Sunday, December 25, 2011
Saturday, December 10, 2011
I woke up at 6:30am, but Paulino, my current host dad, had already been up for two and a half hours grinding the corn and putting pots on the fire. Now that’s the kind of dedication I’m looking for with breakfast in bed!
Everyone had their jobs:
Mixing the salsa with the corn mush
Cutting banana leaves
Entertaining themselves (she's actually nice, just not photogenic!)
Tying straw together to hold the finished tamales together
I was assignedthe last job. And as much as I love tedious work right after I roll out of bed, all I could think was that it was nice we were doing all this cooking, but who made the coffee and where can I get some? Don’t worry, there really was coffee waiting!
Assemble from the bottom up. Faldo leaf on the outside. (Not exactly sure what this is.) Chunk of banana leaf on top of that. Pile of corn mush. Giso – cooked onions and seasonings with tomato sauce. Chicken!
Tie it up and then boil the finished product some more.
Unwrap and enjoy!! Mmmm nom nom!
I recently wrote snail mail letters to my grandparents giving them an overview of my life in my community, something I haven’t really done for you! Enjoy!
Dear Grandma and Grandpa,
Greetings from Panama! We’re in the middle of winter here and it gets cold when it rains at night so I know how you’re feeling. It’s probably getting down to 60°F! :) I’m not freezing, but it’s close. It’s been raining on and off for at least part of every day. The rainy season continues through December and then we’ll have 4 months without rain. Our drinking water source is a spring on one of the mountains and I’m interested to see if it produces enough water for the community through the dry season.
The community I live in is called El Limón and is in the mountains west of Panama City. It takes me an hour to hike in on a muddy, hilly road. They say that sometimes trucks can get in during the dry season. We’ll see! It’s a town of 250 people. Almost every family here weaves the traditional painted sombreros. I’m learning…. slowly! They are also subsistence farmers of rice, corn, coffee, bananas, oranges, chickens, name (like a potato), and yucca. Rice is by far the most common food I eat. I normally have it for at least two meals a day. Most volunteers complain about the rice, but I really enjoy it. Fresh rice is so much tastier – if plain, white rice can be tasty?! I have it good though – I normally get meat, beans, or fried bananas with my rice. Some of my friends are in indigenous communities and they’re more likely to be eating bowl after bowl of plain white rice or some boiled green bananas.
--Someone just walked past with a machete. He said someone saw a snake on the trail. There’s only been one snake bite since I’ve been here! Not too bad.
Coffee is really big here. They grow and harvest it on their land. To make it stretch further they make it really weak and add a LOT of sugar.
I’m living with host families through January, but then I have a concrete block house waiting for me in the center of town. I also have a large paila (pot?) to use as a dutch oven on my stove top to make cookies, banana bread, and apple pie! I’ll have to take my machete out and cut me down a rolling pin!
Take care! Love, Bri
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Monday, November 7, 2011
Saturday, October 22, 2011
Monday, October 17, 2011
Nice try, but you’re going to have to call some of your more disgusting friends next time. Bring a large-ish hairy spider and maybe I’ll reconsider.
The other night I was reading in my room when the dogs started barking and Olvis yelled “BRiAnA!” I scuttled out of the house and soon there were eight of us standing around the mango tree in front of the house with our flashlights all shining to find the zorra (fox) that the dogs had chased up the tree. Seven women, Lupe to Anabel, 12-27 years-old anxiously stood around this tree with girly screams and scampers (normally started by me) shooting through the crowd at the slightest sound. Olvis, our token male, led the charge with throwing large rocks up into the tree to try and knock the fox out.
I asked how we were planning to kill it once we managed to get it out of the tree. My vision of it running at me and biting my ankles wasn’t soothed when the response was “with a rock.” So we’re expecting it to die when it falls from the tree? “No.” I was still confused, but ok.
Rock throwing proved ineffective, so Olvis continued his zorra slaying duties as he climbed up the mango tree. Skin and bones 12-year-old Lupe laughed along with the crew as she hit the palo (the thing we use at home to break the ice on the sidewalk – a straight hoe?) on the ground. Maybe she’d be chasing this thing down to end its days (or nights rather) of ruthless chicken eating?
Olvis violently started shaking tree branches. The sound of something hitting the ground was followed by all of the flashlights snapping to the ground. Just a branch. More shaking. More branches. Wave of girly shrieks. More shaking. ZoRrA! Before I had time to save my ankles by jumping on a chair, the dogs, who had been patiently and silently waiting, pounced on the chicken eater until it stopped squirming. At which point the dogs became increasingly less interested. Olvis climbed down, covered in ants, and finished the job with the palo.
Someone messed up the dress box and I ended up with a dress from “Chiriqui” that was clearly just visiting from its Little House on the Prairie. :) Normally the dresses from Chiriqui look just like mine, but the top is made of white. I don’t blame them though. They probably had 2 extra yards of material which means they were 8 yards short of making another one of those skirts!
My Spanish class was definitely the prettiest in the group (aka no boys – gross!). From left to right: Erica is adorned in the traditional dress of the Kuna Yala, an indigenous group on the northeast shore. The design on the front of her shirt is called a mola and always come as a set of two semi-identical pieces. The other is on her back. Kenia, our teacher, is wearing the white top of a Chiriqui outfit. I’m wearing a dress from Chiriqui in the west. Kristen has on a super fun dress from the Conga region of Colon in the north central part of the country.
We also learned some pretty sweet dances. My favorite is from the Conga region in the province of Colon. It is pretty hilarious. The woman dances with a platter hypothetically with baked goods – we’ll say Sandy Siegel’s brownies with chocolate frosting and a scoop of ice cream! The man chases after her trying to get a hold of some deliciousness, but she’s too quick, her hips too suave, and she always gets away with all of the chocolaty goodness for herself and her more awesome girlfriends. Erik King and I won the dance contest among the volunteers. He attributed it to my skirt flip at the end. I think it had more to do with his enthusiasm and the crazed look in his eye as he jumped along behind me.
Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eql_FKc5Bew
On top of that, as if it could get better, we cooked up some traditional Panamanian party food. The go-to is fried rice with chicken and potato salad. We also had tamales, some sort of milk pudding, orange juice, and pineapple.
Saturday, October 1, 2011
I made it very clear to my boss that I’m hardcore. I gave him good examples too – the time that I single handedly killed a medium to large sized spider with my flippy floppy, the summer I survived the truck shop, and the time I swam in the lake alone… at night (ha! I’m not that hardcore!). So I was a bit surprised when I was placed in Cocle, the closest site to Panama from our group. :) To get there it’s about 2 hours on a bus, one hour in a truck, and one hour hiking. It’s a great site though! (And don’t worry, it’s not too yay yay – I won’t have electricity or indoor plumbing.) This is the site we visited our first week in Panama. The volunteer before me is really cool (she reminds me of my friend Jill!) and I’m pretty sure she didn’t leave too many bad gringa stereotypes behind for me to deal with! She was a rockstar volunteer so I’ll have big shoes to fill. Thank goodness I have big feet!
It’s a community of about 250 people that’s in the center of 3 more towns a little smaller than this that are interested in Environmental Health projects as well, so I have the potential to stay pretty busy!
Peace Corps is supposed to be difficult. Maybe my boss just thought I was too ready to live in the mountains and wear a nagua (muu muu) every day. It will be a challenge for me to live in a community that highly values appearance for two years. I might have to go shopping…. I think I’m going to dive in head first and buy some skinny jeans with rhinestones. The skinnier the jeans, the better they tuck into your rubber boots!
I’ve updated my new address on the right. It may look sketch. Like you’re sending a letter to:
Houghton, MI 49931
But as Evie found out, that’ll get there too! It’s no more sketch than anything else in Panama. Just roll with it! :)
The view from the school at my new site!
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Back to the stories. I was thinking about Marie’s question as I was hiking down a rocky clay hill with 315 feet of elevation change in the pouring rain with the equivalent of a 5 gallon bag of gravel on my shoulders/back of my neck. Know what makes you unbalanced? That. Know what you need extra balance for? Crossing the stream with quick knee deep water. It’s a dangerous combination, but those construction supplies won’t haul themselves!
My host mom Thelma came to the table with a plate today while I was studying. She made is sound like dinner was ready but really, she just had a plate with a cooked chicken head and neck on it. That wasn’t about to be my dinner. She tried explaining what part of the chicken it was, which was confusing because it was obviously the HEAD. Couldn’t she see that?! I told her I wasn’t hungry anymore, which she thought was pretty hilarious. I became unconcerned when I asked her who was going to eat the head and she said no one. Turns out they cleaned out the neck and stuffed it with some chicken parts (still questionable, right?!), onions, and celery and cooked it. So then we ate slices of “Neck Stuffing Log”, which was actually pretty darn delicious!
Other than that the week was pretty calm; I took a gnarly digger in front of a crowd of people, had hornets making a nest in my room, saw a (thankfully) dead tarantula, learned some Panamanian dances, and discovered a new fruit that tastes like a mango but grows in a month other than May.
Saturday, September 17, 2011
I’m making lot of new friends… and then getting rid of them! I killed one scorpion and two cockroaches in my bedroom this week. They finally came out to say hello! Just when they thought they were safe…
I had a most wonderful birthday spent building a latrine platform! AND my host family threw me a party. Complete with CAKE!
I’ll be spending the next week in the Comarca Ngobe-Bugle for some hands on technical training! Rumor has it the place we’re going is even cold (60s at night)! :D
If there is anything you’re itching (ha!) to know about – let me know! I’ll leave you with a treat from one of the guys in my group:
A Sanitation Haiku
By: John Byron Caraway III
A rumble within.
Is that you, Giardia?
If so, be gentle.
Friday, September 16, 2011
Mmmm nom nom!
To make this goodness in your own home: (Get Excited!)
Mix a couple cups of flour with a couple pinches of salt and then mix in some water and make a slightly moist dough. I made up measurements, but let’s be real, you wouldn’t trust me with cooking advice in the US, you shouldn’t do so with this. You’ll know when it’s right – I have confianza!
Let it sit covered overnight if you want! (I don’t actually think this step is essential... we just made it the night before)
In the morning, as you’re sipping your deliciously brewed coffee, pull out that dough and break it into balls about the size of a small egg?
These need to be pulled out into flat-ish disks. Throw some oil in a pan and heat it up – make it crackle! Fry each of the disks until it turns a deliciously delectable golden color.
If you try it out – let me know what you think!
Saturday, September 10, 2011
It was a two hour hike up the mountain to her community. Cerro means hill, but I think that’s an understatement. My Coloradian (made that up) friends may contest, but it was a mountain by Wisconsin standards!
Aleah’s house made of bamboo and a thatched roof.
I personally think that the view out of your bathroom/latrine window is always a good indication of how beautiful of a place you live in. ;)
The traditional dress of the Ngobe women is the nagua. It’s amazing for a few reasons: 1. You never have to think about what you’re going to wear. 2. You never feel like you look fat even after eating two bowls of rice and 6 boiled green bananas. 3. What’s more hardcore than hiking through the mud and swinging your machete in the field while wearing a dress? Rumor has it the Embera in eastern Panama are crazy about basketball and wear neon miniskirts. It sounds straight out of the dreams of Bri Drake! Either way, my fashion potential is HIGH!
We hiked out to meet up with some other volunteers and visit a sweet waterfall. You probably know how much I “love” lakes, so you’ll be very impressed to know that I willingly headed into the pool, swam across and climbed behind the waterfall and jumped through it into the pool several times. It was like jumping in a pile of leaves – I couldn’t quit!
Overall it was a great experience to spend some time with another volunteer and pick her brain. I also learned how to make chocolate cake in a pot on the stove, how to press sugar cane, and the best way to open a coconut with a machete! AND that I don’t know anything about spiders…. I found a large one with hairy legs in my bag, so I appropriately freaked out. In the midst of it I may have said, “That’s the biggest spider I’ve ever seen”. When Aleah went to kill it with her machete she saw it and just started laughing. Not a good sign…
Thursday, September 1, 2011
My open air classroom where I spend most of my afternoons!
The view out the far side of the classroom.
My 4 year old host niece Aeryn (pronounced Irene!) and her disgusting tiny dog on the patio at our house.
Sunday, August 28, 2011
We’re stuck between a rock and the middle of nowhere, so if you were wondering, I didn’t fall off the face of the earth! I’m doing well and trucking on! :)
Next week I’m headed out to spend 4 days with another environmental health volunteer in her site in the Comarca Ngobe Bugle on the east side of the country! Reality check here I come!
Sunday, August 21, 2011
Friday, August 19, 2011
Sunday, August 14, 2011
The Peace Corps was created in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy when the first volunteers served as teachers in Ghana. Over the last 50 years, 200,000 volunteers have served all over the world in fields relating to agriculture, economic development, youth programs, public health, and education.
All Peace Corps service is a 27 month commitment; 3 months of training and 2 years working at a specific site.
I will be serving as an Environmental Health volunteer in Panama. All I know is what I’ve read in the volunteer description, and what I’ve been told is that the volunteer description can’t be trusted! That being said, I will most likely be living in a rural or indigenous community where I will work on water and sanitation projects as well as community health outreach. I will also be completing a research project to finish up my Masters’ degree program at Michigan Tech.
To learn more about the Peace Corps, check out their website!
“Peace Corps is a special job. There is an emphasis on development, but a focus on understanding the people with whom we are living. It is when people know us and trust us that we are able to be our most effective.”
-Chris Morrill, Volunteer in El Salvador and Bolivia