30 December 2009

Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año Nuevo

I spent Christmas with Sabine and Yoel's family across the river eating arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) for three days straight and visited people in the village. On Christmas Eve we all opened party crackers in typical Prior-Grosch style and the favorite prize was definitely a pirate's eye patch. Everyone took turns wearing the eye patch which looked great with the red and green paper crowns.

Christmas isn't a big holiday in rural panama, consisting of a day off, arroz con pollo, and peanuts, apples, and grapes if you can afford it. The day after Christmas I visited San Jose and one of the kids asked me 'Who is Santa Claus?' The Santa Claus frenzy hasn't made it to rural Panama yet but it's definitely taken root in the city. I couldn't help laughing seeing all the snowflake, penguin, and santa decorations around the city in 90 degree heat.

I'm in Panama City now and will be picking up my family at the airport tonight! Tomorrow we'll head straight up to the jungle to celebrate New Years. It sounds like people make a much bigger deal of celebrating New Years than Christmas; two pigs are going to be slaughtered, fireworks, and a stuffed doll (resembling a politician) will be burned in celebration in the village.

Happy 2010 to all!

16 December 2009

Mid December Crazzzzzyyyy-ness

I visited the US of A for 3 weeks in November and true to my style of visits, saw everyone and everything. I managed a trip down to NC to visit college friends, a weekend in NY with my grandparents, a few days in Haverhill with high school buddies, and time with family for Thanksgiving and my dad's birthday.

It was a great visit although I was in much need of rest by the time I got back to Panama.

All in all, it sounds like I planned my trip perfectly since while I was away it poured everyday and the Mamoni River crested multiple times per day making it impossible to go anywhere. The day I arrived back, 'summer' seemed to start immediately bringing with it a blazing sun and strong breeze. We've had gorgeously sunny days since, although very hot, but the summer breeze does make a difference. I arrived back in time to celebrate Mother's Day in Panama which falls on Dec 8th. When I left the city, I first went up to the village of San Jose where the church put on a big dinner for the mothers and gave them all gifts at their Saturday night worship.

Since I stay with the pastor and his wife when I'm there, I got to help with the shopping and marvel as the men in the village cooked a meal for the women (something that never ever happens.) I spent a few days there relaxing and visiting with people who I hadn't seen in over a month. I went exploring a bit as well and saw where the Mamoni and the San Jose rivers meet, carving out an intricate path in the bed rock. It's a great swimming spot although a bit tricky with the current and some of the drop offs.

On Mother's Day I hiked up to La Zahina with a cohort from San Jose who were going to visit their mother. I carried a baby, while others carried potatoes (for Panamanian potato salad), gifts, luggage, live chickens, etc. It was quite the procession.
We all gathered in Lydia's house in La Zahina and it was the first time in a long time she had so many of her children under the same roof (8 out of her 10 children).

That afternoon I hiked the rest of the way back to Cocobolo and was greeted by a pack of howler monkeys in the trees (the four black blobs in the tree).
My dog Muñeca was waiting for me as well as Patrick from Texas. That week for movie night in La Zahina I showed a short documentary about development in the country and unsustainable tourism, followed by Scooby Doo. It was a big hit. The students watched Planet Earth during the day and we continued working on English pronunciation. The school year is about to end so I'm trying to figure out a new schedule for classes since school doesn't go back into session until March. On the farm in Cocobolo, we're having issues with a fungus of some sort that is bleaching the leaves of all our lettuces, mustard greens, etc. All of the crops looks like they took a hit during the three weeks of heavy rain but hopefully the new weather will improve the turnouts.

This past weekend I went across the river to the neighbors' house for a birthday party. Parking for the party:

Sabine and I spent most of the morning in the kitchen helping with the potato salad, drinks, rice and making sure all the guests were served. They had killed a pig so there were lots of chicharrones (fried pork fat) to be had.

The kids enjoyed the piñata and everyone ate a lot of cake. It was really impressive to see how the two cakes had survived the journey up from the city, only a few chunks of frosting missing.

The last couple days I've been working hard on the farm; taking care of the horse/chickens/dog, harvesting coffee beans, transplanting leafy greens, watering and pruning trees.

I'm in the city now, finishing up some final planning details for my family's visit at the end of the month. I'm going to take them up to Cocobolo for six days or so, a couple days in the city and for my birthday weekend we're going to fly out to the islands in the Caribbean (Bocas del Toro) where I stayed during my study abroad program to study mangroves. It should be quite the visit!

I'm also in the process of planning for the Marvelwood School group that visited us this past January and will arrive again at the end of January 2010 (only two week after my family leaves). This year we have a group of 14 high schoolers and 3 chaperones coming. I'm in charge of the logistics planning and food buying which is no small task. They'll be in Panama for 12 days, leaving just before Carnival starts. Then after Carnival, I only have one week before I fly home. I can already see that my last months here are going to fly by.

07 November 2009

September and October in a nutshell

Well I guess I've been neglecting the blog recently so I'm going to attempt to update it to the present...
(If you click on any of the photos, you can see them full size)

September flew by in the blink of an eye. We had gloriously sunny weather most of the month which coincided perfectly with the soccer games between the village of La Zahina where I teach and the village of San Jose (a 1.5 hour walk across the river valley). The teams played a series of 7 intensely competitive games with La Zahina winning the series 4-3. I attribute their win partially to the goalie gloves and stopwatch I brought from the US in August. As the godmother of the La Zahina team I went to all the games I could and traveled with the team (walking) when they played in San Jose. It was a great way to meet other people in the area and get to know a new community.

The other big highlight of September was my best friend Meg Munroe from Haverhill came and visited for a week. I picked her up in the airport and immediately started showing her the sights of the city. Since we had very limited time we really had to pack it in everyday. Luckily the fates were on our side and everything went our way in terms of the weather and transport. In Panama City the first day we visited the canal and watched ships go through the locks and then strolled around the old part of town, Casco Viejo, and ate scrumptious ice cream and Mexican food.

The following day we checked out Summit Botanical Garden, where I had never been befor, which is actually a zoo and houses lots of the local celebrities including a jaguar, tapirs, monkeys, and all sorts of birds.

From there we headed into the heart of town to Plaza Cinco de Mayo where we were treated to a children's 'Tipico' dance practice. We had a delicious dinner of fried fish on the Causeway (which was constructed using rubble dredged from the canal) which serves as the entrance to the canal. Afterward, we went to see Aventura live in concert! Aventura is a Bachata band from the Dominican Republic that was popular with our Dominican friends in high school.

The following day we took a bus out of the city and met up with one of my neighbors and his friend to get a ride up to Cocobolo. It was an awesome ride up through the mountains on terrible dirt trails scoured out by the rain. I got to drive the car out of one of the big holes while the guys pushed, fun!

Once up in Cocobolo Meg got to meet my friend Sabine and everyone in the village. We went on a hike to a waterfall, planted trees with the farmers on open pasture land, spent an afternoon herding cattle with my farmer friend Alejandro, and enjoyed a full day of rain and river flooding. The day before her flight back to the US we hiked 2.5 hours down the river valley with our backpacks to get the bush taxi out to the main road and then a bus to Panama City. It was a whirlwind trip that really worked out perfectly.

October was pretty quiet, just the usual routine of working on the farm and teaching classes. I spent a few weekends in San Jose with a family there and celebrated the village pastor's birthday. I've started showing movies once a week in La Zahina so I now arrive on Thursdays in the village rain or shine with my computer, extension cords, and gasoline to power a small generator we bought for this purpose. I've been showing a combination of environmentally themed videos and movies from the cinema. In honor of Halloween I baked a chocolate cake, brownies, and muffins for 50+ people and the entire village watched The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. These movies are definitely CREA's best attended events.

A new volunteer also arrived in October, Patrick, a truck driver from Texas. He's a total sweetheart and is the perfect match for CREA. He enjoys manual labor and solitude. It works out really well for me because I now have someone on the reserve to take care of my puppy! We ended the month of November with a workshop in cooperation with MIDA, the Panamanian agricultural ministry, on sustainable agriculture and how to make organic fertilizer. The workshop was well attended by all the local farmers and we learned some very valuable tips for transplanting plantains.

30 August 2009

Whirlwind Northeast Tour

On August 16th I flew to Newark, NJ from Panama City with Anarelys, a fifteen year old girl from the village where I work. She receives a scholarship from a group at the Marvelwood School to continue with her schooling. Laurie Doss, the Science Dept Chair at The Marvelwood School, has been bringing a group of 10 students to visit Panama for the last three years. They arrive usually end of January and spend a week at our field station. These students help to raise money for three scholarships for girls in the village and also helped to pay for our trip.

Although her first plane trip didn't seem to phase Anarelys, I discovered upon arrival that her true fear was of escalators! We spent an uncomfortable hour in immigration where she was questioned over and over by different people about the purpose of her trip while I was trapped in Baggage Claim on the other side of the glass wall. As we tried to pass through customs we were stopped again and sent back to immigration and the agricultural inspection where we spent another hour being questioned individually and having everything completely searched. Luckily when we were finally let out Laurie and 3 other familiar students' faces were waiting for a us with a photo of a Royal flycatcher to catch our attention.

The rest of the trip was go go go! We spent the first day at the school in rural Kent, CT mist-netting and banding birds and eating lots of blueberries from bushes that were donated by Henry Kissinger. That evening there was a welcome dinner at one of the student's homes. The next day we went to the new Science Center in Hartford, CT that just opened in July. It was really great with many of the exhibits related to hot topics (climate change, energy, water, etc).

On Wednesday we drove to Falmouth to spend a night with the family. My mom had other friends visiting as well so it was a full house. Anarelys got to see the Woods Hole aquarium, the Knob, and the drawbridge in action. Laurie and my dad hit it off and had fun discussing birds and beach species. Thursday midday we said good by and drove back to Kent via a Butterfly Garden in South Deerfield, MA.

We spent the next few days checking out the local waterfalls, American Indian museum, more bird banding and practicing English. We spent Sunday at the Mystic Aquarium and the following day we went bright and early to New York City on the train to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We returned to NYC the following day to visit the Bronx Zoo and go to a Yankees game. I was most impressed by the gorilla exhibit and it was definitely weird seeing a giraffe in the middle of NY. The Yankees played the Texas Rangers and ended up loosing 9-10.

The next morning we went back to Newark and had a pretty uneventful trip home. On the plane Anarelys told me she didn't want to leave the US. Hopefully she'll be able to visit again next year and stay for a month or more.

Now I'm in Panama City, working in the CREA office for a couple days before heading back into the field. Sabine's 24th birthday is tomorrow so we'll be celebrating. I'll be coming back to the city September 17th to meet my friend Meg who will be visiting for a week. Can't wait!

26 August 2009

Incommunicado and back in the US

I got back to Panama City Aug 14th, having been away in the field for just over a month! I can't believe how fast it went by! When I got back to Cocobolo in July I got to meet Toni, the one baby iguana who survived! Of the 45 eggs only 3 hatched and only Toni made it past the first few days of life. We've decided that the low hatch rate was probably due to the high amount of rain and unseasonably cool temperatures that this area experienced during what was supposed to be summer here. In fact, the weather in July and August has been beautiful incredibly beautiful. Sometimes 5 days at a time of unbroken sun followed by a day or two of rain. Since we're in the rainy season now, it should be raining here everyday, but it seems as though the weather patterns are all screwed up. Can't say I'm complaining, sun makes life a lot easier here since we don't have to worry about the river flooding as much. Anyways, back to Toni. He's quite the sociable little iguana and is accustomed to us handling him. He hangs out in his cage all day sunning himself, eating leaves, and going for the occasional swim when I bring him a bath. We've come to the conclusion that he's a male, but in reality you can't be sure until they reach about a year old, so we'll see. I figure the name Toni can be gender neutral.

We started our reforestation projects in July, beginning with a family that has a cow pasture that abuts Cocobolo Nature Reserve. We brought about 250 saplings out to them of different native species, and they are being planted in rows near the edge of the reserve where they're allowing the forest to regrow. To get out to their farm with our truck and trees we had to drive through a neighbors cow pasture and all over hill and dale. We followed what some claim to be a trail, but on the way back from planting we veered off course, smashed into a rock, and I smashed the window shield with my forehead. All in all the truck took a much worse beating than I did and my head is all healed.

We've almost completed the construction on a new greenhouse that should help us to cultivate tomatoes and other crops that don't do well with a lot of rain. In July, I spent a day across the river with the neighbors watching them brand and vaccinate their new calves. Apparently this is the time of the year when all the new calves get branded and at the end of August they'll spend a whole weekend doing the rest of the herd. Should be fun!

I've been spending a lot more time in the village school recently working on environmental education projects. We spent an afternoon watching a movie about the earth and then each student planted a sapling in the school yard. At the end of the year we're going to give a prize to the student who has the best looking tree.

Wednesdays I'm teaching an hour on environmental education, mainly showing environmental videos and tying it into the world that the students are familiar with. In addition, I'm now teaching English one day a week as part of their normal school day in addition to my afternoon classes for everyone.

The most exciting news from August is that my co-volunteer/housemate/friend Sabine decided to postpone grad school in Germany and come back to Panama at least until the end of the year. She arrived in Cocobolo on a Tuesday and we talked nonstop until Friday when I had to go to the city. It's great having her back.

I am currently in Connecticut chaperoning a girl from my village in Panama on a 10 day whirlwind trip of the Northeast but flying back to Panama this afternoon. I'll post more on that trip later. New photos are up from July & Aug.

10 July 2009


I just got back from 3 weeks in the US but want to update as to what was going on in Panama before I left.

May and June were progressively more wet as the rainy season got really underway. Many days the Mamoni River that separates our reserve from the other villages and neighbors would flood after heavy rain making it impossible to cross without being whisked away. Our farm is looking really great and is getting a greenhouse to help with the excessive rain issues. We've been trying out spinach, mustard greens, and lettuce which will provide a much welcomed addition to the abundance of root vegetables. Sabine and Joel (neighbor/CREA employee) helped me to build a cage for the iguanas before I left. Apparently some of the eggs hatched while I was in the US but the weaker ones died. I'll find out this week how many have survived and then we'll decide how to proceed. I've been continuing English classes two days a week with six or so dedicated students and it's definitely been an adventure. I've brought back Bingo to help practice numbers/letters; should be fun! One fun day we got together a bunch of guys to clear the "road" between the village and our reserve. Twelve guys hit the road early around 7 am with machetes and Sabine and I carried two live roosters to the village to cook lunch for the workers. It was quite the social event and everyone stayed late into the afternoon recounting stories.

When I left the reserve I had to say good bye to Sabine since she returned to Germany while I was in the US. But she has decided to come back to Panama in August and stay until at least December which is very exciting!

I had a great visit home and packed quite a lot into the three weeks. The morning after I arrived, Forrest and I left for a week-long road trip to Virginia Beach (he had a job interview), Louisville, KY (my friend from study abroad got married), Cincinnati, OH (where Forrest grew up), and Garrison NY to spend a night with my grandparents.

From there we went to Nantucket for a couple days and to Haverhill to visit high school friends. Fourth of July we stayed in Falmouth and enjoyed the Woods Hole parade and Falmouth fireworks.

Now I'm back in Panama for a much shorter time than I originally thought. I'm going to Kent, Connecticut for 10 days in August to chaperone a girl from my village in Panama to visit a boarding school. Marvelwood school brings students every January to the CREA reserve and provides scholarships to 3 girls in my village to continue with middle school. We're planning a trip to Falmouth for a night so she can see our house and meet my family. Then I'll be back in Panama until November.

So I'll be up in the reserve starting Monday for 3 weeks or so and will have more news when I come back to the city.

15 May 2009

4 weeks in Cocobolo

The day after flying back to Panama City I went back up to Cocobolo and ended up staying for about 4 weeks. We just got back to the city today and it's quite the shock after spending 4 weeks in the field. I've been keeping busy working with my farmers, teaching English, and working on our farm. In the four months that I've been here our demonstration farm on the reserve has really developed. We're constantly expanding the number of beds and have been experimenting with new crops. We've been eating a lot of arugula recently which is a really welcome change from most of the carbs we eat. Hopefully we'll have summer squash, zuchinni, and mustard greens to compliment our never ending harvests of culantro, spring onion, and yucca. We've started to collect saplings for reforestation projects and will hopefully build a cage for iguanas when we come back up. The eggs are still incubating but should hatch sometime end of May/beginning of June so we've got to be ready. Other random projects include building a clay oven. We've got the base made and have been working on the structure of the oven using vines which we'll then cover in clay. We're looking forward to pizzas, foccacias, and smoky breads in the future.

In the last couple weeks they finished construction on the first health post for the community (I got to paint the lettering!) so there is lots of excitement in the village.

Everyone is now awaiting for it's inauguration so there's an excuse for a party. We actually did go to a party in the village up river recently. It was a day of rodeo followed by a night of dancing to 'tipico' music (the music of Panama's countryside). The three of us stuck out like crazy in the see of beautifully bronzed Panamanians and were probably asked to dance by every guy in the village. It was quite the experience and walking home through the mountains in the dark at 1 am for one and a half hours sure left us exhausted when we got home.

One of the volunteers, Roslyn, actually left last week after finishing her planned 4 months so it's just been Sabine and I up at the reserve along with Jose Luis who works on the farm, Joel who does everything and lives across the river and Iglesias, the field manager, who comes up weekly from the city. It's been a really fun environment and we've been spending a lot of evenings with Joel's family across the river chatting and watching Columbian dramas. They have a generator and tons of pirated DVDs. Not only do we get to watch TV but they also always send us home with buckets of fruit from their farm.

Looks like I'll be in the city now for a week and then back up to Cocobolo for 3 weeks or so. I'm flying back to the US for 3 weeks on June 16th so I'm getting really excited for that. We just met CREA's new projects manager, she came up this week to the reserve, and also just found out that we'll have two new volunteers starting NEXT week. One guy's coming from Canada to stay up on the reserve with us and the other guy is French and is going to work primarily in the office but also come up to Cocobolo part of the time. Should be interesting in the next few weeks with all these changes.

Costa Rica/Bocas Vacation

I had a fun week-long vacation the week of April the 13th, spending my required 72 hours in Costa Rica and then heading back over the border to the Bocas del Toro archipelago in Panama for 3 nights. I had no problems crossing the border to Costa Rica luckily, although the 11 hour bus ride to get there definitely wasn't fun. Once getting stamped out of Panama at the tiny immigrations window, I walked across the rickety old train bridge separating the two countries and got stamped into Costa Rica. You can watch all of the locals just walking back and forth between the two countries to go to school, conduct business, etc with apparently no acknowledgment that they're crossing a border.

From there I hopped a bus 2 hours up the Caribbean coast to the Rasta beach side town of Puerto Viejo. I met two girls (French and Italian) who were headed the same direction and we ended up finding a hostel together and hanging out for the next couple of days. They are both working in really rural indigenous communities in Costa Rica and were trying to make the most of their vacation from work. The hostel was huge and located right on the beach, so I didn't leave much except for trips to the internet café in town and to buy the paper in the morning. Two guys (British and Australian) who my new friends had met in Bocas del Toro in Panama the days before, ended up joining us and we spent one night cook up a really impressive barbecue. They left the next day for San Jose, Costa Rica and I spent one more night before leaving early the next morning to cross the border again. Back on the Panama side I found a ride to the water taxi port for the islands and thought I was golden. Of course little did we know that the retirees would be protesting on the bridge that leads to the water taxi and would have it blocked off for 5 hours. I ended up hanging out with our driver and a German guy while we were waiting for the bridge to open and had all sorts of hilarious conversations. When I finally made it to Isla Colon I was exhausted but so excited because I was staying with my host family from study abroad when I studied mangroves. I was welcomed into their home like I had never left and spent 3 packed days visiting people and enjoying the beach and biking around the island. I stopped by the Smithsonian research station where I did my mangrove study and went out on the water with my project adviser as their boat hand as he and another scientist I know did some diving for lobster larvae. It was a really great visit, too short, but I got to spend some good bonding time with my host family there and hope I get to go back and visit them soon. As a treat, I capped of my vacation week by flying back to Panama City..one hour on a plane definitely beats 12 hours on a bus.

12 April 2009

Summa Summa Time!

Summer has arrived full force in the Mamoni River valley the last couple of weeks. It's been 90s or so everyday with clear blue skies. I've been working with my farmers every week in their plots and we've definitely been making progress; new plots of organic tomatoes, peppers, spring onion, cilantro, parsley and cucumbers. Most of the crops look really good, but we found that some grow better on different farmer's plots than others. I've spent many a morning in the cow pastures loading up our truck full of cow manure (dried!) to make organic fertilizer and we've had some success with pest repellents made from hot peppers (from our farm), garlic, ginger, oregano, onion, and vinegar.

I've started teaching English classes two afternoons a week to the teens and adults in La Zahina (the village) who are interested. My classes can range from 2 to 10 students, anywhere from 13 to 53 years old or so. One of the other volunteers, Roz, is teaching the little kids. It's been fun and definitely challenging to accommodate so many different learning levels.

We took a two-day trip out to Santa Fe, Veraguas where our field manager, Iglesias, is from the other week. Santa Fe is in the mountains about 5 hrs or so from the border with Costa Rica. We got to meet his parents and brother and tour their farm and different crops and animals. We were totally wowed by his mom's orchid garden and all the different varieties. There is a co-op of orchid enthusiasts in Santa Fe who compete in orchid competitions in Panama. She has a wall displaying her blue ribbons from competitions that she's very proud of. Iglesias and his parents took us on a walk to a beautiful waterfall and we stumbled upon a folkloric music festival in town and got to see violin and guitar competitions. The villagers were determined to get the 'gringas' eg. White girls to dance but we resisted making complete fools of ourselves. Our only night there we went out to meet some of Iglesias's friends and to see the cock fights. It was an interesting experience for sure; it was amusing to watch the Panamanian guys groom and croon to their roosters getting them ready to fight.

Back in on our reserve, Cocobolo, we found 46 iguana eggs that had been laid in our worm compost. We constructed an incubator to keep them safe, basically just a big hole in the ground filled with sand and a few precautions to prevent anything from eating the eggs, and are hoping they'll hatch sometime in the next two months. In the meantime we're going to start building cages to hold the critters when they hatch.

I'm am currently in La Guiara, a little fishing town on the Caribbean coast, with Sabine, Roz and a dermatologist they met in the city through having a series of skin problems here. He invited all three of us to his beach house for the four-day "Semana santa" (holy week) holiday and we've just been absolutely spoiled on the beach with great food and our own boat. We went snorkeling yesterday and he cooked us a delicious paella filled with seafood. Unfortunately, we're packing up and heading to the city now. It looks like I either have to leave tonight or tomorrow early morning and go to Costa Rica for 3 days since my tourist visa is ending and I don't have everything together to apply for my volunteer visa. The immigration laws keep changing every couple of months here so it's impossible to figure out what's required and what the law is. I've heard so many different requirements from different lawyers it's ridiculous.

Until next time, Ari

13 March 2009

Waiting for summer

After Carnival we went back up to the country side to our reserve (Cocobolo) and spent a day recovering. Summer (aka the dry season) in Panama, is supposed to be from January till April. In the city it’s definitely summer; 90 degrees, hot and sunny every day….however where we are up in the mountains the storm systems keep coming from the Caribbean and dumping rain on us. It’s literally been raining for 5-7 days straight followed by 2 dry days and then more rain. It’s been pretty cold (relatively), we bundle up at night, and all of the paths are pure mud. The worst part is definitely the mold problem…everything we own is growing mold; books, clothes, cash, and passport.

I’ve been spending a lot of time with my farmers in the village, going to their plots, drawing maps with GPS coordinates, weeding, starting seed beds etc. We’re slowing trying to transition our farmers away from chemicals and promote organic alternatives for pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. So far we’ve had a good reception although progress definitely takes a long time in Panama. We had a few visitors from the US with us for a couple days. Jeni from California came for a week and taught us about compost tea, mulching and other organic techniques. She’s asked me to champion a school garden in the community with the kids and she brought letters from kids in CA who are also doing a school garden. We’re hoping to get a pen pal project of sorts going where the kids write letters back and forth. We also have Erik from Washington State visiting for 6 weeks or so to complete a social impact study for our project with the ultimate goal being to evaluate the market potential for the carbon found in the Cocobolo Nature Reserve. It’s a complicated process since it’s still very new and hasn’t been done yet for a private reserve like Cocobolo but sounds like it could be a great way to find a new source of funding for projects that protect the rainforest.

This past Wednesday we took 5 of our farmers on a tour to an organic farm on the other side of the canal so they could see a rural farmer like themselves who has been really successful with organic agriculture. I think they were definitely impressed because the farm’s soil was so dry it was hard as a rock but everything was growing beautifully. We talked with the farmer for a while and then got a tour of his farm checking out his different organic fertilizers and soil conservation methods. One of the more impressive aspects of his farm was his use of trees interspersed with crops and using plants with strong odors as barriers to pests. I think it was a successful field trip in the sense that the farmers saw how well this man had done in an area with very poor soil and they heard first hand from one of their own how to make it work.

I’m headed back to Cocobolo tomorrow for another 2 weeks or so. I’m going to start teaching English to adults in La Zahina 2 afternoons a week and Sabine and Roslyn are going to teach the kids 2 afternoons a week. I’ve also figured out where I’m going to set up the iguana farm(s), so we’re going to start doing some seriously planning and material buying as soon as possible. New pictures from March and from the field trip with the farmers are online so check them out (link is on the right). I’d love to hear news from all of you so drop me a note sometime!


Carnival in detail….

It’s hard to put into words the ridiculousness that is Carnival. I scored a great deal though for myself and Roslyn, one of the volunteers I’m working with. My host sister from study abroad and her friends rented a house in Las Tablas...aka party central. We were able to get a ride there with three die hard carnivalers and learned all of the appropriate songs on the long drive there. Las Tablas is famous for the on going battle between Calle Arriba (‘Up Street’) and Calle Abajo (‘Down Street’). The normally tranquil town is turned into a heated contest between the two streets to see who can sing louder, play louder music, and who has the best floats and queens. The prepare for the four days of carnival all year long in secret and try to out do each other with more elaborate floats and more beautiful queens. Each street has it’s own songbook that makes fun of the other street and their queen and since we were traveling with people who live and die Calle Abajo we learned all the songs along the way. The queens are chosen at birth and prepare all their lives to be the queen when they’re eighteen.

We stayed outside of the main town in a little village called El Sesteadero and squeezed somewhere around 25 people into one tiny house. People slept in the living room, on the porch, and more often not at all. We spent the days in the ‘culecos’ which consist of crazy street parties with music and fire hoses and the nights watching the parades or out dancing. It was an exhausting 4 days but totally worth it. One of my friends from study abroad who is working in Panama as well came for a day and got to experience carnival in Las Tablas.

The last night of carnival everyone came out in their best traditional clothes, including the famous pollera dresses. These dresses are intricately woven and have a single large pom pom on the front and back. Most polleras are in the thousands of dollars and are highly prized family possessions. We jumped into the procession of polleras and drums in El Sesteadero and paraded around the village watching fireworks. Las Tablas ended carnival with the queens dressed in polleras and a firework battle between the two streets that lasted until 6 am or so when we got up to go back to the city. Definitely check out my pictures online of carnival…the floats are incredible!!


26 February 2009

I survived Carnival...

This post is going to be short because we're about to head back into the bush for 3 weeks. The past 5 days have been a ridiculous experience in Las Tablas...carnival central in Panama. I'm waiting for pictures from some of the friends we stayed with since I didn't want to bring my camera out. We were basically pelted with fire hoses during the day at these huge outdoor parties and then danced the night away into the wee hours.

So I'm off again but will have more posts and pictures when I'm back mid-March.

15 February 2009

It's good to be back in Panama

Hmmmmm.....Where to begin....I came back to the city on Friday after 3 weeks in the bush and immediately went to get a roast beef sandwich with cheese (both of which we don't have due to lack of refrigeration) and a batido (a fruit milkshake of sorts). I was welcomed back by one of my friends from study abroad who has been in Panama since Sept working with an organic farming group we met during our program. We had a fun evening out along the causeway that parallels the canal. This weekend was pretty eventful with me getting my wallet stolen at the mall on Valentine's Day and getting prepared for Carnival next weekend. More to come on that at a later time.

My return to the village 3 weeks ago was really heartwarming. I was welcomed back as the "maestra" (teacher) and asked when I would start teaching English again. Hopefully we'll get into a routine soon so I can plan classes but the first 3 weeks were a little chaotic since we had a group of 10 high schoolers with 2 teachers come from Connecticut. Their week up in the reserve was jam packed with mist netting to catch birds, stream microbiology, and different social activities. The other volunteers and I took one group to the village to visit different farmer's plots and walked them all over hill and dale. Probably 8 miles or so through the mountains and rivers so they were pretty exhausted at the end and could commiserate with the tough life of a farmer. One day we took the entire group to the village and we repainted the school and the students played around with village kids and then everyone jumped into the river to cool off. The last full day they were there we walked into the forest to catch some more birds and then went on an adventurous hike to a series of waterfalls on the reserve. Everyone came back either soaked or covered in mud due to the trail or falling into the stream on accident

When the group left, only Roslyn (volunteer from Pittsburgh) and I stayed up at the field station. For the next three days it was incredible never-ending downpours and vicious wind. We barricaded ourselves in the kitchen with blankets and tea and waited out the storm. Finally, last Saturday the skies cleared and we were able to cross the river and walk to the village to watch our team play baseball against a rival village. It was a very exciting game (we won!!), although our team's pitcher took a line drive in the face and had to go back to civilization and to the hospital to get his jaw checked out, but he's ok. This was the second game we'd been to and it just so happens that they have lost the other games we've missed, so now we're considered the lucky fans and are required to attend future games.

This past week we met with different farmers in the area who are a part of our project to convert the valley to sustainable organic farming. I have 3 farmers that I'm responsible for...helping with projects, providing technical information, and just generally being involved in what they're doing. Unfortunately all of my farmer's plots are way up in the mountains and it's quite the climb to get there. One way our farmers benefit from the project is that we have a contract with one of the grocery stores in Panama City to buy their "culantro" (variation on cilantro) directly for a decent fixed price year round. In addition we're thinking of starting a CSA (community sponsored agriculture) where city folk can pay a monthly fee directly to a farmer to have a box of fresh, in season vegetables delivered every two weeks or so. Other than that, I'm working on the logistics for the iguana farm in terms of location and ownership. Starting next week after carnival we'll actually be able to start putting things into motion.

This week I'll be working with my farmers and around our farm. I'm giving a presentation to the village on Wednesday about where I come from, what our lives are like and my family. I'm excited to wow them with pictures of snow and frozen seas.

Check out the new pictures I've posted (there are 3 albums) and I'll have more next week after Carnival!


20 January 2009

My new best friends

Our departure into the field has been delayed until Thursday since we have to wait to bring a solar panel technician with us. In the mean time I'm working in the CREA office and staying with my former study abroad director, Aly. Aly has two schnauzers, Cuco and Winnie, that are absolutely adorable. I'm attempting to watch the inauguration live on the internet but the connection is a little sporadic.

19 January 2009

Off to El Campo

I arrived in Panama City late Tuesday night and have been melting in the heat here; high 80s to low 90s every day! I've been staying with my host mom from study abroad and visiting friends from the last time I was here. This Saturday I went with my director from SIT to watch a friend in a canoe race in the canal. Their team came in second, losing only to the police team. In the afternoon there was a Jazz Festival in the old part of the city, Casco Viejo, that brought in groups from the New England Conservatory and Berkeley College of Music. Last night my host mom's brother brought a car full of sun-dried meat from one of his cattle that he had slaughtered over the weekend. We got two big buckets full to process and have been eating it since.

I'm currently in "The City of Knowledge" a section of the old US Fort Clayton that has been turned into the NGO center of Panama. CREA's office is located here and we're getting ready to go into the field tomorrow for 3 weeks. Our schedule is basically going to be 3 weeks in the field followed by 5 days in the city, but it will mainly depend on transport. There are two other volunteers here with me, one from Pittsburg and one from Germany. Both are really nice and I think we'll work together well.

I won't have any access to outside communication while I'm in the field, unless my Panamanian cell phone works....supposedly if I climb one of the hills I can get service.

Hello to all and I'll have more pictures and details when I come back to the city in Feb.