Random Pictures Dump!

The SD card slot on this computer is broken so sadly I cannot currently upload the 150 awesome pictures I took during tech week. Here are some random pictures that I forgot to post. Also spell check is in Spanish so I’m probably going to spell some stuff wrong.

First hike into the jungle to check out a volunteer’s site.

This is the dorms used for volunteers to stay their first four nights in country. 

View during a particuarly heavy rainfall. 

Don’t play football on a basketball court without shoes. 

My “computer desk”

View during our jungle hike. 

View during our jungle hike.

One of the first weekends in our training communities we got to join a community wide celebration.

So what is Peace Corps about anyways?

I’ve been talking with a friend tonight about what I’ll be working on as a volunteer. Peace Corps isn’t all about tangible items such as a set number of latrines or working water systems so i figured I would dedicate a quick post to what Peace Corps actually does.

The process begins with Peace Corps identifying a suitable site for a volunteer. There are then about three volunteers that will work at this site. Their responsibilities roughly fall within the description I’ll give below except in the cases where events occur more quickly or slowly than expected.

The responsibility of the first volunteer is to do research within the community and develop a water committee. They will work alongside the community to identify realistic project(s) to work on. If there is enough time, they will begin working on the technical details of the project and might begin implementation.

The second volunteer will either begin with technical research or get right into construction. They will work their two years in the aims of bringing construction to completion.

The third volunteer brings closure to the project. It is their responsibility to make it sustainable so that the community will be able to carry on the work over the last six years of the project without the assistance of a volunteer.

As I touched on, there is some overlap in the responsibilities of each volunteer. The duties of each volunteer is not so clearly defined since some projects move more quickly than others. In general, the main goal is the education of the people so that they may carry on and spread knowledge to others. As the saying goes, if you give a man a fish he’ll eat for a day, if you teach a man to fish he’ll eat for several lifetimes.

The 9-5 Grind

I feel like I haven’t had a chance to really explain fully what I do as a Peace Corps Trainee so I’d like to use this post to explain what I’ve been up to and what’s ahead.

My typical routine since I arrived at site is as follows:
7-8: Wake up and eat
8-11:45: Spanish Class
12-1: Lunch at home
1-5: Technical Class
5-6: End of technical class/Spanish
6-10/11: From here my typical routine diverges into several activities. Football is probably my most favorite activity here and I play about twice a week. There’s a kid that’s about 11 years old and he’s probably one of the best players in the community. He puts all of us gringos to shame. In second place is writing. I probably commit two nights a week to some form of writing. I’ve also spent time watching TV shows, playing Uno, and having long conversations with my host brother who is 19 years old and has the knowledge about life things that a typical college grad would have.

Weekends have been pretty random. I’ve had a scavenger hunt in Panama City, a beach day in Santa Clara, a dance party at the community meeting place, a birthday party at a fellow trainee’s house, machete training, and some technical classes as well.

Some days break from the norm. I have already had my volunteer site visit where I got to see how a volunteer lives a typical few days.  I’ve also had my first interview to determine what site would interest me. Potential sites for my group don’t have electricity, are almost entirely indigenous, and are a decent hike away from the nearest road. I’ve decided that the only thing I want is cell service and everything else, I’ll face the challenge.

Coming up for the next week, we will begin “tech week.” This will be a week long series of classes at one volunteer’s site to learn about lots of various topics. These topics include surveying practice, a jungle hike, and thermoforming.

After tech week, I will return to regular classes and that Friday, August 2nd, I will receive my site placement. The next Wednesday, I will leave for several days to visit my site and begin moving in. After that it’s about another week of class and document signing and then I get to swear in as a Peace Corps Volunteer!

I hope I was as informative as I could be. If not, please feel free to shoot me some questions in the comments. If you can’t post a comment, shoot me an email to complain and I’ll get to fixing it… eventually.

First photo dump!

More pictures after the break. They start in chronological order from the bottom.

Exploroing a native village in Ipiti Kuna

People bathing in the river

Stayed with a volunteer whose kitchen is part of a restaurant… slow cooking meat.

Cooking dinner

Coffee plants

Water storage tank

This is the “massage chair” right next to the house of the volunteer I visited. Lay on the rock in the water for a free massage.

The volunteer’s swimming pool and bathtub.

We went hiking up this river and also hiked up waterfalls. I didn’t bring my camera for that hike and it was probably a good choice.

…make do with what you got

My bedroom while I stayed with my volunteer.

Front porch/kitchen/living room of my volunteer’s house.

Cats are a great way to preclean dishes before washing them. He had two cats.

Giant moth probably 5 inches from wing to wing

This was my hike into site. Almost two hours long up and down through foot deep mud at times. This is the one of the hardest sites to get to.



View from the road on the hike in



View from the road on the hike in.

View from the road on the hike in.

View from the road on the hike in.

Pet monkey!

Packing List Follow Up

After being here for about three weeks, I already have some opinions of stuff I packed and didn’t pack. The original packing list can be found here.

In general, don’t pack stuff you wouldn’t use in the US. I packed several pairs of moisture wicking boxer-briefs, I use boxers. I put on the first pair, within minutes I changed back to boxers… ~$30 wasted.

As far as toiletries go, you don’t really need to bring much because you can buy almost anything. I’d recommend bringing at least a toothbrush, toothpaste, and deodorant to remain fresh during the first day of training and the flight.

Bring dress pants that double as casual pants. I’d recommend plain khakis that you’d wear on your days off. Don’t expect proper black dress pants to be used past the first day. It can get hot.

If you plan on living with kids, activities to do with them including Spanish books of your reading level are great. Last minute I left those behind and regret it.

Rolling with the Punches

Last night I experienced the perfect storm. It came not in the form of an amazing rain storm but in the coming together of many dogs. Imagine that one time when all the dogs in the neighborhood were going nuts in unison. Now imagine that all of those dogs were right outside of your house barking. That’s what happened to me last night.

At about 1:50 in the morning I awoke to lots of barking. I attempted to ignore it but the noise persisted. My host brother of ten years old got up to investigate. He tried to wake up his older brother who didn’t move. He then tried to get me up but I was against getting out of bed since I’d played soccer for two hours straight earlier that night. He decided instead to venture off to handle the situation himself.

At this point I laid there and imagined a rabid dog attacking him (these dogs aren’t actually rabid or very threatening btw) and so I jumped out of bed and went with him. As we were walking toward the back door, I tried to find a weapon to use but didn’t possess the vocabulary to inquire about a bat or something similar since I was unable to speak Spanish at 2am after being woken from a deep sleep. Instead, I grabbed the closest bar shaped object in the form of the house broom.

I opened the back door to find somewhere in the neighborhood of ten dogs hanging out with my dog, who is currently in heat. I proceeded to shout “valla” which is the command to get a dog to go away, and threatened them with the broom. Quickly the dogs scattered and I moved to the front door to make sure they were gone. After chasing some dogs through the streets with my broom I returned home to get some sleep.

However, the dogs kept up their barking until finally at exactly 4:10am they stopped. And then two minutes later the rooster started.

In summary, it’s best to learn to roll with the punches.

Volunteer Site Visit

July fourth marked the first of four days, dedicated to traveling to a volunteer’s site for our first taste of the volunteer life. Prior to my visit, I received a packing list and some basic travel instructions from the volunteer I’d be visiting. Included in these instructions was how to contact my volunteer and it stated that he’d have to hike 1.5 hours to receive phone signal. His scheduled days for phone service hiking fell on Tuesdays and Fridays so I gave him a call on Tuesday, finalized my plans, and left 6:30am on Thursday morning to make my way to his site.

The trip included a forty-five minute wait for the bus, 1.5 hours to Panama City, an hour of snacking in the food court of the bus station, a several hour bus ride with two check points, and finally a twenty minute bus ride to the site. It sounds rather unenjoyable but I spent the time with some good friends and after traveling South East Asia I’ve managed to develop a very strong sense of patience. (17 hours, 23 hours, 10 hours, etc, on public transportation did this to me haha)

The first night was spent celebrating the 4th with various drinks including home-made bottles of a local drink including the flavors of banana and avocado. A pig was also butchered and cooked in huge chunks over an open fire, que bueno. This was all followed by dancing to cheesy American songs until the general overload of being a volunteer took over and we were all asleep by roughly 10pm.

The next morning we made our way to the actual site I’d be visiting. We hopped back on a bus and took it in the direction of Agua Fria. After a short bus ride, I prepared myself for a long hike. In all, it was a two hour walk up mountains and down in to valleys. We trekked through mud up to to a foot and a half deep, small rivers, and paths with large slopes.

What we arrived to though was amazing. The volunteer I was visiting had the entire second floor of the home to himself. This included two rooms and a massive porch. It overlooked the mountains and a river that ran nearby the house. The hike drained us of our energy and we were soon asleep.

Around 5am the roosters started their song and shortly after that we began our day. We started our day off with a slow breakfast and a debate over whether to explore some caves or hike up a river and over some waterfalls. I left the decision in the hands of my volunteer and he opted for the river.

The river was relatively shallow and we were able to hike barefooted right through the middle of it. We came across several small waterfalls that were easy to climb. At one point, we took a detour away from the waterfall to check out a hydroelectric power plant a previous volunteer had installed that supplied power to the entire village.

After returning to the water, we continued on for a short distance but came across a waterfall incapable of being safely climbed and so we turned around and made our way back. Once back, we stopped to hang out at the portion of the river that ran closest to the volunteer’s house. I’m incredibly jealous of his location. This portion of the river offers a pool large enough to swim in as well as a small waterfall that is capable of offering a decent massage. We relaxed a bit and made our way back to the house. Exhausted from our hike we hung out for the rest of the day and finished off the night with some South Park.

About three in the morning I awoke to some shouting on our floor.  I was disoriented and not quite sure what was going on. I shouted out to the two volunteers that were sleeping there and finally established that the one volunteer had been bitten by a scorpion. He’d lived there for a year and this was his first time… ouch. (All was well after, he killed it with a machete and the pain went away by the next morning)

We awoke the next day to the saddening realization that we would have to hike the same path again. The start of the hike was marked by an almost hour long trek straight up without a single drop and almost no flat portions. Finishing this hike with the twenty to thirty pounds on my back was an amazing feeling and we congregated ourselves with cookies and cream ice cream cones.

I joined my volunteer with some business stuff with another volunteer and then we headed off to do some pasaring. (Pasaring is a Spanglish word that means to walk around the community and make small talks in hopes of building upon these relationships later on and transforming these relationships into committees to start projects)  I got the lucky chance join in some pasaring with two indigenous families of the Ipati Kuna group. At this point I don’t know much about the local groups but I plan on reading a book or two about them in the coming weeks and hope to pass along some interesting information about them. (Or maybe I’ll just recommend you read the book yourself!)

After pasaring, we traveled to the other volunteer’s house which was closer to the highway for a chilled night before heading home the next morning.

Sadly I have no pictures at this point since I’m not near a good internet connection but I hope to have a blog post up with pictures of this trip tomorrow when I head into the city for classes.

Trash

One of the craziest adjustments since I arrived in Panama is the handling of trash. There is no trash pickup in areas outside of the larger cities, save for a lucky few. This means that people must resort to burning it or tossing it in the river.

At first you may judge this activity but stop to think, when is the last time you gave any mind to throwing away a piece of trash? You simply put it in a bag, leave the bag on the street on Monday night, and by Tuesday morning it has magically disappeared.

This change of situation has had me feeling a sense of ownership over each piece of trash I create. Every plastic bottle of soda I purchase, I am very clearly responsible for. The pollutants that enter the air are my doing. It’s so much easier to put a piece of trash away and forget about it when someone comes to pick it up. However, it doesn’t just disappear. It’ll sit in a dump for hundreds or thousands of years with rain acting as a means of transport to carry the pollutants into the rivers and eventually back into our drinking water. Next time you’re in the store, give a thought to where that plastic bottle is going to end up.

You can get involved!

Hey everybody,

We’ve been talking in our classes about working on secondary projects. Some people have helped start Ultimate Without Borders, which you can check out here:  http://m.facebook.com/UltimateWithoutBorders  Another volunteer had his family travel around to several dentists in the US to collect dental supplies and then he led a meeting in Panama about good oral hygiene.

I would like to start one or several secondary projects of my own but I’m not quite sure what I’d like to work on yet. I will also need some help from the United States to get projects moving. If you have any ideas feel free to shoot me a Facebook message or email. I won’t be moving to site for another five weeks or so and have two years to start projects after that so think about it and get back to me.