¡Panamania!
Adventures in the Peace Corps

May
13

I’ll try to keep the graphics to a minimum but I got hit with my third round of giardia and it was the worst one yet. I first became ill the night before I was planning on leaving my community to spend a few days getting internet work done so fortunately I was already packed and ready to go. UNfortunately, at 11 pm I woke up, vomited and then experienced the worst 5 hours of diarrhea in my life. I was running to my outdoor bucket latrine literally every 3 or 4 minutes. I called the Peace Corps Medical Officer who wisely told me to wait until daylight to leave for the clinic so that I wouldn’t be endangering myself further by hiking out of site in the dark. I wasn’t so much worried about the hike (although it was not a fun or easy 2.5 hours) but I couldn’t imagine how I was going to endure a 1 hour car ride followed by a 1.5 hour bus ride to get to the clinic without going through a 10 pack of adult diapers. One step at a time. When I finally arrived at the road, exhausted and dehydrated, I was immediately told by a passerby that there was a protest down at a bridge at the entrance to the road and they weren’t letting any cars through. You’ve got to be kidding me. Of all the days. Before too long, however, a car magically showed up that apparently had been able to get through before the protesters blockaded the road. I was saved! Maybe that man on the street didn’t know what he was talking about, maybe there was no protest. I closed my eyes and sat through the winding car ride all the way to the bridge where sure enough, nobody was getting through…I ran into a fellow Peace Corps volunteer who informed me that she asked permission to pass and was told that they would tie her up if she tried. I was not in the mood to sit and wait so I immediately walked down to the river and waded across up to my waist. Not so bad, just some wet pants to change out of. Eventually I made it all the way to the clinic in the city of David where I had to sit and wait for however many hours with fever, headaches, cramps, and diarrhea until I was finally given the results of my stool test….Negative for parasites. I’ve had giardia twice before. I know giardia. I am a connoisseur of giardia. That test is lying. Dr. False Negative prescribed me some antibiotics and anti-diarrhea medicine since apparently I didn’t have any parasites to kill and hooked me up to an IV for 5 hours. 

4 days later I still had all the same symptoms and had lost 5 pounds. I returned to the clinic and met with a different doctor who said he wasn’t going to bother with a stool test because that would be a waste of time. He gave me the anti parasite medicine that I really needed and sent me on my way. Now that’s how it should have been done the first time around! In less than 24 hours I was already feeling back to normal.

About a week after my giardia incident I was invited to help some fellow volunteers/returned volunteers with Jaguar population graduate research. It was being conducted in the Cerro Hoya National Park on the Azuero Peninsula, one of the few provinces of Panama I had yet to visit. About a month ago, the researchers had placed 30 or so camera traps in various locations throughout the national park and our job was to collect them and carry the cameras and batteries out of the park. The first day we took turns riding horses and hiking to get from the nearest community of El Cortezo to the edge of the national park. One of our guides had a cabin set up there where he normally stays to tend to his farms and cattle. We camped out there for one night and left early the next morning to enter into the rain forest. The 10 of us split into two groups in order to cover more area and collect the cameras faster. My group spent the first day inside the park going straight up Cerro Hoya to get to the peak (the highest point in all of the Azuero) with our trusty guide, Mingo. I don’t know how they do it but the guides were incredible. With no trail of any kind, they just followed marks that they had made in the past- some bark cut off a tree here, a branch cut there but they never once got lost. It was all uphill with no friendly path to walk along but when we finally arrived in the magic of the cloud forest in the early afternoon we were rewarded with the good news that we’d be staying at an already set up campsite for two nights. This meant that the next day would be an easy hike without all of our gear to lug around.

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Day 2 in the park we set off to pick up 2 cameras at each of 3 stations for a total of 6 cameras. The camera traps were set up facing a small clearing, one on each side so that ideally two pictures would be taken of the same jaguar and the researchers would have an easier time identifying it. They would be able to tell if there were two separate jaguars roaming around or just one that was caught twice based on the pattern of spots on their fur. The clearings had been set up to encourage the passage of jaguars and a log had been placed perpendicular to the cameras. Apparently when a Jaguar walks across a log it places its paw on the log and pauses a moment giving the camera enough time to snap a picture.  The excursion wouldn’t have been too bad except for the fact that there was a torrential downpour the entire day and when we finally arrived at the campsite we were all completely soaked and ready for nothing more than to eat and sleep. Everybody in this region of Panama has a nickname. Most receive their nickname when they’re kids based on some significant or memorable or funny event that occurs. Each one of use would be receiving a name on this trip. Day 3 I woke up and tried to get the dirt out of my sandals as I climbed out of my hammock. Mingo poked his head out of his hammock and asked if there were ants in my shoes, “Ormigas?!?” I misunderstood him and said good morning, “Buenos dias!” This resulted in a fit of laughter and my new nickname, Ormiga. We packed up camp and began the long hike out along which we’d be stopping at another 5 stations picking up 10 cameras. At the last station, even though we were all tired and ready to be fed and river bathed at the cabin, we somehow decided it would be a good idea to play Tarzan and swing on some vines. With Mingo showing us the ropes (literally) we proceeded to swing from a rock to a tree, hold the tree, take a picture, and swing back several times each.

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As exhausting as this activity was, it lasted for a solid hour before we decided it was time to move on and finish the day. After arriving at the cabin around dusk we compared our pictures with the other group’s (We had already looked at our pictures but I wanted to save it until the end of the story for you guys). Our cameras had collected shots of deer, rabbits, wild board, skunks, coati, agouti, armadillo, pheasant, a hunter and his dogs, several ocelot, pumas, and last but not least 4 or 5 different jaguars including the mythical black panther!!! Black panthers in Panama are a melanistic color variant of the jaguar which means they’re the same species and even have the same pattern of spots but have a black background coloring their fur. There had been rumors that this feline beast was roaming around the mountain spotted once in a blue moon by the wayward traveler but now we had evidence! Two pictures, one from each camera showing a slightly blurry photograph of the jet black cat. Quite a successful trip if you ask me.

P.S. The researchers are not legally allowed to share the pictures yet because they are the property of the university but if I am able to get a hold of them in the future I will grace you with the jaguar’s beauty.

Jan
18

One night I was visiting my neighbor, Domingo, and he wanted to hear some traditional American stories that I could share from my childhood. I told him the story of the tortoise and the hare, the boy who cried wolf, and the mouse and the lion and I explained that in the States, our stories all have a message for kids to learn from. He who works slow and steady beats his competition that rushes to the finish line, if you constantly tell lies then nobody will believe you when you finally tell the truth, one day you might need somebody’s help who you would least expect to be able to help you. Domingo enjoyed these stories and then proceeded to tell me a traditional Ngabe tale about the rooster and the rabbit.

Every day, the rabbit would pass by the rooster at 6 in the morning on his way to find carrots in the farm and every day the rooster would already be awake and crowing. One day the rabbit decided that he was going to get up even earlier to catch the rooster sleeping so he left his house at 5 in the morning and went over to the rooster’s house. Since roosters sleep with their heads tucked under their wing and one foot raised, the rabbit was very confused to see the headless and footless rooster and continued on to find carrots at the farm. During the day, the rooster (who knew that the rabbit had seen him sleeping that morning) gathered all his hen friends around him so that when the rabbit came by in the afternoon he was surprised by all of the women the rooster had. The rabbit asked him how he came to have so many women and the rooster replied that the previous night he cut off his head and his foot and now he had all these women. The rabbit, upon hearing this, raced home and told his wife to immediately cut his head and foot off because he wanted to have lots and lots of women like the rooster. His wife asked him if he was sure and he again demanded that she cut off his head and foot. She cut off his head and foot and the rabbit died.

The end.

Jul
03

Back in May our Peace Corps group had a mandatory 4 day seminar called Project Management and Leadership (PML). Each volunteer was required to bring a member of their community to participate in the seminar and help them develop as a leader throughout the 4 days. Originally I didn’t think too much of it and only saw it as an opportunity to get together with my fellow volunteers and have a good time. I invited Celinda Santos who was a typical, timid, unassertive Ngabe woman who I had worked with on an aqueduct project and whose company I enjoyed. I tried my best to stay by her side as much as possible because many Ngabes are terribly frightened of leaving the comfort of their Comarca homes and it had taken all her courage to leave her children behind and follow me to a seminar with 100 other people she didn’t know. I knew I had brought the right person when she stepped outside of her comfort zone time after time, first to walk down to the beach (second time in her life) and put her feet in the ocean, then to join a few other volunteers and me in our morning exercise routine, and even to dance to American music in front of dozens of other volunteers. I could see her confidence growing every day and was so proud of her every time she demonstrated it. At the time I was unsure if her new-found quality was something that would stick around when she went back to Salitre but she would soon eliminate that doubt.

The first time I ran into Celinda after PML was at the drop-off point for aqueduct materials in a neighboring community. I was eager to see her and was blown away when she marched up to me and greeted me with a firm good morning and a firmer handshake. The confidence that she had shown at PML was nothing compared to what she had brought back home. Since then Celinda has become an extremely assertive decision-maker and consistently offers up suggestions and ideas that she has without worrying about reactions from other people. I am very proud of her and everything she has accomplished and with the water committee elections coming up, I can’t wait to see her compete for the position of the new president.

Mar
23

It began about 15 years ago. The Curry family was traveling to Costa Rica for Fall Break and we ended up on a guided rain forest tour. It was there that we found out about (but did not catch sight of) the Resplendent Quetzal. Our guide had gotten very excited when he heard the bird’s call and led us scrambling along the path to try and witness the awesomeness of this feathered creature. The day ended in disappointment when we finished the hike with no success.

The Resplendent Quetzal is a brightly colored species of bird found in Central America that inhabits tropical cloud forests from Mexico to Western Panama. It stands at about a foot and a half in height with the male’s tail feathers reaching over 2 feet in length. The Quetzal is known for its iridescent green-gold to blue-violet body and vibrant red breast. The male’s head is also distinctly dressed with a helmet-like crest. The Quetzal has been hunted throughout history for it’s astonishingly long and beautiful tail feathers and is currently facing near threatened/endangered species status (depending on the source) for this reason as well as local deforestation.

Resplendent Quetzal

Flash forward to March 20, 2013

Mom and Dad have come to visit me and we chose to spend a few days in Boquete, Panama after the adventures of pasearing to my home in the Comarca Ngabe-Bugle. The first day in Boquete, we decided to go on a hike in the local rain forest along a path called “Los Quetzales.” Our failure to see the Quetzal fifteen years ago had not faded from anyone’s memory but no one was getting their hopes up after speaking to a fellow tourist who had hiked this trail 5 times before and never seen the bird. Two and a half miles in we stopped for lunch and turned around, pleased with the peaceful walk through nature filled with sounds of hundreds of different birds and animals. Hiking back to the entrance we came across the same gentleman we had met earlier but apparently his luck and attitude had changed. He claimed to have seen multiple Quetzals and gave us details of where they could be found along the path. We immediately set out with one goal in mind: See the bird. A short while later we approached the spot indicated by our friend and after a few minutes, sure enough, there appeared a large but slightly less colorful than expected bird. We were excited but something wasn’t right. I knew deep down that that hadn’t been our Resplendent Quetzal. Upon arriving back to the entrance we showed a local ranger the photo my dad had snapped and he told us the bad news. It was a member of the Trogon family and related to the Resplendent Quetzal. But it wasn’t a Resplendent Quetzal. We all knew what this meant.

6:15 the next morning we were up and ready to go try again. The Curry family will not be defeated that easily and we will take every opportunity we have to witness this avian legend in the wild. Another two and a half mile hike out and we slowly wandered the path where we thought the Quetzal would most likely be. We were prepared. We had done our research. We knew its call. Around 10 we parked ourselves down for brunch and at 12 we realized the morning was gone. The opportunity had passed and we were still Quetzalless.

Like I said, the Curry family will not be defeated so easily. Is 6:15 too late in the morning? Alarms were set for 5:15 and we were back at our Quetzal spot an hour earlier the next morning. My dad had taken to attempting communication with the Quetzals by repeatedly whistling their tune regardless of my mom’s constant “Shut up, Kevin.” Around 8:30 we stopped our incessant strolling for brunch, feeling hopeless and on the verge of giving up. The sandwiches were good but emotions were down. My dad finished eating, stood up, and continued his whistling. All of a sudden a large bird flew into view and perched on a branch right above him! Another Trogon…By now we were all knowledgeable enough to recognize it. But strangely, the bird seemed to be responding to my dad’s call. He would whistle and the bird would whistle back. My mom and I looked at each other with wide eyes. The Trogon took off and my mom hissed “Kevin! Keep whistling!” Not five minutes later the unbelievable happened. We all saw it at exactly the same moment as a full grown, male Resplendent Quetzal swooped by and landed 60 feet away from where we were seated. Dear Lord. This bird was magnificent. On second thought, magnificent probably isn’t a strong enough word to describe it. Its size and colors and grace and beauty left us with jaws dropped. We jumped to our feet and quickly started taking pictures and staring in awe through binoculars at this incredible creature. After posing for us for several minutes it took flight again and we hurried to maintain visual contact as long as possible. Our friend didn’t go far and was soon joined by a female who helped him hunt insects out of a dying tree stump for the next 20 minutes. It was an ethereal experience for all of us and a moment that I’m sure none of us will ever forget. We hiked back to the entrance feeling deeply satisfied and lighter than a Quetzal’s tail feather. Mission Accomplished. Curry family rocks.

Feb
27

Not many people have the privilege of witnessing the cultural celebrations of the very closed off and very secretive Kuna people. They consist of a group that is indigenous to Colombia and Panama and currently live in the Comarca Kuna Yala on a section of Panama’s northern coast. Here’s a wikipedia article that can tell you a little more about their culture:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuna_people

The plan was to hike for two days from Panama Este, through the Comarca Kuna Yala, and end up on the coast where a boat would take us to an island inhabited by the Kuna people. Our guide on this journey was a character to say the least. His name was Gaspar de Leon and for the duration of the hike his attire included a camo wife beater, jorts, two rosaries, and a black fedora. Although his continuously updated ETA of “30 minutos mas” was never accurate, he clearly knew this route like the back of his hand.Three days before the 25th anniversary of the Kuna revolution our group of 28 Peace Corps Volunteers left the town of Pigandi in the province of Panama Este to hike 5ish hours to the secluded Kuna village of Nurra and another 4 or 5ish hours to the base of the cordillera (continental divide) to camp out for the night. 

Two days before the celebrations we had another full 9 to 10 hour day of hiking including crossing the continental divide and following a river to the coast. The total hiking distance was just under 30 miles and left everyone thoroughly exhausted. Upon arriving at dusk, we took a boat across a short stretch of ocean to complete our trip to the island of Ustupu where we devoured large plates of dinner and guzzled a few beers at one of the local restaurants before passing out for the night in Gaspar’s dilapidated two story house.

Wandering around town the day before the celebrations left all of us stunned and intrigued. This town was unlike anything I had witnessed in Panama so far which surprising since I had already been living in another indigenous community for the past 8 months. The children were unnaturally friendly and welcoming and their parents were beautiful and culturally proud. They were intelligent and kind and filled with a desire to make all of us foreigners feel at home and give us a chance to see the significance of their culture. The streets were kept nearly spotless and throughout the central park area they played (somewhat creepy) music resembling children laughing and singing. The swastika Kuna cultural symbol took some getting used to and was displayed on the many Kuna Yala flags hung up as well as on items of clothing, decoration, and cups or bowls. After talking with some of the people about the symbol we discovered that they do in fact know of its association to the Nazi flag but since the Kuna had been using that symbol since before the Nazi party came along, they did not feel any obligation to change their culture. An enlightening wikipedia article on the swastika symbol:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swastika

Another interesting cultural fact about the Kuna is their population’s unusually high rate of albinism. Not only are there many albinos on these tropical islands but their cultural acceptance is extremely inspiring. Traditionally, they were viewed as “Children of the Moon” and were charged with protecting the moon from dragon and jaguar attacks during lunar eclipses while today, the albinos are revered and seen as talented artists and capable leaders.

The day before the revolution ceremony, the Kuna people of Ustupu participate in various traditions including community breakfast and lunches where locals will prepare small dishes to share with whoever needs or wants a free meal. It was a great way for us to explore the town and get to know some of the villagers over hot chocolate and bread or banana juice. I can’t stress enough how welcoming and friendly these people were and unfortunately I found myself constantly making comparisons to the people in my community. It’s really not surprising how developed this town is for an indigenous population given the quality of the people inhabiting it. In the afternoon, the town gathered around a cleared space to watch reenactments of the revolution that took place in 1925. Although it was all performed in the Kuna language it was still an interesting series of events that was relatively easy to follow and understand. Basically, when Panama received its independence in 1903, the government tried to suppress the Kuna people and their cultural traditions. They didn’t like this very much and in 1925 successfully rebelled against the Panamanian government and earned semi-autonomous status as the Comarca Kuna Yala. The leader of this revolution was called Nele Kantule and was actually from the island of Ustupu (where we were staying) so the revolution celebrations on this island are popular and quite incredible.

February 25, 2013

The celebration begins with a parade in which Peace Corps Volunteers were actually invited to walk in. The women dress up in their traditional garb and the men all wear red shirts to show solidarity with the Kuna bloodshed of the revolution. The march culminates at the local basketball court where more reenactments proceed until finally the long awaited festivities of the Casa de Chicha (House of juice) begin. What happened in that house was probably one of the most bizarre, fascinating, and mind blowingly surreal experiences of my life. The men line up in groups of six and dance around while chanting and screaming in imitation of the drink servers until they are given a hollowed out calabash bowl filled with chicha fuerte (literally means strong juice but refers to any sort of fermented and alcoholic drink) made from sugar cane, coffee, and cocoa but tasting like bad wine full of coffee grounds. This cycle is repeated as many times as one desires by anyone who desires. The Kuna people are the second smallest people in the world and technically they are only supposed to drink alcohol once a year on the day of the revolution ceremony so what that means is that they have an extremely low tolerance and get really, REALLY drunk. Especially the old people. That was probably the funniest part of this whole experience: tiny, ancient, drunk people dancing around and running into you like bumper cars until they have to be carried home by 4 or 5 of their equally drunk friends. The women’s side of the house was just as entertaining where they were just dancing around and playing harmonicas while constantly being served the same chicha fuerte. This festivity continues until around noon when everyone is too tired and too drunk to dance any more so they return home for the remainder of the day to sleep and nurse any incoming hangovers.

The following day we said our goodbyes and had to tell many good people that we didn’t know when we’d be returning to see them. After a six hour boat ride that took us past some of the most beautiful and isolated beaches in the world (who knew that those still existed) and a 3 hour car ride, we found ourselves back in Panama City and hardly ready to get back to work.

So far this trip has been the absolute best experience of my time in Peace Corps and I am so thankful that I was able to participate in it and see all of these amazing things.

Jan
29

I decided that it was about time to have my dog’s balls cut off so I figured I’d ask around in the nearest town and see what could be done. I went to an agriculture store and inquired about any vets who could perform spays and neuters and they laughed and said people usually just do it themselves (this is mostly a farming town). I decided to pay a visit to the local farm animal vet, Martin, and see if he was in. His sister invited me in and chatted my ear off about the Comarca Ngabe-Bugle and the people and her job (teacher), gave me spaghetti and juice, and called up her brother to make an appointment the following morning. 

I showed up at 10 the next day and the vet’s mother took me out back and called to him across the street. When he eventually came over, he led me to a wooden operating table in his backyard. After brushing the sawdust and animal feces off the table, he lay down some newspaper and started gathering his equipment. The me that is accustomed to shiny, spotless, aluminum tables at the vet offices in America was a little worried at first so I asked him a few times if he’s done this procedure on dogs before. He said yes, horses, dogs, pigs, whatever and he proceeded to inject Cache with an anesthetic. He seemed to know what he was doing and also seemed to have all the equipment he needed so that was pretty reassuring. He told me to sit next to Cache and hold his head in case he wasn’t fully knocked out (which we learned he wasn’t after he tried to bite the vet for shaving his balls). I had the pleasure of sitting in on the surgery and watching him cut my dog’s testicles off and gently place them next to me on the newspaper. I had witnessed a couple of spays and neuters when I was volunteering at the Humane Society in Atlanta but this was very different. At one point 4 of his buddies came over to hang out and they all talked and joked while Martin was holding Cache’s ballsack together (Testicles still sitting on the table).

The whole experience was really quite interesting and although I’m sure there’s a reason that vet’s in the States allow zero germs in their office, I’m not sure if it’s totally necessary for the health of the animals. I started thinking that maybe it has more to do with giving the pet’s owner peace of mind and assuring them that it is a clean establishment.

Now Cache and I are taking a few days to let him recover and heal up before the hike back into site where I will baby him as much as possible and continue to be an overprotective parent.

Jan
20

After spending a lovely and relaxing 2 weeks in the United States I returned to my community after the New Year to a few unfortunate surprises. I had asked my neighbor, Eladio, and his family to take care of my dog and bring food to my cat while I was gone. Eladio’s son, Jose Luis, hadn’t seen the cat in a while and one day heard something going on in my house. He went to investigate and found my other neighbor’s child inside the locked part of my house. When asked what he was doing there, his response was, “looking for his money.” Jose Luis had a hunch that the kid might also have an idea where the cat was and he admitted that his family had stolen the cat to hunt their rats and tied her up without food or water. Some time later, Eladio heard the cat howling inside the locked school and found her vomiting water. He left to try and find some rope but by the time he got back the cat was gone. Since I still haven’t seen the cat I think it’s safe to assume that she’s dead and that my neighbors who stole her are responsible. Needless to say I was extremely angry when I heard all this and went straight to their house to yell at whoever was home. That happened to be their sixteen year old daughter and 10 year old son. I let out a lot of steam and told them that I never want to seem them around my house again. Following that incident, I went to speak with a few different influential community members to see if there was anything they could do about this situation. On the plus side, everyone who I talked to was very supportive and some went as far as saying that they would talk to the corregidor (local government official) about what happened. That night I went back to the neighbor’s house and yelled at the kid’s father who completely denied even seeing the cat and tried to excuse his son’s behavior by saying that “he’s just a kid and doesn’t know what he’s doing.” I told him that he was the kid’s father and is therefore responsible for his son’s actions and behavior and reiterated that I never want to see any of them around my house and that they no longer have permission to use the path that goes right next to my house even though it’s shorter than using the main path. I feel as though I scared them sufficiently to keep them away but for now I will take extra precautions and buy another lock for my house.

Other than these exciting events, I’ve been trying to get started on different projects in and around my community. In a neighboring community, Tugri, I had scheduled the first meeting for a latrine project. I was expecting over 40 people to show up and was disappointed when I had 6 people after about 2 hours of waiting around. I got another chance to yell at people and told them that they have one more opportunity to come to a meeting in two weeks and if they don’t sort themselves out then I wouldn’t do a project with them. We’ll see if I actually got my point across. A few days later I had a couple of nearby volunteers come and help me with a survey of the community where we will hopefully expand the current aqueduct system to serve about 30 more houses. We had a productive day and finished everything in an exhausting 10 hours. In a few days we’ll have our regional meetings and then head back to site to continue work on these projects.

Dec
10

It´s been a while since my last post so I figured I’d write up another one. It seems like I’m not very good at blogging, oh well. It´s been about 5 months since I arrived in Salitre and things have been picking up steadily. I´m not gonna lie, my first 3 months were pretty miserable between the semi-starvation, host family that seemed to judge me every time I left the house, and incessant screaming of six children living in and around my host family´s house. Although all of those things made life pretty terrible for a few months, I don´t regret it and I have learned to appreciate life without it.

For the past 2 months I have been living in my own house on top of a large hill consisting of a straw roof, no walls, and an unbelievable view. Because the house sits on top of this hill and because I do not have running water, I now have to hike a tank of water up to my house from the school´s pluma (faucet) every couple of days. It´s not easy but I like to think of it as extra exercise.

Now that I´m not depending on food from a host family that tries to rip me off every chance they get, I have actually been eating extremely well. I hike in about 90% of my food but it’s worth every step of that hike. Just a few example dishes that I make that have been compiled from other volunteers and recipes include: 1. Chau mein with veggies, boiled yucca leaves, and raisins in a peanut sauce consisting of peanut butter and soy sauce 2. Rice with dried soy product soaked in worcestershire sauce and veggies with curry powder, water, milk powder (to thicken the mixture), and ginger 3. Oatmeal with fresh bananas, cinnamon, sugar, raisins, and peanut butter 4. Homemade reeces peanut butter cups (a spoonful of peanut butter dunked in powdered instant cocoa mix 5. Anything with my new favorite ingredient – sriracha sauce. Basically I eat delicious food and I eat a lot of it.

As far as projects go, I´ve had a few days recently where I´ve felt unproductive because I still haven´t started any actual projects. Since I will be returning to the States for the holidays, I´ve decided to start planning things for when I get back into site after the New Year (assuming the world doesn´t end in the coming weeks). I´ve begun strategizing my latrine project as well as setting dates for meetings, I´ve invited fellow volunteers to come help me survey future aqueduct lines in January, and I´ve even bought a piglet that my community counterpart will be taking care of for me until my despedida (farewell party) in two years. Things are definitely starting to pick up.

Sep
21

The past couple months have been surprisingly busy for what I was expecting in my Peace Corps service. It seems as though I get invitations daily and continuously have things to be doing. Between getting up at 4 in the morning to watch my host dad butcher a cow to hiking 3 or 4 hours to attend a Cambio Democratico political meeting for the day (and then hiking 3 or 4 hours back home after dark), I´ve managed to have my calendar completely filled.

For the past month or so I´ve participated in weekly soccer games with my community, Salitre. We´ve managed to do a lot of winning and are currently in second place in the tournament with the final rounds coming up this weekend. Although I´m not a fantastic soccer player, I have the distinct advantage of being about a foot taller than everyone else on the field and probably weighing a good 20 more pounds.We´ll see how the next few weeks go but the team that wins the final rounds gets an old karate trophy and $60 which usually gets spent on a huge meal for the team…with chicken!

 

Aug
10

After 3 weeks of continuous ups and downs I made a conscious decision to have a positive attitude about everything no matter what. When my 4 year old host sister screams and cries and pokes me while I’m reading, remember that she’s only 4 and I’m not allowed to hit her. When my host dad leaves me behind after inviting me to go to the farm with him and I tell him I’ll just be a minute to put my boots on, put your boots on faster. When I go pasear (visit and get to know community members) at someone’s house and they invite me to sit down and then don’t say a word to me for 2 hours, remember that silence is golden. I’m starting to realize what is so difficult about Peace Corps service since in the last month I have been more mentally and physically challenged than in my entire life. Although the next two years will be in no way easy, I have no doubt that I will look back on them fondly and appreciate every day of it. Speaking of appreciating things, after spending a good chunk of time in my site I’ve come to really appreciate and aprovechar (take advantage of) access to food that has any sort of flavor, an actual shower, and an actual toilet. I find myself absolutely devouring chicken when I’m lucky enough to have a single wing in my bowl of rice (no more than once a week). I’ve managed to stay sane by meeting up with other volunteers near my community every couple weeks and sharing stories of how little we eat and how much time we spend staring at the fugón (fire pit) waiting for a meal. That’s all for now, more to come later.

Latest sets of pictures:

http://www.facebook.com/media/albums/?id=1124400056

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