Saturday, October 18, 2008

My going away party

I left my town on October 7th. The weekend before my Panama Verde group organized a going away party with some money they had saved up. Several members of the community were invited as well as Panama Verde coordinators from out of town.
They decorated my house all morning and had a big stereo hooked up to a car battery. In total there was about 30 people crammed onto my porch. In this picture I am giving all of the Panama Verde books and documents to the President Aurelio.
Later we took a picture with all of our group members. Included in the photo are on the right. The Proffesora Mitzela from Changuinola who organizes all the group on a regional level and Arcadio, the head of a NGO called Alianza´s Bocas. I was very surprised that they came considering it was a weekend and 1 and a half hour ride from Changuinola.
We also had a more formal going away lunch at the US ambassador to Panama´s house. Tables were set with lots of silverware and delicious food!!! Seriously this was real good food even by US standards, I can´t believe the Ambassador gets to eat like this ALL THE TIME!
Here I am with the Ambassador Barbara Stephenson and the Peace Corps Country Director Peter Redmond.

Here is are whole group. Not so many have left, and all left within the first 6 months.

I´m off on my trip visiting South America.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

New update on work and a short vacation

As my last vacation in Peace Corps a bunch of good friends went to the Comarca Kuna Yala or San Blas. This is a different indigineous reservation located on primarily beutiful carribean island close to Columbia. There was delicious seafood in endless supply!

This was a freind we met who went spear fishing and got these two fish. Ryu is holding up a barrucuda. He said he shot them at 40 meters down using no air tanks!!

I took a recent trip to measure potentional water sources in more remote towns. These towns may be getting a aqueduct from the goverment in the futre. We measured the flow of the spring, the distance and elevation change from the houses. In some places there was fairly thick Jungle like above.
This is us measuring the flow rate. We cut up peaces of a banana tree to use as the make shift pipe. They worked fantastic. I also tried to teach the community members present how to use their watch to count the seconds needed to fill up the 5 gallon bucket and therefore measure the gallons per minute.
We had the inaguration for the Quebrada Cacao aqueduct. There was a religoius invocation, a brief history of the whole project. I spoke on how the project continues in their maintence and charging the monthly usage fee. I also read off some words from my boss. There was also a piñata!! I mad this out of a box and tissue paper. It lasted a beating!

Since I´ve been in site I´ve been selling condoms for 5 cents each. The UN gave a bunch of condoms to Peace Corps for free but we were told to sell them so there is some value associated with them. When ever someone comes to buy one I try to do a quick demonstration of their use on bananas. I have even walked around town in the afternoon when everyone (esspecially young guys) are playing sports and took the demonstration on the road.
I´m starting to try to tak more pictures with families I´m friendly with so i can develope them and give as gifts, and just for me.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A trip to build a composting latrine

A few weeks ago I took a trip to help my friend Mo kick off her compost latrine project. I brought a tecnico from my town that has had years of experience building and maintaining composting latrines. He was kinda enough to come without pay because he really believes in the technology and wanted to see a new town.
Mo lives on an island near Bocas del Toro. Since it is illegal to take sand from any beaches in the area all the sand and materials had to be brought from the mainland. We left in a dug out wood boat. Water was pouring in though the sides because we were so weighed down, but we got there in one peace.
Here is the latrine after most of the first three layers of blocks have been laid. These latrines are built in places where a high water table exists so you can´t have a pit latrine.
The view at dusk of her town looking out towards Bocas del Toro.
The tecnico Benicio giving a talk on the proper use and common problems with the latrines. This was in my view one the most important parts of the whole 3 days. He gave his talk in Ngobe and used stories about his experience building nearly 30 latrines and how so many people like them in my town. Many of the other guys didn´t fully understand the concept until he spoke to them. You can see the ¨doors´s where you take out the composted excrement in the back.
Mo and the proud new owners of their latrine.

Monday, April 21, 2008

More Panama Verde and disaster strikes

So the other day I went to buy some pipes for the two aqueducts that I am still buildings. I went with a member of the aqueduct committee to Changuinola where the hardware stores are and purchased several hundred dollars of PVC. I like this store because the delivery is free, this is a major plus when you live and hour and a half away from the nearest hardware store and half of that trip is off road. They have a very old flatbed drunk with broken glass, side windows that don´t work and no working knobs in the cab. After about half and hour on the highway a passing car flagged us down. When we pulled over our driver jumps out of the car swearing...

The whole battery is in flames and melting a mix of plastic and battery acid!! Apparently its thrown together wiring short circuited.

The Panama Verde environmental your group is still very active. After the regional camp kids in my town really wanted to do something big. They wanted to invite 4 other neighboring groups for a 2 day camp. I initially was skeptical and thought they didn´t know how much work goes into planning an activity like this. Regardless I told them that they could start planning it. After splitting the group up to right solicitation letters and going to the Changuinola to deliver them we received funding from the Hydroelectric dam company, the Mayor and the local town representative.
The mini-camp was all Ngobe, so our big activity was a hike with the local indigenous healers group. They explained what plants worked as cures for various ailments and how to prepare them. Much of this knowledge is not being passed down from the older generations to the young more hip kids. Part of this activity was hearing the same botanical group speak on Ngobe culture, traditional stories and what is was like living 70 years ago when there was nothing but jungle. (Elderly people in my town tell me about how jungle cats would eat their pigs!)

The majority of the camp occurred in the school. We ate in the school kitchen and everyone slept on the floor in classrooms. Other activities we did were a a talk about the composition of trash followed by a community wide trash pick up, a low ropes course, swimming and bathing in the river and at night we put on the DVD Planet Earth.
These are all the kids in my group. I was very impressed with how much they stepped up. Seeing how they are teenagers many times the goof off but when the responsibility was on they all delivered. Every one carried a huge load of firewood from there houses, large buckets of water to the school kitchen when the water went out, cleaned the bathrooms and maintained order amongst the members from other towns.
These are all the participants with their camp shirts and certificates.

Another activity we did was a beach cleanup in preparation for turtle nesting season. 25 kids plus 4 counselors piled into 2 dug out canoes for a trip to the barrier islands of San San Pon Sak. Before the beach clean up we were taken to a platform in the mangrove wetland to get a chance to see manatees!
They hang bananas in a hope to study the manatees. This was pretty much the extent that we saw.
To my surprise the beach cleanup did not exist of picking up trash. We moved large peaces of drift wood and seaweed clumps that could disturb nest turtles. The turtle conservation program at San San Pon Sak is protecting Leatherback Sea Turtles one of the largest in the world. They can be as large a 6 feet by 4 feet.
The conservation effort revolves around greatly improving the chances that turtles that hatch on there beach will reach adult hood. They do this by making the environment even better the what is naturally occurring. Even thought the turtles have powerful flippers they still can´t move large peaces of drift wood so its removed to improve there chances. When they come to lay eggs the people on the beach move the eggs to a secure nursery, so crabs and other wild life can´t dig them up.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Peace Corps Family

Some times I think of Peace Corps Panama like a big extended surrogate family. This past weekend I attended the wedding ofTess Sparks. She was the volunteer in my town before me and also the tech trainer for our group of environmental health volunteers. She got married to a Panamanian architect named Gabriel in the old city of Panama.
St. Francis of Assisi Chapel was huge!
Flower children and ring bearers
The reception was at a Hindu Temple banquet hall on a large hill overlooking the city. There was a DJ a live tipico band. Later while most people were talking at there tables a brass band marched in! It was great to see so many people dancing and having a great time. The dance floor was full of surrogate family: the PC doctor, the directors of the various PC sectors, secretaries and language teachers even the country director and his daughter!
I also got to meet some volunteers that lived and worked around my area and settle some tall tales about them as well as update them on the big happenings in the area.

This past weekend was also Melissa and myself´s 1 year anniversary! We celebrated with champagne in a a nice hotel in Panama City.

In January (I know I have not updated the blog in a while) there was another familiar event when several people came to visit my town to see the work completed on the aqueduct. Above left to right there is the local mason, Tess (the one that just got married), the director of the Environmental Health program, the Waterlines ( the NGO sponsoring the project) mason and inspector, the Country director Peter Redmond, SpongeBob, and members of the a Rotary club which also sponsored the project.

They all came for the official inauguration of the aqueduct with the town. The whole town came out for a big party with two slaughtered pigs, official dedications, the story of how the aqueduct came to be and a piñata!

Words from the two bossmen, Peter Redmond and the aqueduct President Emilio.
This is Carmen, the local women´s group president with the Country Directors daughter. The women´s group gave many of their hand stitched bags as a token of appreciation.

Here´s the country director with most of his family walking the muddy trail to Nudobidi. He says they try to get out to visit people as much as is possible because it reminds the kids of what the country outside of Panama City is like. This was his family´s first time to a Ngobe community in Bocas del Toro.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Panama Verde Youth Camp

The regional Panama Verde camp happened during January. About 12 different Panama Verde groups got together and the agricultural high school IPT Silencio for 5 days of ice breakers, trash pickup, talks on the environment and leadership and games! It was a great mix between Ngobe groups and Latino. There was even another indigenous group called the Naso present.

The people with green shirts on are the counselors. They are in their twenties and went from being in groups to part of the Panama Verde leadership, most are from more developed cities and are studying at a university and all work for free. Panama Verde has a saying ¨For youth, by youth¨ the only person over 25 in the whole group is the national director who is standing next to the guy in the wheel chair.

One of the confidence builders we did as part of the ropes course day. I didn’t do this but it certainly gave some of the larger kids confidence to hear all there teammates cheering them on. This is my group picking up trash. We broke up into 5 different colored groups and you had to wear your colors at all times. We had a great mix of loud, animated, and educated Latinos as well as more quiet reserved Ngobes. I think this is itself was a great learning experience. The kid with the part in his hair is from my town. This was his first trip ever out of town so you can imagine how intimidating all the ice breakers and goofy dances would be. He ended up doing a great job later as he gained confidence making jokes.

I did the camps with 2 other PC volunteers that have groups in Bocas. This was for a game similar to capture the flag that we played at night. We were giants and could tag kids and bring them to jail. In order for them to capture us they need 6 kids touching a leader at once. This was a great exercise in teamwork. The first round not one giant one captured. The second round they all hid in corners and alleys and came out in huge groups and ended up catching us all.

This is my group ¨The Claws.¨ If we lost our flag (which we did) we all had to do an embarrassing dance called the epileptic chicken... yeah its as strange as it sounds.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

November is Panama Month

November is the mes de Patrìa or month of the fatherland. On the 3 they celebrate independence from Columbia day, the 4th is flag day. They have big celebrations in the schools and with marching bands in larger towns. These girls are wearing sashes that indicate that they are in the top of their class.

This is the stage set up for the ceremonies of reading the declaration of independence and other historical documents and well as children reading poems and singing songs about their country.
On the 23 Valle celebrated the founding of their county. This is a big deal because most of the county is in the mountains people no longer need to pay to get to the larger town to settle land disputes, register to vote or register births. This is all done in my town which is the center of the coriegiemento (county). On the 23 the town council had a big party with activities during the day, and a big dance at night. The party started off with Cantadera, which is similar to freestyle singing. One was from Tolè which and spoke some ngobe in his singing, which everyone loved.

They start out introducing themselves each in turn, then the sing about how they love women and past exploits. Later they merged into about how they are truly from the countryside and how they always work in their farm, this turns into complaints about the rising cost of rice, sugar, gas and the general cost of living (which is true). They then went on to get more confrontaional with the Hijo de la Comarca (Child of the reservation) going to far to make hints that they are on his land. Overall the atmosphere was very freindly and they applaud one another if they sang some poignent lines. One of them even mentioned Peace Corps a few times so he was clearly improvising.
Then tipico band started playing. They seemed like true road warriors. All of their equipment has seen some obvious use. Considering everything was brought in on a 4 wheel drive truck they sounded good. The music is very accordian based and the singer Edwin Seballo is popular with Ngobes because he has a few songs centering around Ngobe phrases. The band played till around 4 AM which many people thought was quitting to soon. After 2 cups of coffee I couldn´t stay awake past 2.

This is a random picture of how you get to my friend Mo´s Latrine. And really all the latrine is a private spot you can poop in the mangrove swamp. You need to hop from board to board!
Novemeber 2nd is the Day of the Dead. Where most of the town gets together to remember the dead. Wealthy people get raised graved above while others get the plants with red leaves. As my town is quite big there are lots of graves.
The is my sister placing flowers on the grave of her grandfather, one of the founding fathers of the town.
No minister was present so they asked me if I could give the opening prayer, I did but chickened out and gave it in English. On the other hand, I don´t regulary speak about religion so i´m not used to the vocabulary.
November is also the month to harvest cacao!! This is a pile of mallorcas which they crack open to and take out the seeds. After the that the seeds are dried, ground and sugar and milk is added to make chocolate.