Tuesday, September 30, 2008


We went to build a stove in a nearby site, up in the mountains, where these guys were working on a new rancho. They're part of a tourism cooperative, and they hope to have public events in this structure. Next door, the co-op has a restaurant, where we built the much-needed stove of mud, sand, and straw.

The stove is much-needed because the cooks are using these fogones, fires surrounded by rocks, behind the restaurant. They have to breathe in a lot of smoke, and the smoke even blows through the dining area at times. The ladies who run the operation are looking forward to using the stove after it cures in 30 days. Co-op members were very kind to us, and they fed us lunch and breakfast. Muy rico!

We posed for this photo with part of our work group. As you can see, the stove is in a new area with a zinc roof. They'll install a chimney when they find the proper metal pipe or other material. This project was a breeze because they had all the supplies ready at the start of the day, and the whole posse worked very hard. Our friend Ellen (second from left), a volunteer in the new tourism and English teaching group, is helping the co-op.

Lisa and Ashley mixed up some mud and sand to coat the outside of the stove so it will look bien pritty. When we were done, it did resemble a huge chocolate cake. We were especially pleased because the stove is in the center of town, so lots of potential stove builders will see it. Let's hope it works well!

The area where we were working is one of our favorite places in Panama. The weather's mas fresco, the mountains are beautiful, they grow coffee here, and the people are really nice like they are in the rest of our province.

This big barn is up in the Comarca Ngabe-Bugle, the indigenous area way west of us. Lisa was up there assisting with a coffee/business seminar run by our good friend Ed from Boston. Ed is the Peace Corps Panama coffee coordinator, and he works with producers to promote organic methods, better business practices, etc. Lisa will return to the Comarca for two more sessions of the seminar.

Thirty-seven people participated in the seminar, including this woman wearing the traditional Ngabe dress. She's seen here with a drawing of her finca (farm). Teams did drawings to help articulate plans for their farming activities. Lisa and Ashley also gave charlas on time management and how to hold effective meetings.

The two young ladies in the center of this photo, Viviana and Yaleyka, are members of our town's Ecoclub. While Matt was in the city working on the PC magazine, they and two other young people accompanied Lisa to a big Ecoclub seminar. Dozens of kids were on hand to form a regional alliance of clubs and discuss environmental protection projects. Participants were given vegetables to plant in their hometowns.

Mateo and Adam posed recently for this photo in our living room. We're trying to put together a big photo album for the family.

In other news, we returned home from the stove project and delivered talks and slideshows to several families on how to make these stoves. Our calendar is getting booked up again, and that's the way it ought to be. Time is flying down here, and we can't believe it's almost October. Happy Birthday, Caitlin!

We forgot to mention in previous posts that Irving Saladino won the Olympic gold medal in the long-jump. Felicidades! He's an amazing athlete, and the Panamanian people are extremely proud. Fortunately, we got to watch him win live on local TV.

And one more news item before we go: the country's largest political party, the PRD (Partido Revolucionario Democratico), had its presidential primary recently after many months of high-profile campaigning. Balbina Herrera defeated Panama City Mayor Juan Carlos Navarro and several other candidates. The election is in May.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Year in Panama

Here´s our cooperative´s traditional dance group dancing during the co-op´s annual meeting. The girls are wearing polleras, Panama´s traditional dress.

Lisa kept the vote total during the election of officers at the annual meeting. Voting took forever, as every one of the 150 members who showed up voted for 3 candidates by stating their names out loud, in front of everyone.

Here´s the beach we got to visit after our recent business plan seminar. Turtles nest here and the townspeople make sure they´re protected.

This shot looks back at the mainland from the beach. The boats, or lanchas, in the background are built by one of the guys whose family fed us during the weekend. We had really great fried corvina, the best fish down here, not to mention excellent rice and beans and fried pork.

This bar and mountain are in El Valle de Anton. The PC Gender and Development organization had a meeting there (at a pizza restaurant, not the bar). The mist-covered mountains here are really beautiful.

This is our good friend Amilkar, who taught himself to speak English. He studies physics at the big university in Panama City, and we hope one day he´ll come to the States to get a degree at MIT or RPI.

Boli helped Lisa clear the area for their new vegetable garden (huerto). People love to cut grass and weeds with a machete, stooped over so the blade cuts almost parallel to the ground. It´s not much fun.

This is the big cage full of iguanas our friend Angelica keeps in her backyard. Her family eats one or two a month. They say it tastes like chicken, but we have yet to try some.

Boli, Adam, Lisa, and Glenny (l-r) posed for this shot in our living room. Adam´s gut is growing muy rapido. But he´s really cute!

In mid-August we marked our 1-year anniversary in Panama! To celebrate, everyone in our group has to go to the city to submit to all kinds of medical testing so the PC can see what´s been crawling around in our bellies for the last 12 months. We´ll also get a chance to catch up with the whole gang from training.

Speaking of training, Lisa spent a week near the city teaching new business volunteers about PC stuff, including how to assess your community´s needs. Matt stayed home to teach English, visit with the neighbors, and read the Milagro Beanfield War, a great book. Reina and the kids made sure he was fed. One night they made Matt fried beef with rice and salad, which everyone ate while watching the Red Sox beat the Yankees. They carry almost every Yankees game here on one of the networks everyone gets.

When Lisa got back, we hosted a new couple working in the business program for a weekend visit. We did the same thing a year ago when we were trainees, getting a chance to see how volunteers live. Our guests last week, Ben and Lisa, were really fun and they got to witness our cooperative´s annual meeting. The huge event featured lots of financial stuff, the election of new officers, and tons of food. They slaughtered a cow and grilled it and many folks, including Lisa and Lisa, helped make bollos (steamed cornmeal things shaped like sausages) the night before. Sadly, the discoteca scheduled for after the meeting was canceled because the DJ backed out at the last moment. We still had a great time, though.

In other work news, 30 teenagers from our town filled a bus to go to the health fair we helped organize in our buddy Andrew´s site an hour away. Our group, which filled a whole bus we chartered for the occassion, was really into it. They participated in all the charlas and games and had a lot of laughs. We also had a great lunch of chicken, rice, and potato salad made for the 100-person fair by a local restaurant (fonda) owner. Lisa and our friend Ashley gave lectures on HIV and AIDS and Matt and buddy Shawn talked about self esteem. Another 10 volunteers led other charlas and helped keep things running smoothly. The Red Cross and other agencies were also on hand, so the day was a big success.

A few days ago, we helped people in a nearby coastal town prepare business plans. Lisa worked with a lady named Florentina who hopes to open a restaurant, and Matt worked with a young guy named Oliver who wants to build three cabanas for tourists. Five other volunteers worked with people on similar ventures. The attendees can now go to banks or other sources with very professional business plans that include all kinds of stuff like income projections for the next five years. When we finished our work, we got to swim in the ocean and beneath a waterfall. Lisa also held little baby turtles that nest on the beach.

Later this month, we´re compiling information on our area for tourism guides and we´re going to build another lorena stove up in the mountains. Matt´s also heading to Panama City to work on the next edition of the PC Panama magazine.

Back in our site, everyone seems good. Reina´s baby Adam is getting bigger every day and the kids are working on a garden with Lisa. This week they aim to start their long-awaited compost pile to improve the soil. The land is all cleared and ready to go. Some yucca and tomatoes and pineapple are already started.

In leisure news, we got a cool cloth hammock and strung it up in our living room. When the sun´s not out, or if you`ve got a really good breeze running through the house, you can sit in it during the day. But it´s most comfortable for morning and evening reading. It is the rainy season, but it remains hot, hot, hot most days in sugar country.

But we ain´t complaining! We´re ready to be here for another year, si Dios quiere. As always, thanks for reading our blog. And Go Red Sox!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Trip Home Part III

Here are more photos from our big trip home. We were quite impressed with Minnesota. And we had a ball staying in downtown St. Paul, dining and touring with a great group of Vermonters and New Yorkers.

We visited this cool park in Minneapolis the day after Tim and Jen's wedding. Jen's dad led an awesome tour of the Twin Cities.

The tour included a stop at the totally huge Mall of America. We bought a great Frisbee here for the kids back in Panama.

Erin and Abby (above) and dad Russ were in Minneapolis to see Erin's brother, so we got to have a long visit.

Matt's has the best burgers in the world! The "Juicy Lucy" is made with cheddar cheese inside the burger. Here we also chowed down on big baskets of fries. This is a classic place and a must for any Twin Cities visitor.

Here's Scott, Lisa, and Cait during Tim and Jen's rehearsal dinner in St. Paul. We had awesome Italian food that night.

Nell, Martha, and Libby posed for a photo at the Italian place. The girls had a great time joking around with Lisa.

Matt and Tim also had a blast. Tim and Jen very generously gave Matt a bottle of really nice French booze and a great book about Colombia.

The wedding was beautiful. Needless to say, Matt was very proud to be the bestman. Cait did the Prayer of the Faithful.

John (left), Tim's dad and Matt's uncle, posed with siblings (l-r) Jean, Mim, Johanna, Margaret, Maura, Mary, Jim, and Martha. The campus where the wedding was held is really nice, and St. Paul in general is a cool place.