Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Real Deal!

Swear-In was a success! I am officially a Peace Corps volunteer. (What were you before? You might be asking yourself. It's not important.) What it is, is exciting to finally be getting started!

Everyone really pulled it together and cleaned up nicely. We traded out the rubber boots, but there wasn't much I could do to cover up the real battle scars. A bruise from a flu shot, Chaco tan lines, scrapes, and some weird bites that remind me of the chigger bites I got a month ago... but bigger. When I met my new host family in my site they told me I was lucky that the bites weren't on my face! And other volunteers say the bugs stop biting after 6 months. We'll see.

The ladies at swear-in!

I had a very welcoming visit to my community two weeks ago (minus them thinking I have some contagious skin disease) and am very excited to head back! And it's the middle of orange season so that's something to look forward to as well.

It's exciting to actually get started. It hasn't really sunk in yet that I won't be headed back to meet up with my group in a week. I remember receiving the information packet for Panama where it said "Sites are 2-16 hours from Panama City". And I was thinking "Panama isn't that big AND Panama City is in the middle." But sure enough, there's a guy that's 15 hours from the capital. And that doesn't account for the time required for waiting for transportation to show up.
The provided structure has officially been removed from my life. I am making my own schedule. Am I qualified to do this?! :)

So this is it. I'm signing off for a couple weeks. Unless the big hairy spiders get into my peanut butter and I need to escape to find more! Wish me luck!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Dear Ants...

Dear Ants,

What did you think was going to happen when you snuck into my peanut butter? Did you think I would find you, maybe shed a tear or two, and surrender that easily? Just hand over my treasured possession? Silly, ants. As I picked your little bodies out of my peanut butter half of you were motionless, passed out and not moving from an overdose on creamy, protein-y goodness. You couldn’t even have the decency to pace yourselves?!

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 Fox, the Rock, and the Mango Tree

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.

THE Cultural Day.

A couple weeks ago our language teachers hosted an event to display the different cultures around Panama to out training group.

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:

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

Site Placement!

I received my site placement on Wednesday. Kind of a big deal! We arm wrestled for the beach sites. Just kidding!

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:
Bri Drake
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!