Saturday, January 19, 2008

First 3 Months

Stay in site! Trying very hard to do so...
Nov. 2007 - Jan. 2008

A time marked by paseando, house construction, adjusting to "stardom," learning the Spangäbe, appreciating yucca with rice and Ramen Noodle, cleaning mildew off leather, loving texting other volunteers, listening to Día de Bandera drum practice, visits to San Felix to check email and charge the cell phone, perfecting bucket baths, buscar leña, write letters home, organize water committee meetings, create community maps.
Also had a chance to work with PCMI Jessica and Adam uphill from me. Their composting latrine project is a large-scale event! So 2 days were spent mixing, blocking, and constructing the bases of latrines. Several of my community members wanted to join me and help out with the work (a great chance to share the ideas about this project, too!). So Miguel, Moises, Milton, and Roman have just gained some construction experience. Hope we can help again Jess! 3 more latrines to go, right?

At this point, it´s hard for me to say if my community will want their own compost latrine project. Many people are telling me they need/want latrines since few exist but this particular style of servicio might not be the most comfortable idea for the people. It would be a big change for someone to accept a fancy-looking latrine into their lifestyle after a lifetime of doing without even a pit latrine. My plan is to approach this matter slowly and get a better idea of what kind of sanitation solution is more sustainable. Stay tuned!

November Festivities:
My small town had been practicing for weeks and weeks; every day around noon we could all hear the drums start up. The school had been preparing to debut their drum corps and flag bearers and was ready to present their dedicated crew to the town during El Día de Indepedencia de Colombia, el 3 de noviembre. This was an important day! Not only did I wear my nagua dress, but the director of the school and every teacher was at the celebration.

First the drummers lead the circuit around the ball field, then the parade worked its way into the commons of the schoolyard. The Panamanian flag was then presented and raised as the entire community held their hands over their hearts (strangely, some hands were positioned over the heart, yes, but as if ready to throw a karate-chop). The formalities were very reminiscent of a Veteran’s Day Parade, but what followed was intriguing. Once the flag was high above us, the teachers invoked a series of presentations. One by one (I believe it was class by class), children stepped out of their tightly formed lines and recited speeches – with gusto! Children exclaimed: I am Panamanian! and reached out their hands to encompass the sky, the campo, the village, the families, the ducking child standing by that just missed the swinging arm... Not only were there well-memorized speeches, 2 students also sang original canciones. Our town has some very talented musicians!

November is a very busy time for honoring la vida de Panama. The Independence Day (from Colombia) is really just the start of festivities. Two more official holidays draw la gente together: El Día de Bandera and later in the month, Independence from Spain. Our students had been practicing for a series of marches, in fact, the following day the whole crew was going to a neighboring town to march down the main street of Quebrada Guabo. Roughly 17 different schools would gather there, march, and face judges to determine which school displayed the best organization, musical skill, choreography, costumes, etc.

Did my community win? No, not this time: but last year they had secured a runner’s up status and took home a prize. Well, there’s always next year and based on how much the community at large loved the drumming (little kids still sing: boom-boom-boombity-boo), I think they can produce a sharp performance.

Do I live in a rainforest? No, you’ll have to go to the Bocas side (Caribbean coast) of the Comarca to encounter rainforest, but in general it is an endangered environment in Panama. My community is tucked into the rugged foothills on the southern slope of the western highlands and very few hints remain of the oldgrowth: there has been so much farming in this region that it’s difficult to imagine the days when the dark interior loomed too dangerously for even the bravest hunters. How long ago did the mountains evolve into the tamed farmlands of corn and fincas of coffee? I haven’t been able to learn that from my neighbor yet, but he can explain how giants from the high mountains used to challenge the people to duels and swiftly disappear to high aeries.

My neighbor Roman is a wonderful story-teller. I’ve learned about the drunken frog that became lost in the stars, the witch of the cocoa tree, and a giant that loved stealing people lunches. Could I retell these stories for you? I wish I could, but these particular favorites were shared with me during my earliest days in site, my limited Spanish filtered only the most general ideas of these stories. But one day (maybe in a few months…) I’ll ask Roman: Hey, I’d like to hear that story again about giant and the heroes. Once I get a better handle on the details, I’ll be ready to share more. Stay tuned!

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