Friday, April 5, 2013

Guna Yala - Independence Celebration

We spent a couple days after our hike on the island of Usuptu (translates to Rabbit Island) which was the home to the main leader of the revolution, Nele Kantule.  The Gunas occupy the Caribbean shoreline on the eastern most side of Panama.  They won their independence from the Panamanian government in 1925 making them the first (I believe) indigenous group in the Americas to win their independence.  They have since been an autonomous state – no outsiders own land or businesses within their territory. 
We went to the town square in the afternoon to watch reenactments which were narrated in Guna but looked a lot like Latino soldiers killing off Gunas one by one – throwing fake blood at them while another guy put off a cap gun type contraption. 

 We got to bed early because we needed to be dressed and ready for the parade at 7am.  Little did we know, the reenactment never ended.  I woke up at 2:30, 4, and 5:30am to men marching through the street yelling.  “Uno, Dos!  Tres, Cuatro!  Cuatro, Tres!  Dos, Uno!”  We put on our red shirts and jumped in the parade.  We marched through town and then the reenactment finished up on the beach.  There were some more dealings narrated in Guna, but the Gunas eventually tipped the Latinos’ boat and dragged their wet bodies into a pile on shore.  Stuck their flag in to seal the deal.

Now I would normally shy away from telling drinking stories, but I think it was the drinking that really brought this event together.

With their independence secured for the 88th year in a row, it was drinking time!  We all filed into a dark thatched roof building; smoke and people everywhere.  The men took one side and the women the other.  The men got in a line of six facing a line of men with totumas (bowl/cup made out of a dried ghord) of the party drink.  There were no mojitos, margaritas, or even national beers at this party.  The drink was chicha fuerte, fermented sugar cane juice with coffee and cacao grounds.  The men with the alcohol would dance and yell; those in the receiving line would reciprocate, copying the man in front of him, yells again from the gate keepers until it turned into one big jumble of gritars coming from dancing men.  Once the men had successfully “fluffed their feathers” they got their chicha and downed it. 
The women had more of a free-for-all mosh pit style to their consumption.  There was no line, you just waited for a woman with a totuma to come up to you and offer it. 

The best part of the ladies side were the HARMONICAS!  I got one at one point and went to town!
There was a woman with a giant bowl of cigarettes (and suckers).  Men smoking a giant tube of rolled up tobacco leaves – sticking the lit end in their mouths to take a drag.

We were all pretty tipsy when we started looking at the time and it was only 9:30am.  Still a whole lot more partying to be had?!  There was a plump little woman who had befriended me and she came back with a totuma.  It was a really large one  so I took a couple sips and handed it back.  She refused to take it so I tried to pass it to the guy next to me.  She said, “No.  You can’t share.  Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Would you share him with another woman?”
“Well, no.”
“It’s the same thing.  You can’t share the chicha.”
I thought that was pretty funny so I downed it and then called it quits.

K. Nettles

We headed home past drunk grandmas stumbling home with stupid grins on their faces, another woman under each arm.  We saw a fellow volunteer off in the distance carrying a man over his shoulder to leave him at his home. 

S. Farley

It was an interesting experience alright.  They have this “house of chicha” a couple times a year for the independence celebration and for girls’ coming of age celebration.  The idea is that the liquor and smokes are free to everyone so you can celebrate even if you don’t have money. 

The next morning we got up before the sun and were on boats back toward the city.  It would be another 5 hours before we got to land and then another couple hours in an SUV to the city.  Our journey was complete.

E. Jones

Bling Bling!

I see your iPhone and I raise you...

Wait.  Who's that from?!  My phone company sends me offers multiple times a day so I saved the number as a more agreeable name than "Mas Movil". 

Nail polish paint design by Drea!  Bling. Bling!

Make it happen!

There's exciting stuff going on in my province of Cocle!  Awesome people doing great work with some fantastic communities!

Cocle represent!

Sergio is looking for funding to get funding for the remaining equipment needed for a water system for the main sector of his town.  Its elevation is above the highest spring in the area so people haul water out of their Jack and Jill style well and carry it to their houses, the school, and the community building.  His community members have hearts of gold!  It's one of my favorite communities that I've been to because the people are so amazingly friendly, welcoming, and shockingly organized and ready to work!

 This is the road to Sergio's site.  This is how people get anything and everything that doesn't grow in the jungle.  It's exhausting to think about!

 Sonia found out in November, as did I and many other volunteers, that our 2 teenage leaders from our communities were not accepted to attend one of the two yearly youth leadership put on by the Gender and Development commission made up of volunteers.  It's an amazing camp so I'm glad to see that there was so much interest.  I had a girl attend last year.  When I heard the news I said "That sucks.  That reeeeeeally sucks."  Sonia said, "That just won't do.  All of these kids WILL be attending a leadership camp.  This country needs leaders in all corners."  She's an absolute rockstar.  She's been running around soliciting help, finding donations, securing venues, training counselors, etc...  The camp will be held at the end of May in Cocle!

To read more or donate to Sergio's aqueduct project, go to the following link:   
To read more or donate to Sonia's youth leadership camp (in the name of our home girl Chelsea Mackin), go to:

Take that, Chicken!

I would like to dedicate this story to my friend Brian, a high school Physics teacher in Washington state.  He started using funny names (e.g. Wilma Butfit) in his story problems and I'm thinking he should start using real life examples for these problems.  The problem will go something like this, but with some added words: velocity, trajectory, speed, angle, blah…

I just have to say that is place (Panama/Peace Corps/whatever it is) changes you.  The dogs are always barking, the roosters are always crowing.  You either have to get used to the sounds or I think you turn into one of those people that goes home early.  There was a pesky rooster right outside my door the other day.  I shushed it away.  It came back.  I went to the door and swung my foot at it.  It came back.  I went to pick up the closest object on the ground and it started to run away.  I licked my finger and tested the wind (ok, not really), pulled back and threw the rock, leading the chicken.  The sucker ran right into it.  I hit it!  It ran off yelling.  I won!  I stared in amazement for a second, not really believing that that had just happened.  I put my arms up in a touchdown celebration and turned around to see if anyone was there to celebrate with me (hoping it wouldn't be the chicken’s owner), but no one was there.  Though that was ok because like the bat cave incident, I was proud enough of me for everyone!