Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Glass Bottles an Tang Packets

Ever since my first thoughts of trash in Panama, I’ve been giving a second thought to each item before I toss it away. It’s much more difficult to throw it in the trash when I can see it sitting in the trash pile next to the latrine for the next two years of my service, and then many more years after that. I’ve decided I can do my small part to start a cycle instead of a direct shot from shelf to consumption to trash pile. I’m going to post every so often ideas I get to reduce, reuse, and recycle. To see other posts similar to this, check out the tag on this post  titled ‘reduce reuse recycle.’
Glass Bottles
Ants can chew through plastic; however I’ve never seen an ant get through a glass bottle.  I’ve started accruing several glass bottles from all the hot sauce I use. Once the bottle has been used, simply clean it out with some soap and water, let it dry, and now the bottle can be used for salt (add some rice from keeping it sticking together and use a hot sauce bottle with a small plastic opening to stop the rice from coming out), other spices, sugar, or if you decide to start making your own, alcohol or sauce in site. 

Moisture Absorbing Packets
It’s an absolute pain in the butt to hike drinks into site, it’s much easier just to get flavor packets and pour them into your bottle of water. These packets however pile up quickly. I’ve started using them to keep moisture out of my plastic containers which house such things as my electronics and notebooks. You’ll need a knife, rubber bands or string, rice, and an empty drink packet. First, make yourself a drink and empty out the drink packet completely, then rinse it out with some soap and water to get rid of the rest. Pour rice in almost to the top, fold the top of the packet down, and wrap it up. Poke several holes in the sides of the packet. The rice is rather large and won’t go anywhere.  That’s it. Put it in a container and you’ve got a moisture absorbing packet. They may have to be replaced over time and you may need a larger quantity depending on how humid or how large the container is. I’ve just started experimenting with these so feel free to share your experiences.

Pictures of First Month in Site!

Panama cheering as a goal as scored. 

This is used to weave the finer sombreros that can fetch several hundred dollars. 

An almost finished sombrero

Visiting the sombrero festival in La Pintada. 

This was a gift from my host dad and a few other community members. This is probably 40 hours worth of work to make. The design is called “mosquito” 

This is a ridiculously large ant. I believe they’re called bullet ants and their bite is horrible. Had to keep double checking to make sure this guy didn’t bite me. 

Host family dog had puppies!

You’ll never be clean in Peace Corps.

My growing collection of pictures, post cards, and other stuff.

A cool leaf that looks like a fish spine. 

There are way too many plants and trees with spikes coming out of them. 

This is my GPS unit’s screen. This is the glorious moment when you’re walking and taking glorious GPS coordinates and you run back into a path you’ve already recorded. 

This is what rice looks like.

The awesome water committee president chopping a path through the jungle for me. 

This is how we do oranges here. Peel it like this and then suck the juice out the top. 

Bamboo plants

This is in the middle of a rain storm. My room is the wall you see to the left. Luckily it didn’t flood through. 

Parade in La Pintada

Now that I have a cat I want to take pictures of it like every other cat owner. 

Parade in La Pintada

Progress on my sombrero. I’m about halfway done. 

My terrible attempt at a garden. So far I’ve put in lemon grass and ginger. I’ll be adding beans, onions, and peppers which you can see growing in the next picture. 


Note: Names have been changed. (I bet I wouldn’t have to note this since Panamanians typically don’t get names of Sarah or Max)
The next step after finding out where each volunteer would be living for the next two years was to have a general meet and great with a member of each community. The day was filled with meetings preparing both the volunteer and community guide on what each was expected to do and what would happen during the four day visit to the community. Since many people had long distances to travel and the meetings didn’t finish until 5pm, the guides and volunteers were head to a dorm reserved for Peace Corps to stay for the night before heading out the next morning.
The rooms were split into pairs of beds and since the guides had arrived the night before they were already grouped together in their rooms and us volunteers were grouped together in other rooms. At one point while relaxing in bed that night, I realized I wanted a snack from the vending machine. I headed off with change in hand towards the vending machine and saw that there were several community guides, my guide included, standing around chatting but also looking at the vending machine. I had a feeling they had never seen one before and it made me uncomfortable to approach the machine now and so I paced around for a bit hoping they would leave. However they did not and so I eventually sucked it up, said a quick hello, and got my snack. I could feel their eyes on me as I grabbed my snack and headed back to my room.  As I walked back, thoughts crossed my mind at the time wondering what exactly I got myself into. This people have no knowledge of vending machines!

Fast forward two months and I’m sitting here writing this blog post. I’ve since lived in this community for almost a month and would trade my knowledge of vending machines in an instant for the knowledge that the people in the countryside of Panama possess. Through a combination of interactions with various community members over the last few weeks I’ve gotten a glimpse of what they know. As I walked with Max, he pointed out every plant of purpose. My tour of the water system with Dave and his father had them pointing out various animal tracks and to what animal they belonged. As I sat relaxing one day, Mary was able to hear the rain coming from a mile away and headed home before she was stuck in the downpour. Jack has started preserving seeds and will save them for the next harvest. Sarah prepares all the meals without the use of a refrigerator, which means no frozen pizza or prepared vegetables. I’m just beginning to scratch the surface but it makes me wonder how much knowledge of the physical earth we’ve traded as we’ve advanced ourselves through the times. 


My first arrival to my community was a four day long visit where I toured the water systems, met community members, and other similar introductory activities. The time outside of these planned activities was spent hanging out with my guide’s family, which was most of the time since we worked straight through from eight to one and lounged the rest of the day. While I read or sat around doing nothing, they would work on sombreros. Since I wasn’t yet accustomed to the accent, I didn’t do much speaking and only observed this activity.
I wondered when they were actually doing work because all they did was sit around making sombreros all day. There can only be so many sombreros that one would need. One of the questions we were supposed to research while visiting our communities is what they do to generate income and I left more confused than when I arrived.
I returned a few weeks later as a volunteer and moved in with my new host family. This family was different than my guide’s family but they also made sombreros. It was about this point that I started to put it all together and realized that sombrero making might just be a form of income. This thought was made a fact when I visited with my guide’s family and inquired about the sombrero that they had been working on while I was there. It had already been sold. Oh.
Sombreros are a pretty big thing here where I live in Panama. The process, from what I’ve observed so far, is that a plant that’s leaves grow in a tube shape are utilized in the process. Squeezing this tube causes the leaves to split long ways and continual breaking of the leaves cause them to be reduced in thickness to about 1/16th of an inch. They are then boiled and dried and ready to go. These strands of leaf are now whiteish in color and can be weaved together. There is also a process to dye the leaves black in which case the white and black strands can be weaved to form various patterns. So far I’ve seen  a zig-zagging white and black pattern, black diamonds, and a pattern that is called a mosquito and looks like a bunch of little black mosquitos on a white background. The final designs can take anywhere from a week to a month or more to make and cost anywhere from $50 up to, rumors I’ve heard say $300 and $800.

I myself have decided to start making a sombrero and managed to pick up the process pretty quickly. Getting started is a pain and adding more strands once the current strands have been weaved completely together is something I can’t quite wrap my head around yet and get help with from my host parents. Hopefully within another week or so I’ll have my first sombrero completed and I’ll be back with more pictures of the process!
The start of my sombrero!

Diablo Rojos

Every country I’ve visited had its own form of interesting public transportation. However, I’m going to go ahead and say that the Diablo Rojo is one of the most out there forms of public transportation that exists.
To understand what this form of transportation, we must start at the beginning. To do this, we must return to the United States. Twenty something years ago, a man in a factory somewhere in the United States finished polishing off a school bus, making it glimmer a bright shade of yellow, before it headed to serve dutifully transporting children to and from school.
For the next twenty something years, this bus works great, carrying out its duties day in and day out, content with itself and looking forward to retirement. However it is pulled early from retirement, as if kidnapped, and put to work in Panama.
The bright shade of yellow has since faded and this bus is in need of a paint job. However, this paint job isn’t just another coat of the same color. Things start to become awesome around this point. I’ve seen Diablo Rojos with all sorts of paint jobs with everything from the owner’s children, cartoon characters, naked women, spiritual figures, and everything in between. Sometimes, all these things are painted onto the same bus! The transformation doesn’t stop there. Many busses are covered with neon lights both inside and out, modified horns, streamers along the inside, and new upholstery. However, it doesn’t stop here, Diablo Rojo owners are limited only by their imagination to make their bus the best it can be.  
You may be asking but what is all of this for? And the answer to that question is to attract passengers. Transportation at the moment in the country doesn’t appear to be controlled by the capital. Diablo Rojos have been pushed from the city as the form of public transportation and have been replaced by the typical busses you’d find in the United States but they’ve yet to give up their strong hold outside the capital. Outside of the capital, every passenger and every dolor is fought for. Until the day a government run system of transportation operates throughout the country, Diablo Rojos will continue to operate as the go to cheap form of transportation throughout Panama.