Central America | Panama – the right way to make a latrine
So I thought since I just filled out a grant for making 30 latrines, I should probably learn how. (I never received this training, I was in RH at the beginning, now EH) Laura Holt in Cerro Puerco has a big latrine project going. In the end, she’ll have built 57 total! I met her in San Felix one day, and we traveled to Cerro Puerco together. (Cerro Puerco literally means Pig Hill, or as we like to call it, Pork Peak) It was a 20 minute bus ride to a side road called Salado, then a three hour hike. There used to be a chiva, but it broke down, and now she just has to walk. It was a beautiful hike, even passing a huge waterfall.
Laura lives in a hut, made of bamboo, with a conical thatch roof and dirt floor. I thought it was cute, but she complained of the mice that live in the roof. In Peace Corps, just when you think you have the worst situation ever, someone tops you. I was so annoyed for not having latrine walls for a couple weeks. Laura told me she had her latrine hole, but no walls for 4 months! She finally made them for my visit!
We hiked another hour to the house of the family that she was helping that day. They had already dug a 15 foot deep hole. I learned the whole process of finding bamboo to lay across the hole, mixing the cement, laying the rebar, and covering the bamboo all with cement, except for the hole, where they will later put a seat. I thought they should have pointed the door so you could see the huge waterfall from inside the latrine, but they didnt listen to me. Then she explained how to maintain it, and how to reuse the cement platform when the hole was full. The family gave us a meal of chicken, rice, and yucca, a great meal for the Comarca, then we hiked the hour back. It was a gorgeous day, just starting to get cloudy. We saw three toucans sitting in a tree, and a family she knows gave us more mangos and avacadoes than we could hardly carry! Back at her house, she made homemade tortillas and between the two of us, ate about ten mangos. On the three hour hike out, I carried another ten mangos. And I saw lots of tiny colorful poison dart frogs.
Back at Andre’s in San Felix, we thought, what can you do with so many mangos? Make mango margaritas!! Luckily, Scott was in David, but on his way to San Felix, so we called him to pick up Tequila, and later had a fabulous margarita party!
It was in San Felix that I suddenly got several phone calls from MariElena, the Safety Coordinator for Peace Corps, volunteer safety coodinators, and regional leaders saying not to travel! President Torrijos just announced his plans to change the Social Security program of Panama. It seems he is raising the retiring age several years. SUNTRACS, a huge union, opposes it, and riots were expected. This was kind of scary, especially since I just finished this great book called Panama:the Whole Story by Kevin Buckley, which went into great detail of the violence and riots in Panama City, when people were opposing Noriega. So much killing and violence happened right on Via Espa?a, in the City, where volunteers walk up and down daily. On the other hand, I live in the Comarca, and told the callers so. No Ngabes had even heard of the announcements, let alone were going to riot. I got permission to travel back to Chami.
I spent another week in Chami, before the Home Health Seminar we’ve been working so long on. One interesting development in Chami, is that Fortuna donated a brick making machine! Fortuna is a huge energy company, with a chartiy arm. They also donated the money to build Chami’s health clinic. The people of Chami are now able to start a small business making cement blocks. At first, the blocks will go towards building a new dormitory for the hospital staff, but then the blocks can go towards anything they want. I have mixed feelings about this. First, I don’t like that the energy and blocks will go towards housing for people who are not from the community, but for the latino doctors and nurses that come and go. In the end, the business will be theirs, which is great, but wont they always be dependent on someone bringing cement mix from the outside? I dont see how they will ever be able to pay for the transportation themselves, so its totally unsustainable. And of course, there is the location of the machine and business. Its on the right side of the Casa Artensania. I live on the left side. So it is practically on top of me. The workers have the habit of walking around my house, which is really annoying. They even started using my pluma for water! This is totally my property! I thought of several different ways to handle the situation, including yelling at them. But I decided to make friends with the guys in charge. A couple days later, I nicely asked them not use the pluma, and to my surprise, they quickly made their own! I was so happy about how easy the frustrating situation was fixed! That was a first.