Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Holiday Informe

First some sad news: Our pollito Lisita died the evening we made that last post on this blog, the one with us posing with the Christmas wreath and the birds. A chicken illness of some sort went around town recently, even killing all the hens at the school finca, so Lisita must have had that. Matt and Boli buried her in the backyard. The other chicken, Mateito, weighs about 8 pounds, according to our neighbor Abuela. Everyone says we should eat him soon because his meat will get tough as he ages. We don't know what we'll do with him yet.

Abuela (grandmother), by the way, is called Abuela by people of all ages all around the neighborhood. Her many sons, who are cousins of Reina's husband next door, are called Tio (uncle) by all the kids. The daughters or the wives of the sons are Tia (aunt). Matt sometimes gets their names confused, so he calls them Tio or Tia just like the kids do. In fact, if you don't know someone's name here, you can always address them as what they are. Kids call other kids niño (boy) or niña (girl), you can call any stranger joven (young person), and there's always señor and señora. Amigo(a) or hermano(a) work well, too. And say you see a cute little kid whose name escapes you, you can just call him papi. Little girls are mami. All teachers are maestra(o). Someone in the street the other day called Lisa licenciada, the title they use in Panama for people who have a bachelor's degree. But getting back to Abuela's family, Matt should really get their names down because they have great nicknames. A few examples: Cornelio is Corne (cor-nay), his twin Guillermo is Guille (gi-yay), brother Marcial is Marci (like Mount Marcy), Cecilia is Chila (chee-la)!

Abuela has 8 or 9 children and bastante (lots) grandchildren, and most of the families live on the same 2 streets. Everyone's always hanging out together. On Christmas Eve, Lisa made sugar cookies with a big group of grownups and kids. She showed them how to roll the dough, cut out Christmas tree shapes, and bake and decorate the cookies. Baking is not very common here, and most ovens get used for storage. The family we lived with during training kept bread in their oven, but more recently we've seen people go out and catch these little fish, put 'em in a pot full of water, and leave 'em in the oven overnight as if it were a refrigerator. They fry 'em up the next day for breakfast and lunch. Yum!

Anyway, Abuela's family is very good to us, and we ate lots of food with them during the holidays. We also celebrated Christmas and New Year's with Reina and her gang, of course. Awesome arroz con pollo! And we stopped in to pasaer at the home of our old host mom Lucila. As you may recall, they live across the street from the little market that doubles as a sketchy cantina most weekends. Lucila's husband Virgilio, or Giño (heen-yo), hates all the noise, so he was visiting family out of town. But we celebrated during both holiday weeks with Lucila, her daughter Any's family, and her son Alejandro. We all sat out on the porch chatting, eating grilled pork and bollos (steamed corn things), and watching all the merriment in the streets. For Christmas Eve we were joined by former Peace Corps Volunteers Mike and Cara, who served in Morocco. They were in Panama for a vacation, so they looked up volunteers to see what life is like in the countryside. It was great to visit with them and hear all about service in Africa.

On Christmas Day, Mike and Cara headed west to the popular mountain town Boquete, near the Costa Rican border. Now that summer's here and it's hotter than ever, we were sort of jealous, so a week later we went up there for the night. It's gorgeous! We took a chiva, a little van, way up into the mountains north of town and hiked around for a while in the clouds. It felt great to have a sweatshirt on! And it was really cool to see all the rows of coffee bushes and big spreads of beans out drying. Further up the ridge, almost to the border with Bocas del Toro province, there are farms with beautiful raised beds of black earth growing some of the most robust vegetables we've ever seen. We got to hang out for a while with a celery farmer and a Ngäbe-Buglé family during our hike, and then another farmer drove us back down the mountain and through the mist to Boquete in his ancient Toyota 4x4 diesel pickup. That outing was after we'd already walked around most of the town, had coffee and a strawberry milkshake at a coffee finca, and gone to Mass in English at the church. There are many norteamericano retirees in the area, but only 5 of them were at Mass, so they were delighted to see us and they had us introduce ourselves at the end. It was actually kind of nice. We also saw damage from the bad flooding Boquete experienced during Thanksgiving. A lot of the hotels along the the river that runs through town are fixing their properties, and there are earthmovers in the riverbed working to deepen the channel. The streets are in good shape, but a bridge remains broken in several pieces in the river. It was good to finally see this popular destination. We had a totally tranquillo time, stayed in a nice hostel, ate delicious burgers and fries, and encountered only 1 annoying person (some folks complain about all the gringos).

Here in the Central Provinces, meanwhile, it feels good to be in a new year and a new season. It is hotter right now than it was before Christmas, but it really cools down at night, and you can sleep comfortably. We rarely put our fan on, and most nights we even use a light blanket. It was getting very dank, moldy, and muddy with the torrential thunderstorms we were having every afternoon during the latter part of 2008. We don't miss the rain, but our garden certainly does. The blistering heat, which came on us all of a sudden, dried everything right out. Now we're scrambling to get water on the plants in the morning and evening. It's a pain because to avoid hauling water with a bucket you've got to get Boli and Arturito to rig a few hoses to their backyard sink. There's barely any water pressure, and the prcoess can take forever, but it's far better than hauling water. Hopefully everything will hang in there and the kids will stay into gardening.

In other news, Matt had to get stitches (only 3) the other day because he was sharpening a big kitchen knife without paying attention and cut his wrist open. He lucked out bigtime because it was on the side of the wrist, away from the veins, so he wasn't bleeding bad at all. It was just a really deep cut, and he could see down to his bone. Ouch! He was also fortunate to get a cab and then a bus to get him to the hospital in about 40 minutes. Once there, he lucked out again and got to see the doctor everyone agrees is the best doctor in our province. Having the wound washed and stitched up, even with the anesthetic, was nauseating. Lisa had to wait outside the room! And Matt thought he was going to pass out. But he felt OK after a few minutes and went straight to McDonald's for a fried chicken sandwich.

Thanks to everyone for the cards and emails! Happy and Prospero Año Nuevo!

This shot was taken from the Toyota pickup as we headed down the mountain. The sun was starting to burn off the mist.

These coffee beans are growing out in the woods. When the beans get picked, the red fruit is removed so the pit can dry out and later be roasted.

This celery is really good looking! Everyone in Panama cooks with celery, especially when making soups.

Here's Matt down in Boquete. The strength of the sun and the temperature during the day were perfect! But it's probably not as comfy when it's raining all the time.

This is the river that caused all the flood damage. You can see how high up it gets and how close some buildings are to the water.

Speaking of water, this is where kids in our town go swimming. It's a tiny pond out in the cane fields that's fed by a big drainage ditch. The water is usually pretty murky. Matt has been swimming there twice, but only during the summer when the water was clear.

Three generations (l-r): Any del Carmen, Any, and Lucila, our former host mom. This shot was taken during Christmas Eve festivities.

Here's Abuela! That's one of her grandsons on the right, but we don't really know him because he lives in Panama City. Abuela lives in a little block house behind a huge block house that Marcial is building when he's not working as a cop for 8 days at a time. The project will take years to complete.

Here's a typical barbershop scene from our community. Arturo has clippers, so guys just drop in whenver. This shot was taken during the confirmation party for Arturito and Glenny.

This is Diego, a relative of Reina's family who lives across town.

Here's Reina, Arturito, and Glenny before the confirmation Mass in Santiago. Matt was what we call Arturito's sponsor, but here they use the term godfather. Either way, Matt is very honored.

This dance party we held during the last-day-of-school fiesta last month. Kids from each grade actually dance together, even kindergartners. The music was very loud, but we stuck around for arroz con puerco and cake.

Anibal broke his arm when he fell off his horse. He always goes out to work with his grandfather on horseback.