Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Rice is ALOT of work.
This is why I prefer to walk.

Spring water is ooo so tasty.

Blowing out Candle Uno

A profesor and RPCV once shared with aspiring-to-be-volunteers his top 16 recommendations for our PC service. As I come upon the 1-yr mark, I thought I’d reflect on how I’m doing based on his checklist.

1. Spend time with Host Family Well, considering I live right across the way from them, this one’s not hard. Luckily, ellos son buena gente and I enjoy their company. Thanks to Joaquin, Berta, Geron, Virin, Niño, y Liliana for treating me as a member of the family. And I haven’t lost contact with my training host family—we catch up via cell phone (thank you technology) about once a month.

2. Boil your Water No way! My water comes from a spring in the mountain—pure&delicious. I do use my filter though as a safety meansure, but more so because it conveniently stores water inside my house. But I don’t add chlorine and take satisfaction in knowing I am not introducing chemicals into my drinking water.

3. Spend time in your Community This is the best part. This is where I can be crazy busy working or hiking all over, or I can be super lazy, hanging out on my bench welcoming passerbyers to come sit and chat awhile. Things happen when you’re in site—you run into people, you observe something, a conversation gives you an idea. I only wish I could stay in more!

4. Work Hard Sweat hard. It can be easy to fall into a rut, especially when those around disappoint you. However, I’ve only got one chance at this—I need to give it my all. Everyday that passes is one day less to fight for change. Plus, I’ve found I’m happiest when I’m working and interacting with mi gente.

5. Seek Innovators Not only are they the key to change in the community, they are the interesting ones to talk to! Without fail, these people never fail to impress me with their ingenuity. Whether it’s something simple like converting old, colored scrap packaging paper into a piñata or something bigger like converting oil drums into a culvert to keep water off the road/pedestrian bridge.

6. Make use of local Know-how I have learned....to carry stuff on my head..to eat everything with a spoon..to predict the weather..to not eat raw marañon nuts (cashews)..where the best bathing spot is..when to cut bamboo according to the moon..medicinal properties of various plants..just to name a few!

7. Experiment All my gardening experiments failed with the exception of basil (for a taste of Italy in Panama). But I have finally settled upon the location where my laundry gets the most sun and figured out how to make scones in a skillet. I failed at making a chakara (the local hand-woven bag)for the time being, but I dominated the bead bracelet and can amarrar a decent boyo.

8. Share Your Knowledge From what crops grow in the USA (I tell you the truth, we don’t grow rice!) to the varying levels of poverty in the world to matters pertaining to my job (water systems, latrines, health&hygiene, environment) to ‘did u know that you can go a mile out into the Atlantic Ocean from the mouth of the Amazon River and still take out a glass of fresh water?’

9. Help Other Volunteers Of course! In that way I keep busy and get to visit other sites. Also, becasue I almost share a site with a fellow PCV, we team up on many things for a ‘double PCV power’ effect. For example, a group of guys wanted to start a Panadería (bakery)—well he knows buisness and I know bread...presto, our guys are now making delicious bread (and $).

10. Love the Local Cuisine Upon arriving in Panama, I scoffed this. A panamanian spice rack includes salt, sugar, and oil. Oh, but how times have changed. I am most content with a plate of rice&beans, some fried ripe plantains on the side for extra smiles. I could verse an ode to the hojaldra (essentially fried bread dough), or perhaps to a boyo de maíz nuevo (first-of-the-season corn, ground and rolled up in a banana leaf and boiled). The fresh produce is delicious and cheap (A, avocado to Z, zapallo). And a shout-out to patacones (green plantains coin sliced, fried, smashed, fried again) and papaya batidos (papaya-milk-sugar-ice-blend). Mmm...

11. Use Local Transport Unavoidable unless I never went anywhere. So yes, I cram into the bed of the packed pick-up truck and fight for a seat on the make-shift bench while still others cling onto the outer frame/cage or maybe plop themselves atop with all the cargo. Lately, with my road inching towards impassable, I have taken to walking in and out. Nothing better than one’s own two feet.

12. Accept Gifts Everthing from kids’ drawings and large quantities of oranges (big smiles) to iguana soup and tacky clothing (forced smiles).

13. Enjoy the View Check. It’s amazing. Everything’s green and tropical. The mountains are breathtaking. The Pacific sparkly blue down below.

14. Wear the Local Attire Women here wear colorful dresses with zigzag, diamond, triangle, and line patterns = the nagwa. I’m a woman..so I have 3 nagwas that I wear proudly! Also got myself a sombrero pintado (hand-made, all natural palm fibers) and a few pita chakaras (handwoven bags from the fibers of the pita plant).

15. Travel I need to do more of this. All I’ve got claim to is hiking to the tallest peak in Panama, the dormant Volcán Barú, last New Year’s Eve with hopes to glimpse both oceans at sunrise...brrr..it was cold&misty and the Carribbean covered in clouds unfortunately. Currently brewing is plans for a Costa Rica-Nicaragua-Hounduras trip.

16. Enjoy Yourself Well, it’s like they say, Peace Corps is a rollar coaster—there are both good days and bad. Fortunately, there are more of the former. So while I miss family&friends, the changing seasons, turkey sandwiches on 12-grain bread with alfalfa sprouts...I am enjoying the flexible schedule, learning another language, being the famous MESI, the time to reflect on who I am and to grow in more positive directions, the opportunity to witness first-hand the challenges of sustainabilty and development work, and the potential for each day to be an unpredictable adventure. Agárrese bien!

Monday, July 02, 2007


Still no photos from EWB aqueduct project, but for your viewing pleasure, here are photos from my project! Despite some initial community grumblings (don't know why that was necessary, they are the ones who asked for the project!), everyone came together and we completely reconstructed the springbox (that meant destroying the old one designed to look more a giant concrete box with a sledgehammer, no jackhammers here, unfortunately my camara batteries failed me that day) with a local mason who, pardon the slang, is bad-ass at what he does--his springboxes capture all that delicious, pure spring water and won't leak for years to come. We also extended the system to reach 10 new users-yay trench-digging. Then we did system-wide repairs and all are in anticipation of the big sha-bam, the INAGURATION, set for the end of the month. My counterpart loves to tease people, telling them a big, fat chicken for each new faucet. Jatwaita, from the land where avocados go for 10cents, ¿estás celoso?

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Recipe: Aqueduct from Scratch

-What you need are some dedicated folk willing to take the initiative to realize their hopes; another bunch willing to dedicate time & talent; perserverance through long days filled with sweat, mud, and rain; and alot of patience to handle the unexpected.

-Mix that all up (low speed, because if you rush things, carelessness will end up costing you) for about 3 weeks at tropics temperature.

-Dios primero, después ustedes. Thanks you familias Pedrol for dedicating yourselves to change. Thank you EWB for all your efforts in making this project hapen. It was without a doubt exhausting work, nevertheless no regrets. Que el agua nunca se pare sino siga llegando a más y más gente.

-Pictures next time, i promise!

Friday, April 27, 2007

5 Things to Be Happy About

I once had one of those page-a-day calendars with each day listing 5 things to be happy about, anything from getting Christmas cards in the mail to daffodils in bloom. So here's my personal list for today:

1. The joy of collecting rainwater pouring of my roof after having little to no running water nor rain for the past few months.

2. Discovering the trick to reducing the cooking time of beans from hours to just 20 minutes, mmm...protein.

3. The daily assembling of a full-blow baseball game that comes with the passing of the colegio (middle school) kids at the end of the day. Free entertainment and fun conversation with those not playing.

4. A governt agency that it on top of its game and asking me when they can come to my community to do their own planned event rather than visa versa.

5. Conversing with people in my community. This is one of the things that gives me the most satisfaction, yet it is one of the hardest to initiate. More often, I must make myself walk over, univited, to peoples houses, pull conversation starters out of thin air, endure akward silences in between...okay i'm complaining, basta, just gotta remember it's worth it once we get to talking and i think they really mean in when they say, gracias por su visita!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Love's First Kiss

Jess, Tony, Jenn, and Erin discover true happiness.

Kenya Photos


The open African savannah spread before me, here I am, the present.
Yet the winds take my mind back, I'm on Shurfire, racing up the front field.
I can see my house with the two spotted dogs in front.
We take them hiking, way up to overlook Harper's Ferry.
Down below the Shenandoah meets the Potomac.
Where do you flow river? We went sailing once there.
In the Chesapeake, where was the wind that day?

I'm on my 2nd 8-hr flight and 3 movies later.
I'm stairing at the moving map.
We are passing washington.
Not toward home, but to panama.
This is where I sink or swim.
March was trying, April is almost up.
May is the month my community awaits.
Will their Peace Corps volunteer make it happen?

Erin, Jenn--It was great fun! Thanks for the opportunity to know another part of our world, another people; and to be charmed by both the differences and suprisinging number of similarities.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

When it Rains it Pours

Very much true in the rainy season. But when the rain stops, the sun comes up and dries up and the landy-landy. Enter summer. Read 4 months of heat and dryness. What´s more treacherous, traversing the slick stones and mud of before, or now this loose, crumbly dust? The aqueduct is drying up. I count the creek among my friends cuando no hay agua. It´s been fun explaining to the people that we can´t work on the springbox until May when they were promised February which is BEFORE the water is all gone by March. But that´s how it goes when you don´t have funds!

Nevertheless, I´ve been busy. For a few weeks, every day I was booked solid with everything from community meetings, replacing water tubes, teaching english, making a garden, writing PC reports, in-service trainings, and talking water conservation. Luckily things are returning to a more sane pace but work doesn´t like to space itself out--the when it rains it pours principle. Who knew there would be stress in the PC?

That´s alright, poco a poco, I´m figuring out what I need to know. I´m getting used to this. The other day I was running errands in the city and I got to thinking about my site and it struck me--hey, I live there. That´s my home and the people know me as Mesi Tolobo. The next day, instead of returning with my usual sigh, I had an anxiousness to get home. Just had to laugh at myself when I went for the light switch . . . no hay Mesi!

Stuck in a Hole with You

DISCLAIMER: It is not my intention to offend anyone, point fingers, or idealize PC practices with the following piece courtesy of the boss. It serves only to provoke thought and bring light to the challenges inherent in development work.

¨A Panamanian falls in a hole, and upon realizing he is stuck, he calls out for help. A missionary comes along and hearing the cries, comes over and calls down--what´s wrong? I´m stuck in this hole--responds the captive. So the missionary throws down a bible and says--the power of the Lord will save you. The Panamanian reads the bible, is delighted, but remembers he is still stuck in the hole. He resumes calling out for help and a USAID worker hears him. What´s wrong?--asks the worker. I´m stuck in this hole--responds the captive. Oh, well here´s $10 to go buy yourself a ladder--offers the worker. The Panamanian is grateful for the bill, but he´s still stuck and shouts out again. A PCV hears him and asks whats wrong. I´m stuck in his hole--responds the captive. So the PCV jumps in the hole. The Panamanian exclaims--Why did you do that?!--Now we are both stuck in the hole!! The PCV says--I know. I´m going to help you figure out how to get us out of this hole.¨

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Every Day

I awake with the duality of hope and disappointment. The latter because without a doubt I will eat rice today, once again lose the battle against mosquitoes, be the subject of stares, and in someway be reminded that I don´t belong.

I guess I owe it to the former for still being here. Being in a new environment lends itself to new experiences and perspectives--and visa versa--the opportunity to share who I am--my culture, my values, my knowledge. Plus, when will I ever again have my own personal fan club of small children?

(Happy Mother´s Day Panamanian Style)