Enjoy the Little Things

Some time back, I was talking with my mother and the topic of finding new things came up. When I first moved to Shanghai, everything was new and everyday was an adventure. Then I moved into my apartment, started working, and fell into a routine. New became old, exciting became usual, and the honeymoon phase wore off. I commented on this to my mother and she told me about the book The Forest Unseen about a man named David George Haskell who set out to explore the same small plot of land in the forest for an entire year. Every time he found something new to enjoy and this intrigued me. I decided to tweak it a bit and apply it to what would become my “old” and “usual” life in Panama. I would start to observe all the amazing things that occur within it that I barely give second notice to on a regular basis. These are my observations so far. I hope that you too can find beauty in your old and usual life as well.
·         I believe humming birds to have one of the most, if not the most, interesting wing sounds of any animal out there. Every time the humming bird stops to visit the flowers in front of my house, which has become a regular occurrence for the past week or two, I can distinguish its wings which sound as if a tiny little mechanical flying machine is going about.
·         Continuing with the humming bird, when I first spotted the bird, I set out to photograph it. Every day it would stop for just a few moments before flying off quickly to the next spot. With each passing day I grew frustrated until I realized that some things are better to enjoy in the moment then wasting that moment trying to photograph it.
·         There isn’t much variance in the food that I receive for meals but I stopped to think the other night about each of the individual parts of the meal and where they came from and who worked on that part and it made me appreciate my meal that much more.
·         The spot where I usually go is absolutely amazing and I usually get lost in conversation or my screen looking at text messages and never really stop to enjoy the scenery. I realized that other day that the rocks on the ground make rather interesting designs. As rain falls it eats away at the sand around each rock but not the sand underneath, after some time, what remains is many rocks elevated on little plateaus.
·         On a grander scale of observing my cell spot, I’ve been trying to figure out exactly where my community is relative to the other towns and cities and eventually gave up on trying to figure it out because all the mountains look the same, until the day I decided to enjoy the scenery and realized one of the mountains looks very distinctly like a sideways face.
·         My host family’s dog had puppies a few weeks back and every so often I pass where their bed is and I’ve stopped noticing them so much. One of them barked at me the other day though and it was probably his first bark, it was amazing haha.
·         Rubber Bands. Think about all that awesome engineering. Don’t have to tie a knot, hold stuff in place, keeps stuff closed, amazing!


DIY: Cups, Shot Glasses, Etc.

I read several months back an article about turning an empty wine bottle into a cup. I was always interested by it and figured I would give it a try. So far, I’ve attempted with two bottles and I’m going to try again once I get moved into my own house since the whole process looks a little ridiculous and I don’t want to be using my host family’s stuff to do this. Once I try again I’ll update this post.
What you’ll need:
·         Sharpie marker or another marker that can mark glass
·         Rubber band
·         Sandpaper: You’ll want different quality paper. I got 150, 220, and 320.
·         Lantern or candle
·         Glass cutting tool: These can be found at a hardware store. They’re usually used for cutting glass for windows so it shouldn’t be that hard to locate one.
·         Glass bottle with smooth straight walls. Next time I plan to use empty hot sauce bottles to make shot glasses.
·         Large container: You’ll want something that you can submerge the bottle up to the line you cut into it. Avoid plastic unless you’re careful because you don’t want to destroy the container.
·         Gloves
Instructions: (Note: In my original attempt, I made a whole system to cut the glass cleanly but I believe this to be unnecessary. The next time I attempt to cut a bottle I’m going to do so without it.)
1)      Use the rubber band to mark where you’d like to draw your line. Then use the marker to mark the line and remove the rubber band.
2)      Using the glass cutting tool, Press into the bottle and begin to cut along the line. Once you’ve got a line that runs around the bottle that you can feel the indent with your finger, it’s time for fire.
3)      Hold the bottle over the flame and rotate it at roughly one rotation every twenty seconds. Keep doing this for about three minutes.
4)      Quickly submerge the entire line around the bottle in cold water and turn it while gently trying to separate it.
5)      If it doesn’t separate repeat steps 3 and 4 until it does.
6)      Once they separate it’s time to clean up the rim of the glass. If it’s not already smoothly cut, use the glass tool to mark a line. Repeat steps 3 and 4 except this time use the key shaped part of the glass cutting tool, or a pair of pliers to gently remove the jagged parts.
7)      Now it’s time to smooth the rim. Start with the grittiest sandpaper you have and go around the rim several times. Proceed to the more fine sandpaper and repeat the process until you’ve used all your types of sandpaper.

8)      At this point the glass is ready to go. Rinse it out with soap and water and you’re ready to go.

The Important Stuff That gets Lost in Translation

I remember way back when, before arriving in Panama, thinking that with just a few months in Panama, I’d be highly conversational and ready to take on the world. Ha. That was utterly wrong.

 One day my host dad and I were discussing my future house since he would be my landlord. (As a side note, I pay rent each month for a house or I can get an advance of the first few months of rent to pay for construction materials.) He said as a gift, he would build a little extra roofing or flooring onto the side of my house to extend the porch area. I nodded and thanked him and didn’t think much more of it.

Several weeks later, I’m sitting on the front porch, working on my sombrero, while my host dad and another guy are off in the woods behind the house doing something. I hear a tree fall and decide this something is worth checking out. I put on my shoes and head on back and discover that they’ve knocked down a tree. I stand around for about twenty minutes watching them work. It appears that Panamanians have more faith in machetes than in a saw to cut wood into pieces and this is pretty fascinating to watch. Eventually I ask what the wood is for and my host dad proceeds to tell me about the rancho that he’s constructing for me. Whelp. Guess I’ll need to work some more on my Spanish. 

Check out the construction so far.
Chopping down a tree to use as the four corners of the rancho. 
Preparing the wood. 
Marking the spots for the posts. 

I was away for a day and then didn’t get a chance to take pictures until late in the afternoon after we’d done some work. 

Frame is done. Up next is adding the roofing.

Housing material which is known as panca

Pictures from Second Month in Site

Loaded up on snacks the last time I was out of site. Might have purchased too many.

This little guy was really hard to catch a picture of. This is him trapped inside my bug catching jar. He was a little less than an inch across. 

Getting creative in site and figured out how to better place my light.  
Started learning origami. 

This is what I ended up taking with my to the hardware store to check out materials for my house. Thought the collection looked ridiculous so I snapped a picture. 

My church. 

Future house in the background, some of the materials under the blue tarp and in the foreground.

This is what my future front yard looks like after a truck tore it apart delivering materials for my house and fifty cows and bulls ran through.

Accidentally stumbled upon this sunset while going out to make a call one night.


Who needs an ax or saw when you have a machete? 

I scared the horse a bit by the time I got the camera he had moved away. When I first walled up to the door he had his head just outside and could have easily walked right into my house. 

Almost done my sombrero! Last materials there before I’m ready to start forming it. 
I’m pretty sure all of them have blueish eyes. 

Making a campo fishing pole. 

This is my new favorite spot in site. Walked twenty minutes up a river, in the river, to get here. It’s over 15 feet deep in the middle. 

Went to the local town to check out a parade/competition type thing. 

What I’ve been up to in site.

I was going to write a blog post as I was posting pictures last time but I never got around to it. This is a sort of combination of an explanation of some of the pictures and also a general post about the more important stuff that’s been going on in site since I moved here. I’m going to group everything together by topics instead of just one big rambling blog post.

WorkFor the first three months the goal of a volunteer is to focus on PACA tools which revolve around understanding the daily and yearly schedules, community needs, and community map. I’ve been getting along pretty well with this and am almost done. I decided to do a GPS map and as a side project I’m writing a guide for other Peace Corps volunteers to use on how to construct a GPS map. I’ve also been getting a lot done with regards to my job as an environmental health specialist. I’ve sat down and had conversations with several people who are involved with the water committee in my community. I’ve also checked out the water system and have begun to discuss the next steps of getting improved water.

I just got the money for my house a few days ago! I’ll be heading into town to withdraw it from my bank account. I’ll then discuss with my host dad, who will also be my landlord, the next steps. This will roughly be to organize the community together to help build the house. I’ll supply the lunch for the workers. If the timeline my landlord has already laid out is correct, it’ll be done three days after construction begins. That would be amazing. The next step will be to focus on getting lumber from a man in the next community to begin constructing furniture, windows, and a door. Luckily, I already purchased most of my furniture from the previous volunteer who lived in the next community over so I won’t need so much stuff.

Free TimeMy sombrero, which you’ve probably already seen too many pictures of has been occupying most of my time. It is also a discussion with just about every person that stops by to visit. Looks like a chose a good hobby for integration. Another good hobby that I’ve taken from my community is doing nothing. Life moves much more slowly around here and it’s important to be able to enjoy doing nothing. Not too much of my day is filled with doing this but I try it every so often to recharge myself. Besides hobbies I’ve learned from my community, I’ve started a garden which is currently failing miserably. A member from the gardening group in Peace Corps will be out to my site in two weeks to help out a bit. When I get as much sombrero making done as I can in a day, I like to relax with reading, movies, and listening to music.

My Spanish has been moving along pretty well. When I first arrived I was at a comprehension level with my community, mostly due to their accents, of about 10%. I’d say it’s up to about 30% to 80% ranging on the conversation. If I’m the one initiating it and know the topic it’s much easier than if I’m just listening to five other people talk about something. I was studying about two to four hours a day for the first month but have taken a break to focus on other aspects of my life here. I’ll return to studying more vocab and grammar in the next month or two.

Other Random Stuff

  • The rainy season has arrived and we’re right in the middle of it. As I write this it’s raining rather hard. The situation isn’t as bad as the weather forecast makes it seem. (85F and thunderstorms all the time) The rain comes for a few hours a day in the afternoon and that’s about it. The other day though, we did get the hardest rain yet. There was a giant rock in the trench around the house that caused the water to rise up and over and start flowing towards the house. My host brother and sister along with myself spent the next half an hour digging new trenches around the house to funnel the water away.
  • I’ve been hand washing my laundry since I arrived and dam does it suck. It takes about an hour or so to finish all of my laundry and I’ll have it hung up for a few hours and then the afternoon rains come. Luckily, today was a rather hot day and I got the first load of laundry completely dry and put away in my room before the rains started. The other half of the laundry is hanging about my room and on the front porch.
  • I’m sadly not doing as much machete-chopping as I’d hoped. Host family has access to a gas mower so no need to chop the yard, and as part of working on the water system, which is already installed, there’s not much land to clear for it.