Friday, February 29, 2008

Noticias de febrero

Hello, everybody! We're still having summer down here, with lots of sun and no rain, and we've been swimming a few times recently (above). It's hot during the day, but the lack of humidity makes for cool evenings like the best ones we get in New York/New England summers. We don't look forward to the return of muggy, rainy days in a month or so. In the meantime, cutting cane in our community remains a 24/7 job. And they're getting ready to celebrate the feast of our patron saint, Juan de Dios. Every town goes all out for these fiestas, or patronales, with processions, dances, and house decorations.

We just got back from a week of in-service training in the province of Cocle, where we were able to go swimming in the Pacific. Perfect water! They have us stay for these things at a government conference center run by the ministry of environmental protection. It's about an hour's walk from a public beach and there are dorms and a cafeteria. It was great to see our pals, including some we hadn't seen since training. We had whole days of Spanish classes, technical seminars and meetings with Peace Corps officials. They were all very good, especially the sessions led by current volunteers on organic gardens, latrine building and working with the health ministry (which handles water systems).

Thursday, when it was all done, we went to Chitre, a pretty little city on the way home. Matt and some pals went to a baseball game between the provinces of Herrera and Veraguas (the visitors from our neck of the woods). Each province has a pro team that plays a 40-game schedule in the summer. The talent level is pretty good, and we saw some nice plays and OK pitching. It was just about soldout and the fans go crazy, screaming and waving flags and jumping up and down for every little play. The Indios, our team, had fans and a brass band filling one whole section. The Brujas (Witches) of Herrera, a superior team, won. It was a really great vibe! And they sell 60-cent beers and Panamanian treats like fried dough. Baseball is #1 here, and our host family watches every televised game, so it was really cool to see it all.

Speaking of our hosts, we're scheduled to move into our own house March 1. We can't wait to have our own space and cook our own food, but we'll miss these folks because they've been very good to us. We're set to live in a tiny block house with 2 rooms and a porch area where they cook and clean. It's got plenty of shade, which is good for now but could get pretty dark once it starts raining every day. While living here for 3 months or so, we'll be renovating the house we're planning to live in for the remainder of our service. Thankfully, many people have offered to help out.

Before signing off and writing some captions for these photos, we want to send our best wishes to everyone in Burlington, especially Christine and Andrew and Mim and Ed. You're in our prayers, of course, and we're anxious to see you all in July. God bless!

Matt relaxed by the river recently. A group of families took a pickup ride about a half-hour out of town to get to the swim spot. People catch shrimp in these waters with hoop-shaped nets.

Lisa and the son of the truck driver and our pal Lilia (in a Veraguas baseball hat) rode in the back of the truck with Matt.

This is a shot from the recent baseball tournament hosted by our Ecoclub. We had 5 teams, including 3 from our town and 2 from the big city, Santiago (they had the catcher's gear). About 100 people were out for the day, and it was a lot of fun to see. Our host brother, Alejandro, was the umpire. We were really proud of the kids for putting it together. Getting more organized sports up and running is one of our big goals.

These Ecoclub members sold juice (chicha), fried dough, and little white rolls with this orange mayo that everyone eats here.

With our volunteer friend Shawn from New Mexico, we walked 20 miles from our town to a town near Santiago on a pilgrimage honoring Jesus Nazareno. It's the biggest pilgrimage in the country, and people walk to this town from all over Panama the first week of Lent. It took us 5.5 hours, and we were totally wiped out for a while after. Matt still has blisters on his feet. There were thousands of people, and they said Mass all day and all night as the walkers and busloads of city residents came streaming in. It's been really great to participate in all of these Panamanian traditions. We are very lucky!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Lorena Stove

Our friend Ashley, who lives up in the mountains in a pine forest reserve, asked Matt and I to come up to her site to make a lorena stove. A lorena stove is made of clay, sand, and grass. It´s promoted as being a free, healthy alternative to a fugon, or open air fire. The stove has a chimney, which allows the smoke to escape above the cooking area, which is much healthier than having the smoke go down your lungs. The pictures are in order from bottom to top, sorry!

Matt with a sunburned nose and hot sauce!

Hmm...arroz con pollo and grape flavored sugar drink!

Matt, Ashley and I hula hooped with these girls earlier in the visit. They have several garden hose hula hoops.

It was Ashley´s host brother´s birthday, so her host mom made all the kids in town arroz con pollo.

The mom cooks in the shack at the rear of the photo, and the dad will rebuild the shack over the new stove.

We filled the form poco a poco to ensure even distribution of material.

Matt wore gloves because he had cuts and a bad burn on his right hand.

Matt pounds dirt into the form, which was built atop a table of earth. The form comes off after the dirt is pounded in, and then the family can dig holes for the woodbox on the side and the pots and chimney up top.

Once we sifted the sand and clay, we had to mix them together and then add water and straw in measured proportions. Ashley and the homeowner conducted a test to determine these proportions earlier in the week. We mixed all ingredients together in the wheelbarrow and then slowly layed them into the wooden structure shown above.

Ashley bought cookies and coffee for everyone for helping. This kid had just finished his cookies.

Everyone working! We had men, women and children helping out.

We had to sift the sand with a sieve or in this case old screen to get any rocks out it. If there are rocks in the stove mixture, they could explode when the stove gets hot and crack it open.

Because Ashley works with a woodshop cooperative, the people in this community have access to a chainsaw, which is unbelieveable. It´s on top of a rice peeler, which is a large wooden structure that you put rice in and then use a heavy wooden mallet to peel the husk off the rice.

This is the family´s outhouse. It´s so windy in the dry season up in the mountains that people´s zinc roofs often blow away. That piece of zinc in the background is the roof. It blew off just before Matt decided to go use another latrine away from the worksite. Vidal wants Matt to come and build a composting latrine in the coming months.

We had a big turnout and a lot of help from the community.

Vidal, the homeowner, completing the base, so that we could build the stove on top of it. He build a wood structure and then filled it with dirt. They have mounds of dirt right now because the government is in the process of paving their road.

More views.

Even though it´s summer and not really raining much, it´s still lush and green in the mountains.

Views on the way down from the hike.

Our waterfall guides. They´re brothers and their house on top of the moutain, completely isolated from Ashley´s town.

One of our guides to the waterfall.

The view from the top of the mountain.

Lisa, a guy from Ashley´s site, and Ashley on the way to the waterfall.

The morning before we built the stove, we climbed a mountain to go to this waterfall!

We´re tan!
We arrived in the late afternoon and walked to the lake at sunset. Matt and I were chilly at this hour. I don´t know how we´re going to be able to go home to the States!

Ashley´s community is very small, so we went to every house to remind everyone that we were building the stove the next day. This women has a mud house and a rancho with beautiful flower roof.

Ashley works with a woodshop cooperative. The picture above is their truck! It says, ¨With God I am invincible.¨

Ashley and her pregnant horse, tamarinda.