Wednesday, September 18, 2013

I'm Home!!

It's official.  As of September 13th, I am a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer!  It's definitely great to be home and see everyone.  I love America! :)

I had a super busy last month in Panama.  I talked to a friend on one of my last nights in my community and she asked if I was sad.  I told her that I honestly didn't have time to be sad!  I had a yard sale to clean out my house and a really nice birthday party with my host family.  It was easier to leave knowing that I'll be going back in January.

I have a few half finished blogs that I still plan on putting up, so, get excited!  ;)

Phase 2: Tanks and Tubes!

Five days of working in the sun and eating hot soup for lunch finished up the project in Guayabo!  It was a lot of fun!  Digging trenches for the tubes and then just gluing everything together like a giant Lego set.  The biggest snag was a missing 40 cent threaded adapter.  It's inconvenient to live in a place where you can't just drive to a hardware store.  It required assigning the task to two different people and hoping that at least one of them came back when they planned to and purchased the correct piece.

Overall I felt really good about how everything went.  The community members were absolutely fantastic - showing up ready to work and making me coffee every morning.  What more can a girl ask for?!  Sergio and his follow up volunteer Collin were indispensable to my data collection for my research!  It was a very successful and gratifying week.  Take a look at some pictures!

The black 850 gallon tank will serve 8 houses and the church.  They are working on the stand for the blue 200 gallon tank for the school.  It has to be raised up because we're installing the tanks at the school.

Precision wood work

Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon?  Or asked the grinning bobcat why he grinned?  Can you sing with all the voices of the mountains?  Can you paint with all the colors of the winds?
You can't tell from this photo, but those tanks have the best view in town!

One of the distribution lines coming from the tanks.

Not such a bad place to work!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Phase 1: Pump Installation

As most projects go in this country, we rolled out of Penonome nearly 24 hours after scheduled to head out to Guayabo to install the solar panels and pump in Sergio's community.  We barely got past the end of the nice dirt road before we came upon a truck stuck in a mud pit.  Maybe we wouldn't be driving all the way in like I hoped.

I changed into my boots and headed off for town, about 45 minutes down the road, to grab more people to carry all of the equipment and tools.  Thankfully by the time we hiked back out to the truck, another larger truck had come along, helped the first truck out of the mud, and agreed to bring in our equipment.  Score!

We worked into the night on the first day and then got up early to start again the second day, finishing about noon.  I balanced my work load between helping dig the trench for the tube, learning about the pump, and making chocolate peanut butter cookies.  You know, for moral.

We'll be continuing the work after our close of service conference this week.  Here we go!

The view from the school of the church and Sergio's house.

Working hard or hardly working?!

There is not a tank yet, nor tubes to the houses, but everyone sure was excited to see water being pumped up to the school.  They're used to hearing talk of things that could make their lives easier, but I they were really excited to see this project coming to fruition.  

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Fifty-one days until I will be a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.

September 13th, here I come!  It definitely seems surreal.  I am very excited to move home and I feel like I'm ready too.  There will definitely be things that I will miss, but there are others that have, to quote a friend, "really ground my gears" and that I know will dissolve into laughable memories as they make me an overall more grateful and appreciative person.  I am applying for a Peace Corps Response job that would bring me back to Panama in January and because of this, I have put off starting to accept that I am really saying "goodbye."

I'm planning to keep busy for my last couple months here.  I'm headed out to my friend Sergio's community for the installation of the solar panels and the pump for his water system tomorrow.  It's exciting to see projects being completed!  I'll be spending some more time out there as we install the distribution system in August.

Life is good!  :)

Water Storage

For less than $2.50 we are starting a movement.  Ok, maybe it's not a movement quite yet, but I sure think it should be!  Traditionally people in my community, including myself, store water in plastic 5-gallon buckets and then scoop it out when needed with a cup or bowl.  My friend Nate had made one of these in his house and I had actually done this about a year earlier for a black bathing bucket, but hadn't thought to use it for drinking water.

With a spigot, some rubber washers, and a plastic nut we are turning a readily available 5-gallon bucket into a safe water storage container.  The kind that little kids don't stick their hands into!

As a community we are struggling to find an effective and convenient system to use to chlorinate the water as it enters the tank.  To read more on the way Panama's Ministry of Health supports rural water system chlorination read Kevin Orner's thesis.

Even with chlorination at the tank, water can be recontaminated at the home where it is stored for use during frequent water outages in the dry season.  Community members have heard about treating their water with drops of liquid bleach, which is also readily available, and the majority seem to show an interest in doing so because they understand the health benefits.  Hopefully this flashy water container will be just what they need to flaunt their sanitation status around their community and provide clean drinking water to their family!

Look, Mom!

I did it.  Dove in!  Made jam without my mom.  I'm such an independent, grown-up woman!  ;)  
Best part of mango season: Eating mangoes!
Worst part of mango season: The smell of rotting mangoes on the ground...
Save excess mangoes from their rotting fate in a gelatin-y, sugary preservation home?!  For sure!
My neighbor came over to lend a hand and learn.

Mango jam infused pancakes?!  Double delicious!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Weevil or Bat?

I have these lizards that live in my house and their favorite place to instigate shenanigans is above my door.  Maybe it's the stunning eagle portrait that draws them in?  The other day I saw them both trying to eat something.  I took a picture and showed my neighbors.  They told me it was a gorgojo or weevil, but I was leaning more toward a baby bat.  I didn't know what a weevil was until I looked it up and then I realized I knew it well, very well.  Those are the buggers that keep eating through my pasta and oatmeal bags....  But back to the lizards.

Try and tell me that doesn't look just like a tiny baby bat.


One afternoon at my host family's house, everyone had pets to show me.  What luck!

A rabbit (not pulled out of a hat).

A dead bug. 


And my favorite....

A squirrel!

It's name is Pipin and it's like a dog.  It just runs around and comes when she calls it.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Nitschkes Take on Panama or Nitschke Honeymoon, ft. Bri Drake

Having visited Panama in the beginning of April, we decided we would let our guest-post age, like a sweet Panamanian wine (do they even do wine in Panama?).

I think the overarching theme we picked up on during our honeymoon to Panama was just how much diversity we saw in the portion of the country we visited; roughly the same size as Massachusetts.  Now, I’m not saying that MA isn’t diverse, but between the people, the geography, and the temperatures, MA’s got nothing on the western half of Panama.

We began our trip months before, with airline tickets purchased and visits to the travel clinic for our immunizations.  Apparently Marie didn’t want to be known as typhoid-Marie, so we were obligated to receive that shot.  After a stern warning from the travel medicine doctor to only drink bottled water that was obviously factory-sealed, we left at 8AM for Panama.

Upon arrival, we were greeted, diplomat-style, by one Bri Drake at the gate.  After whisking us through the special diplomatic customs and immigration line at the airport, we were out in the – quite hot – air of Panama.  We left 38°F and arrived in 38°C weather.  It was much different.  We took a taxi to our hostel, and the first thing Bri pointed us to, was the tap for water.  Something along the lines of “I haven’t gotten sick off the tap…” while Bri answered the phone to her Dr. telling her she had giardia.... We gulped down some water and headed out to enjoy Casco Viejo, the new, old part of Panama City.  We wandered the streets and I was struck at just how influenced Panama City was by Spanish architecture.  The streets were narrow and winding, and it was warm.

That night, we had the privilege of first being completely ignored at a restaurant, followed by delicious tapas, then graciously shown out the door as the manager schmoozed with Bri and Marie with good-bye kisses.  The service industry of Panama is definitely more low-key than that in the US.  After dinner, we headed to a local brewery to sample some of Panama’s craft brews.

We awoke in the morning to catch a bus, to catch a bus, to catch a bus to Santa Catalina. Our first bus was a big air conditioned coach bus playing a dubbed movie for a while, then switching over to music videos that can only be described as mildly graphic.  Our second bus was on a non-air conditioned mini-bus that took us closer.  Our final bus was perhaps the shining moment for Panamanian service: we sat in the hot sun for 45 minutes then drove towards are final destination, stopping a couple of times so the money-taker could drop his work shirt off at his mom’s house and then talk to a friend at a bar.  At last we made it to our hostel, Hibiskus Garden.

Unlike our travels getting to it, Hibiskus Garden was gorgeous.  We ended up sleeping in their ‘open’ room; an empty space on top of their garage with a roof and no walls.  Luckily we had bug nets, or the howler monkeys would have been the least of our problems.

From Hibiskus, we embarked on several excursions: snorkeling around coral with sharks, sea turtles, and eels with some cooky Canadians who husked and opened a coconut on a rock, getting offered rum from a Panamanian boat captain after relaxing on some beautiful beaches, attempting to surf while being stung by tiny jellyfish.  Overall, we had a wonderful time in Santa Catalina.

The snorkeling guide (later turned boat captain). 

After disembarking and making a brief stop in David get smoothies we went to stay with another wonderful Peace Corps Volunteer in her house with running water, where mangoes were falling in the back yard. We traveled on to the mountain city of Boquete (which, for those of you reading at home, Chip still cannot pronounce correctly).  We knew we were in for a treat when we saw that they had actual blankets on their beds.  Blankets!  It got cold enough there that you needed blankets to sleep comfortably.  Luckily, it was exactly what our fortified Wisconsin bodies needed a midst all of that jungle heat.

While in Boquete we did more walking and wandering.  We may have wandered onto a coffee plantation; we might have hiked to the top of a mountain expecting a gorgeous view (spoiler alert: it was covered in trees), we may have been just a couple of ‘Muricans amongst all the other ex-pats that populate Boquete.  You see, we learned, while in Boquete, that American-, Canadian-, and British-expatriates like the allure of the ‘exotic’ nature of Boquete, but want to be pampered.  They decided they liked coffee, and Boquete has coffee, and they wanted someplace warm to live out their golden years.  Even though most citizens of Boquete spoke English, we had something extra great with our travelling translator, Bri.  We got a wonderful tour of the city by a bus driver while he drove us to our bus stop to go hiking.  Clearly, perks exist when you travel with Bri, who just tells people she lives in Cocle.

After reveling in the cool, mountain air, we headed to see Bri’s province.  Penenome was very fun.  We ate authentic Panamanian Chinese food, and stayed in a hotel with A/C.  In the morning on our last day in Panama, we visited Penenome’s market.  We got to see all of the hats and meat the market had to offer.
After another bus ride back to Panama City, we stopped at one of Bri’s friend’s apartments.  We swam in the pool with the ocean view at his high-rise complex before heading to the airport to finally leave the jungle paradise we got to visit.

Overall, Panama was quite the adventure, and probably one of the neatest international travels the Nitschke couple has taken yet.  We couldn’t ask for a better guide and friend to help us along on our honeymoon, featuring Bri Drake.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Aqui, en la lucha.

I was telling a neighbor how I thought it was weird when I first came here and I'd ask people "How are you?" and they would respond "Here, in the fight" (Aqui, en la lucha).  I'd think, "Well that doesn't seem overly optimistic..."  I've figured out how to reduce mold growth on my clothes, I've killed termites that brought down my bathing structure, a families of ants that infiltrated my house through a crack in the concrete.  I have become comfortable with the cockroaches and mud and rain.  I look out for snakes, remove scorpions from my house, and shoo tarantulas out of the latrine.  I'm comfortable living in the community building in the middle of town, center stage.  Once I think I've got everything under control, it just figures that something else would pop up... Something like a worm that produces a liquid that burns my delicate skin leaving a line of really quite large blisters in it's wake... on my neck and side of my head.  Who even knew that existed?!  I get it now, what it means to just be here, in the fight.

I should have taken pictures of the blisters.  The "worm" (if that's even what it was) got me while I was sleeping, so instead I will leave you with a picture of another little friend we found on the door the next morning.  Maybe the worm wasn't so bad?!

"One week, too fun!"

Fifteen years ago my family hosted a French foreign exchange student for a year.  Delphine left her 11 year old sister Noemie and got a 9 year old one with a bonus 5 year old brother!  Man was she in for a treat!  

While I was home in May, Delphine and Noemie came to visit.  How the tables have turned!

Before they left Noemie told me it was "one week, too fun!"  It really was too much fun!  :)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Success Story

Three times a year Peace Corps requires volunteers to fill out a reporting form.  One of the sections is a success story.  Here is what I submitted this time:

What have I learned?  That success can feel a whole lot like failure.

From the beginning I struggled with a community unwilling to work together.  It wasn't until month 17 of my service that we finally got (on our third try) an aqueduct committee that showed signs of moving past their differences for long enough to work on the aqueduct!  It gets better?  It gets better!

We had been looking at a new spring to add to our system to supplement the low flows in the dry season but were unsure about its potential success.  They had connected a spring in the same general area that's a tad lower in the past but had issues with the water from the higher spring leaving at the lower spring instead of heading to the tank.  Using system measurements from the last volunteer, I assumed that the "fence to the rice field" was what I thought it to be.

I was super hesitant to haul 90 pound bags of concrete and the accompanying sacks of sand and gravel 30 minutes uphill to construct a spring box on a spring that we 1. didn't have dry season flows for (Was it enough to make it worth it?) and that 2. we didn't have very precise altitude measurements (Would the water from the higher spring back flow?  Would the water still reach the tank if we connected the two springs in a break pressure tank?).  My fancy formulas and hydraulic grade lines left me thinking this wasn't going to work out.

I had expressed my hesitance to the committee, but while I was out (just like that TLC show but with less paint) they went ahead and connected the new spring; a pipe stuck into the hill led down to the main line and connected with a T.  I went up there and checked it out and everything looked great.

But that's the goal right?  To work ourselves out of a job.  I know they don't need me.  They now know that they don't need me.  My initial reaction was one of self failure - I should have been able to say that it would work.  Once I got over my ego and accepted that it was ok that I was wrong and they knew it, I was able to be thoroughly happy that they had taken the initiative to first off meet without me coordinating it, then decide to do the work and THEN carry through getting workers up there and finish it.

We plan to use our remaining project funds to construct an actual spring catchment in the next couple of months.  (Because that's all I've got left!!!!!)

This might seem like something insignificant that I keep going on about... but I was talking to another volunteer (before I got over the feeling of failure) and she said, "That's great!  It sounds like it clicked.  What did you do?"  That made me stop and think.  What did I do?  I encouraged them, yes, and talked through the problems with them and we laid out the options, but I also got frustrated and bitter and thought things like "Well if you don't want to work with me, I don't want to work with you.  So there."  So that's the key to more sustainable development work?  Acting like a bratty 7 year old?  I guess I'd have to say it worked...