Central America | Panama – Giant grasshoppers and chiva crashes
Today is December 10th, exactly three months since I swore in as an official Peace Corps volunteer in Panama City! Of course, I didn’t get to Chami until the 14th of September, so I’ll celebrate that day, too. Three months down! Everyone says the first three months are the hardest! From here on out, it will be a piece of cake! Ha!
I’ve decided to build a house, Balbina said I could build it next to the Casa Artesania. She said I could make a room in the Casa, but I’m not sure how secure that place is. I’m sure it will be tons of work, and expensive, but if my house actually works out, it will probably save my sanity and I’ll be happy I did it. I’ll be here two years, afterall. I just hope it doesn’t take me that long to build it.
My room is fine, I cant complain. Other than my privacy issue, the other problem is the grasshoppers. There’s not many, I’ve only seen two actually in my room. But its their size… they were easily a foot long. Both times I walked in and stopped dead in my tracks when I saw the huge bug. And the first reaction is to freak out, but then I see that they are grasshoppers. And for some reason, were are taught that grasshoppers are not bad. I guess it is a cultural thing. But what if it does something horrible like jump ON me?? I would die of terror. And they’ve got to be dirty…. So both times I just stood there dumbly staring at it until it undramatically crawled out of one of the many holes in the walls.
I had the opportunity to travel to my friend Mike’s site, Cerro Inglesia, to help build a lorena stove at the beginning of December. This involved the three hour hike to Oma, unfortunately followed by a two hour wait for a chiva to San Felix. I spent the night there, and got up early the next morning to take a minibus to Escondu, and had to wait a couple hours for a chiva to Cerro Inglesia. During this two hour wait I had no choice but to drink lots of coffee and eat lots of empanadas. No choice at all.
A lorena stove is made of a mixture of sand and clay, which are packed into a large rectangle. This takes a couple hours, then you carve holes to put wood, and pots. They are good for impoverished areas because they use less wood, so the people dont have to spend as much time traveling long distances to get wood to cook with, and thus also slowing down deforestation. They also can channel the smoke outside, meaning people don’t have to breath so much smoke. And most of the materials are free. I was surprised to see the stove finished in a few hours! The first one I made took two days. So we had no choice but to go to Las Lajas, the closest beach. No choice in the matter at all.
Mike, two other Peace Core volunteers and I took the evening chiva from Cerro Inglesia down thru the hills, and got to view a beautiful pink sunset over the ocean as we decended. (Yes, he has more than one chiva come to his site a day, I swear I have the most inaccesible site in Panama!) In no time we arrived at the simple bamboo cabanas right on the beach.
The next day was gorgeous, having a white sand beach that seemed to strech on forever to ourselves, lying in the sun, and occasionally jumping into the surf to cool down and take out sea kayaks. We often say “life is so rough!” Some days its true, but this was not one of those days. At Las Lajas, we were saying it sarcastically.
The next morning I was up bright and early, to arrive at the Piquera only to hear them say the Cerro Colorado had JUST left. Dammit! Not even two minutes ago, they said. So I had to sit around for a few hours, like I actually usually have to. Since it was Sunday, all the Latino teachers were slowly arriving to head up to Chami for another week. Melo, one of the regular drivers, was waiting for a load of cargo to take to Hacha, so he wasnt leaving anytime soon. We were getting antsy. So when a driver that usually only goes to Oma and back said he’d take us, we jumped in! There was me and about 15 teachers in the chiva, as well as several locals, 5 or 6 standing on the bumper. We made our way up the hill chatting pleasantly, past Oma, where the guy usually stops. We got to Sardinas, and passed it, and started another long climb. Then things just happened so fast. The chiva couldnt make it up a huge steep part of solid rock in the road, so what did the driver do? Slam on the gass of course. There was a great deal of ruckus, terrible engine noises, rocks flying. I looked forward and I saw sky and clouds! We were pointed straight up! People started screaming and falling everywhere while the chiva did a panicked dance on its two hind tires like a wild horse, before crashing on its side in a ditch.
When the dust settled, no one was hurt badly, just some bumps and scratches, and the chiva wasnt even completely on its side, but a bad angle in the ditch. It took some people a while to get the chiva right side up on the road, and it took just as long to calm some of the hysterical teachers who lay on the road wailing. Then we all stood around at the back of the chiva, giving death looks to the driver, who stood at the front of the dented truck, smoking a cigarette, looking shaken up and trying to tune out our looks. I think we were all scared to get in, and we got out and hiked up the steep parts. And I thought the road would be safer in the dry season! At least in the rainy season, when we had to hike, it was cool and overcast. That day was hot and sunny. Thats the last time I ride with a driver who doesnt know the road! I decided not to tell my parents about this.
The 8th of December is yet another holiday in Panama- Mothers Day! Dia de la Madre! It is a huge holiday in Panama. I was looking forward to some wholesome festivities, but arrived at the fiesta to find everyone terribly drunk again on chicha fuerte. And I didnt even see anyone I knew. Just lots of drunk Ngabes staring at me. So I left, intimidated.
I had been asked to give a family planning charla in Boca del Monte, by Yassi, a large, energetic Latina teacher I really like. So, one morning I hiked an hour there, with my carefully worked on family planning charla, about the importance of communicating with your partner, what are high risk pregnancies, and what family planning methods were available and feasible in the comarca. So imagine my surprise to walk into the room, and most of the audience is under eight years old! Yep, next time going to half to ask more questions about the audience. So I did an icebreaker with the kids, giving myself a few mintutes to think, and then I launched into a hand washing charla off the top of my head. Luckily, within a half hour, lots of men and women showed up, and I was able to get on with what I had planned. When it was over, several people asked me questions, and I felt it went well.
Christmas is coming! You would never know by the weather here. But in David, Tamburellis (my favorite restaraunt), the internet place, and Hotel Toledo are decorated with Christmas lights and trees. It is so cute! My family is coming for the holidays. Then, starting in January, I don’t think there are any holidays for a while. So hopefully, I can get some projects started then.