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In the "Cult of Escapism"

In the "Cult of Escapism"

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Big Finish

This is it, my final blog post related to my Peace Corps service. I never told you faithful readers about the days leading up to leaving site, nor, aside from a diatribe in the airport about talking to strange children, how it feels to return to Amurica. I've seen too many fellow volunteers keep a solid blog and then get back to the States and forget to finish it. So read on, reader, and together we'll finish this blog properly.

Two days before I left my site, my counterpart, Juan, officially invited me to my going away party, which five other people had accidentally already told me about (surprise!). Leading up to that day, most of the families I was closest with had already had me over for good-bye dinners, which involved absurd overfeeding and lots of questions about airplanes:

“So how long does it take to fly to your country?”
“How do planes fly through the air like that?”
“Will you take my baby home with you?” (Seriously)

Juan speeching at the despedida
The day of, I arrived on time (1:00pm) and there were three people (surprise!) – none of whom were Juan. A few minutes later, Juan called and told me that I might be better off coming back at around 5:00pm. Ha. At least he told me.

Once it finally got going, the despedida was a classic Panamanian event, which meant that I sat at the “table of honor” at the front, and the arriving people would come over and greet me and then sit as far away as possible (seriously, some people pushed themselves up against the fence in back, rather than sit in the empty seats next to me; do I smell that bad?). After these warm arrivals, classic Panamanian event can be broken into three parts:
  1. Speeches
  2. Food
  3. Ridiculously loud music

With Lionel and Lorena
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you must master the discipline of sitting through verbose, off-topic speeches, without fully listening, but listening enough to develop your own flowery speech for later. Sure enough, the despedida began with speeches from every possible community authority that the coordinators could think of inviting. At least two of the speakers had no idea what I had done in Soloy in the past two years, but that absolutely did not stop them from rambling speeches. I prepared my own while the others spoke, taking notes on the back of my hand. As I partially listened and partially planned my own speech, I reflected that entering Peace Corps, I was most concerned with my lack of Spanish, and there, two years later, I was giving another impromptu speech in Spanish. Felt good.

Anyway, the food was good, the music was way too loud (as usual), and I even did a little dancing (fairly unheard of for me during my service). Perhaps the best part of the despedida was seeing how many people came, partly for the ego but also because all the faces reminded me of different memories, experiences, and emotions from my service. There were also about five people I'd never seen in my two years – they must have realized there was food (Panamanians will sit through anything to get free food).

The weirdest part was walking home afterwards and realizing that I was leaving the community the next day. WTF?! Two years just went by? After years of considering Peace Corps and imagining what it would be like, and now it would be just another long memory. Bizarre.

Las Lajas
Headed Out
The days after leaving Soloy, I slowly headed east towards Panama City. One last night in David; one last night at the beach; a quick stop for some surfing at a different beach. Then a week in the City, getting signatures at the office, closing grants, and pooping in cups (no intestinal infections!). Sixteen other volunteers closed their services that week with me and it was nice having them around. It's difficult to describe how it felt between leaving Soloy and leaving the country, but I suppose “surreal” describes it pretty well.

Now that I've been back in the States for two weeks, I'd like to say that I've regained my composure and emotional stability, but really I've just put all the memories and swirling emotions into a mind closet and closed the door. I'll get back to that door eventually, but for now I just want to enjoy seeing my friends and family.

Here are a few things I've noticed about Americans (at least, middle class, urban, East Coast Americans):
  • Total perceived dependency on smart phones. Before I left, smart phones were just becoming a thing, but most people still had a flip phone or something similar, which meant that we walked around perfectly fine without mobile maps and restaurant apps. My first two weeks back, I didn't have a phone of any kind, so I was just calling people that I wanted to meet up with using Gmail (free calling nationwide, btw) and setting up a place and time. You know, like we did in the 90s, and the 10,000 years before that. And every time, the person I was about to meet would say something like, “I dunno, I don't think this is gonna work. How are you gonna find me without a phone?” (except you, Ila, you believed). That's the point of time and place. Are we suffering massive memory loss, beginning the day before you purchased an iPhone?
  • Note the sizes - WTF?!
    People are on time! Keep it up!
  • What's with shoes here? I bought two pairs the other day and one was size 10 and the other size 8.5. That's a big difference!
  • It appears to be federal law to own a smart phone – I think I've seen one flip phone in three weeks.
  • Kudos, Boston, on being so good looking – both the city itself and its people.
  • The media is ridiculous. Like, RIDICULOUS. Can we all just boycott CNN and Fox and CNBC for a few months, so they can chill out a little bit?
  • iPhones are awesome. That's not an observation about Americans, but I just got one and figured I'd share.

Also, I just want to say, my God this is a great country. So clean and organized, and so, so rich. While I do look forward to returning to Latin America in a few months, I'm glad I get to enjoy America for a while.

In that vein, let's do this real quick:

Food, football, fantasy sports, flat screen TVs. Fit population, food that isn't fried, friends and family. Tasty beer, timely transportation, Thursday night football. Sweater weather. The red and yellow and orange of New England leaves. Sushi. Couches and beds that don't lay on boards. Hot. Showers. 100% juice. Iphones and the silly, addictive apps you can so easily download. Those people I love and haven't seen for two years. So, so much more that I'm happy to have.

Big Finish
So what am I doing now? My next move is a community-based adventure travel guide that uses Peace Corps volunteer sites as tourist destinations. During my service, I realized that there are tens of thousands of communities in the world that want to benefit from sustainable tourism and tens of thousands of travelers that want to see more authentic, unconventional destinations in the countries they visit. So myself and two other returned volunteers from the Panama program are connecting those towns with those tourists. So if you've enjoyed reading this, follow my next adventure starting my own company and traveling the world (literally) at (I'll be blogging for it...). And next time you plan a trip, plan it with us.

Thank you, reader, so much for reading this blog for the past two years. It has been fun to write and I appreciate that so many people have actually consistent read it. If you're a friend or family member, thank you for your support throughout my service – I love you all. If you're a Peace Corps applicant or even mildly considering doing Peace Corps, I'll say this: do it. That simple.

Take care of yourselves, readers. Peace.


Monday, October 29, 2012

Description of Service

This is my penultimate post on this blog. For quite a while, I've been thinking about how to summarize my two year service here, when I realized that I already did, for my official Description of Service (DOS). Before closing a service, a volunteer must submit their DOS to their in-country bosses and the final copy goes to Washington D.C. and is kept in the national archives forever. Which is kinda cool. But anyway, I'll further immortalize my DOS on this blog and give you all a nice 2.5 page summary of my Peace Corps service. Heads up for my final post, later this week.

Description of Peace Corps Service

Jack Fischl

Republic of Panamá 2010-2012

After a year-long application process assessing technical skills, cross-cultural adaptability and language ability, Peace Corps invited Jack Fischl to serve as a Community Economic Development (CED) Consultant in the Central American country of Panama.


Jack began 10 weeks of Pre-Service Training on August 18, 2010 in Santa Clara – a small rural community located an hour and a half west of the country’s capital, Panama City. The training comprised: Spanish language lessons, technical skills training, area studies, administrative procedures, and safety and medical training. As part of the field-based technical training, Jack spent one week in the indigenous village of Hato Chami, assisting a local small business to complete a business assessment. Pre-Service Training covered:
  • 105 hours of formal Spanish language instruction
  • 15 hours of area studies (the history, economics, and cultural norms of Panama)
  • 125 hours of training in CED technical concepts (participatory community analysis, teaching methodology, business assessments, strategic planning, etc.)
  • 145 hours of field-based trainings (Volunteer visit, site visit, and hands-on technical training)
  • 45 hours of administrative, safety and medical training

Jack also participated in three week-long In-Service Trainings throughout his service to strengthen the aforementioned skills and delve more in-depth into technical topics. The training programs included:
  • 40 hours of Business Planning training with a community counterpart
  • 5 hours of administrative, safety and medical training
  • 15 hours of CED technical training (teaching basic accounting, group formation, behavior change, etc.)
  • 40 hours of Project Management and Leadership training with two community counterparts


Jack swore in as a Peace Corps Volunteer on October 28, 2010 and was assigned to Soloy, a Ngäbe (pronounced 'naw-bey') indigenous community of about 4,000 people, located in the mountains of the semi-autonomous indigenous reservation, the Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé. Due to its location at the end of the area's only paved road that leads deeper into the reservation and its significance as the capital of the Besikö district, Soloy is a hub for economic and political activity. In a region without electricity, little arable land, a per capita annual income of $429.00, 91.2% unemployment and 91.7% of the population living in extreme poverty (i.e. earning less than $2 per day)1, Jack's primary assignment as a Community Economic Development Consultant was to work with local leaders to develop employment and other economic opportunities, as well as to improve business practices among existing groups.

Primary Assignment

Tourism Business Development
After completing a community analysis and successfully integrating into the local culture, Jack decided to focus his efforts on working with motivated leaders to create a tourism group and develop activities and products to offer tourists. While many members of the community were interested in the idea of tourism, Jack was able to identify seven individuals who were truly committed and who became and remained the core of the community’s Tourism Committee. Throughout his service, Jack closely collaborated with a fellow Peace Corps Consultant living in Soloy to train and guide the leaders of the Tourism Committee to create multiple cultural, adventure, and ecological activities for tourists, including the development of the community’s first day-long tourist package used to attract business from tour and hotel operators from the nearby and heavily trafficked Chiriqui province.
In order to clarify the direction for the Tourism Committee, Jack facilitated the use of strategic and operational planning tools, including a SWOT analysis and writing the group's vision and mission statements. Furthermore, Jack drew on the expertise of several fellow Peace Corps Consultants and effectively trained the group’s member to improve leadership practices (see details of community-wide Project Management and Leadership seminars below). As a result, the members improved their group interaction, developed confidence in public speaking and learned to hold effective meetings. After several initial successful practice tours with tourists, Jack focused more heavily on training the group in advertising, making connections with local tour and hotel operators and marketing the group through a basic website.
In its first 18 months of operations, the Tourism Committee received nine tourist groups and several individual tourists, generating over $4,000 of income through activities and artisan sales. As a result, the group’s members effectively earned $570 each - 33% more than the average annual income - by dedicating the equivalent time of one month’s work. Moreover, many others in Soloy benefited through sales in their stores (e.g. sodas, snacks, etc.) and by hosting tourists in their homes.

Small Business Advising
Throughout his service, Jack served as a business consultant to several small businesses in Soloy and surrounding communities. Specifically, he trained 40 small store owners in Soloy and the neighboring town of Jebai in basic bookkeeping and inventory management. Consequently, virtually every store understood and consistently tracked sales.
Jack also trained and advised two local cooperatives: APRAMBE and Medo. With APRAMBE, Jack trained 15 members of this farmer's cooperative to complete a business assessment, develop a long-term strategic plan, and improve internal management. With Medo, a non-profit developed in Soloy by community members, Jack guided the 10 members to complete a strategic plan. He also helped connect the group to a distributor of affordable solar-powered flashlights, which decrease battery waste and use of kerosene lamps that are fire hazards and create unhealthy fumes. Consequently, Medo began selling the lights for a profit, creating an income source for the group, while benefiting local community members. At the time of this writing, 60 flashlights had been sold in the district and the distributor was sending more.

Secondary Projects/Activities

Business Plan Coordinator
In his second year of service, Jack was selected as the Business Plan Coordinator for the CED program, serving as Peace Corps Panama’s expert on elaborating business plans and in charge of providing support to his peers to develop their counterparts’ business skills. Therefore, he co-wrote a grant with a fellow CED Consultant and received $2,000 to develop basic business skills through local seminars. Jack visited six communities, effectively training 113 individuals representing 12 groups on planning, marketing, basic accounting and sales projections.

Project Management and Leadership Seminars
In cooperation with three fellow Peace Corps Consultants, Jack conducted a two-day community-wide seminar in Soloy for over 50 participants focused on developing their project management and leadership skills. Other topics the seminar covered included: managing personal resources, public speaking, and communicating with government agencies.
Additionally, Jack was selected by training staff to serve as a facilitator of Peace Corps Panama’s annual week-long Project Management and Leadership seminar, thus training 14 fellow Peace Corps Consultants and their community counterparts.

HIV and AIDS, Sexual Health, and Family Planning Seminar for Men

Jack, in collaboration with two other Peace Corps Consultants, conducted a seminar for men on the following four topics: sexual health and decision-making, family planning, HIV/AIDS, and domestic violence. Twenty five local men attended the two day seminar and according to pre and post tests, 86% of participants indicated an increased understanding of the subject matter.

Language Skills

At the end of his service, Jack tested at Advanced-Medium. His Spanish language proficiency allowed him to effectively integrate in the community, build local capacity, and successfully communicate with agency counterparts. Additionally, he became fluent in conversational Ngäbere; the primary indigenous language spoken in the reservation.

1Camara de Comercio, Industrias y Agricultura de Panama. Centro de Estudio Economicos CEECAM. Desempeño Economico – 1 Trimestre del año 2010.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Men's Seminar

In February of this year, I was hanging at my site-mate Laura's house and got to commenting on the depressing number of single moms in our town (and region). I denounced the general treatment of young women around us and scolded the young men for so often abandoning their families. I boldly announced that not only had I never abandoned a pregnant woman, Laura could right then and there call any of my ex girlfriends and have a positive conversation with them about me (that's almost certainly false – I think Laura and I had been drinking). Laura suggested that I do something about it. She had done a similar seminar for women last year and it was basically a smashing success, but she mentioned that many of the women pointed out that it is hard for them to, for example, enforce condom use if the man doesn't want it. He obviously won't want to wrap a rubber on his favorite organ unless he understands the potential consequences. And few men here seem to understand the consequences.
Two participants practicing using a condom

So I decided to do a sexual health seminar for men. My sports experience in site gave me access to and trust among many of the young men the in community and I tapped that network while inviting potential participants. For various reasons that are too boring to get into, I didn't get to the seminar until September (in my last week and a half of service) and I spent many days in the first two weeks inviting young men. I wanted 40 participants, so I invited 70. Twenty five showed up. Yep, that's how that goes.

The seminar included the following topics:
  1. Sexual Health (including decision making and 'respecting the No')
  2. Family Planning (including the advantages and disadvantages of different contraceptives and how to properly use condoms)
  3. HIV and AIDS
  4. Domestic Violence

With stimulating topics like these, you wonder why more men didn't participate?
Steve teaches how the brain makes decisions

Another volunteer, Steve, and I handled most of the seminar, with Laura coming in for an excellent HIV and AIDS guest spot. I think men presenting to men was a good idea – the participants definitely seemed comfortable and (after a little bit) willing to discuss topics that are rarely discussed in households around here.

During a few of the sessions, that original anger that birthed the idea for this seminar surfaced and I did some scolding. Throughout my service, when I told people about dating in the U.S. (i.e. date someone, break up, date someone else, maybe eventually get married), they would tell me how terrible that sounded and that, “around here, a man and a woman get together and stay together for life.” Which is, for lack of a better metaphor, a giant bag of horse shit. But it's the prevailing sentiment and one that several of the participants had expressed to me. So I brought up this myth, pointed out that I couldn't think of one family that had achieved this unicorn relationship status and then taught them a vocabulary term:

Me reading an example of domestic violence
“Bull shit. In the U.S., when someone says something that you know to be untrue, you say 'bull shit.' And this myth of how people around here date, it's bull shit. We need to recognize the reality of dating here and be safe and responsible about our sexual relations.”

I'm not sure how many times I also went on to say, “A real man takes care of his family. A coward has children and then doesn't take care of them; a coward repeatedly cheats on his woman. A COWARD!” I swear I wasn't drinking during the presentations, but maybe I should have been.

One of the best sessions we did had originally been planned as a 15 minute sort of complimentary idea: respecting a woman when she says No. Laura and I did an embarrassing skit where I just about raped her and then we talked about the 'No means Yes' myth, along with signs that a woman is saying no, even if she doesn't use that word. When we finished, we innocently solicited questions and the room exploded with commentary. The core of the chaotic commentary was basically: 'in our culture, when I get a woman, part of the agreement is that she will have sex with me when I want to and in return, I will provide for her.' No one seemed to take issue with the immorality (and illegality) of raping or date raping someone, but they simply didn't agree that their women (they don't get married here, so I don't say 'wives') could turn them down whenever they pleased. There was about a 45 minute discussion between the 25 participants and the three facilitators. Laura and I did most of the bantering, citing legal and ethical and women's rights reasons to respect the No, but it was Stephen that brilliantly ended the discussion:
Laura leads an activity showing the difference between HIV and AIDS

“Look guys, there's a simple solution. If your woman says that she doesn't feel like it right then, you say, 'No problem honey, I'll just go jack off.'”

Uproarious laughter. I thought we would see dislocated knees, people were slapping their thighs so hard. They made him repeat the statement and I think the laughter continued for about 5 full minutes. Note to future Peace Corps volunteers: use masturbation jokes.

Overall, I feel good about the seminar, although I do wish more people had shown up. Beginning of September, I was pretty tempted to just abandon the seminar and chill out, but I'm glad I kept working, right till the end of my service. And hopefully a few of those dudes will plan their families and send alimony to their illegitimate kids. Or at least just masturbate more. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

14 Moments from My Final Week of Service

  1. I sprinkle hot sauce on a bowl of plain rice and a single fried egg. Is this why I lost eight pounds here?
  2. I watch a hammered drunk 17 year old meander up the path to the Evangelical church. Not a good place for you to be right now, I think.
  3. Impervious in my hammock
    I eat a fingerful out of the peanut butter jar. Then I have three more.
  4. Someone tells me about my surprise going away party on Thursday.
  5. Thunder rumbles, threatening rain, while I sit contently and impervious in my hammock, reading.
  6. Someone else tells me about my surprise going away party.
  7. One of the truck drivers stops to give me a ride home. Big smile on my face.
  8. The moon is so bright and full that I can literally read a book outside at night. I don't, because there are lots of biting bugs outside at night.
  9. Walking down the street, I stop, smell the air, listen, and decide it will rain. I think of what it would be like if I did this on the streets of New York and smile. Keep walking, Legolas.
  10. Waiting for a meal at a host family house
    About 30 yards up the road from me, a man slowly approaches a three foot snake and smashes it with the flat end of his machete. He then cuts its head off and backs away, waiting. I give him a thumbs up and walk by the dead Fur de Lance (aka Equis, a very poisonous snake).
  11. Walking home, I look left and see a little girl drop her pants and pee on the side of her house. Halfway through pulling her pants back up, she looks up at me, smiles, and waves. At what age do we get self conscious?
  12. Literally a second later, I turn my head to the right and a little boy drops his pants, and pees on the side of his house. I'm feeling a little peer pressure here to drop my pants and pee on my house when I get home.
  13. Three mornings in a row, children come to my house at 6am shouting “Yak!” When I let them in, they circle the house, picking things up and asking if they can have them.
  14. Pictures with cute kids increase page hits
    I put my book down and sit quietly, reflecting. Until I hear a mouse in the corner and engage him in a merry chase. He gets away and somehow I still care, even though I'll be gone in two days.   

Sunday, October 14, 2012

And Just Like That

(From October 13)
And just like that...I'm in Miami airport, in the same corner of the same terminal that took us to Panama, two years ago. Walking by the waiting area near gate D2, I can remember joking with two other volunteers about a particularly putrid fart that had permeated the cabin. “Wait, I was at the back left and I could smell that. If you could smell it at the front right then that guy really ripped ass!” This is, curiously, the only conversation I remember from that wait.

And now, I'm sitting four gates ahead, between the Island Bar and Grill and the Edible Dreams, and being circled by two children. My initial reaction is to talk to them, maybe give them a high five. But my friend from PC Honduras warned me about interacting with stranger children in the U.S. - it isn't acceptable the way it is in Central America. This in mind, I'm under the impression that even a friendly exchange will be interpreted as attempted kidnapping/first degree murder. So I'm legitimately nervous as the siblings play in front of me, their mother watching, hawk-like, from two rows away. I actively ignore the kids and try to exude my best 'I swear I'm not a child molester' vibes. Then I worry that I'm being too obvious about ignoring the kids and this will be equally suspicious, if not more suspicious than paying a little attention. I look back at the hawk mom and imagine burly police officers dragging me out of the airport and forcing me to register as a sex offender, then putting me in maximum security prison, where I am shanked to death in a prison bathroom by a man named Cue Ball. I wish these children would go away, so I could continue my law-abiding, shankless existence.

The best cooks I know - John and Martha
They do, eventually, and I'm still at D6, watching the bags being loaded on to the plane and wondering when I'll begin heavily reflecting on the past two weeks. Or worse, the past two years. I assumed this would happen on the first flight, but thanks to a 4:30am wake up, I basically just passed out and otherwise didn't have the mental energy to reflect on anything except the plumpness of Scarlet Johanssen's lips, pouting at me from the cover of the in flight magazine.

Pretty soon I'll begin thinking about all the goodbyes, the major life change, what impact my service has really had on me, and exactly how much of a scrub I've become, compared to these immaculately clean, chubby Americans around me, that have not one mold stain on their clothing.
And just like that...My aunt Martha and uncle John are waiting for me at baggage claim in Boston, updating me on sports and traffic reports and family happenings of the past few months. Their leather seated Ford F150 is so far from a dilapidated old school bus that it's hard to believe they can both be defined as 'automobiles.'

My first meal back in the States - amazing
We arrive at their home and Martha makes an amazing meal (she's not really capable of anything less in the kitchen) of burgers with cheddar and cooked onions and peppers, tater tots, and tomato and mozzarella salad. She said she figured something “American” would be best for my arrival. She was right. I compliment the meal with a Sam Adams Boston Lager, which definitely can't be defined in the same beer category as any of the Panamanian nationals I've been drinking. We finish the night watching playoff baseball and college football simultaneously and I'm so happy to be back in my country.
So here's the deal: the past month has been one of the most fun and most emotionally intense experiences of my life, rivaled only by my arrival in Panama at the beginning of my service. As such, I've slacked a little on posts, but I've got them right here on computer, written and ready to post. I also plan on continuing the blog for a couple of weeks, to give everyone a sense of what it's like coming back from two years of Peace Corps service. So stay tuned and thanks for reading. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012



There's a gigantic waterfall two hours walking from my site that I hadn't gone to in my full two years of service. I'd love to give you a good excuse but I've just been plain lazy. Sometimes, I feel like the attractions closest to you can be the last you see. Like, “Oh yeah, well that's close, I'll get there eventually; no need to prioritize it.” I told my main counterpart, Juan, that I wanted to go and he organized the boys for a trip. Thus, my rubber boots and cotton shirt on, water in my dry bag, we began the two hour hike to the town of Cerro Banco and the Kiki waterfall.

View from the hike
This hike is my least favorite in my area, not because the terrain is especially difficult, but because there is NO SHADE. For two hours. And while the hills aren't too bad, it's still basically uphill the whole way and you don't get any good views until the last half hour. However, it was enjoyable enough talking with the boys, the ones who made my service much more comfortable personally, and much more successful professionally (as friends, rafting guides who always took me for free and as members of the tourism group I helped create). Among our many enlightened discussions, we seriously debated whether it's better to get paid or get laid, and whether robots typically run on gas or on electricity. Conclusions: laid and electricity. I explained that I figured getting paid could also lead to getting laid, but almost never vica versa, but they explained that here, they have sex for love, not for money. Which made me wonder if now they think I exclusively have sex with prostitutes.

Once you get close, the trail to the falls barely exists in the beginning and towards the end it doesn't, which is no good for formal tourism, but a lot of fun for me. We could hear the crashing, cheering falls from a distance and we excitedly slid and crawled and climbed down, clinging to vines and branches to keep from falling down the sheer cliff-side on our right. Then suddenly, I looked up at the biggest waterfall I've ever seen.
The "trail"

It's been a while since I've been stunned by natural beauty. Living out in the mountains and visiting other volunteers in valleys, jungles and on islands, I'm consistently pleased with Panama's natural beauty, but almost never stunned. Like, can't move, can't form coherent phrases stunned. I stood for about a minute, staring, occasionally coughing out words or phrases: “Damn.” “Look at that.” “That's, that's...” “Shiiit.” “Burgh.” Juan laughed and Eusebio smiled and continued the descent. I pulled it together enough to follow.

This is where the trail ceased to exist and it took my full effort to keep from falling off the side and into the distant pool. But I did stop often to take photos:

I spotted a large rock below us, sticking out towards the waterfall, like a dock over a lake, or a man-made lookout point. I couldn't resist. The rock was especially slippery but I slowly slid my boots until the edge and then held my arms out to the spray. It felt like getting hit by a high-powered sprinkler and it immediately soaked the entire front of my body. I whooped as loud as I could and barely heard myself over the roar. Teetering, swaying, waving my arms to keep from falling over the side, while being blasted by the spray – it are moments like that when I feel most alive. And wet.

We went to the far end of the pool, which has been unfortunately converted into a trash pile (unintentional, I think – just an exit point for litter thrown in the river). I've never seen so many broken plastic shoes in one place. We also went behind the falls and Juan told me that a young man once walked behind the falls and entered another world. He was only in the other world for about ten minutes before returning, but when he got back, he was an old man. This sounded unappealing and difficult to explain to the Peace Corps office, but also unlikely so we took our chances. As far as I can tell, I'm still 24, which is good, but I was at least hoping for a little salt and pepper action on the hair. I've heard that's sexy.

Finally, we sat under a cave near Kiki and discussed the cliffs' potential for rock climbing. It looked good to my amateur eye, although fairly advanced. While we discussed the overall potential of the waterfall and surrounding area, reality returned with the owner (one of the owners?) calling for us to leave.

It's a long story, but basically there are few owners who all lay claim to the property and all want tourists paying them for the privilege of crossing their land to reach Kiki. The owner chided us for 'sneaking in,' but Juan and I calmed him down, promising to help him prepare to receive tourists on a real scale.

So while Kiki's hospitality needs some serious work, the waterfall itself is incredible and I'm pretty disappointed in myself for waiting till the third to last day of my service to go see it. But I saw it, and I'm excited to be back in 2013.

Also, are there any robots that run on gasoline?

Friday, September 28, 2012

The First Search

A couple hours ago, I taught a young woman from my community how to send emails and attach pictures with them. She is helping her mother, an artisan, send pictures of her work to some volunteers in the U.S. that want to help them sell their products on websites like etsy and tenthousandvillages. She knew how to type and generally use a computer, but she had never used the internet. While waiting for pictures to load as attachments, I helped her open a Facebook page, showed her YouTube, and the power of Google searches.

I opened Google and told her that she could find, literally, ANYTHING that she wanted. I said, "Think of anything you want to know about or see and you can search for it right here." Daunting proposal. She thought for about a minute and then searched for 'World's Biggest Animals.' The image results page appeared and her eyes popped and she was momentarily stunned. Then she began surfing. The surfing didn't lead anywhere too crazy, mostly because I intercepted her to finish our attaching work. When we finished, I paid for one more hour of internet time and left her there to explore.

My friend who did the Peace Corps in Honduras similarly introduced some young men in his site to the internet. Their first search? 'Girls with big boobs.'

That's all I have to say.