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    Wednesday, August 15th, 2007
    11:09 am
    Groundbreaking success!!
    Many have already heard, but I just wanted to update this here as well. This past saturday was the groundbreaking of my community`s Partnership project to make an education center for computers and general studies. I was really nervous about turnout and details, but I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that over 20 community workers plus women to cook showed up for the work day!! I was even more elated to see that people from every sector of town were in representation, even the evangelicals which generally do not participate in community activities and esp. not ones that involve alcohol! Yes, the chicha fuerte was present, but the men didn`t get hoop it up drunk this day, thankfully bc if they do, less work is accomplished. They leveled out the land and dug the deep foundation that had to be done for the blocks. Then they made the corner strong posts that will give the building its strength by bending iron post into a ladder shape! It was great! I was running back and forth between the kitchen (or large pots on rocks) where bone soup and rice was being cooked (the bones do come with some meat!) and the project site in my large black rubber boots...and loving it! Then monday, the mason and his helpers, which are members of the community that I am in charge of corraling to work for the next month or so, started putting up the walls of cinderblock. Everything looked like it was off and running on monday! I had to leave to go to the city for some doctor`s appointments. My foot is back to bothering me as a result of training for a marathon on sharp rocks for months. I am not currently able to run so I went to see about it. I have foot stretching exercises and pills to take for a couple weeks to see how that goes, before they just saw my right foot off completely (being conservative and all, don`t worry dad!). Also, today a new group of volunteers arrive in Panama City, so there will be a time to host a volunteer or two to show them what volunteer life is like in my neck o´the woods.
    I laughed at myself yesterday in the city, when I saw a ´white person´ and literally caught myself staring her down! I am officially panamanian...I gave her the ¨wait a second, what are you doing here?¨ look which the panamanians so famously give me when i am anywhere. OH, I`ve been here too long!
    Since I don`t think that I will get to a computer on the exact date, just wanted to say Feliz Cumpleaños a mi Papá (dad) who has a birthday on next wednesday, 22nd. Hope you have a great one dad!
    My yard, as I think I have explained before, has continued to be the site of the recreational sports league of madre vieja. Meaning, every afternoon until they can`t see each other anymore, all the town kids come to play in my yard which is now looking more like a mudpit than any semblance of grass. They are very fickle though in their games; futbol was popular for a good time, but for some unknown change of the moon, they have taken up jump rope!! Mom, you would be so proud! I can`t wait to get out there, but i`m afraid i might be too big for them to swing it for me! how troubling. But they even try double dutch and everything. they have competitions with 2 teams battling it out and little rhymes ¨mi abuelita...¨, etc. It`s great!
    People ask me often if I miss the U.S., and it is funny that it is not a constant feeling and never has been here, but there are times when it does hit me all of a sudden with an image or a moment that some thing or one here resembles something i know there. Like last night, I was traveling back from panama city in the late afternoon so by the time I reached santiago it was dark. And since I basically never travel at night, I hadn`t had the experience of seeing the ¨city¨ lights glowing. And although there is no comparison to the cities that my mind traveled to remember like miami, atlanta, nyc, santiago and its pleasant glow of night lights reminded me of that...and i missed it. Or sometimes it is just a feeling of being that gives me deja vu and i am carried back to a moment in my life when i felt the same way i do at that moment. strange really. But i am still so integrated here and involved that i haven`t extracted myself or checked out in order to feel that longing for home much. I believe that the minute I leave my town for the last time, I will feel a sudden load lifted off of me. A lightness because of the cargo I think I carry on the part of my town: its concerns, its dramas, its joys, and problems.
    Speaking of problems, a sad situation has passed in my town, but hopefully has a possible positive outcome. I have learned that a young man, from an evangelical family, very respectful and timid has been detained and is in the hands of the police since last week for the pregnancy of a minor. A 12 yr old girl from a neighboring community is pregnant and the family says it`s this man from my town. There are supposedly other family members who are suspect according to Pablo, from my town. They will probably do a DNA test soon to prove/disprove paternity. I hope for the best for his family and for him. What a mess!
    That`s all for now. Thinking about you all at this time and may the Lord of All bless your day and you shine for Him to the world around us! Like John Piper says in the book i`m reading...don`t waste it!
    Monday, August 6th, 2007
    9:28 am
    trials of youth
    this week was frustrating but had its moments of triumph as well.
    oh the bright side, the funds for the partnership project are in my hands now and on saturday we are beginning the project with a community-wide junta or work day! I have been going house to house this week explaining all about the project, inviting people for the work day, and soliciting their help either financial or for manual labor. It is so fun to go to each house and chat, plus I seem to get a lot of free meals out of the deal! haha. but the frustrating part is when people express their problems with helping the project due to other projects in the past which have ended up in the hands of a few. but why do they feel this way when these are the same people who never attend a meeting or contribute their opinion, only to complain i suppose? it is frustrating that they try to throw their own apathy around and twist it into the result that the ones helping the project are doing it for their own benefit. a little childish really. But i think we have plenty of support and i am off today after this to talk to some of the political figures of the area to ask for their financial support. those of you who donated may be thinking, but what about all that money we gave if christy`s talking about fundraising still? to clarify, that money was for all the materials involved in the construction, however, the manual labor which in this case has to be paid has to come from the community. so myself along with 2 other young guys in the community are in search for all those funds. i think it is all going fairly well. the hard part is going to be the coordination of all these workers and making sure they show up for their assigned day!
    my frustrations came later in the week with my youth group. I have been planning for over a month in coordination with 2 other groups in veraguas to have a regional camp at our beach. so everything was set, but as always in panama, things change. first off, i had set up a ride from my town to the beach because the bus that the other groups were coming in couldn`t pass on the muddy road to the beach for risk of getting stuck. So the truck came and took my kids with the food, since the bus hadn`t shown up. And i was thinking they`d be there by the time the truck returned...haha. jokes on me. they don`t show up for another 3 hours!! yes, all the while our food is spoiling on the beach with my crazy kids running amuck! yikes. but they could not seem less concerned with the situation when they slide into town. so i am running around like a crazy woman trying to radio the truck to pick us up, getting an electrical plant, and playing hostess, etc. we get to the beach, although late, and no one has had lunch. so we put to making lunch, me getting to fry 15 lbs of fish for these buggers and we eat lunch at about 5pm! so much for dinner! things calmed down and everyone had a good time. we had a beach cleanup and group building activities, swimming, eating, talent show (where yours truly sang the Titanic theme song by request!!=) the kids had a good time and wore me out with games and such. But in the meantime, i learned that the company from which we are ordering the materials for the project, sent the materials to madre vieja when i asked them to wait till today when i am going there to see what day they would send them. point being, the materials arrive and it`s chaos because I am at the beach with my kids and no one wants to receive them and be responsible. Luckily, my favorite tienda owner, Ramona, sucks it up and receives them and then wrangles some boys into carting the cement bags into her store so they don`t get wet. thank goodness for her! we would have been in some trouble.
    The frustrating part of the camp comes at the end. We are cleaning up and packing up at the house where we stayed at the beach. My kids are ready to go and itching so they just take off and leave. Without permission, without telling anyone, and I see them and am literally yelling for them to return but they completely disrespect me and head out despite my efforts! I was utterly embarrassed and upset. They are under my supervision and what if something happens to them. Plus, the river that runs into the sea at one point of the beach is a raging river because the tide is up and it`s rainy season. So we have to cross this to leave and my kids are crossing this without me being able to knock sense into them! the water is at chest level, and even more on some shorter ones. Well, i couldn`t do anything with them so i just went back to help with the rest of the people. We packed up and of course, cross the river with a relay of people passing bags of trash, backpacks, and cooking utensils over the river. Then we have no ride back and have to find some way back. Oh, and it is raining now. We get a ride, but since the government is building our road, the road is blocked by a concrete tube (the ones used for bridges and overpasses)and mounds of earth. So we have to wait for about another hour. Finally we get to my house and get on their bus to leave. Needless to say, I was relieved at this point I had planned on leaving with them to Santiago to do some necessary business...and relax. But today it`s back to see what to do with these misfit kids. Who knows. Wish me luck on saturday that all goes well with the big work day! take care!
    Wednesday, July 25th, 2007
    11:23 am
    latest events
    so lately I have been traveling like a mad woman and it doesn`t stop this week. Yesterday I actually went nuts and decided it was a good idea to get the early bus out of my site at 6am getting to panama city at 1:30pm to give a presentation about relationships to the new group of volunteers at 3pm only to jump back on a bus at 6pm back to santiago! yikes, but i did save on a hotel :)
    We are gearing up for a campaign to raise funds for the construction workers and the start to the construction is about 2 weeks away, according to plan. I have to get back to my town in just an hour or so to have a meeting about this. But it is going and thanks to all the timely donations, it is going to become a reality.
    Then thursday and friday Santiago, my provincial capital, will be celebrating its patronales (which i honestly have no clue what purpose or saint they are for), but it will be a chance to be in the area and also buy the tons of food for our Panama Verde regional camp that we are having next week. Next week is the school´s mid-year vacations so they will be free to be at the beach for 3 days for the camp!

    Yesterday was eventful at my house. I was moving cinderblocks around at the front of my hut, when i picked up the first one, there were 2 fat sapos or toads. then cinderblock no. 2 revealed a snake, which i have a hard time with always. but luckily my machete was close and i just started hacking away! he ended up in 4 pieces. Sorry for any snake lovers but this one is supposedly venomous says my neighbor who watched the whole show. then i bribed my neighbor kids to clean my yard. actually, it was I who started cutting the grass with my machete and then the little boys feel bad bc a woman isn`t supposed to do that and they take over. so i gave them some candies i had left over from another event...so then EVERYONE was feeling generous and able-bodied to help me! afterwards, they all threw themselves onto the pile of grass just like jumping in the fall leaves only the newly cut grass leaves you itching. very fun though!
    Saturday, July 7th, 2007
    10:08 am
    the results are in and...
    ...officially you all have raised the money to fund the construction of the education center in my town! I am so thrilled! Thank you all so much and just like I have said before, this is not the only opportunity to donate probably as there are definitely things that I have let slip through the cracks in the process of being an amateur mason, engineer, electrician, etc. So I`ll keep you posted. But wow!! I cannot believe it. I think it was only about 2 weeks probably less that it was all done and said. As far as the other ways to donate, my parents will be on ready (hopefully it`s okay to commit them without asking!)about the project and as I was just telling one person who still wanted to donate, if you still want to contribute and feel comfortable trusting myself, my parents and the U.S. postal system (yikes), then you can get my parents a donation in knoxville and it will weave its way to me. One thing to note is that funds are actually still needed because prices of construction materials have risen in between the time that we budgeted the project out and today, so that gap is not covered by the funds. Please do what you feel is appropriate for each of you and understand that the financial benefits of donating (tax-free) are not available anymore.

    Now comes the tough part which is the implementation and hemming and hawing to get it done. but we had a meeting just 2 days ago with the committee and we have sent the designs out to the area masons to see who will be doing the job! so the wheels are rolling thanks to a few (like always) dedicated community members that I would go mental without.
    I have been in travel mode a bunch with a youth conference where I took 2 kids from my town and they served as representatives of my youth group in the national conference of climate change for youth. They even showed Gore`s Inconvenient Truth, which I hadn`t even seen. I think though, from trying to lip read in the background with the english version that the jokes don`t quite translate with the spanish dubbing! But it was fun, tiring, and at times, since panamanians have yet figured out how to run a camp or conference, boring to be honest. But the kids love it! And now we are planning a regional camp with the groups of my province for their mid-year vacations coming up soon.
    Tomorrow I head to the city for the long-awaited arrival of miss anna! we will hoop it up in the city for a week of vacationing and exploring. I know she will love panama with every biology, insect-loving bone in her body. I am excited and so privileged to have her. Such a blessing!
    Then the next week, I will have my final close of service conference with peace corps where we close out our time here...crazy. I really cannot believe it is almost over. I got anxious just opening the packet that we got about the conference, esp. since it closely resembles the one I got before coming to panama 2 years ago! wow.
    Today, I am in santiago do my trimestral reports which take a while, but they are finished now. Dari`s cooperative has a dance tonight and I think we are going to go but I hear it is going to be packed because the group is the biggest tipico band in the country! I`ve seen them before but the dances are always fun...if it doesn`t rain too hard to make you not want to get out and go! We had our regional meeting for volunteers yesterday and it is always so nice to see my friends especially a few girls i`m closest to.
    For my 4th of july, I was in my town and so I thought, I`ve got to do something to make a holiday of it (bc as you can assume, panamanians don`t celebrate OUR independence day! :)) So, I decided, I`ll do a talk about american culture. So i rigged up a pinwheel of topics and had some pics of the states, etc and did a chat in the school that afternoon. The catch though was that i made dulces, or sweets... but american style...popcorn, brownies and rice-krispy treats!! they went nuts over them! they were like little vultures literally hovering around me until it was all gone! It was storming at the hour of the talk so since no one wanted to miss the dulces, they all arrived at my house to wait it out and in turn wait out their piece of the pie literally. i had about 30 kids in the front part of my house!! if you`ve been to see me, you know, it is a very small closet size space! so funny.
    apparently my house is dirty as well ( not really, but with a thatched room, sweeping is a 24/7 job), because the next day the little girl who lives next door to me came over which normally she wants to play with cards or books, etc. no, today, she picks up my broom and starts sweeping out my home. it is hysterical if you know lucecita and that she is like a foot tall but 4 years old with this wild, crazy bush of a hairdo that sticks out every which way, with rotted teeth (maybe i shouldn`t give away dulces) BUT she talks like an adult woman! it was riotous! she`s chatting it up with me about town issues while my little rented helper cleans the house! oh man, classic.
    Football has decided to come to me as the kids democratically, not really, picked my yard to turn into a football field! One good thing is that they have killed all the grass so I don`t have to cut it with a machete, which is pain-stakingly tiring. But, every couple days, they, like all kids, break something. This time it was my shower/sink/everything tarp behind my house. They kick the ball into it and it gets caught there. Rather than extracting it from the shower, they just kick and kick until it comes out. Oh...dear. But there a few really sweet boys who help me cut a branch to fix it.
    I also the other day got the spring to get on a horse, badly. I never get to ride and it is SOOOO fun as Tina can attest to. So there was a horse outside my neighbor`s house and i asked the little boy who rode it to school if i could take it for a spin, just for a sec. So i hopped on in my crocs and shorts and rode around town and down the lane. Everyone hollers and hoots when i come riding up on the beast and challenges me to run him...so off we go!
    life in panama, never a dull day! I leave you there.
    Saturday, June 23rd, 2007
    9:40 am
    sex talks!!!
    So yes, it is a catchy title. But i am just coming back from being in a friend`s community with 3 other volunteers where we did just that, sex talks. It was fabulous! I traveled to the north of my province which I hadn`t actually been to yet. It is so different than my area with a higher elevation, beautiful mountainous landscapes, and a fresh climate with nice breezes! So we all arrive wednesday night and planning and laughed and shared stories. Then both thursday and friday we were all day in her middle school where we taught 5th through 9th graders about sexual health. This included mostly body parts, menstruation, etc. It was wonderful and so fun as we did games and lectures...guess who got to talk about your period for 10 hours with them...yep, yours truly. Plus, since the other gals were more recent to panama, I won the spanish speaker prize so I had to answer the tough questions or translate stuff they didn`t know. I felt so in my element for once and after many times feeling very useless or without specialty, I realized through this and other activities, that I`ve got something. I loved it and they loved it and we hit almost 400 kids and we are coming back in august for another set in the same place and another community talking about HIV-AIDs, STDs, and protection. This is the traveling road show really!
    Also, I have to put something in about my partnership project that Iam currently soliciting funds for from you all. I am amazed and floored by your generosity and only hope that my villagers get how awesome the power of asking is. The computer center or education center is the project and we have a work day to prepare the piece of land this week. I hope it goes well. Just to let anyone know who is looking on the peace corps website for my project, it isn`t there as of when I checked today. I am checking in to why, hoping this is good news. So don`t worry if you can`t find it.
    This week I will be going to a national youth conference with 2 representatives of my youth group to talk with youth all over panama about climate change. I am really excited for them to have this opportunity and will accompany them. In july, anna is making another run at coming to see me and I pray that the airlines in tucson have their act together this time. i know we will have a blast together. Also my group that i arrived with almost 2 years ago here now will have its close of service conference which will prepare us to exit peace corps as we finish up our commitment here! I cannot believe it is actually that close! I really cannot imagine that day, but it is arriving and soon.
    Take care all and hope everyone is well and enjoying summertime there.
    Let me know what is going on in your lives so that I can pray for you specifically and purposefully.
    Saturday, May 12th, 2007
    4:19 pm
    despedidas galore
    Despedida which means going away or take off in the case of an airplane is what we call a going away party and so last night and tonight we have 2 of them for volunteers who are completing their time in panama and leaving. Last night it was for our regional leaders, Sara and John, a couple, with all the veraguan volunteers. Dari and I went and we had a great time! I was so pleased that he so easily integrated into a very intimidating all English'speaking American group where he was the only Panamanian. But my fellow volunteers are also very gracious and considerate to talk to him, in spanish, to have him be included. We had a poolside toast of our leaving duo at a local hotel and then to a restaurant for some good grilled chicken and beef. There was a good size group of about 20 of us and it was great. Some went on to the disco but I was pooped and since I have another one tonight, dari and i went back to where he lives. So today I have traveled to the city where we will in a bit have the despedida for Trisha who was the coordinator of the HIV/AIDS efforts in panama and before that a regular volunteer like me. I have gotten to know her and we trade tales about the joys and trials of dating Panamanian, however, she is going to marry hers and they are in that trial of getting papers and visas together! yikes. But I have been happy to have been able to see a bunch of faces that it has literally been months and months, almost a year for some since i've seen them last. I have realized I needed to make a more concerted effort to meet up and participate with other volunteers since I was feeling a little out of the loop.
    Life in madre vieja is good and I felt like a real campo man the other day. With my youth group we are going to make a seed bed for reforestation, so I went out one day last week and got the materials, or some of them. This consisted of taking my machete with pinkie, my dog, by my side and traipsing down my road to where i found some fairly straight limbs that I could hack off, while obviously leaving the tree growing. These will be the legs of the bed. Then to tie them together to carry, find a grass'like plant and bind them together and throw them over your shoulder (like a continental soldier...ahem, mom). I wasnt planning on it, but I came across my neighbor mariano who has stalks of bambu in his back yard and asked if i could cut some. I left the bara or wood pieces I had just cut and went for the bamboo. Climbing through the barbwire fence, I started cutting away at a stalk. Mind you, this is a good 40 foot long piece and at this point, I'm hoping I know what I'm doing and it doesn't fall on my head bc I am the only one around to yell timber if so! but it worked out, although I had to cut it in sections because it didn't have room to fall down as a whole. I felt super strong and very authentic while doing all this by myself. Later too, as this seemed to be my day of manual labor, another man in town said I could have some of the leftover pieces of a tree his group had cut down for wood siding. So I mosied over there and hauled it out on my shoulder once again. I'd like to say it didn't phase me to do all this, but the next day, the bone on the top of my shoulder was bruised and sensitive a bit. Guess I'm doing something wrong in the process. But it was fun and everyone always loves watching me do this stuff especially cause women don't really get into this type of work. Christy Crais, breaking the gender barriers one bamboo stick at a time!
    My boss has now officially sent my partnership project to the states for approval in washington so be on the lookout in this journal if it gets approved for more details of how you can help. The project is in order to build a suitable and appropriate computer center, a basic room really, to have community members learn and teach basic computer skills and for children to have a study space after school. I am really praying for this to happen!
    Happy Mother's Day to my mom and my grandmother tomorrow! Take care all and I hope to have more adventures to write of soon as next week ariel comes into town and old WAMS, SHOW antics will run wild in Panama!
    Thursday, April 26th, 2007
    8:35 pm
    these are the days...

    today i am in soná where i have not been for quite some time since i like to go all the way to santiago normally.  this town kinda drives me nuts really.  all pavement and cantinas and all kinds of people on the main street to hassle me.  but i`m here to buy the food for the leadership seminar that we are having this weekend with my youth group in conjunction with some leaders from another group.  I`m very happy that it is coming up and hope that it is well-received.  
    i have lately been bombarded, for who knows why, with requests for money from me.  whether it is a neighbor or a guy on the street, everyone seems after my very limited cash flow these days.  My most interesting encounter was a man in the park in santiago who approached me while i was waiting for my bus, who asked me all sorts of personal information to ´get to know me´ which was really just creeping me out, asking me if he could accompany me and be my friend (he seemed a little slow honestly).  then when i said no, he got down to business and asked me for money to buy food, I said no and then he left.  But a very strange encounter really.  All the people in my town know that I am cheap as dirt when it comes to things so who knows why they think all of a sudden i will be giving away publishers clearinghouse sweepstakes from my own pocket!  who knows.  
    my english classes have begun in the school and this year has been much better than the last one for many reasons, but one of which is the fact that a few children in second grade and first grade were held back for not passing.  These troublemakers who no long rule the roost in their classrooms are calmer and so now these 2 classes run much smoother.  It`s so true, one bad apple spoils the bunch, extract the apple and everyone is better off...just got lucky this time I guess.  Overall, the kids seem more excited about english and mainly about STUDYING english outside the classroom so that they don`t fail!  not much news to report really since i have just written but hope that everyone is doing well and finishing out school years strong and excited about spring time blooming around you.  Here too it is somewhat like spring in that everything is becoming green again with the rain which I enjoy.  take care! 

    Monday, April 23rd, 2007
    1:23 pm
    Coiba situation
    So let´s see. I have been working in this sticky situation with my youth group. Basically I had this grand idea of going on a trip to Coiba Island which is the World Heritage Site which is right off the coast from where I am in Panama. It has protected virgin forests, crazy amounts of wildlife (including guacamaya and other endemic species), and supposedly fantastic scuba and snorkeling in its reefs. Plus, despite being so close, no one from my town practically has seen it! What a pity! And me being the fearless leader of an environmental youth group, and this will take a fearless one to deal with this situation I`ve created, what a better place to go. First problem is that it is expensive to go. But we do have some funds for the group and since I am dying to go, I thought I would pitch in as well. But not all of our 20 plus kids can go because only about half will fit in one boat and contracting another is WAAY out of budget. So, I am left with the pickle of how to decide who goes. Yes, I have thought of having a point system, like good old Kristi Houk would do, you gotten earn your way. However, in this scenario, there are several members who go to school outside of the community and would not be able to participate in all the activities due to cost of transportation. So, points don’t work, because we’d say that these kids would pay a ¨fee¨ for their absence but then everyone would just pay the fees for all the events and everyone would remain with the same amount of points! Oh yes, they are that tricky, they’re teenagers. SO…I made them vote if they thought that we should still go, EVEN THOUGH, all of them would not be going. The idea was for each to think if he or she doesn’t go, will they be upset and quit the group, send their mom or dad to yell at me or talk behind my back (all of which will happen none the less, despite my precautions). They voted yes. Yikes. So now, I am sending a note to the parents with the date of the drawing of the names (because they know and believe in the system of drawing from a hat) and a note saying if they have any questions or concerns, to speak now or forever hold your peace POR FAVOR! We’ll see. But it is exciting because if it does work out, which many obstacles still remain, then Ariel will come along for this wild ride! Could be good. Ohh, the trials of youth work.
    Other projects have been arranging a leadership workshop for the youth group in 2 weeks with members of another more ´senior´ group close to Santiago who will come to do the workshop. I’m very excited about this one and think it will be very beneficial for the group! Elsewhere, I have been painting some signs to hang up giving direction to visitors of where the restaurant is. And also, giving support in consulting with ANCON, a Panamanian organization for conservation which has several small business owners in my town which have ecotourism projects. This means looking at their cabañas and seeing what a tourist would see or see lacking or with a store owner putting together some figures to show progress for the donor’s sake.
    English classes for me start this week and my computer trainers have set our date to work together.
    Funny little story…or maybe just funny to Panamanians. I went to my friend Ramona’s store to buy a pound of rice and she puts it in the bag and hands it to me. I look and it is chock full of ants! Now I’m one who’s used to eating ants by now, but that should happen in my house when they are looking for food, not from the start! So I tell her I’m demanding another pound without ants (jokingly, of course). She laughs and I tell her since there is nothing to eat (meaning chicken or meat in the store)she was just trying to round out the deal to make a full meal, you know, with some good ole protein. And if this isn’t funny to you, you haven’t been to panama then because oh man how the couple onlookers in the tienda howled at this one. I honestly still think that they are surprised every time that I make a joke and laugh out of surprise that I can indeed be funny in their language! But it sure does feel good to be witty (or some version of it) again. It is hard to lose that for a time while trying to figure out the nuances of a culture and its humor. But…I’m back in the game!!!
    p.s. people are always asking me what they can send...i came up with something which is novels, what you have read and enjoyed because there is always a moment of hammock time. also since i was in the states and bought a portal dvd player, movies but sadly they canNOT be burned because it knows about those and doesn`t read them, so originals only. they can be super old or whatever, but as rainy season approaches I would love to see a movie on a rainy day trapped in the hut! if not, i`ll be okay. these are for me. things that the children always enjoy are games, cards like UNO (which has been sent and now lost) and other such travel games or coloring books. you wouldn`t believe how much they play with these simple things! Thank you all for all you have done and all you will do. If anyone happens to send a package, if you could send me an email so that I can be looking for it, it will get to my hands faster. Thanks! Happy Earth day, a day late!
    Tuesday, April 10th, 2007
    12:36 pm
    Coconuts, Crosses, and Falling houses
    Now doesn’t that title sound exciting! Well, that was my Easter weekend in a nutshell. I meant to write about the first item, coconuts a while ago. I think they are such a cool thing and I never knew all that they were good for or how they worked. First of all, I had no idea that out of the same coconut grew the palm tree! It’s just a large seed! You can just leave it on the ground and with time, out pops a palm tree, try it sometime! Here coconuts are a big deal. People make cooking oil out of them and cook rice in that which gives an awesome taste, but very bad for you health wise. So, what they do is collect these coconuts. They are brown and large; the green ones are called pipa which are not yet matured and from which you can drink a slightly sweet juice. Pretty good, but nothing I would go crazy over. Some do though. Anyways, you get your coconuts, and you need a bunch of them in order to get enough oil out of the deal. Then you take your trusty machete and cut the extra skin off the outside that leaves you with what we would think of as a coconut, small round ball with the couple black dots on it. The you get your rallador, which is a piece of wood on which is attached a piece of metal which has been carved into a spike like a small saw with teeth to carve out the meat of the coconut. You sit on the wood piece with the saw sticking out in front of you and you hit the coconut with the machete and first out flows its juice, which you can drink and is good. Sometimes there is a sponge-like growth in the middle. This is where the palm tree ¨seed¨ was beginning to form before you rudely interrupted it to eat it. You can eat this and it is very good and sweet. Then you take your tool or rallador and one side of the coconut which you have just hopefully broken into 2 pieces, and rake it across the teeth of rallador to take out the meat, which comes off in shavings. You continue until the coconut is bare of the white meat that we would know as coconut shavings. You can eat this too as you go, they do! Then you take these shavings accumulating them until all your coconuts are bare inside. This pile of coconut now you add water to and squeeze over a colander to get dirt out and get the juice with coconut flavor. With this juice, you add to a large sauce pan and heat up with water added. Over time, the oil will separate and rise to the top of the pot and this is your oil which you skim off the top ever so carefully to save for cooking oil! Voila! What a process huh. And it is. Each coconut, if you’re good takes a little bit to get the meat out. But it is great. Why I tell you this is also this weekend of Easter or Semana Santa, there are several traditional foods that people make especially for the weekend (but particularly for Good Friday or Viernes Santo). These first of all include a coconut dessert. It has the flaky consistency of coconut with added sugar and honey and really I can’t tell you all of it because I’ve never made this one. But it is very good, but rich. Then there is the yucca dulce made from yucca which is rather strange for a dessert! But decent, depending on who makes it. Also you have to make bollos, which are corn and rice meal that is rolled into log shape and wrapped in large banana leaves and wrapped with a string and throw into a pot of boiling water. They add coconut juice to the mixture or also milk and butter to be extra special. Finally the other food that you are supposed to eat for semana santa is fish, preferably smoked straight on top of the fogon or open fire stove. Basically, since I don’t have some of these products in my farm (don’t have one), I go around and visit people because many people come in to visit family and then people give me what they have made. Some even courier it over to the house! Haha. But it is a fun weekend. On Friday, there were big baseball games and all the men in town came out to try to show off their skills. It was fun to watch!
    Earlier in the day, the other item in the title came into play, crosses. A Catholic tradition is do the Via de la Cruz or the way of the cross. Basically it is a procession from one point in town ending at the chapel. So I joined a small group of devotees to do it this year. Someone had placed 12 (I think) crosses made of palm leaf and mounted on a stick at intervals along the path. The procession starting a little past my house (for those who know where that is in town) and went up past the baseball field (which they had to stop the game for us) and to the church on the hill. It was really cool because at each cross there is a reading from the Scripture about the time of the crucifixion with prayers including the Lord’s Prayer which I have mas o menos memorized in Spanish. Then they take the cross from the station with them as they move on singing songs as they go. It was quite impressive really. A quiet, holy time to consider the events of this special day in very much a way that it might have been in Christ’s time… on a hot, dusty road with the sun pounding down on a group of people slowly making their way up top of a hill together. I was honored to be able to participate. The little children are given the crosses of previous stations to carry in front of the group which is hysterical as you can imagine as they start speed walking with the crosses ahead of the lingering group behind them. And later fighting like Luke Skywalker with their newly-found light savers in hand! No worries, kids are the same everywhere.
    Finally, the most riveting part of the weekend came on Sunday. Darinel, my boyfriend, came into town and noticed that he hit his head on the wood supports at the doorway when he arrived. Then he started looking and low and behold, my house was falling down!! Slowly but surely, the front part of my palm roof was creeping down and probably would have taken the rest of my little casita with it!! You could note from the outside that it was a less dramatic version of the tower in Pisa (andy and aubrie should know what I mean from their recent trip!) Me, having hit my head how many times on the wood, had not even paid enough attention to think anything was wrong. Yikes! Luckily he came around when he did. If the rains had started earlier, I would have been in BIG trouble as to fix it would have been so much harder with wet weighed down palm. So on Sunday, Dari had talked to some of the guys in town and had a group of 10 or more inside and outside my house pushing and pulling my roof back into place. It was really quite a site! Everyone in town had to have stopped by to take a look at the action in town I swear! They had quite a complicated system of levers and pulleys and knots in order to pull the job off. I have some pictures that I will get up eventually. It honestly looked a lot like putting up the Big Top at Barnum & Bailey’s circus! But they did it. Climbing around like monkeys, the roof is up above me once again like new. It really was a fun time to have them all here and see them go to work on it. Of course, like always, they had to have their chicha fuerte for gasoline to work and took advantage of the job they had just completed to stick around and drink and tell stories outside the house (should it tell me something that they preferred to be outside the house, even AFTER the job was supposedly done!). All in all, it took probably only an hour or so, that is after they figured out how to get the ladder into the house because it wouldn’t fit in the door at first. Something out of the 3 stooges at times I thought. Hope you enjoy the fun tales.
    Happy Easter to all! Hope that everyone enjoyed good time with family and friends reflecting on this incredible time of the year that we get to remember with what humility and grace our Lord came to us and said, take me instead and followed through to the letter!
    Saturday, March 17th, 2007
    11:53 am
    the latest
    This week has taught me just how far I`ve come and how much my perspective has changed. I have been one to be highstrung and type A personality who doesn`t like things to be out of control. This past weekend, I had 3 events lined up. And like I said to my mom, I was thrilled to have good things happening. So when I came out of the weekend without having been able to do any of the 3, you`d think I would have been very upset. Sure, I was somewhat bothered, but not the same as I would have been a year ago. They all crumbled due to circumstances out of my control, miscommunications and no-shows. What do you do! Move on and reschedule. I went the next morning to the company which is in my sight to plan the finance seminar again and hopefully this time their secretary won`t change the time on me without telling the facilitator, me! This change, also has been helped along by my dad`s favorite book ¨Who moved the cheese?¨ which i read monday afternoon after this exhausting weekend. Don`t hang on to the moldy cheese when there could be good cheese out there just waiting for you to munch on! And my favorite, what would you do if you weren`t afraid? My boyfriend and I discussed this some and it proved helpful. I am visiting him now because he has taken a job in the nearest large town working in accounting for a cooperative. He bought me some lovely leather traditional sandals as a surprise (which are on my feet now).
    After the failed activity weekend, I finally had some success when I went to my friend Erin`s island. She asked me to help her just start some youth programs and so I planned a self esteem day with the 4th through 6th graders. Let me just say, that all my years of kristi houk activities and camps have proven very worthwhile in panama, who knew! In between chubby bunny and watermelon seed spitting contests, I think they learned something about themselves and how unique they each are. Erin and I had a wonderful time catching up and supporting each other. Oh and the watermelon was a task. We have a patch which sells them outside of town and so i recruited a kid named boom to go get them with me. So you hike out about 30 min walk and then have to hike it back on your shoulders. Then since I wanted to use it for the seed contest, i took it on the bus with me AND in the motorboat out to the island...miracle it made it! But I laughed at myself who I am constantly astounded by what type of crazy things people bring on buses and here I am with a large watermelon on my lap!
    The schools are back in session and we had our first panamanian ¨PTO¨ meeting the other day. Have you ever been to one where people are arguing about a copy that costs 20 cents? I almost couldn`t contain myself when I thought about it. But there was no room for laughing in the heat of the discussion!
    My dog Pinkie keeps me in good company although he knows that when I leave it`s time to head over to his other family on the outskirts of town until I get back.
    Monday, March 5th, 2007
    10:54 am
    Carnavales and after
    Dari and I decided to avoid the craziness in los santos which is the new orleans of panama for carnavales and so we went to the city.  It has its own celebration just without the wild people and robbings.  We stayed with some of his uncles that I had not met which was really nice.  They however live in a part of town a ways outside of the actual city so it was difficult to get to the celebrations.  We went one night with his cousins and went to the main street where they sell confetti in little bags, silly string, and whatever else can get someone messy. kids are all over the street walking along waiting to douse you in it or squirt you with a water pistol.  but this is acceptable because it`s carnavale!  they love it if you are talking and you have your mouth open and they can toss in a handful into your mouth!  rough crowd huh?!   but fun, and that night ruben blades was playing at the main stage.  he is the world´renowned salsa artist from panama.  probably their one international star!  also before that, panama was playing their big rival costa rica in the finals of the gold cup.  it was a tight game with panama leading 1to 0 until the final minutes when costa rica tied it to put it into penalties.  then they proceeded to beat us there.  however it was quite cool to be in the midst of a large crowd of soccer fans watching on big screen in the open air!   very thrilling.  losing though does put a little damper on things, we enjoyed ourselves despite though.  Dari and I ended up moving over to a hotel in the city for a couple days in order to enjoy the day events and for me to get to the office.  they have parades everyday in the afternoon so we went of fat tuesday and they are really fun to watch with the tamborine bands and floats with their queens, including one by ^Gay Panama^ with their own dragqueens!  oh dear, that definitely raised a ruckus.  We also went out to dinner with a friend of mine and her boyfriend which was nice.  Then it was back to the beach (or better known as my site).  The restaurant is running well and my women`s group is so proud of their place.  The debt is big but as I was having a session with one of them, Juana, she was saying how they were determined to make it work and that you had to plant the seeds and wait for them to grow before you had the beautiful flowers!  so they get that it will take time to be profitable.  These women amaze me all the time with their beauty and grace.  They can make me laugh but also humble me with their generosity.  I love them and they keep me going on the boring days!  I went one day with my friend Ramona (more of a mom figure) to go pick her beans from the trees.  So we hiked it out there and i met her at the river where she was finishing up washing clothes and went out to pick for the afternoon.  Can i just say how much I love being in the monte? It is so refreshing and really gets you away without a care in the world!  She was recounting the history of all these people and years that have passed in town.  She`s like my grandmother that remembers EVERY DETAIL.  it`s incredible.  to support her family she grew rice, corn, and beans and when no one else had much she was selling them at 5 cents a pound, rice at 2 cents! it`s ridiculous, and many days she said the women would come with hunger and without money and ask for help and she would give food away!  What a trooper!  Tough stuff.  
    We are at the end of summer here with the kids starting back school next week.  So the heat has taken its toll and there is little water.  I was so against going to the river that I brought my clothes out to wash in a friend`s washing machine here in santiago.  People are readying for school.  Teachers had to enter today.  I`m interested to see who our new director is this year and how school will be run.  Always a new regement.  Also watermelon is in season and there is a farm just down the road that sells them...i bought a huge one for $1.50!  now i`ve got visions of watermelon seed spitting contests.  we`ll see!  Next monday though I`m heading to my good friend erin`s place on an island off the coast from me, isla gobernadora.  She wants some help with youth.  So i`m going to try to put something together for her.  I really enjoy that so much.  Suppose that`s it for now!   Take care and hope all is well with everyone.  please keep me updated on your lives!  
    Friday, February 9th, 2007
    12:49 pm
    beach festival fun!
    This past weekend we had our annual beach tourist festival which is 3 days and is put on by the community to raise funds for the committees that exist within it. It was great and I believe it went really well as far as funds too! I was in charge of some of the sports which I love but I was not excited about because they aren´t things that people do in my town...running and swimming competitions. So, basically the town set me up for failure...and I achieved it. I talked to tons of people trying to lure them into running the ¨marathon¨with me, as they called it, from my town to the beach(about 2.5miles) which by the way, was to be run at 8am after the discoteca dance the first night! right. Then 2 hours later supposedly was the swimming event at the beach. Both were no shows. Turns out no one wanted to run the marathon because panamanians are very competitive and don´t like to get beat...so since I was the organizer and i run ´a lot¨ no one entered because i would win. And swimming well, many panamanians don´t know how to swim, nor do they do it as a sport. Thanks committee for pushing this on me. But let it roll off.
    The discoteca was so much fun! Dari and I danced with some people we meet till about 4am! They played reggaeton, rock, and (mom get ready)elvis presley and some 50´s stuff! how about that! the dance floor though is pure youth bc the older people, quote think we are just jumping up and down, not dancing.
    the next day I had my sports events flop but in the afternoon dari and i had both volunteered to take a shift at the cantina! it was a blast but definitely work. I am now officially a beer slingin´bartender. My arms were fully frozen from the ice cold bins of ice where the beers stay cold, and of course, everyone wants one, ´bien frio´(very cold) so you have to reach you arms down into the depths of the artic to get them one each time! But it served me well as about half way through my shirt I got bit on my calf by a scorpion inside the cantina as I was reaching down for a empty bottle! Wow! those things sting hard, luckily there was plenty of ice to go around but no time to do anything about it! Since I was so busy though, my mind was not on the sting. But the next morning i felt it. my whole lower leg was swollen and numb. my skin felt tough and i had no feeling there for 2 days or so. it was quite odd. But the next day, i had my regional leaders who came in to go on a site development trip (where we check out a potential community for a future volunteer). So I was off in a boat with them to an island near by for the day. It was gorgeous with bold blue waters as we zipped along my coastline seeing all the nooks and crannies of isolated beaches and land. It has potential as a site so we´ll see. Oh, i almost forgot about the university of panama film crew that i had to do an interview for! haha. the university is doing a documentary on some work their students have done in our community. they did an analysis of needs and are doing follow-up. so they wanted to know about the community and my role there. it was fun! Man,my life sounds so much more exciting when i write about it. i think i´ve gotten too used to the odd spontaneity of where i live.
    things to look forward to...anna and robbie´s visit in april! My college roommate and best gal and her husband are coming to visit me then. I am thrilled about that. I suppose that´s all for now. An early happy valentine´s day to all! Thank you for your love and support and know how much i miss the realness of who you all are.
    Friday, January 19th, 2007
    11:31 am
    Getting it going ...
    So returning from the states was definitely a time of transition but with the warm welcome i received, it was much easier. Though for the first week my stomach was not happy getting adjusted and i was nauseous many a day. But i got there eventually and now i`m back to the beans and rice diet. I loved being home and seeing everyone but i do feel that i now have my other home in madre vieja. everyone was so happy to see me and when i saw my ladies (of the restaurant group) they just hugged me so tight like i was the prodigal son come back from lost! it was great. and their restaurant is completed! it is beautiful and i`m so proud of them. I have to take pictures of it in the day as i saw it first at night.
    It is summer and it is hot and dusty, but with nice breezes. The other day dari and i went on a bicycle borrowed from a neighbor with 4 of us on one child size bike! one of the handbars, me on the connector to the seat, dari driving and one on the back! i had to hold in the laughs at the ridiculousness of it all, feeling like i was back in the 1950`s. so we went down to the watering hole...tons of kids chasing, splashing and climbing in the trees like monkeys diving into the water below (very deep thankfully). it was great! so refreshing.
    This past weekend dari and i with funds from the company in my site were able to take 15 teenagers of my panama verde group to a national park, volcan baru, the only volcano in panama. we stayed at a ranger station and packed them all in. they had a blast but we were freezing as it is in the western highlands of chiriqui which can get quite cold esp. when you have little cold weather gear! but i was so thankful dari went to round up kids and get it together because the bus almost didn`t make it up to the sleeping spot so we had to rearrange plans for the trip of the agenda the rest of the time. but it worked out marvelously. we took a hike up to a lookout over the park at about 3,000m elevation and wore them out after 5 hrs of hiking. and then got to go to the flower and coffee fair in the nearby town which has gorgeous flowers (see online photos) but funny they are mostly what i grew up with impatiens, begonias, etc bc of the climate. but bc my town is such a hotter climate at lower elevation this is quite an attraction for the majority of panamanians. we got KFC on the way out of town (staying one night and 2 full days). and i had to stop and think bc i had ordered something extra and told a little boy (13) to wait for the order to come up as i went to the restroom, well as i came out he was still standing there because he had no idea how fast food restaurants work! he`d never been. he didn`t realize you had to wait for the number or if no number was called ask! Wow, puts things in perspective. The whole trip was an awesome springboard for them to get excited about cleaning the community and protecting their area, but also about being a part of the group. lots of kids want to join now, so we`ll have to get it all together!
    i am just coming back through town going home from our regional meetings which we have every 3 mos. with all the volunteers in my province (22). we went to isla gobernadora which is very close to me, right off the coast actually where one of the girls from my group lives, probably my best friend here. So we had a great time on her island (which i had not visited yet despite proximity) doing the meeting but also we did a volleyball tournament us vs. panamanians (which they are quite good and beat us) while in between each game we game hiv´aids talks and gender talks to the players and crowd. i actually was in charge of the kid entertainment and we made mobiles out of shells and coat hangers while the rest was going on. erin, my friend who lives there, called me the pied piper! to end we played a game of women vs. women and that one, the u.s. won! maybe we should have been playing all women from the beginning!? It was really great and fun to see her place and get some reenergizing fuel from other volunteers again. Now i`m headed back to town and rolling again. Hope all is well and it isn`t too cold there in the u.s.! Take care!
    Tuesday, December 26th, 2006
    11:01 am
    recap of months past
    So i realized for my avid readers of the online journal that i have completely disappointed in recent months with nothing since August! yikes. So i'm trying to get back on track. hopefully i will be more able to now that mrs. duncan gave me an old laptop that basically will be for word processing nothing more. We'll see. So, since august with some little tidbits. The women in my group have been building the restaurant and supposedly will have the inauguration while i am here in the states! I was sad to miss it but so relieved that they will finally have it done! it is great with tiled roof and open air seating! amazing accomplishment for them. Now it will be to have them get their act together as far as running the thing. THey are great women but in the last months it has proved difficult for me to work with them as they are completely consumed by the construction, and rightly so. I did many days of hard labor to help...mixing cement, carting boulders, painting the tiles, decision-making on appliances. but i cannot complain bc much of my time has been spent relaxing in my hammock reading...a bunch. it has grown harder still in my town to work due to the american company who cranked up with their construction carving out a road to the beach front they bought and employing many townspeople (but only temporary work) which makes it a ghost town during the day and then they are all exhausted at night. But i was hopeful and still am about some collaborations I have with the company for a personal finance seminar with their workers (cancelled on me once before i left and now set for when i get back) and funds to take a trip with my youth group to a national park of the only volcano and highest point in panama! i'm a little skeptical if they are going to fulfill their promises but better to be optimistic! What else...in october i was gone practically the whole month between a visit from my dear friend christina, activities surrounding our 1 yr anniversary, the Black Christ festival, and then emergency visit home for my grandfather's memorial service. First on the list to attack, christina's visit. in a word, FANTASTIC! we had such fun. first with all the crazy birders who were staying at this old air force radar tower now converted into a hotel with an observatory deck at the canopy level of the rainforest! super cool but taken with a grain of salt for us non-experts. a guided walk where we saw 3 toed sloths, butterflies, toucans, monkeys, and more! neat stuff. the food was great too and christina, being her, got an art gallery contact there as well! then we traveled to my community where we stayed several days having hair-raising romps on horseback around the mountains, beach time with a car full of kids, and country cooking! it was so funny. she was a sport. oh especially when we couldn't get back to town after a storm that made the river overflow so we stayed at my boyfriend's house. then we traveled back to the city (which on the way we had to work our charm and skillz as women to get out of a speeding ticket)to get a look at the locks of the canal before hopping on a plane to the Bocas del Toro islands. Just a little puddle jumper got us there in about an hour and we proceeded to our hotel which the whole trip proved to be an adventure in people...there are MANY characters there. We had a great hotel on an island off the main one and so each day we went on snorkeling or just to another island to have beach and exploring time. ate great indian and asian food and cocktails too! our hotel had some of the best characters with our 3 traveling norweigan models (names were something like yang and nan!) ONe of the most highly tauted spots was red frog beach and it did not disappoint! it was the clearest, most gorgeous pristine blue water i have ever seen! i have never seen such an incredible palette. Sadly, it had to end, so we had another night in the city before she left and then i went straight north to Colon province in Portobelo where i have a volunteer friend. Many of my group were meeting to go to the Black Christ festival where then we went to Isla Grande to celebrate one year in the country. Black Christ is a religious festival where pilgrims travel from all over the country to pay their homage to this black christ statue which there are many stories surrounding how it got there in the first place. But the real pilgrims walk to the town and then are on their hands and knees crawling many with hot wax being dripped on their back till they reach the church. THey believe through making the journey, the Black Christ will fulfill their wishes with miracles. it is pretty cool but kind of strangely disturbing the whole ritual. Then that night, october 21st, they bring the black christ statue out and parade it around town with song. a really beautiful event overall. usually, there is a profound drinking ritual related to the event, however, this year, alcohol sales were prohibited in the whole country because on the 22nd was the voting for the referendum to expand the panama canal. this was a HUGE issue and months of propaganda had gone into the vote. it got passed easily but many were against it especially in the campo or the poor classes saying that it was just going to make the rich richer. from there on isla grande, our group just hung out for a couple days to be together for the first time in many months. but the first afternoon i was there, i got a call from the country director. i actually thought i was in trouble since they had been being very picky about taking vacation although irrationally i was worried because i had taken the necessary steps. It was because my parents had contacted him to say that my grandad had died the night before. I was sitting at a restaurant with several friends and just started bawling! then i quickly got off the phone to not subject my boss to the unnecessary awkwardness of hearing me. I talked to home and we decided that i would go home on the weekend for the family activities and memorial service. It was a blessing that I was out of my community and ready to get home quick and that I got the call directly and not community members. it was a blur of strangeness that week because i was supposed to be 'partying it up' and enjoying a beautiful island and then the new group's swearing in ceremony. my home visit was needless to say, very stressful and not fun. too much all at once. But i had the promise of this visit for the holidays coming up.
    I got back right in time for the holidays of november. Panama has the great tradition of cramming all of its holidays into 1 month so really work wise, it is unimportant. It was great to be back, and for the month, i was in my community because i felt so disconnected to what was going on. it was a fantastic reunion with dari and we had a great time enjoying each other's company. His contracted job finished up at the end of the month so we decided to take a trip to boquete, chiriqui. We are planning on taking the youth group there for the volcano hopefully in january so we wanted to be sure of the area. It is cooler there and rains more, but it reminds me of tennessee some since the climate is a closer fit. We just hung out, ate well, and hiked around. Pretty little mountain town and great getaway!
    Saturday, August 5th, 2006
    4:14 pm
    Ya terminé!
    so that means i finished, which is what i hope to say tomorrow morning sometime around 9:30 or so after running the marathon in panama city! definitely need your prayers as i`m not in mint conditions to run this but you know i gotta finish. the village pride is counting on it. they all expect me to come home with a trophy and medals. They have no idea who is entered into this thing. But I know it will be fun, with a group of us here that are running the relay and me the only crazy one left standing to run the entire race.
    To reflect on the past couple weeks since i`ve written. We had a wonderful trip with the jovenes of my Panama verde youth group to the national park in chiriqui, parque amistad. Pulling together the funds barely, we went for the weekend and had good weather. Had a forest ranger give info on the park itself, playing teambuilding and environmental education games, did a hike to a beautiful waterfall (see my photos), and played chubby bunny in front of a fire (it`s rather cold by the way there as it is at a 2500m altitud)! They love this game and it is rather hysterical to watch them play it. They were so happy and my fears of lacking food, sickness, money, whatever were all for nought. We also in the final days of july dedicated the park that we have been working on in the community. It is very pretty and I am thankful to be finished with that. The community seems quite pleased and the children are all over the benches and walkways of it. It`s named after the former volunteer who helped with the initial proposal and I was able to speak at the ceremony. Hopefully we will get started on another one soon. My group of women took their accounting exam and all did quite well, however, they don`t know it but there were so many points involved that it was difficult to do poorly. But they were all worried about it and begged me to give the results sooner than i had planned. I waited a few days for a meeting I had with them to give back the tests and I baked a cake for them to celebrate! nothing fancy, pilsbury from a box, but MAN was it a delight! carrot cake, yum. You have no idea. Then it poured as i was a ways from my house stuck in the chapel. This little creek had risen to above my waist and the path was a river! I had to get back before dark so i wadded through all this and i thought the river really might take me with it if i slipped or misstepped! but i came out okay, just my white skirt was now a beautiful brown mud color. dari said he wasn`t worried about me only that the rest of the leftover cake made it back to the house! We also went to visit his mother and brothers who were all in town in farfan then santiago for the celebrations of the midyear vacations. There was a street party that night and so 2 of his brothers, dari, and myself went out. It was just like oktoberfest in munich for those of you who have been. 18wheelers that had been turned into sound systems with huge speakers for music to dance to and tons of food and junky things to buy! but fun. well, i`m off to eat some pasta to carb load before my big day tomorrow. I`ve got to hit the hay early since it starts at 5:30am!
    Friday, June 30th, 2006
    3:02 pm
    English classes and travel
    I am at the internet today to send in my quarterly reports to my bosses. However, just as luck would have it, yahoo doesn`t work!? since when does that happen. i`m blaming the clogging of the network on the argentina loss to germany which is a huge deal here and now everyone in the world of futbol feels the need to either gloat or lament over it ´chatting´ away and blocking me from doing my work and seeing my precious emails! but the sweet people at this internet cafe have been so kind as to lend me their email address to send the document. i love panamanians for that!
    this week is english week at the university in soná (my nearest town). some months ago, a friend who is enrolled in the basic intro class asked me to do a seminar during this week. So on tuesday, i went to the night class of about 30 and did an interactive presentation or as i called it sports extravaganza teaching some continuous verb forms. it was so fun! and i felt so honored as they treated me like a queen, had a banquet of food, called me ¨miss christy¨ and gave speeches after the seminar, or really about a 4 hr class. they also invited me to the finale which is tonight. There is a beauty-talent contest and i am going to be a judge!! yikes! just as long as i`m not competing. but it should be fun as long as i don`t make anyone too mad with my decisions. panamanians are very competitive. But i stayed with this wonderful family for the seminar that i will be staying with again tonight. The husband, Ramiro, is in the english class and i met him at a bakery in town that he and his wife, rosa own. they make the best stuff! it actually tastes as good as it looks which is something lacking in a lot of panaderias. anyways, they started talking to me months ago one day and they had hosted another volunteer in the past and are just about the most gracious people i have ever known. they give me free chicha or fresh juice drinks and send me away with cookies to my town! when i arrive the other day, their daughter about my age sat me down and gave me a manicure-pedicure! haha, that didn`t last long in the campo with the next day being laundry, mopping, cleaning, carrying buckets of water around day! but they were lovely for a moment. they would do anything for you if you asked them to. it feels so comfortable to be there in their house. something i´ve definitely missed. they are more sophisticated and educated with their children studying engineering and computer programming. I´m always happy to see them and they,me.
    I have been traveling a bunch this week with a trip to the city the past weekend for a meeting of this seminar we are trying to put together. It was great and we got the proposal on my boss´s desk plus had a blast celebrating my friend, Erin`s, birthday at this fantastic italian place. it had GREAT food and a perfect ambiance outside in a little nook! if you come, i`ll have to take you there. i also got my hair cut and it was fun to do something special for myself like that. i figured it was time since when i go on my long runs, my hair was getting so stringy i`d come back with knots in it that dari would help me pull out! yikes. speaking of the running game, i did one of the longest runs today of the schedule, 30km or 18mi! but i did do a bit of walking at one point bc my foot was bothering me. i just pray i can make it to the marathon. i`ve been working so hard for this and i think by now probably the whole nation knows i`m training for it.
    my youth group is good and we are still planning on going to chiriqui in a national park called parque amistad in a couple weeks. i`m a little concerned about funding though, however i did get a boost when the professor of the university handed me an envelope which i later opened to find $30 in! since we can`t charge anything for our work, i`m putting that one in the bank for the trip! You wouldn`t believe how hard it is to raise money in a place where there isn`t much cash flow going (although you should, cause it makes sense right!?)(; anyways, just wanted to say an early happy birthday to my mom, if you see her or talk to her, it`s on the 3rd of july, almost a firecracker. also a late happy birthday to my grandmother turning 93! on the 28th.
    my english classes in the primary school fall on the 4th of july and i want to do something with our holiday to share one of my favorite holidays but i have yet to think of something magnificent so if you have an idea let me know!
    The park is really moving along now that they contracted out all the manual and technical labor to the club deportivo in a lump sum which is also better for me so that i don`t have to go looking for workers begging people to work. It is almost done, just need to paint it and a couple little things!
    My group of ladies are good. We are working on practices in basic accounting. they come to my house in pairs or triples to do some practice problems and scenarios. it really feels like exactly what i picture a ¨peace corps volunteer¨ doing when i`m in these sessions. i LOVE them! they are so silly and fun and i really feel like in this we are advancing their knowledge, albeit slowly, in something they would otherwise not have the opportunity to discuss. They are also in the midst of building the restaurant! yeah! they are really pumped and should be. HOwever, we still have a long way to go with their knowledge on how to run it. But I am very excited for them.
    I still amaze myself at how God continually has to teach me lessons in people. I have been in countless situations with different individuals that I have judged in one way and then my assumptions turn out dead wrong. You would think I would have learned by now. Nope. For instance, I`m thinking of my neighbor doris. When i first arrived, i was flat out scared of her. she just seemed icy and so i didn`t personally invite her to a meeting i had about something. well she took note, like they all do, and asked me why she wasn`t invited. that only reinforced my nervousness around her. But after I moved in next door, she has been nothing but the opposite and truly a lovely neighbor. She helps me in countless ways and I use her washing machine to wash my clothes (though still not exactly as easy as in the states, 10 times easier than by hand!) And we have good chats and she helps me to understand why things are the way they are. So, to note, I have once again been humbled by my own judgements of others.
    what else of cultural significance. i apologize that I feel that my journals get less and less interesting as I become accustomed to what is life here. Not as many things strike me as ridiculous or different anymore But I`ll work on it. One thing I`m constantly having to relearn is the art of food storage in the campo. what do bugs like? well, i`ll tell ya, everything. and man are they good, air tight storage containers. you know what`s really gross, the other weekend, i saved dari some fish that i had cooked and i had it covered with a paper towel for a couple hours until he came to the house. well, when he started to eat it, midway through he noticed there were fly eggs in it that they had laid! yikes! he had to vomit up what he had already eaten in order not to get sick! i`m so horrible.
    the kids of the town still amaze me as well. they call out my name like it was going out of style! why? no clue, not that they want to tell me something or even that they need me to look their way, just to say it or recognize my presence. i`m going to come back to the states after my time here wanting the same entourage and come out sorely disappointed.
    Oh, mom, received the bingo game if you get this anytime soon. we`ll have to try it out here.
    Finally, Dari, my boyfriend-novio, is fantastic. I am so thankful to have him in my life here and don`t know what I would have done without a friend close by. Although he`s panamanian, somehow he`s different and I can vent to him about things that happpen. He treats me so wonderfully and constantly makes me feel special. He is making a garden which I had intended to do, but he`s got a lot of expertise in that. He continues to drive the ole coot around in the car, however, is losing patience with him bc all Pipote (old man)wants to do is drink and dari doesn`t drink much and just wants to get home. so we`ll see what he comes up with. but everyone in the community respects him and is always asking me about him. He gets along with everyone and gains their confidence so quickly, it`s amazing.
    Well, i`ll end it with that and i`ll hae to let you know how the ¨simon¨american idol judging goes, hopefully they`re good and i don`t have to be mean!
    take care all and vaya con dios!
    Wednesday, June 7th, 2006
    7:43 pm
    more good times...
    So, i have to admit at my last entry I was a little disappointed at the lack of celebration of my birthday by my townspeople, but as always, they surprise me and pull through.
    This monday and tuesday we had an accounting seminar planned for the last 2 months. i had invited another volunteer who has a larger site and has already done some computerized accounting to come in for 2 full days and teach some basics with me. we are talking what is accounting, why do we need it, and what is a cost, etc. really basic, but very important especially as my group of women is starting up again the construction of the restaurant! very exciting for them. anyways, so lisa came out and we had a blast. these women are incredible and i realized through her visit and her comments what confianza or comradery i have with these wonderful women. we laugh and joke and play! it`s fabulous. well, i showed up on monday at the beach with lisa and as i looked at the table there outside the fonda, there was a dulce or cake. i thought, what in the world is this...well, 2 of the women had made it for my birthday and they all gathered round and sang me feliz cumpleaños right there before we started the seminar! this would be a great surprise for the states, but you have to understand what a sacrifice in resources and time this is for them! it is very costly to make a cake and they had to send a message with someone to get the butter for it. then they hae to go to the other side of town to bake it in one of the only ovens in town! all this for a cake, the irony is that i had been telling dari that i really wanted a cake for my birthday, but i hadn`t had the chance before the day to get a mix! so i had actually picked one up that weekend to make at some point just to have a cake for my birthday, although it would be late. but here they had gone and made me one!
    plus, one of the oldest women in town, had been raising chickens and offered me one for my birthday, she took it to her daughter my neighbor (fina, for my family who met her and used her bathroom) to kill and make into soup. this woman is the definition of generosity as she has practically nothing herself but always seems to be giving me something when i visit her. and a chicken! that is a really costly item, it reminds me of the woman washing jesus`s feet with the precious oils that she had, something so rich for them to give away like that. what a sacrifice! i felt so blessed.
    the seminar went very well and in the coming 2 weeks they have practice sessions with me and then an exam at the beginning of june. i`m hoping they`ll learn a system that we can really implement and keep going. they are very willing and ready to work with it, but it will be quite a behavior change.
    i am on my way to penonome, staying over in santiago for the night. i have a meeting tomorrow to present a proposal asking for a little fund that peace corps committee has for small projects. mine is an environmental education trip to chiriqui with my panama verde group in august. we`ll see. they are only giving out a couple, and who knows how many volunteers will be after them.
    as far as my running goes, i am half way to the marathon in august. and the other weekend i had a long run the equivalent to a half marathon, so i`m on track. we`ll see if my body holds up though and the road allows me to run. right now they are actually fixing the bridge into my town! however, before i could skip along some rocks from the broken bridge to get across whereas now i have to cross the other part of the river, meaning i have to take off my shoes and socks on one side and then wade across the current to the other side where i put them back on and continue the run. quite the site i`m sure! but i definitely have some accountability as a man in a neighboring village saw me running in another part of the district and asked me if i was the ´marathoner´. haha.
    the rains have begun and so the buses now do not go to my site, it`s hiking time, but not too bad about an hour into my site. but i found out that i was missing something in my house when it flooded some the other night because of the heavy rains. so dari like the princess he says i am, dug me my moat or trench for my castle so that the water drains around the house and doesn`t enter in the cinderblocks. always something!
    before i forget, happy anniversary to my parents and aubrie and andy! i think that makes 32 for my parents and 2 for aub and andy!
    other news, we are getting going on the park again, although there was some community upheaval in the fact that the committee chose to pay some albañils (i forgot the word in english) from outside the community and made people mad who had given of their time for free earlier in the project, so we`re at a standstill again.
    oh, something very interesting and we will see how this plays out, to tell you some differences here. i am told that a mother of one of the poorest families entregò or gave her daughter, age 14 at the most, to a young guy in town, age 20ish i believe. meaning sent her to live with him. this is a huge scandal right now, and illegal. the townspeople i have talked to do not approve and not sure if authorities will be brought in. but it was for monetary reasons i believe, bc his family has sold their land to the big american company and so they are one of the wealthiest in town now. it worries me in the sense that she was an active member in my youth group, but didn`t show up to the last meeting, which is odd. and today on my run i saw her walking late to school bc she had missed her ride. not sure what is going on there.
    Hope everyone is enjoying the summer there as ours is closing out. everyone here is ramping up for futbol world cup style here! not unlike neyland stadium on a saturday afternoon in the fall, my town`s going to be on the nights that the games start (friday)!
    Saturday, June 3rd, 2006
    1:17 pm
    Birthday in the jungle...
    ...the title sounds more exciting than it was. really, sadly, people in my town don´t celebrate birthdays bc they don´t have the money. so no one really did anything for it. plus you have to be your own propaganda to let people know it´s your bday so only a few people knew. but dari came through, he got me a present which is a big deal for him i know. it´s a shirt that says españa cause we are always talking about who is better real madrid or barcelona! then in the afternoon in a hurry he had to whisk me off to his house in farfan so that we could go eat pizza that night in a neighboring touristy´surfer town. the river was growing rapidly and the car wouldn´t pass if we waited any longer...so we practically ran out of the house, hopped in the car and drove off! it was fun and we had a great time visiting some family, his grandmother and aunts. one aunt killed a gallina or hen and cooked the traditional soup, sancocho for my bday the next day. that´s what you do here. but it was nice, a good break from the normal. i´m running out of internet time but just wanted to say thank you to all of you who wrote me and were thinking about me on my day. i can´t believe i´m 24...seems older than i feel. i guess that´s good. i´m in the middle of my training for the marathon and we are ramping up lots of work here with english classes, starting a seminar for accounting, and another for tourism investment developing in the future. so i´ll be busy, oh, and i´m pulling teeth trying to get my kids in the youth group to fund raise to go on a trip to a national park, you wouldn´t believe how hard it is to raise $10 even here. i need kristi houk´s pancakes at this moment to get some funds. take care all!
    Monday, May 8th, 2006
    6:31 pm
    life is goooood
    it has been some time, but i don`t remember exactly where i left off, so i`ll just be where i am at this point. I am in the city waiting to pick up my brother and sister in law from the airport! I cannot tell you how excited I am for this visit. We are going up to San Blas (pray for good weather) and to my friends` indigenous site in the rainforest of the Chagres River Valley. Should be fabulous, plus my site with the beach and all.
    As far as my work goes, I have definitely had some encouragement in that realm lately. I had another volunteer come down for a 2 day workshop to form the mission and vision of the group of women which went VERY well, and I am pleased and excited about the way they are thinking about the future (something that is sometimes hard to get people here to think about). We met yesterday and did a presentation of what my counterpart and I had done at the Peace Corps conference that we went to and will be working on getting another capacity building seminar in accounting soon. Other than that, my Panama Verde youth group sent 4 members with me to a national camp which they enjoyed and now I`m trying to motivate them to plan a trip to a national park. Could be tough though to raise the funds by the vacations they have coming up in august. I just want them to learn about leadership, teamwork, and planning...most all really executing which sometimes doesn`t happen.
    The park we are building has been slow. We did have some work days but it was to move dirt around basically in that we need to make the raised structure level. Tough stuff. I am now teaching english classes to all 6 grades in the primary school which is tons of fun. they loved that on the first lesson i used a banana for a telephone to practice hello and goodbye and other introductory phrases...now i walk around town and they will call out `ring, ring...` to me just like i did when they answered the telephone!
    kids are constantly at my house nowadays and love playing uno and mancala which they call piedritas or little rocks. they are fascinated by the toys i have thanks to you all. but they do have trouble putting things back where they go, i get frustrated sometimes with this.
    the cooking in my house is going well. i am trying to learn. mastering the art of cooking rice is harder than it looks. i love making banana cinnamon pancakes and eggs. dari does so much better with the fish that i usually leave that to him. lots of chicken or beans and rice. sometimes a flop and sometimes not.
    i am now in the thick of training for the marathon and plan to run that as long as i do not get hurt in august. i think everyone in town thinks i`m crazy. they can`t believe i run to the beach and back...without stopping! they are always amazed. but a great support and accountability in that manner bc they know when i run and when i don`t.
    i went to the feria in los santos and saw a HUGE bull that weighed over a TON! he was so big he couldn`t hardly get up. i met up with about 7 other gal volunteers and we had a blast staying at one of the girl`s house who lives close, cooking, laughing, and dancing at the discoteca.
    i love my townspeople who always make me laugh at their crazy antics and jokes. the joke is now that my boyfriend has become the driver for this guy in town who can`t drive but bought a car that he has stolen my boyfriend from me. i just tell them that the old man will then have to wash his dishes, clothes, and cook for him if that`s the case. they just laugh!
    well, i`m off to get my bro and sis. hope all the women have a happy mother`s day coming up. happy mother`s day, mom! love you. know that i count each of you who read this as a blessing in my life. i wouldn`t be here doing what i am doing without your influence in my life and your continued encouragement and strength that you send me. GRACIAS!!
    Tuesday, April 4th, 2006
    10:25 am
    Back in the saddle
    After mom,dad, and matthew left out I was back in the ole mother again for the last 2 weeks or so. I didn´t end up getting to go to Coiba with the group because some teacher took my spot when they switched the trip dates, but all the better because we had a fantastic event with the kids of my youth group, Panamá Verde. Always challenges such as the teacher NOT leaving the keys to the school like i reminded her too, so we had some of the talks and movies outdoors, but you roll with it. We worked with the kids that were already in the group and they did a day to reintroduce the org to the community kids and see if more kids who are now of age are interested. It went great! we had the national director come out and another peer motivator who all the kids love, a real camp crazy guy who gets them going with lots of games and such. In the morning we had a community clean up as it is an environmental group. Then we had a snack. After that, the org presented a video and talked about what the org was. Then the kids that were in the group previously gave talks and did activities over AIDS-HIV with the kids who came out. We had about 25 in total which was a great turnout! They did great on doing the activities and I was so proud of them! They have a lot of pena to do things like that and they are really growing as individuals and I can see changes in their self esteem! That night we put on some movies to raise funds for the upcoming event that part of the group will be going to in another province. Went well. So I was very excited about it all. My boyfriend, Darinel, ended up staying for a while which was great bc I hadn´t seen him for some time. He made me shelves for my books and for my spices-salsas in the kitchen. He is also helping me plan for the party-inauguration of my house that is happèning this saturday! He, along with another guy, and some of the kids built a rancho which is basically just some palm leaves above bamboo sides in order to have a spot to dance. He cooks, cleans, washes, etc. I joke with him that really i just wanted him for a maid! But we have a great time and he is very respectful of my work when I need to be doing something or in a meeting. The kids of the community actually asked him to train them all that week to play baseball with a neighboring town. So everyday, he went out to the cow pasture that is our ´field´ and spent several hours teaching them and working with them on their basic skills. I was out there most days as well and all those years of playing softball with the Rocky Hill Diamonds in Knoxville with the Hammill girls, etc. paid off as I can help them out with their swing and field positioning! haha. who knew that I would use those skills here! However, due to a miscommunication in the note that they sent with a bus driver over to the other community, the other team didn´t show. Rather, some of the adults from that community showed up! It was supposed to be for ages 10-14! needless to say, they are going this sat to the other community, yes, walking there. The group of women that I work with is doing well. All 10 of them are in an artesanry seminar which runs every afternoon for a month and a half! It is great bc they are learning how to make pìggy banks and flower vases out of nature materials such as seashells, coconuts, and corn husks which are beautiful! however, somewhat frustrating to me in that they are occupied every day and it is nearly impossible to do anything with them right now. But we´ll get there. They are making me proud by keeping up with the system of bookkeeping that we started in january. I thought for sure they would have left that by the wayside by now.
    My share of bureaucratic chaos has ensued as I am in the fight to try to figure out how to get the construction that they were doing going again. It is a nightmare here as in the states going from one agency or govt body to another only to be told that you are in the wrong place. Essentially, no one wants to sign off on the go-ahead and be responsible. But keep on truckin.
    School has started up so that means there´s more activity in the central area and to me, more life. I love it and the kids come by in the morning after I run and stare at me dripping with sweat and ask me if I have run yet. It is their way of small talk I have come to appreciate for what it is. Also after school, kids are always in my house and I just smile as they play cards, read books, color, or play with the little toys I have been blessed with by you all in the states. They love it! This week when I get back to my site tomorrow I will be starting english classes with the kids. It will be a challenge as they are 2 grade levels in one classroom. with for example, 1st and 4th grade together so you have to split your time up b`t the 2.
    Currently, I am in Santiago for some meetings we have today. We always have our regional meeting every quarter when we have to turn in the reports of what we have been up to in our sites. It is also a great time to see the other volunteers in Veraguas, my province. I spent last night hanging out with one of my best friends here, Erin, who lives, technically very close to me, however, she lives on an island so there is no regular transportation to visit her. I´ll get over there eventually. She´s fabulous, but talking to her makes me realize how lucky I am to have my house as she is still struggling with her housing situation. I am sooo happy in my place and it is perfect for me. I love the size and where it is located, right in the heart of ¨downtown¨. The other day, my neighbor, Doris was watching me in the morning as i had come back from my run, collecting water in my tanks for the day (bc it is the dry season so the water is only running for 1hr in the morning), swept, and was now collecting the trash that had been blown into my yard. She said to me that I was now living like a campesina which basically to me is a huge compliment cause it means that i am living like they do a countrywoman. made my month!
    Other exciting news that some of you know is that I´m going to have another set of visitors soon!!! I talked to Andy and Aubrie last night and they are coming in about a month to visit! booked the tickets and everything. Very, very exciting! I can´t wait and it will be a blast. They are in for a treat in panamá. man, I just can´t believe they are coming what a great surprise.
    Coming up this next week is Semana Santa, which is the holy week, so I will be able to see what the celebrations are like for that. I don´t think they are doing anything big or special but it will be nice to ask about the traditions of those days.
    I´ve got to run to a meeting, but I thank God daily for the friends and family that I have who support me and keep me headed towards Him in my walk. I pray that you all as you read this are looking to Him for your strength alone as I know I tend to lean on myself too much. I pray for your health and hope that today is a new day and with His grace, we are free.
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