Central America | Panama – Getting busy with work, and some Panamanian history
At the end of the Balseria, Katie, Laura and I walked to the village Katie lives and works in, Salto Dupi. There we were greeted with a big surprise: a family that lives closest to her had physically taken apart thier house, board by board and reassembled it practically on top of her house. It used to be many yards away, now was about four feet. Why had they done this, we asked. The big wave, they answered. The tsunami? We finally put together that they had heard about the tsunami on a radio, and then moved their house a few more yards away from the river. Hmmm. I guess Katie has some new neighbors. I slept in her hammock that night. The next morning we had a killer hike out. Just killer for me. She does it all the time. She is closer to San Felix than me, but doesnt have a chiva that goes there. So we walked out about 9 miles, in incredible heat. I had never been so happy to arrive in San Felix and eat a duro! Then we went to the beach, Las Lajas, where there was a huge group, celebrating Esthers despedida. We swam all day and danced all night on the beach.
The next morning, I waited with other volunteers at the Cruce de San Felix about 15 miles inland from Las Lajas. We were waiting for a bus to take us the 6 hours to Panama City for AVC. There, I checked my messages on my cell (I dont get a signal at Las Lajas) and heard a message from my parents from the day before, saying “call today! We need to talk to you now!” Needless to say, I was very worried, until I reached them about 15 minutes later, but the news was good- my brother and Holly, his girlfriend of 3 years are engaged!! I am so excited and happy for them. The wedding will be in September, in Maryland where she is from, at an outdoor school where they were both instructors, where they met. So I will be going home in September, by then I’ll have been in Panama 15 months. I’ll fly into Illinois, where I’m from, and then travel to Maryland, stopping along the way in West Virginia for the wedding party to raft the Gauley river. (My brother, Holly, some of the other members of the wedding party and I were all river guides once.)
Then we had four days of AVC in Panama City. During this time, Environmental Health, my group, discussed a seminar, the Home Health seminar, and Trisha and I are in charge of setting it up for the Comarca on this side of the cordillera! Very excited about this! Also, we are putting together a health survey for all EH volunteers in Panama. We drafted a qualitative survey, are going to pretest it, and meet back to make any necesary changes during PDM. Very excited, again, to be using stuff from my public health classes!
Back in Chami, Augustina and Hector Lopez had brought some zinc up to Chami, and had a beautiful frame for a house built, and the zinc roof on. I continued to work with Neopoldo, getting a PVC pipe and spigot to my window. Water only seems to come out for a couple hours in the afternoon. Which is frustrating, especially seeing my neighbors, Augustina and Hector, having water all the time. I’ll have to keep working on this, and have been advised to buy a big barrel to store water in.
I had decided the grass on the ground inside my house had to go. So I asked to borrow a machete to limpiar it. But you dont have to do that, everyone told me, the grass will die on its own! No, I didnt want grass in my house. So I got a machete and went to work. It was a lot harder than it looked! I had no idea what I was doing, or muscle memory for the action. A neighbor girl came to watch me. Is that hard for you? she asked. Yes, its hard. That machete is short, she told me, it doesnt work good. Yep, its short. Is that hard for you? Yes its hard. That machete is short, she told me again. Didnt we already go over this? I was really hot and annoyed, and not politely asked her if she wanted to try. She actually excitedly took the machete, and in seconds, had a beautiful space of grass cleared, much bigger and better than the space I had been working on for some time. Well, that’ll show me! She eventually got bored and left me, unfortunately. I kept trying until dark, when I started getting painful blisters. The next day, Balbina asked me if I was going to finish the floor. No, I decided, the grass will die on its own.
School was starting again, and my teacher friends were back in town! It was fun to see them again. An interesting twist on this year, was that class starts now at 7am, instead of 8. The children and families are upset about this. This makes the little kids who have to walk miles getting up while it was still dark and cold. But it is a government, countrywide mandate.
Speaking of the government, I have been reading a great book about Panamaniam history from the 60s to 90s, called In the Time of the Tyrants, by R.M. Koster and Guillermo Sanchez. This section caught my attention, about the mine near Chami: “Cerro Colorado, a wonderfully profitable enterprise for everyone but the people of Panama, though not an ounce of ore was ever extracted. Loan after loan came through for feasibility studies and development surveys. Everyone had a grand time till the morning after.” What? The mine had never really existed? The mine, whose chiva I take every time I enter or leave Chami, the Cerro Colorado chiva? The mine that is the reason we have a road at all? The mine Lalo, my favorite chiva driver, and Maria Elena, a Peace Corps staff member used to work for, had never mined an ounce? Well, you learn something new every day!
This is another favorite passage from the book, about Noriega, who former dictator Omar Torrijos reffered to as “mi gangster”, and Noriega’s actions after Arnulfo was kicked out of office. (FYI, Arnulfo, a president, was actually thrown out of office three times, you got to love him for that!) “Noriega’s first mission, after the coup, a day or so after, was to take a squad up to a place in that region, called Rio Serreno, and bring down a pair of U.S. Peace Corps volunteers, Susan and John Freivalds, who the Guardia thought might be helping the guerrilleros. The Freivalds, then in thier 20s, remember the trip. It took two days to go 20 miles, for the roads were washed out. En route, Lieutenant Noriega requisitioned a horse and let Mrs. Freivalds ride it, but the gesture was less gentlemanly than it appears. He had her carry the squad’s automatic rifle and wear a green Guardia cap. If there were snipers about, she’d draw their fire.” Rio Serreno, wear my friend Bryan works! Omar Torrijos, whose son, Martin Torrijos, is now President!