Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas

We wish our friends and families back home a Merry Christmas! We miss you! We'll celebrate Christmas with the neighbors, a few former volunteers from Africa who are passing through, and, of course, Lisita and Mateito. Below are just a few more photos from recent weeks. We have lots more to share! And we have lots more to do in 2009. Prospero Ano Nuevo!

We were up in the mountains a few weeks ago to work on the mud stove we built with the restaurant and tourism cooperative. The 2nd burner wasn't getting hot enough and the body cracked a bit because it wasn't given enough time to cure. We made some adjustments and fixed the chimney, and the members plan to coat the stove in mortar. Once again, we had a great time visiting with these folks, and we'll be back soon.

Here's the view from downtown, near the cooperative. The mountains of Veraguas are beautiful!

Arturito and Adam hang out by the family car. Note the Panama flag on the dashboard. Everyone here is very patriotic.

Samuel rides to his finca on a cart. We forgot to ask what he was hauling home. Anyway, this is the view from our front yard. We don't see any mountains (you have to hike out of town for that), but it's still a fine place to live and work. And the people are muy amable. Come visit!

Desfiles y Fiestas

Volunteers from around our region celebrated World AIDS Day December 2 with a parade, Mass, and education program in Santiago. We were joined by representatives of the health ministry, the Red Cross, and other organizations. After the Mass, we talked to dozens of city residents about HIV/AIDS, and we gave away condoms.

Our friends Ellen (left) and Laura were part of the team. Just about everyone wore red shirts.

Members of our group posed for this photo with Red Cross folks. Our friend Teri (fourth from right) organized the event.

Volunteers carried a banner and red umbrellas in the parade to the cathedral. Like 99% of the days in Santiago, it was hot! But the program was a success, and we plan to do more in other parts of our province. Talking to strangers about HIV/AIDS was not as hard as we thought it would be.

There was very bad flooding in western Panama during Thanksgiving week, so we had to move the volunteer dinner from Cerro Punta (by the Costa Rican frontera) to El Valle de Anton (in the mountains closer to Panama City). Many volunteers from Bocas del Toro, the Comarca Ngabe-Bugle, and Chiriqui could not attend. Still, 60 or so people cooked, ate, and had a nice time visiting at Hotel Los Capitanes. The Peace Corps did a great job making sure everyone was safe and sound. And many volunteers joined relief efforts before and after Thanksgiving.

Here's the hotel. We were able to use the kitchen, the whole dining room, and another conference area. The owner is very nice! It was still the rainy season, so it was chilly and wet. The mist was hanging over the mountains the whole time, and you couldn't really see the views.

Our friend Bhoj was really hungry after living for weeks in the jungle without any substantial food. Bhoj joined Matt, Lisa, and a dozen other workers in the kitchen the evening before and Thanksgiving morning. Lisa made 9 pumpkin pies out of zapallo, squash. They tasted like the real thing!

This float was at the huge procession honoring Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal last month in Santiago.
The Mass before the procession was packed. This is our cathedral, Santiago Apostal (St. James). The church sits at the top of the main street in the city, Avenida Central, next to a lovely park.

Here's Lisa walking with the contingent from our town. Our tribute to the Virgin Mary included a little rancho (you can see the roof of it) that contained local agricultural products. Carrying an umbrella was a good idea because the sun was very intense. Mucho sol!

Everyone lined up on side streets and waited for hours for the procession to get rolling. This old sign is for one of the many shoe repair shops in the city.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pre-Thanksgiving Activities

Boli and Edwar are seen here fishing in a little creek way out in the country. See photos at the end of this post for more details (the photos posted here somehow got out of order).

The fishing party (l-r): Boli, Mango, Edwar, and Elyer. Elyer is holding a piece of sugarcane (see below).

A few weeks ago we went to our friend Emily's site to celebrate the 22nd anniversary of her town's Ecoclub. There was a parade featuring Ecoclubs from around the Veraguas/Azuero area with their school bands. Then there was a large eco-fair featuring food made with vegetables grown by the kids. A teacher who works with the club had us all try batidos de zapallo, or squash shakes. They tasted like pumpkin pie in a shake. In the picture above the kids were making yucca and roasted pork all wrapped in banana leaves. Yum, yum! Ecoclub President Luis (left) is friends with young people in our town.

There were so many people at the fair after the parade! The kids in white shirts and straw hats were part of a traditional dance group. The fair was held beneath a big new pavilion at the primary school.

These ladies in lilac, the color of the town, danced in unison to a marching band in matching suits. This is a very Panamanian parade routine.

This youngster is a drummer in one of the many bands in the parade. Most marching bands in Panama practice three monoths a year, October, November and December, to get ready for the many parades honoring Panama's independence from Spain and Colombia, Flag Day, Mother's Day, and other big holidays.

The bugle players above are from the private boys school in Emily's town. They were probably the best band in the parade. They all wear khaki uniforms to school, where they study agriculture. The local Ecoclub had a lot of environmental banners. One said, "Planting trees and plants native to our region preserves our watershed." Deforestation is causing water pollution and other problems throughout Latin America. Viva Ecoclub!

Before the parade we went to Mass at the church in Emily's town (notice the lilac trim). Lisa also went to a Mass here recently with our next door neighbors to honor Saint Michael.

Lisa had a meeting one day somewhere else, so Matt went fishing with some neighbors. They hiked an hour through the fields to get to the mud- and debris-choked streams some folks fish in during the rainy season. Luckily, the snakes heard the gang coming and took off! Boli took this photo.

This picture shows the campo with an approaching storm in the distance. The sugarcane (right) will be cut after Christmas, but some of it can be cut now for personal use. During the fishing trip everyone chewed on some cane to enjoy the sweet juice. Unfortunately Matt and the fishermen didn't make it home before the storm hit. They were covered in muck upon returning home.

Edwar and Boli went for a dip in a spring out in the middle of a sugarcane field. This water is nasty, but the kids don't care.

The boys caught about 6 of these fish, using sticks, lines, hooks, and worms. They made Matt take 2 of them after they fried 'em (above). People love these little fish in our town, even though they're tiny and full of bones. Most fishermen use nets, yielding way more fish. Matt prefers cans of sardines in red sauce, a Panama classic.

Here's Lisa showing off someone else's Panama hat after the parade. If you're out hiking around or working in the fields or watching a parade, you need a hat here! Lisa's wearing this one the cool way. Our pal Andrew is seen at right. Happy Thanksgiving to our friends and families! We miss everyone in NY and Nueva Inglaterra, not to mention CA, OH, and ONT. We pray you're all doing OK, especially Don. And we hope you have a nice holiday. Thanks again for checking out the blog!

Friday, November 14, 2008

I Love Panama

Here's a view of the yucca trees in the field behind our house. The other day we helped the neighbors cut weeds and they gave us several huge pieces of yucca, which is excellent in soup or fried with ketchup and eggs. When you want to harvest this crop, you look for trees with a bit of broken earth at the base, indicating the root is big enough. Then you dig it up with a machete. The tree can then be stuck back in the ground to grow new yucca.

Christina, a second-grader, is seen here drawing a pumpkin during one of the English classes we held just before Halloween. All the kids learned Halloween vocabulary like candy, costume, and ghost. And everyone drew their own Jack-o-lanterns to hang up in school.

Like Christina, the kid in the middle used a cup to make a perfectly circular pumpkin. All the Jack-o-lanterns were bien pretty. Whenever we have an activity, like drawing or playing a game, teaching is a lot more fun. For second grade and up, we try to have the students take a few notes, practice speaking a bit of English, and then do a related project.

This is Paulita, a neighbor who invited us over to celebrate her birthday November 13. Before the cake, we had rice and shrimp (arroz con camarones) made by one of her daughters. It was a real treat. While we were hanging out on the porch after supper, a relative called to wish Paulita a happy birthday and find out what was going on. We heard her say, "The Gringos are here!"

Reina, Lisa, and Boli made the popular corn drink chicheme the day before Matt's birthday. It's a soupy drink made of boiled corn. Evaporated milk and sugar are added after the cooking. It's especially good served really cold after walking around in the heat. But it's also good warm with a dinner of eggs and bread. The neighbors like it with hotdogs and fried dough.

Before they made chicheme, Reina served guacho, a beef stew made with rice, yucca, tomatoes, and other vegetables. The green leaves floating in this bowl are culantro, which grows all around our house and goes into just about every dish. Even though it's hot out all the time, Panamanian soups are delicious.

On Matt's birthday, November 11, we taught birthday vocabulary and played pin the tail on the donkey. While Lisa got the blindfold ready, our friend Socrates clowned around for the camera. The game was a big hit, but the kids were almost more excited to look at the pictures Matt took.

Matt posed for this photo with his birthday mug. He picked it out himself at the dollar store. It was a really nice birthday. After school, Reina made chicken and pasta for Matt, Lisa, Matt's boss Tim, and Tim's parents, who were in Panama for a visit. In the evening, we went to a barbecue with several volunteers at our friend Laura's house. Thanks for all the cards and e-mails!

And here's Elyer. His dad and uncles work the little farm behind our house. And his little brother Edwar is one of our best English students. In this photo Elyer is wearing Lisa's glasses. He and cousins Arturito and Boli wanted to test them out. The shirt is from the presidential campaign of Ricardo Martinelli.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Arroz con Pollo

Lisita (above) and Mateito are spending most of their time outdoors, wandering around in search of bugs and worms. They also eat feed (alimentos) to get fat. They eat all day, but Lisita the hen is a lot smaller than the gallo Mateito.

Here's their plastic washing machine house. The roof is made of a hood from a Toyota pickup truck. This area is in a roofless addition next to our house. When it's raining like crazy the machine gets moved to our kitchen because everyone says these birds will get sick and die if they get too wet. The pollitos are too dumb to take shelter on their own, but we're trying to train them to go in their washing machine.

Lisa led work on our 100-square-foot vegetable garden, which includes the raised beds you see in the backround. After just a few days, the squash (zapallo) is really taking off. The garden also has yucca, corn, peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Note that Lisa now has rubber boots, a must-have in the rainy season.

Matt and Bolivar helped make the raised beds, which ensure the crops don't drown in all the rain. The beds also give plants more air and allow you to use only the best topsoil and compost. We made compost of dirt, plantain leaves, kitchen scraps, sawdust, egg shells, coffee, tea, and whatever else we had on hand. It made a nice black mezcla. The palm tree fencing behind Matt and Boli is there because we didn't have enough chicken wire to enclose the whole space. This garden's a good project because kids are helping out. Hopefully, they'll get their families to start their own gardens. Everyone here needs more veggies in their diet because the focus out on the fincas is on starches or sugarcane that gets sold to the sugar company.

This is a typical evangelical church in the countryside. This one's in Cacao, Los Santos, where we went on a field trip with our co-op to see a rice operation. The message in red letters on the rear wall of the church says, "Jesucristo es el mismo ayer, hoy, y por los siglos."

Here's Lisa out in the rice. This valley north of Tonosi is very beautiful, with miles of green rice fields surrounded by knobby mountains. Rice in this area is cut by big tractors. The grains get broken off the stalks and taken to a plant where they're husked. In smaller operations, people cut each stalk by hand. After the harvest in our town last month, individual growers put big tarps on their lawns to dry the rice. When it's dry, they remove the husks by beating the rice with mallets in wooden basins. Sometimes 2 people will work the rice at once, like 2 drummers taking turns beating the same drum.

This is Edgardo, president of our co-op's education committee. He's a cool guy who cracks a lot of jokes. We went on the field trip to see this irrigation system, which is on wheels and extends for a few hundred yards. It allows this farm to grow a lot of rice in usually dry fields. Our co-op needs something like this if it wants to dramatically increase rice production. But these irrigators are really expensive, and there's only 3 in Panama. The co-op, which makes its money with sugar, wants to grow more rice because the country is experiencing a big rice shortage right now.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


The kids in our town held a parade recently to celebrate the many ethnic groups of Panama. Our friend Jaime (above) dressed up like a hunter or warrior from one of the country's many indigenous tribes. In the background you can see our neighbor's dog Teri, who likes to follow us everywhere.

Many of the girls wore the traditional dress of central Panama, the pollera. The boys in the background are wearing real Panama hats, which are round and usually worn with the front turned up.

This is our pal Catalino. He's seen here at an environmental seminar hosted by our branch of Ecoclub, the international youth group. We were very pleased he was there because he's never been to a meeting or anything else official that we've been involved in.

Here's Lisa laughing during a game, or dinamica, at the Ecoclub seminar. We held the event in the 6th grade classroom of our town's primary school. Note the nice tile floor. Several local men installed it during a recent school vacation. All the upkeep on the building and grounds is done by parents and good citizens. Behind the school, the kids have a 2-acre farm with corn, rice, onions, peppers, and tons of other stuff. They also study agriculture, and each class goes out to work on the farm (finca) once a week. On those days the kids show up wearing rubber boots and carrying machetes. Cool!

The participants gathered for a group photo outside the school. Missing from the photo are the 3 young people from another club (Luis, Luis, and Carolina) who came to lead the seminar. They brought a laptop and we used our co-op's projector for the presentation, which covered things like deforestation and dengue fever. We also had cookies (4 kinds!) and Tang because you can't have a meeting without treats. Our neighbor Reina made chicken, rice, and red beans (porotos) for Luis, Luis, and Carolina. It was pollo guisado, which is chicken stewed in a red sauce with peppers and onions. Delicious!

Speaking of chicken: Meet our new pets, Mateito and Lisita! The other day Boli from next door came by and said some guy was giving away pollitos, so we asked for 2. They arrived 15 minutes later in a cardboard box, where they lived for a few days until Matt built them a new house in the shell of an old washing machine. A student of ours gave the birds their names. The neighbors say this type of chicken doesn't lay eggs, so we'll probably eat them, even though they're really cute. Like Teri the dog, they follow us everywhere. Right after Lisa snapped this photo one of them pooped on Matt's shirt.

Here's another shot from the parade as it passed by our house. The sign says, "We respect our historic legacy." The sign announcing the parade said students would pay tribute to each ethnic group in Panama, including the gringos. We were honored!

Thanks for visiting our blog! We send our love and good wishes to Lisa's dad, who broke his leg and had to have surgery yesterday. Get well soon, Don!