A very belated Happy Thanksgiving! This year I headed up to Cerro Punta in the mountains of
Chiriqui in western Panama to celebrate Thanksgiving with 150 of my closest
volunteers. The weather was perfect; 55 degrees and drizzling rain all day! I wore the one long sleeved shirt and pair of
jeans I own that are acceptable to bring out in public, meaning the mold isn't
too noticeable yet.
I think Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of all
holidays. One because there were no bottle rockets shooting off around every corner and
secondly because it's all about eating good food and being thankful.
We had a rockstar team of volunteers cooking up the
delicious food we enjoyed. Real American Thanksgiving food! My friend Erica said it well: This year, I'm still appreciative, but less in the wide eyed, shell shocked at civilization, give me as much food as you can sort of way, and more in the I totally appreciate my life, my friends, and what I've been given the opportunity to do sort of way.
It was awesome to be able to spend this holiday with so many
dear friends that understand exactly why I feel so so thankful and blessed at
this point in my life for friends, family, Panama, Peace Corps, life in
general and 55 degrees and drizzly.
Drea, Sonia, Erica, Beth, and I excited for dinner!
...I ran a half marathon without training. And then I did it again. This time I knew that a race in the rainy
season would not provide me for a dry road to train on. So… I looked up my time from the last half
marathon I didn’t train for in 2009 and that was my goal to beat. Logical? Yes!
The first hour and twenty minutes was really good, and then it was about
8am, the sun was out in full force, and this girl was getting a lotta bit
dehydrated. But I finished under my goal
time of 2 hours and 19 minutes and 23 seconds… by seconds.
There were a bunch of volunteers that ran (all women! plus Nate) which
made it a lot of fun. We celebrated
after at New York Bagel and ate back all of the calories we had just burned in
the form of cream cheese and bagels!
Sonia: Thank you for giving us strong legs and a healthy
body that allow us to enjoy the hike home.
We thank you for giving us the positive attitude to appreciate all of
the challenges we face. Thank you.
Bri: In advance.
I had a little bit of a meltdown the other weekend and was
very thankful to have my homegirls Drea and Sonia by my side to hold hands in a
crowded café and send our premature appreciation up to the Universe and
I’d just like to say it worked! We rock! Life is beautiful. :)
First of all, a very happy belated Mothers’ Day to all of my
moms! Panama celebrates Mothers’ Day on
December 8th which means an extra day to demand breakfast in
bed! Though Panamanians celebrate this
day on a more community scale with receptions at the school, church, or even
your place of employment – I went to talk to an engineer at the Ministry of
Health the day before and had to make it quick because the two hour long
Mothers’ day reception was about to commence.
After posting about my new shower improvements, my mother
felt like I had slighted her in saying that she couldn’t provide for me what
someone else’s parents could. Well to
clarify, that wasn’t the case. I am very
thankful for all of the hot showers I have been provided with in the last
couple months due to Mike and Nancy’s thoughtfulness! But my mother didn’t let me down, just in
case you were confused like she was, she at one point sent me all of the
connector pieces for a homemade solar shower so that all I would have to do is
find a tire tube. There was even a
diagram, just so I had no excuses… or because she thinks I’m a crappy engineer?
My mother has always enabled me to reach my goals. Like when I described to her that my
boyfriend bought a seashell shower curtain and had a beer box for a garbage can
(because he’s cheap, I mean thrifty) and said I wanted to hot glue some
seashells to a soap dispenser for him.
She didn’t say, “That sounds trashy,” as she probably should have, but
rather, “What about a beer can toothbrush holder?”
Love you, Mom! :)
A few photos from our school’s Mothers’ day celebration…
As mentioned, I have abandoned my communal latrine and instead have thrown myself at my unsuspecting neighbors, the Valdez family. I head to their house and walk through the back porch area between the house and kitchen where people congregate, with my roll of toilet paper in hand. We end up seeing a lot of each other which is only building our relationship. :)
Another reason this is awesome is that they have the cutest baby in town. His name's Alberto or Toti and he's 8 months old.
AND a lot of randomly cool animals. They just stole a wild baby pig from it's jungle home and are keeping it in a cage. I guess it bites.
The other week they also had the pelt of an ocelot hanging up. The guys went out looking for it after it kept eating chickens. They say they killed it down by the stream, a 10 minute walk, but the chickens live in the yard... I don't want to know.
Just call me Bri “the Handywoman” Drake! I've been making improvements to this Old
House of mine! Well… don’t give me too
much credit yet. Keep reading.
I got a solar shower!
A gift from my friend's parents, because unlike my own parents, they didn't believe me when I said I was going to make one… after a year of saying
that. Hot showers are amazing! :)
I had my homeboy Vidal build me a table and chair! I no longer write in my hammock. Score!
I stopped using “my” (the church's) latrine and now go to my
neighbor's house. It’s not full of water
which is fantastic! And it's really
clean. I don't know if they always keep
it that clean or if they don't want me judging them, but either way, it's
Yes, as you may have noticed, my home improvement theme has
been on the order of receiving help from other people, but it's keeping in line with my current goal of asking for help more. So it works. :)
We got a new director (slash only permanent teacher for 60
kids in 6 grades) at our school and she is AMAZING! We really won the Ministry of Education
lottery with this one.
Adis and I worked with the parents of the school to apply
for grant money for solar panels for the school. Next we’ll look for funding for a television
and a couple laptops. She solicited for
Telebasica, the middle school program our kids go to, for our community, and
next year the 7th graders will be here in Limón for class instead of
hiking an hour to the road, waiting for and then taking a bus for 15 minutes
and then coming back every day. She
constantly gets on me about how she likes me teaching English in the school and
that I should do it more; something that would be utterly annoying if I didn’t
like her so much. :) She’s driven and
optimistic and as patient as they come.
She is not just here for a paycheck.
She is going down fighting to improve our school. Heaven knows what’s lighting her fire, but I
like it! It’s motivating to be around
She also set up a traditional dance group at the school. There was a teacher that came in and taught
them traditional Panamanian dances every Monday for a couple months. In October they were able to bring 22
students to another community to participate in a cultural celebration with
about 15 other schools. I hadn’t really
seen the kids dance before. I passed by
the school a couple days while they were doing lessons, but there was a crowd
around the door. I don’t know what I was
expecting, but I was FLOORED when I saw them dance out onto the stage. They were dancing with such confidence and
coordination. I was totally the proud
parent in the crowd. I just wanted to
say “Look. Look! Those are MY kids! Aren’t they great?!” I still get goose bumps thinking about it. :)
I just got done doing the surveying of an aqueduct this week. It was hot and involved a lot of hiking and it's not the most rewarding work. It took 4 days to finish and the last two I
found my mind wandering to the amazingness of field work that includes things
like pick-up trucks… that have air conditioning! I had a summer at the mine where Terry and I
would go out in a red F-250 driving around for a couple hours, stopping every
20 minutes to take a water sample or better yet pick wild raspberries and
blueberries. We’d sing along to Queen of
Hearts and if we’re having full disclosure, I may have napped in between some
stops. Those were the days!
These guys were great though. They caught on super quick and their wives
fed me lunch and gave me fruit!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not that soft, I have had my fair
share of borderline miserable fieldwork days, so I’m not complaining. It wasn’t like the time Miriam made us hike
up this giant hill in the blazing sun without water. The following is not the most flattering
picture I have of myself, but I think it very accurately portrays how I was
And there was the time I ripped my pants stepping up onto a
water tank, as illustrated in the following photo (thank goodness I wore
spandex and carried athletic tape!), right before I slipped off a wet rock and
slid head first down a hill. That was
one for the record books!
Come to think of it, this work has been a breeze! :)
This is what I go by most. I don't think I've been called Briana this much since probably elementary school. Bri
To my Peace Corps Volunteer friends. The guys at the post office get temporarily confused when mail comes addressed to Bri Drake as opposed to Briana. :)
The name of the volunteer before me. I respond to this equally well.
This is what my homegirl Laly calls me. She's 2. Briani
Like Bri-Annie. There's one family in my community that calls me this. I'm not sure if it's my own personal cutsie nickname or if they just never learned my name right. Rihanna
Briana isn't a real popular name in Panama so often at restaurants I get people real excited that I share my name with a famous singer. I also got this at the Pizza Hut in Hibbing, Minnesota - not just a Panama thing.
Ok, ok, two ladies and one man and a dugout canoe. In August I headed out to Bocas del Toro to
do an in-service training making hand pumps out of PVC pipe. Beforehand, Sarah and I visited our friend
Erik and the next morning we set out to arrive at said training.
We strapped on our PFDs and hit the waters in Erik’s strappy
lil’ dugout canoe, or cayuco, for what would be a rumored 3 to 12 hour paddle
from La Ensenada to Playa Verde. People’s
guess-tamating skills had quite the range…
We were unsuccessful in finding a third paddle so we settled for 2 and a
half. As it turns out that was actually
pretty ok because those suckers are heavy and I’m a weenie. Not your standard Feather Brand canoe paddles…
For reference, on the map of Panama, the star is where I live, and the arrow is pointing at the Kusapin Peninsula where 3 people in my group, including Erik, live. You enter through the province of Bocas del Toro, but it's technically part of the Comarca Ngobe-Bugle - the reservation of the largest indigenous group in Panama.
This is a zoomed in map of the Kusapin Peninsula. We started at the star on the right, La Ensenada, and paddled to the star on the left, Playa Verde.
We filled up the boat with the PVC pipes to make the hand
pumps and an ornament tire that we ripped off of a boat dock the night
before. Don’t worry, we weren’t
stealing, we traded for a tire with a rim that a nice woman gifted us the day
before. A tire that I rolled down the streets of Chiriqui Grande a midst a sea of stares to a different boat
dock. All in the name of moving water?!
We sang for the first hour until we pretty much exhausted
our set lists, which reminded me of canoe trips down the Flambeau River in Wisconsin
with my friend Samantha. We hit up boy
bands, Christmas, patriotic, some things only Erik knew which showed his age,
and Disney songs. I sing a lot, but if
you’ve ever actually listened to the words I sing, you’ll quickly recognize
that I might know half of a chorus, at best, which makes going through the
songs I know a quick process. But thanks
to Leah Wright, I, yes me, know all of the words to “Part of that World” from
the Little Mermaid. Boom done!
Around the middle of hour 3 we had rounded the tip of the
peninsula and stopped at a gorgeous beach for lunch and a quick swim. Not in that order of course… you can get
cramps and drown.
Then it was straight on to Playa Verde where our welcoming
crew of Sean and Evan pulled that heavy bleepin’ canoe up onto shore. Thank goodness because I could barely lift my
arms much less a boat!
I just got back to Panama after a two week vacation to
AMERICA!! It was super amazing to see so
many friends and family even though many of our encounters were quick. :)
I was talking to a friend the other day and we were
discussing how the Peace Corps has made us nationalists. She said, “I used to be from California, but
now I’m from the United States of America.”
I joined my Grandma for lunch at the nursing home where
she’s currently vacationing. Not as
satisfying as making apple pies with her at home – they made us eat lunch with
our dessert. Don’t they know that when
you’re that old you get to eat (and serve your granddaughter) whatever you want
for lunch?! Including but not limited to
ice cream sundaes, chocolate chip cookies, and apple pie! Get well soon, Grandma!
Stole leaves from trees in Minneapolis!
I married my best friend… to some guy she kinda likes!
I polkaed with Bucky the Badger! I love you, Wisconsin!
My aunts helped with the pre-wedding celebrations! It was not the bride’s family who was at the
picnic last. It was not the groom’s
family who was at the picnic last. No,
it was the Drake’s who have the staying power to close down any party.
Made REAL chicken pot pies!
Mmm nom nom!
Fall, the best season, was in full swing. The air was brisk and the trees,
Even though America was great, it is nice to be back in
Panama. I love my community, especially
my adorable neighbor girls, and my job is pretty spectacularly awesome! :)
I went on a mission to roast coffee today. I ran into Carolina at the school and asked if there was anyone at the house that could help me out. She said, "Yes, but you can only roast coffee at night." I must not have been able to hid my questioning glance because she quickly followed up with, "You can go ask, but my grandma is going to tell you the same thing." I interrogated her as to why, but really got nothing.
Still at the school, I was talking with two women and so I asked them, "Is it true that you can only roast coffee at night?" Meli and Gladys surprised me with the enthusiastic unison of their response. "Yes!" Coming form two women that can't normally agree on anything, I couldn't hide a choked out laugh.
Sure enough, Grandma confirmed that roasting coffee is only a night time activity.
I head home and decide I'll ask my neighbor Camila for help since it won't be far to walk at night. She was making bollos, boiled ground corn logs, and I asked some clarifying questions, but I had the general idea. So then I dropped the bomb, "I know we can't do it until later, but would you please help me roast coffee tonight? Because I know you can only roast coffee at night." She seemed proud and smiled as if to say, "the girl doesn't know how to make bollos, probably the easiest food in the world, but at least she's got some common sense."
I asked her why that was and she went through the list of prohibited post-coffee roasting activities, including, but not limited to: washing your hands, brushing your teeth, drinking cold water, going outside, and letting a breeze enter your house. Ok. I told her I was glad she would be there to make sure I didn't mess up and put myself in harms way.
Omayra and Carolina came over later on and I asked them what actually happens if you do these things. Their answers echoed those throughout the day and the effects ranged from pain throughout your entire body to permanent muscle spasms to death.
Their examples were: A man was toasting rice, went to bathe, and was dead as a door nail sitting at the table by the time the food was served. Another guy drank something cold while he was eating something really hot... and then he died. This also applies to getting your hands wet after ironing. Any time you're mixing extreme heat with cold they say your body can go into shock. I guess they've never ran from the sauna in a bikini and rolled in the snow!
The funny thing is that I've actually roasted coffee before, in December with Yolanda, and was never warned about my possible death or disfigurement. Nope. We just smiled and took turns taking pictures...
I made it out alive. Ready to roast coffee another day.