20 April 2010

A year in review...To my iguana farm supporters

As many of you already know, the iguana farm didn't get off the ground for a variety of reasons. The primary factor being a general lack of interest by community members. I spent the first two months talking with the local farmers and distributing a really great booklet I found about iguana farming to try and stimulate interest. Previous projects involving the community as a whole had all flopped due to the difficulties of getting the villagers to work together and the general mistrust they all have of one another. Taking this into consideration, my plan was to work with one family who was seriously interested and at the same time attempt to start a farm on the nature reserve where I lived.

Every time I thought I had a farmer who believed in the project he would say to me something like, "Why don't we try fish farming instead?" (The village had already tried Tilapia farming but had given it up after a few months because of disagreements over property.) Eventually I decided to cut my losses short because I could see that the project would fall apart when I left, if not sooner, and the time and money invested would go to waste. By a stroke of luck, a thoughtful mama iguana decided to lay her eggs in our compost pile. With the help of my friends Yoel and Sabine we built an in-ground incubator for the eggs and buried them in the sand. Unfortunately mother nature was not on our side, and the 'summer' months of March-May were miserably 'cold' and rainy and only 3 iguanitas hatched in June with only 1 surviving for a few months. We named him Toni, RIP. All in all, it was a good lesson in community development project planning; even if it's a great project idea, it won't go anywhere if no one's interested. It's more important to work with the community from the start to identify projects they're committed to.

I became very involved with the village school (grades 1-6) and tried to invent new ways of bringing information to the students and community. With the money I raised (thanks to your donations!) we bought a generator so I could show movies and presentations in the village. Weekly movie nights consisted of short documentaries on the biodiversity of Panama followed by crowd pleasers such as Scooby Doo! We also sponsored a workshop with the Panamanian Agricultural Development Ministry about organic fertilizers and soil health and put the generator to good use. Just before I left, the rest of my plan came together and we bought and installed a solar panel on the school's roof and set up a laptop inside.

My hope is that the students (and teacher) will get comfortable enough with the basics of turning on/off the computer, using a mouse, understanding how a computer works, and word processing software, that if they have the chance to continue their studies outside of the village they won't be totally lost (and behind their city counterparts).

Since school is only offered until grade 6 in the village, most of the children finish their education at age 12. If their families have the resources, they can send them to live with relatives in a city where there are public middle/high schools, but most can't afford to. This year I hope to establish a scholarship fund for students from the four communities along the Mamoni River to continue their education. It's a very small way of giving back to these communities that I called home in 2009 and the people who were so gracious to me and my family. More information to come later...Stay tuned!

One final story...As I was walking through the jungle to my hut during my last week in Panama, I ran into a villager I was friendly with on the trail. He was walking back from panning for gold in the streams and had something moving strangely in his sack. I asked him about it and he brought forth a huge pregnant female iguana he had just caught along the river and was going to sell in the village so he would have some money to buy rice. I immediately offered to buy it from him (for $10, I over paid on purpose), and a few minutes later was walking home with my backpack, a machete, and an iguana under one arm. It was one of those moments where I thought to myself, "Is this really my life?".
When I arrived home I put her down in the cage I had made a year prior for the iguanas I hoped to have and untied her toe nails that were keeping her from scratching the bejeezus out of me. She laid there lazily for a few moments, and the minute I walked away I heard a huge crash and she was gone. She managed to jump a 3 ft high sheet of slick zinc and disappeared, to hopefully lay her eggs in the reserve.

01 February 2010

The Prior-Grosch expedition in Panama

The New Year began with quite a bang as the Prior-Grosch gang arrived in Panama. I whisked my parents and Zoe up to Cocobolo on New Year's Eve and we celebrated by meeting people in La Zahina and going to bed early. We packed into six days everything possible so they got the real flavor of campo life. Between visiting the village and neighbors we hiked to a water fall and into the forest to see some 'big trees'. I almost pushed them over the edge when we hiked to the village of San Jose for lunch, 10 mi there and 10 mi back. But they all made it back in one piece and can now laugh about it. I think Zoe enjoyed hammock time the most, Bob the big trees, and Steph meeting all of the villagers and getting a sense of where I've lived for the past year.
After leaving Cocobolo, we spent a few days in the city sight seeing and then my friend Sabine joined up with us to go to Bocas del Toro (islands in the Caribbean). We spent my birthday weekend at the beach, visiting the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute where I had done research in 2007 and snorkeling on the reefs. Zoe got in some good beach time and we met up with the family I lived with on the island. We came back to Panama City for another day of sightseeing and a final farewell dinner before they had to fly back to the barren tundra.
After the family left I busied myself in the city for 2 weeks making final preparations for the Marvelwood School group who is visiting now. I went out shopping for TONS of food and organized our sightseeing and transport around the country. I spent two days at the Smithsonian in Panama City for a conference on Reforesting with Native Species. There was some interesting material presented but all in all I was a bit disappointed with the simplicity of people's presentations (ex: Trees are really important....duh!). Last week I went up to Cocobolo to take up the food and make sure all the buildings are ready for high school kids. On Saturday the group arrived, 14 high school kids with 3 chaperones. On Sunday we went to Gamboa in search of monkeys and visited the Canal locks in the afternoon. Today we visited an Embera tribe, arriving up river in dug out canoes. We spent the day learning about their culture, going on a hike with the village medicine man, and enjoying a lunch of fried fish and plantains. Tomorrow (Tuesday) we head up to Cocobolo for a week of bird banding, stream macroinvertebrates research, and insect trapping. Photos are starting to go up: http://picasaweb.google.com/ariadne.panama/MarvelwoodVisit

When they leave on Feb 10, I have a few days to prepare myself for Carnival which starts the 13th. I got convinced into going to Las Tablas (party central) again for the four days of mayhem. Afterwards I'll go up to Cocobolo for a few days to install solar panels on the village school and set up their laptop. Saying good bye is going to be a challenge in La Zahina and then I'll have a day or two in the city to organize my life before flying home.