Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Just another night of paseando

Danny visited me in Panama. Danny likes to sing Christmas songs in July. My host family likes to listen to English at any time. It is night and there is no electricity in the 'jungle.'

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Finally Some Visuals

you can click on the images to make them bigger. So please do so if you feel inclined. These are all fotos from my site taken within the past month. enjoy.

This is a machine called a "trapichi" and is used to manually grind sugar cane into "guarapo" which is the juice that resides inside. Very hard work. it is later boiled for 8 hours or so until it becomes syrup. much better than sugar.

surprisingly sanitary.

some pig chillin' on a hot sunday afternoon in the middle of the soccer field. that´s a goal post in the back.

one of my fave pals in site. helping me build my rancho. and by helping me i mean, he and other guys do most of it while i "ooh" and "ahh" and take pictures.

i swing machetes and axes and handle sharp knives on a regular basis. he's measuring wood for one of the pilars.

more of the rancho building.

the rancho is like a poor man's house. pictures of a completed one soon.

children who are shy.

she's loud and not shy. i like her. i forget her name though.

my host family's kitchen. the two grandaughter's are present where one is feeding the chickens corn while simultaneously helping herself to some.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

War and Peace in the Azuero

Forgive me, devout followers for it seems I have forsaken you. It's been many a fortnight since I engaged you last. I have seen the sin in my idle ways and repent. I beg to be your humble blog servant once more.
Apologies aside, many events have transpired in my life since i wrote last that have irreversivibly transformed my mind and person. I has not been any single event or events really but an amalgamation of occurences, thoughts, feelings and other complicated intangibilities. I'm not exactly positive what it all means but i'm sure it has happened and carries great importance.
What i've experienced since I moved into my commuinity five weeks ago and will continue to go through over the next 23 months plus is impossible to describe so i shant bother. Sounds rather pompuous and dismissive I'm sure, but i cannot begin to express how different a world i am currently living in is compared to the one i spent the first 23.5 years of my life in. In this different world, i am the owner of a different life and by consequence am a different person. Indeed. Mind you, these are all positive changes. you'd be surprised how different your body chemistry reacts and becomes once you shed yourself of most of the western world's distractions. there are drawbacks, this goes without saying. Oh, how i long for spices in my food! What I'd do for some hummus or a quality deli sandwich. How splendid it would be to once again suffer a solid regular bowel movement! yes, there most surely are hardships to endure in "el
campo de panama" but i cannot find myself to complain. the nature of the approx 120 residents of my most rural community surpass by and large any other group of people i met. they are, in my educated opinion, the way human beings were intended to be by the great force that brought us all together on this vast blue rock. Yes, i'm sure of it now. my fellow community members work the land , love theior families and drink their fermented corn beverages without bothering a soul. Outside of the extreme poverty, isolation, and lack ofeducation and medical care i'd say my community has life figured out.
Harmless jests aside, they bend over backwards for me and i am regarded as something as a popstar. everything i do and say is watched and mentally recorded to be passed along in a community-wide game of telephone. they all think everything i do and say is hilarious. the latter being a point of concern for me. they simply guffaw and cackle at anything remotely funny that comes out of my mouth. i have found the best audience here without ever having to bestow any good material on them. my concern is that perhaps when i leave in wo years, i would have lost my funny bone, to use the parlance of our times, as it were.
Selfish preoccupations aside, any loved one or liked one who might have been worried for my safety or adaptation abilities need not. They love me and mysafety is their number one concern. and anyone that knows me will attest that i am more than capable of adapting to a situation that has the spotlight thrusted upon me.
Pleasantries aside, the initial purpose of this entry was to inform that i have decided to turn this blog into no more than a series of anecdotes. as i stated earlier, i cannot possibly convey what i'm going through short of sticking my hand out of your screen and dragging you thousands of miles away into the jungle to me. if i do try to walk everyone through my emotional and physical transcendence in Panama this blog would surely turn into mock-intellectual, pseudo-philosophical attempts to examine cause and effects of socio-economic factors involving my communities development in a post-Noriega Panama which we all know to be a world of discussion on its own! In other words, psychobabble. I'm sure it's too late.
So i will leave you with the on-going saga that is my rectum. Twelve days ago I switched host families not because I was unhappy but because the deal was one host family a month for three months until hypothetically my hy house is built (no such progress there). My first host family i simply adore. The man is a real ball of energy and is one of the only people in the community that does not treat me as if i were made of glass. the old lady is a dreadfully splendid woman whom despite her incredulous stance on religion and nutrition caters to my ridiculous pleas for sugarless coffee and the occassional non-fried food. Yes, Bartolo and Serafina Castro are grand. So as you can see it was with great reluctance that i picked my belongings half a fortnight ago to begin my new life (or december) alongside Chu and Jobita Valdes. They are very nice and giving despite their aversion to talking to me. But enough about them, this story is not about the Valdes family (although they could easily be the subject of a series of biographies, i'm sure) but about their latrine. You see their "servicio" suffers from what whe in Peace Corps Panama affectionately refer to as "splashback." The pit latrine is entirely full the brim and i refuse to use it. They don't know this of course. It would break their hearts with shame to know that the gringo dislikes having everyone's feces splash back up his naked rear end every time he uses the facility. So i had decidedto hold it until i went to Chitre, my provincial capital, to meet with government officials regarding my community's lack of access via road and shotty aquaduct system. Twelve days is a long time to hold anything, especially a bowel movement. By day 7, my tummy looked like the big bad wolf's when he swallowed grandma. It made me heavy and walking was more challenging than usual. Do not try this at home, kids. On day 8 I woke up and knew i was not going to make it to Chitre. I decided to walk the 20 mins in the mud (remember the mud?) to my old host family's house and use the latrine in their backyard. their latrine is no club med either, with its many hundreds of creepy crawlies and creepy flyies. But at least it is meters and meters deep. With a palm over my nose and a roll of "i can't believe it's not sandpaper!" toilet paper in the other I waddled into my destiny. There i sat for of course thirteen eternities and god knows how many limbos until i felt something tickle my bum. Usuallyit is a fly or mosquito so my natural reaction is to squirm and fidget. Much ot my chagrin the tickle did not subside. No, sir. In fact, it continued stubbornly. I knew something wasn't kosher. I sprang up twisting my neck and back to reluctanly yet necessarily examine the regretful situation I knew it to be. Much to my dismay and horror I saw and felt a scorpion crawling away from my anus! I had no idea the Azuero had such monstrous creatures of the night. Without a moment's hesitation i swatted her off and stomped on it until I was sure her mother would be deprived of an open-casket funeral. The rest of my month with Chu and Jobita I'm sure will be a riot.
For all you overzealous worriers (madre mia) I'd like to make it absolutely clear that I am nothing but quite content with my Peace Corps-filled life.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The End of the Beginning?

So, on the 8th of October we (group 60 of Peace Corps Panama) set off to our counterpart conference in the neighboring province of Coclé. There was where we would meet our community guide which was someone who came from our site to meet us, greet us, learn about us, and then take us to our site for 5 days to acquire a sense of what the next two years would be like. After an awkward yet necessary two days of conferencing we all set off on our respective routes to our respective sites with our respective counterparts. That first day on our own was a drag and I mean that in the most respectful way. You see, my counterpart wanted to stop by and spend the night at her daughter's place. I was fine with it because family is important and whatnot. Also, it was on the way.

We get there to a town right outside Chitre with the nice lady. We pull up to her daughter's place. She's in her mid-20's and has two kids. She goes off to work as soon as we get there and her mother is in the backyard cleaning something. So I'm sittin in the living room by myself for a WHILE feeling intensely awkward when all of a sudden I hear some rock n' roll music blasting from one of the two bedrooms. I walk in and the three year old boy is banging a broom against the wall while his semi-nude five year old sister is jumping up and downon the bed rocking out to a Guns n' Roses music video. I believe it was Paradise City. I hate that song so naturally, I take a seat on the bed. Maybe I was tired from the bus ride or maybe it was Axl Rose's incessant whining coupled with the tune's truly inspired lyrics (sarcasm alert) but something triggered the 'realization' mechanism in my head. At that moment I looked around the room and mentally doused myself with a cup of cold water. "Where the hell am I?" I seemed to say. I imagined a globe. It was focused on the western hemisphere then Panama then Herrera, then Chitre so forth and so on until I saw myself in a room full of G n' R and ADD children. It hit me like a ton of bricks; I was no longer going to lead the life I had grown accostomed to over the past five years. I was done with the college life for good. I knew that etapa (stage) of my life was over but had yet to feel it during training. This was the first time I was on my own since i met all these wonderful Peace Corps personnel over two months ago. I knew it was time to "go big or go home" using the parlance of our times.

The next day, the nice lady and I (let's call her Reina Campos), decided we were done dilly-dallying. We were over Chitre and yearned for greener pastures... literally. But things didn't start out as sunny as I would've liked. In what seemed like an eternity (six hours in transit, three of them in the back of a rickety old pick-up truck on a road that few in the states would dare take but in Panama is a mere "camino" on a transport route) Reina and I arrived to, let's call this town Chirpo. From there only a two hour hike to my site, let's call it Quesadilla,on a good clear day. Of course, as our immature, adolescent universe would have it, we were in the middle of the 6th consecutive day of solid Panamanian rain (oct and nov are the wettest of the nine month wet season in Panama). So, picture this: Franco, with a big REI hiking backpack on his (redundancy alert) back, a regular sizebackpack on this chest full of tech binders, cultural and peace corps-y books sprinkled with a modest amount of literature for recreational purposes (you know, Cervantes, Borges, Voltaire, JK Rowling and Dan Brown). Two of those were but a jest and if you cannot tell which are the silly ones then the seatbelt demonstrations on airplanes are for you.

Tangent aside, I have a third backpack wrapped in a plastic bag carrying essentials that i dared not tempt fate by exposing them to the Central American elements (side note: Panamanian weather could be described as a tortoise... slow and steady. It defeats all). These of course, were my Ipod, cellular mobile unit (which since then has been irritatingly been left behind on a bus or as they are affectionately known here: Diablos Rojos), digital camera used to chronicle images that validate my existence, my moleskins, lucky chicken's head, and a one-year supply of jello packets. Again, two of those were made up. Also, I was carrying a box holding a water filter.
Next to me was Señora Reina Campos, the scrappiest 5 foot 1 mother of nine I had ever met. She had her own cross to bear (purple gym bag, pink powerpuff pack and a self-confessed Latin Gringo with a wicked farmer's tan). So there are the two of us standing in the rain with what seems to be a 3 hour trek to my new community, my new home. I knew I loved life when she turned to me, raised her eyebrows in bewilderment, opened her mouth releasing a large sigh and the following words: "I've never seen the path this shitty before." Naturally, I used artistic liberties in the translation but the point has been made.

Now, I don't mean to be a complete dork but then again I did join an organization full of them and I mean that in the most lovable, huggy way possible but I'm going to have to compare our journey to that of another (geek alert) fellowship. New Zealand, my ass. Peter Jackson filmed the scenes leading up to Mordor in Quesadilla.

Not only was the two hour trek straight stock footage of primordial goop Earth but the town was a spitting image of the wild west sans Will Smith. Yes, the wild west... if it was in the very rainy mountains full of lush vegetation where every house was about a quarter of a mile from each other. So, maybe it doesn't look like the US's wild west but the vibe is definetely there. The culture is very cowboy-like but I'll get into that in another blog entry.
So señora Campos and I were on our 'amazing journey'. We were a couple of rootin-tootin' go-getters like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Like Neil and Buzz. Like Tom and Jerry. Like Quixote and Sancho. Like Nixon and Agnew. Like Bonnie and Clyde. Like Turner and Hooch. Like Paul and John. Like Jerry and George. Like Pete and Roger. Ok, enough of that. I'll give you 20 reales if you can name all the references. easy right? That's why I'm only offering a dollar.

So, Reina and I made it to my new home. We survived the lomas (mountainy hills), floods, makeshift bridges (i.e. large wet tree trunks suspended 15 feet in the air above brown water rapids) not once, not twice but thrice! Oh, and we survived the mud. She's everywhere. She's like 20th century despot ignorant of borders. She invades and consumes all. She's in league with the rain and the earth. Mud doesn't care if you just showered or are planning on wearing those pants all week. She will do anything within her power to hug you and bring you down closer. She loves to be wrapped around your body. She loves you and needs you inside her. You think you can run. You think you can hide. You think you can walk around. But you cannot. She doesn't care for your needs or desires. She will come after you and one day you seize to resist. It will be decades away perhaps but she would have won. You will be one with her. You will be engulfed by her. We all will.

How do I temporarily keep her at bay? Tall rubber boots!!!! You might think that I exaggerate with the exclamation points but you're obviously never been here. Go outside and kiss that asphalt street you step all over daily so dreadfully taking it for granted. Yes, the rubber boots keep my feet from obtaining dehabilitating infections. We've all seen those Vietnam war films. You know what can happen.

If this entry seems a bit hostile and off, know that it is not due to my feelings towards my site for I am extremely excited but rather to the inevitable affects of listening to The Velvet Underground's "Venus in Furs" on a continous loop for what seems like an eternity now. Internet cafes are strange like that.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

R.I.P Michael Webb

I have the sorry task of informing you all that our good friend, Michael Webb, is no longer with Peace Corps Panama (for reasons I shall not delve into). It's a shame because I cannot think of another trainee in our group of 42 that could have made a better volunteer. That is in no way an insult to any of us but as proof of this young man's character. We're really going to miss you these next couple of years and I hope you visit soon and often.

And now, the exciting part everyone has been waiting for: pictures.

A few of us had a "stache bash." That hole is Michael shaped for he was growing one out as well.

I visited the province that I will be living at for the next 2 years as part of our culture week and this is one of the music performances they put on for us in traditional dress (polleras). I believe the music is called Tamborito (small drum). The one in the green is the volunteer who resides there. We visited her.

We cut chicken's heads off as part of integrating in the campo lifestyle. See how the wing is bleeding? A trainee who shall remain nameless had no previous experience so he/she began to hack away at the poor rooster like a piñata which was followed by many "holy shit!"s and "duuuuude! aim for his neck!" and then he/she would say "I'm trying"... I took pictures and a video of it.

During tech week we all got about 10 hrs of sleep and woke up pre-sunrise since we were so tired from the day's construction. The gnobe host family I stayed with for a week lived on a loma (hill in panamanian spanish) with a beautiful view under their noses. I bet they don't know how truly awesome their location is (i hate ending sentences with a prepostion). To them it is normal, they all got them, like inflated bellies on their kids. It's sad but this is why we are here... to shed some light on behaviour changes that would raise their standard of living.

Alright, I have to go cos this place will close and I am hungry for some non-Panamanian food.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Site Placement and Tech & Culture Week

It's that time again: Another mind-bending blog entry by Franco. First of all, I would like to apologize to all my loyal readers (mi madre, especially) for the lull that has transpired over the last several weeks. You see I suffer from acute laziness disorder which when coupled with the fact that the nearest internet station is a 30 mins bus ride away mixed in with the fact that I have to sit my buttocks down and actually write something can lead to a nice hiatus between blogs.
Enough gobbly-gook, as it were. Let me dive in because i have 15 mins left on this blasted contraption and much to inform you's guys. First, we had something called site placement. We were all rounded up and sat down inthis nice room with a huge map of Panama. Then we were all called one by one and given a sticky picture of ourselves to (for the lack of a better word) stick on the appropriate place on the map. You see, this was all heart-wrenching because it would be the community we wouldhave to live in for the next two years and everyone was going ape-shit on the inside. For weeks, we were all speculating where we would be placed and "hey, i heard so and so is going there... good, because i sure as hell don't want to" or "nah, he's not going there cos he's got asthma... i heard from so and so that our tech trainer said that dude was going to a warm place near the ocean". shit likethat.... and for weeks. So, it was a relief to finally know where we were all going but at the same time everybody wanted the perfect site. I got the region of the Panama that I wanted. I was born for it. It is in the Herrera Province (wikipedia it). It's pretty much the wild, wild west. I am excited and my buddy, Pete is only a one hour walk from me (that's very close in Peace Corps distances) which is great because this man's skill with a nail and hammer would make bob villa construct the gallows then procede to hang himself.
ok, i am being pressured so we will jump to the next topic: Tech and Culture week. We left our host family in santa clara about two weeks ago. the first week was with our sector (mine is environmental health for all of you bad friends who don't remember) where we went to cerro iglesias in the comarca ngobe - bugle. Jake was sick and had butt and mouth pee the whole time, by the way (like always). Comarca means reservation, if you didn't know already. We stayed with the ngobe's and built compost latrines (which are tough and rewarding) for various families. They helped also. We then educated them on how it works and why it's better then than a pit latrine or shitting in the woods/river. Read my second blog if you don't know why either.
Let me stress that i am very excited to be going to herrera (in the azuero peninsula) for my peace corps service. I could have been in a comarca which would have been nice in its own way but it is definetely not for me. They are introverted and eat boiled bananas andsuch (out of necessity of course) and that weeks was tough but beautiful. Shit, only two mins. ok, then i went to the azuero peninsula with those of us who are going to be placed there for 2 years (5 of us) and it was really nice. it was in the mountains which had fresco weather and great food. the people were really nice and warm. i am excited about my site because it was only a 2 hour walk from where we were. ok, gotta go. will add more late. pictures at some other point.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Volunteer Visits and ETs

Peace Corps Panama Group 60 has incurred two fallen soldiers. They have swiftly and effectively ETed as it were (ET stands for early termination). This is when one decides "i´m going home, this awesome 2 year, fully paid gig in paradise is not for me". Now, it is not considered ETing if one leaves due to medical reasons or being kicked out. Medical reasons is known as Med Sep (medical separation) and being kicked out is known as Admin Sep (administratively separated). I feel compelled to spell this out for you. Ok, so the past two weeks have been way different in terms of comparing it to my last blog. I´m fully submersed and totally grooving with my host family and the facilities, etc. Latrines are my friend. Well, at least ours is. I still don´t go in other people´s latrines because the comfort level isn´t there just yet. Yeah, so my host family is really cool. They are way cool and open about things. Some other people got placed in stricter families (of the evangelical nature) and aren´t allowed out past a certain time. Ok, so somehow it´s the 1950´s again because we all have to be in bed by like 10pm. well, de don´t HAVE to but we all wake up at like 0630am so go to bed early. And you can´t really hang out with anyone in private cos the family´s there too. AND all the girls are walked home just to be on the safeside. All, we´re missing is grabbing a few shakes at the peac pit or something. ok, boring blog so far. Let me tell you about my Volunteer visit. I went to visit this duderino in Valle del Risco. The travel itinerary went a little something like this: Hop on a bus for 6 hours then switch up in David which is in the Chirriqui province then take another bus (smaller... more van really) for another 7 hours until i get to smaaall town named Almirante. That´s where my volunteer met up with me. At this point i´m far from Panama City and essentially in the middle of nowhere. That was fun. We get in a pickup and go offroad for like 45 mins up and down mountain sides unti lwe get to Valle Del Risco. This is like an indigenous metropolis. Maybe a thousand of them. They are living in the mountains. No electricity but they have an aqueduct system. Thing is, it works for like 2 hours a day. So I had to bucket shower which was an experience. So, this volunteer built an aqueduct system in the neighboring town. i don´t remember the name but i remember laughing inside. it sounds funny. the indigenous people in valle del risco are sports crazy. not much water, no electricity but they have one hell of a volleyball court and soccer field. the way life should be. anyhow, we hiked and hiked for a while looking to meet up with this man who was going to take us to the "ojo de agua" (water source) that could potentially lend itself to an aqueduct. After hiking for a while in the blistering heat and crossing two rivers (one wide and with pretty serious current) we get to the dude and he´s like "not gonna make it... got a meeting with some corporationg.. peace". so that was a shame cos i wanted to hike more and see pcv things. the next day my volunteer had a meeting panama verde which seems to be some agro group involving kids. they never showed up. that seems to be the biggest obstacle in getting things done in the peace corps. that and trying to convince them that you have their best interest in mind. but overall it was great to get out there and see the way a pcv lives. it could have been much worse. i could have had an experience like jacob wieland (6 foot 8 inches blond norse god from north dakota bachelor´s of science in civil engineering... loves penguins) who had massive diarreah the whole bus ride up to meet his volunteer. he was sweating a lot and didn´t even wait to pay when he got there. just jumped off and ran for the nearest latrine. apparently it was locked when he got there. i don´t know the rest of this story. So on Sunday, most of the volunteers and trainees that were on the far west side of the country got to together at this beach town and went at it. It was a lot of fun. i woke up with waves crashing on me while the sea surreptiously stole all my clothes. I won´t say too much more but i had a great time. Thanks EH volunteers! you´re the greatest. a special thanks to my valle del risco pcv for letting me sleep in his bed and to his girlfriend cos she´s nice and helpful and fun. and also because when i talk about her on my blogs she gives mad props.
hasta la vista,