Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The End...

... for now.

Ok, ok, my mom keeps telling me I need to tell people I'm home.  So....

I'm home.

And by that I mean,


I'm enjoying the variable temperatures of a Midwest summer.  No sweating in the sun today!  And the company of friends and family.  And the hot showers.  And the mold-free clothes.  And the food!

Panama has become a very special place to me over the last few years.  And as much as it was sad to leave, I'm ready for the next chapter.  I loved it and hated it.  I learned a lot from it's people and landscapes and creepy crawlies.  I laughed a lot and cried a lot.  I failed.  Often.  I also succeeded.  I celebrated.

Being a Peace Corps Volunteer, you are always meeting new people and saying goodbye to old ones.  There is a constant flow of awesome individuals and close friends that come and then inevitably go.  Like it or not, you get a lot of practice at goodbyes and after a while they get less sad, believe it or not.  :)

"We think often about these lively and indelible friendships, and what, if anything, we ever did to deserve them; the luck of getting to find out together who we really were in a strange land, among strange people who asked only that we express a joyful and common humanity."
-Peter Leo RPCV Kenya 1969

Peace out, Panama!  It's been real.

Dandy Lions

The Inconveniences of Modern Living

It turns out that refrigerators aren't magic.  Things still mold if you leave them in there long enough!

These used to be pineapple slices....

El Valle de Anton

El Valle de Anton is a town in the province of Cocle.  The city is built in the caldera of an old volcano up at about 600 meters.  A friend and I took a mini vacation there before I headed to the city.  We hiked up to the top of one of the hills in town to see what we could see.

Now for the cool part.  Ok, I thought it was cool at least.  I recently wrote about how the volunteers on the west side of the country can get to the top of a ridge and can see peaks off in the distance and identify where other volunteers live.  The mountains aren't so high in Cocle so that was only something we could do with our closest neighbors... until we went hiking at El Valle!

Looking out to the west I could see the wind turbines behind Penonome and then I saw that distinct pointy little mountain on the right and thought that must be near where Brandon used to live.  So then I started looking for something more familiar to me.  The mountain is Orari and it was one that always stood out on the horizon from my community.  
This is a picture of it from where I lived.

With a little looking, I found it!  Which means that my community was in the small mountain range below the red circle.  It looks so tiny from up there!

And finding that let me do this!
We lived over there.


My friends Kelly and Pete hosted a basketball camp in their community at the end of May to inaugurate their new basketball hoops.  Little did we know before arriving that the weekend also marked their 5th wedding anniversary.

That's the kind of teamwork that marriages thrive on!

 We taught the kids the basics of basketball and then let them go WILD.  Literally!  We realized after starting the first game that we never addressed double dribbling and didn't explain that full court press is not a necessity, but hey, we had to leave something for Day 2, right?

Kelly posted more photos and a description of the camp on her blog at: http://lifeonalog.blogspot.com/2014/06/special-break-basketball-camp.html

See You in Heaven

Last month, I was making my last visits to communities I had worked in this spring.  They asked when I was leaving my city and then the country, trying to figure out if I would be stopping by again.  I told them no, unfortunately I wouldn't be.  Knowing that I just worked with them briefly, if I visited Panama in the future, I probably wouldn't head there.  They said all of the normal "may God bless you"-s and then one man said, "well, I guess then I will see you in Heaven."  That seemed like an honest and reasonable statement so fifteen people followed suit and shook my hand, wished me success in my future endeavors and then said, "See you in Heaven."  It ended with a nice old Ngabe woman who took my hand and said something in Ngabere that we both knew I didn't understand.  So I politely smiled and chuckled.  She returned my smile and simply pointed at the sky.

It's not goodbye, just see you later.
Maybe a lot later.
(Hopefully a LOT later!)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Esos son Reebok o son Nike?

This video made my day!

I always always make up words to songs that aren't the actual lyrics.  My poor friends will attest to that.  I appreciate that this guy does too and more impressively that the radio DJ knows what song he is asking for.  The caller asks for the song "Son Reebok o son Nike?" and then supports his request by saying he likes the song, "it's really popular here".  And sure enough, the DJ pulls out the 90's dance hit "Rhythm of the Night".  "That's it!"  


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Jack and Jill...

... walked down the (slippery, muddy) hill to fetch a tank of water.  In my friend's community, the group of houses that she lives with collects water from this spring for use at home.  There is another spring farther down the hill where they go to bathe and wash clothes, but all of the water for cooking, drinking, washing dishes, etc. comes up the hill to their homes in plastic jugs, normally in the hands (or on the heads!) of children.

Showing off our haul!

But I'm just a poser... I filled it up, but I didn't carry our tank of water back to the house.  That's what the boys are for, right?!

I don't even know which way is up anymore....

Living here I have become accustomed to the idea of maps reading from uphill to downhill as opposed to North to South.  Not professional maps, but maps of a community or water system.  Panama runs mainly East-West with a mountain range through the middle.  The highway and the majority of things are on the southern side of said mountain range so this scheme generally "works".

I find myself daydreaming of bike rides back home.  I think about how it would be easier to ride my bike from my Grandma's house to my parents' house than from my parents' house to my Grandma's house... because it's downhill.  Or is it?  I find it interesting that I keep catching myself imagining the Midwest as having a overall dip to the South.  :)

July = re-acclimating to the Land of Flat Expanses.

Taking Names and Climbing Things

I headed up to the mountain town of Boquete last week to take a little vacation and go rock climbing with some friends.  It was a gorgeous, not so hot, and relaxing break!

Show off.  ;)

Ruben leisurely making his way up this 5.10 route ;)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Pure. Bliss.

I killed it!  (Knock on wood)  I remember I was at my friend Sergio's site in August and I told him "I got something today, but I'm going to the doctor next week so I'll just deal with it then."  I had gotten stomach bugs before and the feeling was familiar.  The doctor gave me pills even though the tests came back negative.  They didn't work.  I wasn't debilitatingly sick so I put off figuring it out.  The tests in January came back negative and the doctor told me I was "healthy".  Wrong!  So I took some over the counter pills that cleared out everything.  Which was exhausting but effective!

The theme song of today goes something like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvY7Nw1i6Kw

I feel remarkably better.  I shouldn't get too excited, it's only day 4, but I have so much more energy and I'm not feeling nauseous multiple times a day.  It feels like a gloomy cloud has been lifted.

The majority of the people I work with will contract these preventable illness multiple times in their lifetime.  They will loose time working or learning because they are too ill to do so or too ill to do so effectively.  When you work as a subsistence farmer, less days working means less food for your family, less food means less energy, less energy means less work.  It's quite the cycle and we didn't even add in the down pouring rain, the crippling heat and sun, or the steep hills that are climbed on foot because there simply aren't roads.  Life here is hard enough without being sick.

I am very thankful to be feeling so good (i.e. normal) but it's also a reminder of the importance of the work that we do everyday to educate people on their health as it relates to water and sanitation and to help them build and maintain the infrastructure required to consume clean water.  Seguimos.

Good bye, old friend.  And good riddance! 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter!

For being an extremely religious country, Panama doesn't make a big deal about Easter like we do.  My first year here I tried to ask people what the translation of Easter is.  If you look it up it'll be pascua or passover, but people don't really use that here and instead, after some confused stares, refer to the day as the Resurrection.

It's weird to be talking to someone and thinking "You're a Catholic, I'm a Catholic and you don't even acknowledge our #2 blockbuster holiday as a thing."  Instead they celebrate the entire Holy Week with no real emphasis on Easter, more so on Good Friday.  And especially not the emphasis on bunnies and cute little chicks!

I talked to another volunteer this morning about how everyone is all "it's just another Sunday" and we're all thinking "BRUNCH!  Where's the egg bake?  Where's the ham?!"

Either way, I got two worm free mangoes from my normally wormy mango tree this morning!  The Easter Bunny made me pick them up out of the real grass instead of a bed of shredded plastic grass but they were a delicious additive to my breakfast either way.

Happy Easter everyone!

Last year's attempt to corrupt the youth of Panama  ;)

Doodle me this...

We had a doodling contest at the newest Environmental Health group's in-service training.  The winning doodle would replace the current drawing on the cover of our Water Committee Seminar manuals.

Pretty classy, eh?!
Though there was stiff competition...
This one didn't make it, though it was the clear runner-up.  I wish I would have saved the other ones, but you can trust me.

Shaun made our winning doodle.

I sent it off to a friend and she worked her magic (It really is magic to me... I would have no idea where to start) and Viola!

Thanks, Drea!!

Monday, April 7, 2014

America = Cornhole + S'mores

Or that's at least what my neighbors think now.  I had a little get together last night where I introduced them to the joys of s'mores and cornhole!  This city living thing is tough.  ;)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Spring Catchment Construction

Panama is lucky to have abundant sources of natural spring water.  Most rural water systems here are gravity fed from a spring meaning they capture water up on a mountain and then pipe it down to a tank at the top of the community and then it flows from there down to all of the homes.  I recently spent a couple days helping a friend work on a few of these in his community.  The photos below were one day of work on a small, single family spring catchment.  

The general idea is that you clear away the topsoil to get to the impermeable or less permeable rock or clay layer that is causing the groundwater to leave where it does.  In my current job, I find lots of spring boxes and catchments that didn't do this and now have water leaving underneath or on the sides of the concrete.

The first step is to build a small dam at the front of what will be your catchment area.  This dam will have the tube going to the tank, a clean out tube at the bottom, and an overflow tube at the top.  You don't want pressure from excess water building up in the catchment, forcing the water to find another place to come out of the ground.

The area is then filled in with rocks.  Large rocks are placed on the bottom to leave channels for the water to freely flow toward the outlet.

Small rocks are placed on top to make a smoother surface to put the concrete "lid" on.

Concrete is dumped on top of the rocks and smoothed out; butting up to the side walls, slightly sloping down toward the front of the catchment, and avoiding any areas where water can pool on top and speed up erosion.

A small box area is made in the front where they will be able to remove a concrete lid to clean out any debris that may accumulate.

Boom done!