Saturday, November 13, 2010

The rainy season

I’m reading David McCullough’s very well-written account of the saga behind the building of the Panama Canal, The Path between the Seas. The following is a passage from the book. The words in parenthesis have been added in by me.


The dry season, with its clear skies and trade winds, begins normally about mid-December and lasts four months... Then, abruptly, about the first of May, the rains return. It does not rain all the time in the wet season, as many suppose. In a country where an inch of rain can fall in an hour, 120 or 130 inches of rain in a year may not mean a great many more than 120 or 130 hours of rain all told. Some of the most torrential downpours last only a few minutes. At Colon (my provincial capitol), six inches in twenty four hours or less is not uncommon. In the single month of November, when the heaviest storms strike, rainfall along the Chagres basin (again, my area) could range from 2 to 3 feet.

But no statistic conveys a true picture of the Panama rain. It has to be seen, to be felt, to be smelled; it has to be heard to be appreciated. The effect is much as though the heavens have opened up and the air has turned instantly liquid.

The skies, when it is not raining, are always nearly filled with tremendous, towering clouds- magnificent clouds, and especially so in the light of early morning. Then there will be an unmistakable rush of wind in the trees, a noticeable drop in temperature, a quick darkening overhead followed by a sound that someone likened to the “trampling of myriad feet” through leaves (as the storm approaches)...

If one were to wait out the storm beneath a corrugated iron roof (or a zinc one like my house has), the sound is like that of a locomotive. Often these storms become violent thunderstorms, with lightning “so stunning,” wrote one American (employee of the canal company), “it just makes a person feel as though he were drunk.” And then, while the trees still toss and roar, the rain would be over- in an instant. The sun will be out again, fierce as ever. Everything will glisten with rainwater and the air will be filled with the fecund, greenhouse smell of jungle and mud.


I read this yesterday, and it seemed like a particularly apt thing to write in my blog now that we are in the month of November; the height of the wet season. Last week was almost constant rain for 5 days, though it did not always fall with the ferocity described here. This and last year have been described to me as mild winters and it is hard for me to imagine what a severe one is like. There is no such thing as “May showers” here.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

500 Years of Nombre de Dios

Even though it has been a few months since I went to a celebration in my friend Marin'a town, I feel it appropriate to write a post about it. Marin lives in the Costa Arriba area of the province of Colon, on the eastern side of the canal. Her town is called Nombre de Dios and is one of the oldest, continually settled towns in the Americas. Just this year, the people there celebrated the 500th anniversary of the town with a 2 day celebration of music, singing, speeches, and overall good times.

A group of dancers from the University of Panama put on a show using typical tipico dress and music. Tipico culture is part of Panama's latino culture.

Congo is a song and dance from the Afro-Antillean parts of the country, which are mostly located in the Colon province.

These men are wearing costumes of Diablos de Espejos, Mirror Devils. I had no idea that such a thing existed before they appeared and did thier dance, but the costumes are really cool.

So theres a little Panamanian culture for you all. Like I said, this event took place a while ago, but I wanted to get pictures before writing on here about it. Unfortunately, my camera was doused in water this past week at our All Volunteer Conference, so the pictures may be put on hold for a while. Hopefully I can figure something out and keep posting more on here. Stay tuned...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Finally: the new post

First off, my apologies for making you all wait on my next post for the past few months. I havent abandoned this thing, I just have more computer-based work to take care of these days, so everytime I'm on the internet I just can't seem to find the time to write here. Anyway, it has been a very productive few months for me. I have passed my one year mark both in the country and in my site. on one hand it feels like a very long time has passed, but on the other the time feels like it flies right by. Its hard to believe that I'm in the second half of my service!

As of the past few months, I have officially become one of two co-coordinators of the Agribusiness Inititiative of Peace Corps Panama. WHat does this mean exactly? Well, the initiative is a program that bridges both Peace Corps' agriculture and economic development programs. The farmers of Panama know much mroe about their farms and how to manage them than we could ever learn in our two years here. However, they sometimes lack knowledge about how to improve the business side of their activities. We try to bring them information on farm and project planning, money management, legal aspects (loans, crop insurance, etc), and marketing. We have a 100+ page manual that contains this information, along with activities and skits to reinforce the teachings and ease the learining process. While this information can be taught in the farm or in the process of daily conversations with farmers, the Peace Corps provides us with the opportunity to facilitate week-long seminars and bring people from all over the county together to learn and share their experiences with agribusiness. As co-coordinator of the initiative, it is my job to plan and execute these seminars and imporve upon the manuals that we use in them.

The following are pictures that were taken at our most recent Agribusiness Seminar in the province of Cocle in a community called Piedras Gordas; Fat Rocks in English. (And yes, there are some very fat rocks in the town.)

Here I am guiding a couple of participants in one of the activities during the seminar. The guy on the right is from my town. His name is Teofilo Rodriguez and he's my community counterpart.
Here all of the participants and some volunteers are lined up in an activity designed to provide a better understanding of the concept of a supply chain. Each participant has a piece of paper with a step in the production of coffee written on it.
Presenting one of the verious lectures with my fellow Agribusiness coordinator, Ben Spink of the Comarca Ngobe-Bugle.
On the last day of the seminar, we held a despedida, or goodbye, where we invited members of the town of Piedras Gordas to wacth some skits that the participants put on demonstrating their comprehension of one of the week's topics and the presentation of certificates for the participants. The woman in the middle of the picture is Stephanie Westman, sho was regional leader of the province of Cocle at the time of the seminar.

Some members of the community of Piedras Gordas watching skits put on by seminar participants.All of the participants and volunteers at the seminar.

At the end of the presentation, a drum band played some women sang a style of music called the Tamborito. The dance that goes along with it is fairly similar to the congo, done by Carribean communities, and is done between one woman and one man at a time, with others jumping in to take their places after a few minutes.And yes, I did dance the tamborito. All of my fellow volunteers ended up doing it.

So, there's a breakdown of some of the work that I do down here in the Peace Corps. We are looking to organize a new round of seminars for the upcoming year, and I hope to complete 2 or 3 more by the time next July rolls around and my service time ends. We may be having on the in the Darien region as soon as October!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Not a whole lot new to report...

So I´ve hit a slow point in my service here. The coffee group I´m working with has been arranging their inaguration of the coffee peeling machine they finally are figuring out how to work and the other group of farmers in town are in the middle of a huge land battle over thier farms. Neither of these are things that I can really help with, so I´ve been keeping myself busy with garden work and other small projects. Next month I´m heading over the the Comarca Ngobe Bugle to help with an Agribusiness seminar and then go visit a couple of freinds in their sites in the area and I have a new trainee visiting me right before that, so May will be a much busier month.

The following are some pictures I took of the animals around my house.
This is the dog that recently adopted me. I gave it food a couple of times and now it just hangs around the house all day. It even started to follow me out into the monte when I go out to do work. The kids in town tell me its name is La Niña.
A little hard to see, but in the second hole down on this dead palm trunk is an owl. The tree is slowly falling over, hopefully not right into my house. Some kids were out trying to knock down the tree the other day and it took off into the jungle.

Monkeys! I´ve been trying to get a good picture of some of them for a while but they´re never around when I have my camera and always are when I don´t. These ones were hanging out in the trees above the bus stop this morning.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Carnavales! Friends! Carne de Monte!

Alright, so its been a while since I last updated my blog, I know. But this one is longer than normal, so it all evens out in the end.

In mid-February, my frind Ben from the U of Oregon came down from his job as a teacher in New York to spend a week in Panama with me. We started out by heading to Chitre, the capital of the Hererra province. Why did we go there you ask? One word answer: Carnaval. Now the Carnaval celebration in Panama isnt the biggest or most famous in the world, but you can trust me in full confidence that it is still one heckuva party. Below are a few pictures of the celebrations (Not my pictures by the way, I was afraid to take out my camera since it was pretty much guaranteed to get stolen if I did.)

This is a picture of the cathedral in the central square of Chitre, around which the main celebration was held. Our hostel was just down the street from the main entrance to the party and people passed by our balcony (we were on the second floor of the building) all day and night long. Plus the music was basically 24 hours and right on the street below us. It was a good spot to be at.

This is a pisture of the celebration in Las Tablas, down the road in Los Santos, but it gives you an idea of how packed the streets were during the day.

Here are the famous Culecos, water tankers with giant hoses, from which people on top of the truck soak the people on the street. It was a great way to cool down from the heat, and since we were an easily identifiable group of gringos walking around, we were drenched constantly.

A sample of the costumes that the queens wore. I tried to find one of the queens in Chitre, but alas, I cant seem to locate any. These are from the capital city I believe. Anyway, the queen`s parade would wind its way through the plaza every couple of hours or so and her band would follow her down the road. Following behind these floats was basically the only way to get further into the crowded streets.

The queen`s band. Good stuff, it was all brass and drums and they played really catchy tunes.

After 3 days of nonstop Carnavaleing, we headed up to my community in Colon and took a hike into the San Lorenzo national park. Here we are at the top of the gigantic hill that you need to head down to get there. That valley behind us is where we were headed.

Some of my good friends in PC Panama at the beach one night. We have fun together, clearly.
And finally, a few pictures of carne de monte, or bush meat. The first is an iguana, slowly smoking over some coals. February is iguana season, when they start to produce eggs. The people eat the meat, usually cooked with shredded coconut, and the eggs, which are boiled and have a soft shell.

This is a quarter of a ñece, which kind of looks like a cross between a rabbit, a rat, and a pig. The meat is good when its fried, but then again what meat isn`t good fried?
So Carnaval was an absolute blast and I can`t wait to do it again next year. If anyone is interested in experiencing it for themselves, let me know and we can try to work something out as far as accomidations and other logistics go. Other than that, I have been working with a couple of groups of farmers in my town and the surrounding communities and preparing to start up more home gardens and the garden at the school. I`m going to be working on the training garden for the next group of volunteers that arrives in April and will be training them as well later on down the road.
I hope everyone is in good health back home and the cold isn`t getting to you too much!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Siga la vida, arriba la luna...

While I have nothing new and exciting to report right now, I figured I´d just drop this post on everyone to let you know that ANYONE CAN NOW COMMENT ON MY BLOG!! Yes it´s true. This news is bigger than Obama´s visit to the Dali Lama, bigger than the Toyota recall, bigger even than the upcoming Super Bowl. Just thought I´d inform anyone out there who may actually read this thing.

Also, I´m going to a Project Management Leadership seminar this upcoming week, followed by a short jaunt over to Panama City to pick up Ben and then we are off to Chitre to experience the Panamanian Carnaval! That should make for a number of good posts in the future. Stay tuned.

In the mean time, enjoy this picture of the Panama City Skyline at night.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Back in Panama...

Off to La Union once again later today with my 3 giant bags filled with clothes, books, and food (Thanks Mom and Dad!). I had a lot of fun this past week seeing everyone again and hope you all can come visit me at some point in time when I`m down here. Sorry to those of you who I didn`t see more often, but I was very busy while up north. Following are some of the pictures I took to show everyone back home, so if I showed them to you already, you won`t be missing anything if you stop at this point.

A small tipico concert, La Union de Piña style.
The Panama City skyline from the window of the Costa Azul hotel in the Bella Vista neighborhood.

A cow horn and some kids from town. One way to pass time during the evening.

WHy yes, I am an Accordian Hero. This was my second lesson.

A Titi monkey that one of the families keeps as a pet. They can sell them for about $20 in the city apparently. This one screamed the entire time I was within 10 feet of it.

My buddy Daniel and his kid Jonathan. And my machete.

ABdiel and Miguel at thier family`s swimming hole made by putting a dam into a creek. I just found it and figure I`ll be swimming there many times during the summer.

Some of the colegio aged kids in town hanging out in front of the Catholic church.

The iguana Avelino and I killed near the river. It was delicious.