Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Marie asked me last week for more “stories” and Luke asked me “what’s one thing you learned in the last week?” Both of which I didn’t have good answers to at the time. Many of the things that would normally be a “good story” from a regular trip are simply turning into the norm around here. And let’s be real, I am constantly learning. Everything is new, which makes nothing seem new because nothing is old since I just didn’t know before?!?!?!

The creek was gushing full with rain water and Erica Jones single handedly saved a small boy and his dog. I was oblivious. I thought the wave meant she made it across safely… No big deal.

This week was full of working with aqueducts, surveying, concrete mixing techniques, and bridge building. The coolest thing I learned about though was thermoforming PVC pipes. First off, I don’t know how I never knew about this because it’s pretty amazing. If you heat up a pot of vegetable oil and dip PVC pipe into the oil it becomes super malleable. You can create bells and connections as well as end caps and reductions which then are just quenched in a bucket of cold water to seal the deal. We even made the pipe flat so we had a sheet of PVC that we cut circular flow reducers out of. I didn’t seem to take a picture, probably because I was too awestruck! The best part is that if you mess up, you can just put the pipe right back into the oil and it will snap back to its original size and shape.

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

“It’s just an itzee bitzee teenie weenie Yellow Fever vaccineenie!” -Erica Jones

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

Oh Holla!

Hojaldra. (Oh-holl-druh) Pretty much the best fried invention since the bloomin’ onion! It’s my new favorite breakfast food as a complement to scrambled eggs with onions or an egg sunny side up. It’s simply a fried dough creation that is equivalent to a softer elephant ear without the sugar. My host mom, Thelma, tells all of her friends about how I LOVE her hojaldra – this is exciting stuff from the heart of Panama! ;)

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

Mountain woMan

I had an awesome volunteer visit to the Comarca Ngobe-Bugle in western Panama. I visited a volunteer who is finishing up her service in Cerro Ceniza where she completed very successful latrine and aqueduct projects. Our program director made a cryptic comment about how he strategically chose our visit locations. I hope mine wasn’t to drive home the point that it’s not ok to spend ALL day in my hammock reading books and sipping a variety of exotic citrus juices… Can he read my mind?!

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

I’m headed out to visit another Environmental Health Volunteer in Cerro Cizna in the Comarca Ngobe-Bugle indigenous area for the next week. Here are a few pictures of my training community!

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.