearing land, maybe a quarter acre. I planted that one traditional. After I burned it, I poked the ground with a stick and put in four corn seeds. Not the best system, but I´ll have corn in a few months.

Work has really been picking up. Some folks and I are about to apply for a grant for funds for a large project that would take up all of my time if we get it. But I´ll save that story for after I know if it´ll happen or not.

miércoles, 11 de mayo de 2011

It´s starting to rain again. All the grass is brown, the trees have stopped growing, and water is just barely flowing from the springs, but with the rain everything should be getting better. The agricultural season is starting, everyone is going out to plant rice and the mangos and cashew fruits are ripe and delicious. I´ve been a year in Panama now. I remember my first night with a host family in Panama City when the rains were starting. I was trapped inside from a storm, scared because I had never seen rain so strong and imagining myself lost somewhere out in the jungle.

I have a puppy now. My neighbor named him Tachi, little old man. He´s really little and energetic and puppy-like and we´re still learning how to do sit. I´m worried that training might be difficult because he´s a comarca dog, and probably comes from a bloodline that hasn´t been trained for several hundred generations. We´ll try though. My community would be very impressed to see a dog sit on command. And I need to remember to pick up his shots while I´m in the city here.

And I´ve got six chickens right now, laying and taking care of chicks and tearing up my gardens. I´ve had a small lull in work, waiting out delays in my fish and stove work, so I´ve been more domestic. The dog and chickens and I started a new garden and have been cooking more. Felix had a whole crop of cabbage get damaged with by a type of caterpillar, so I made 15 pounds of sauerkraut. That´s a lot. I really, really hope it´s good.

So I figured out how to get pictures off my camera and can post them on the blog and facebook now. Sadly, I forgot my camera today. So that´s no help. Next post I´ll put up pictures.

domingo, 3 de abril de 2011

It´s hard to type when you´re in a packed bus and they´re blasting reggaeton and there´s a baby wailing right behind you and the guy next to you in the seat is soaking wet. Not from rain, it hasn't rained in months. Maybe he had to cross a river to get to his bus stop? Well, at least I'm in the kind of country where you can have a computer out in public without being immediately stabbed to death. I'm travelling to a seminar teaching business and management skills to Panamanian project leaders who work with the Peace Corps. I'm attending mostly to learn the material to see if I want to teach similar seminars in the future. Also, I'll be meeting Florentino there, a community member who leads our aqueduct committee. Hopefully, he'll pick up some skills that will help that group run more smoothly.

As I've mentioned in the past, I've been working a lot on fish tanks. Some clarification: fish tanks are large artificial ponds to raise tilapia for food. They are not aquariums. There's been some confusion on that. I'm working with a Panamanian agency who distributes tubing and young tilapia for the tanks if community members do the manual labor. I'm working between the agency and the community members. I learned how the agency teaches a fish tank should be made and then went and dug a bunch of fish tanks with my community and now I'm going back to the agency to ask for the tubing they promised. We'll see if they do their part.

My other big thing right now is woodstoves. So everyone in Cerro Papayo cooks on wood, usually under a roof and without any sort of stove. Scarcity of firewood is a major problem and some 60% of deaths are related to smoke inhalation. So for months now I've been searching for the right stove for my community. For awhile I was thinking of a mud stove that costs only labor and community members could learn to make, but everyone who's tried one says that they're a hassle to cook with and often don't work. Then I was thinking of a brick and rebar stove that is very durable (30+ years) and gets better reviews. It's too expensive to expect community members to continue production after I leave, but I could find funds to get one in every house and people would have efficient and smoke-free cooking.

But, I came across this new stove. It's called the Bliss Burner, designed by a NGO working here in Panama. It cooks well, people like to use it, and it only costs $4 and one hour of work to make one. At that price, I won't have to look for funds. As you know, the first rule of development is to never do something for someone that they can do for themselves. So my goal is to use a business approach to distribution, teaching community members how to produce stoves and sell them to the community for $10. Right now I'm producing stoves and selling them, passing the profits on to my youth group's fund. Interest is strong and I've already got a waiting list. Soon I'm hoping to find a man here who can take over and start making stoves for profit. Or a few men. Better if there's a couple companies that can compete for business.

Alright, I'll write again soon.

jueves, 3 de febrero de 2011

It's been a long week. I was giving English class to a bunch of youngsters all week and it was good. Everybody has wanted classes since I got here and I haven't been able to do a regular course because I often have to travel for meetings. So my plan (inspired by some volunteer who lived in Chris' site way back) was do English class like a day camp. A short, intense course with singalongs. It was fun for everybody and I think the kids learned something and I plan to do it again next year, but it wore me out. I came out of every day like I had just run a marathon. I've never been in charge of so many kids at a time and never for so long. I pretty much resorted to using sweets to buy their obedience, attention, and future attendance and that worked all right.

Another triumph. One of my hens has started to lay. The hippies always said that homegrown eggs are yellower and have a better yolk and they were right. The eggs are also delicious, except the ones that I didn't get to eat because the hen happens to be insane and starts pecking at her eggs shorting after laying them. Anybody know what to do for that? You could offer ideas in the poor neglected comment box.

In a couple weeks, before I'll be able to write again, I'll be going on a long walk. A group of volunteers are going from my site, across the continental divide, and to the Caribbean. It's only a four day trip, but the route goes from dry, hilly savannah to cloud forest to lowland jungle. And it is extremely rough trails and rather remote. Don't worry though. If one of us so much as sprains an ankle the navy will be sending a helicopter to get us. And plus, it's a small country. It's hard to get more than a few days walk from a road or the beach.
I'll write to tell you how it went when I'm in the city again.
Written January 19

I wrote that last blog after being down for more than a week. I had been lonely and couldn't find anything to do and then the camp didn't go well. But then I got back to site and immediately found out that everyone was excited to get back to work and quickly had my schedule booked for the rest of the month. A lot of that work was requests for help designing and building fish ponds, a project that development workers push to increase food security. So I spent the week digging and teaching technique for building and maintaining the ponds. It was good to have so much interest and I've been in a better mood these days.

It was also encouraging to find out that the camp wasn't so bad of a failure after all. If you remember, my kids didn't seem to have engaged at all and looked miserable the whole time. But back in Papayo at our first Ecoclub meeting, they brought themselves to the front and excitedly demonstrated the same songs and games that they had refused to participate in at the camp. I think the meeting went well. We mostly played around, but I also kind of tried to explain the idea of a youth group in general and how an Ecoclub would have an environmental focus. They'll come again because we had a good time and I can gradually introduce the educational and service parts of the organization. Bingo was a huge hit.

So work is going well at the moment. Hopefully this energy will carry into March when school starts up again and I'll be busy working with the kids.

Oh! Another triumph I've been wanting to tell you about. I learned how to wash clothes. After months and months of struggles, I realized recently that I have learned to do my laundry by hand and produce clothing that doesn't smell terrible right away. I use the little bars of soap from hotels, soak the cloths in a bucket for awhile, beat them on rocks for a really long time, rinse, and then hang them out to dry. The secret is to beat them more than you would expect to be necessary. Of my achievements so far in life, this is one of my proudest.

I thought you might want to know that for breakfast this morning, I had green bananas. Peeled, quartered lengthwise, and fried until golden brown. Lunch was fried potatoes. Those don't grow here, but somebody's uncle works up in the highlands where it's cold and sent down a sack. I don't usually eat so much fried stuff, it's just that I'm travelling tomorrow and I need to use up all the produce that people have been giving me. So for dinner (and probably tomorrow's breakfast) I made rice and pigeon peas. Pigeon peas supposedly grow in Florida. If you can, you should find them because they're delicious.

lunes, 10 de enero de 2011

I'm all wired up these days. Even as I type now, I'm listening to some hippies lament about how they're going to quit their rambling ways (one of these days). And there are electronic books on a Kindle, and pretty quick I'm going to figure out how to charge those guys and the computer and cell phone while I'm in site. Thanks, Mom. After six months I still wasn't getting used to the lack of media. It's really nice to be able to listen to a little bit of music and to get new things to read without begging my fellow volunteers.

The other day I was getting ready to settle down into my shack for dinner when I got a call from an agency worker that I know. She had an urgent message for a guy down the valley and asked if I couldn't go deliver it. It takes an hour to get down there and the sun was setting, so I grabbed a flashlight and started walking. On the way back, it was very nice. Completely dark forest paths and my little beam of light crossing through, but my flashlight failed halfway up. The slow stumble home gave me some time for thought. What most impressed me was how naturally I navigated the web of rocky cow trails in complete darkness. I've gotten to know my way around enough that all the curves in the path are stored in some part of my mind. It's strange to think of how many miles I've walked over the same trails and how much I've invested into this one tiny place. I bet when I'm all old and grey, still some smell or feeling will take me right back to Cerro Papayo.

But right now I'm not in site at all, I'm on the most terrifying adventure. You see, I live in one of the poorest parts of Central America. The kids around here have never seen a paved road, two story building, or anything that can't be jammed into the back of a four wheel drive. They are not street smart. And I took three thirteen year old girls out into the big, scary world to attend a weeklong camp in the city. More experienced volunteers warned me, remember to tell them specifically to bring absolutely everything they'll need, remember to teach them how to flush a toilet, but wow. I took them to see a supermarket and they stared for roughly two hours while deciding on a snack. The bus scared them and the buildings and all the latinos who have a different communication style (yelling). They washed their clothes in a sink instead of the washing machines and they missed their mothers terribly.
It wasn't all amusing cultural moments though. I took them to an Ecoclubs camp to learn about the environment and meet kids that aren't Ngobe, but it didn't work out. The culture shock and all the new things were too much, and they ended up mostly staring at the floor the whole time. I'm pretty sure it was a horrible experience for the poor things. Maybe next time though.

Morale is low at the moment. The camp was discouraging and I've been lonely again. For awhile, I was used to being on my own, but Christmas was too nice. Mom and Dad and Lisa were here for a long time and I think I kind of got used to it. Then, they left and I was in town with some good friends from Peace Corps for New Years. So these couple weeks I've felt down. But tomorrow, I'll be back to work and I bet I'll feel better soon.

Happy New Year, folks. Love, you.