This page has moved to a new address.

Misty Mountain Hop

In the "Cult of Escapism": Misty Mountain Hop

Friday, October 1, 2010

Misty Mountain Hop

Get yourself a tasty drink because this is going to be, in terms of length, the “Free Bird” of blog posts.

This past week, I slept on a table.

Last week, myself and 25 other aspirantes (trainees) went to Hato Chami*, a town of about 2,000 people in the mountains of the Ngobe Bugle Comarca in Chiriqui. There are many things I could talk about, but I think it is best to take some paraphrased thoughts out of the journal I have been keeping (special thanks to Nick Larigakis for the quality, leather bound journal):
“This is my first full day in Hato Chami…it’s about 6:00pm and I am writing by candlelight, sitting on a crooked wooden chair on a dirt floor. I am writing on a bed, which currently doubles as a table. The people here sleep on them with a little sheet on top of them and no matting of any kind between them and the wood. Six (possibly seven) people sleep in this room, and for the next week, that includes myself and Greg, a 48 year old computer guy from Chicago**. There are seven children watching me write this entry, which may seem strange (watching someone write in a journal is probably about as exciting as looking at a pile of bricks), but at least six and up to ten children tail Greg and I at all times, no matter what we are doing – our own curious, wide-eyed, malnourished entourage.

Our host family’s home consists of two structures, one for sleeping and one for cooking. The “sleeping” house has a zinc roof, dirt floors, and two rooms – the large one that I am in and a smaller, separate room for the parents. The “kitchen” is another hut, with a thatch roof and a stove (think of a campfire on top of a table) and doubles as a living room, as the family spends most of their time seated around the room, socializing, singing, and eating. Btw, my Ngoberre name is Ticho and Greg’s is Chewy (hahahaha). Last year, they wanted to name one of the aspirantes Wedgie, which she politely turned down.

I took my first “bucket shower” today, which for many in Peace Corps involves pouring water from a spigot into a bucket and then pouring the bucket over one’s head. For Greg and, it involves pouring water from a spigot into a large barrel, then dipping a yellow construction helmet into the barrel and pouring it over our heads. While this may sound primitive, it is surprisingly refreshing (except in Chami, you can see your breath and the water is a few degrees above freezing).”

Hato Chami - 3,000 feet up, the little white structures are houses
Greg and I have made our mark though song. On day three, while chatting with our host father, he asked us if we would sing for them. I am still taken aback by such direct questions, especially since we are repeatedly told this is an “indirect” society. However, in Panama, it is not rude to ask someone how much they weigh, how old they are, how much money they make, etc or simply to say something like, “You are looking very fat today.” Given this, I hesitated a little, then went and got my harmonica. Over the next few days, I did a lot of singing and playing, which is funny to me because I am not much of a singer nor harmonica player, and we managed to teach them the following: the chorus to “Whipping Post,” the LaLaLa part of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” and the NaNaNa part of “Hey Jude” (our personal favorite), among some other parts of random songs. They loved singing along and this helped break the ice (ice that consisted of staring wide eyed at us for three straight days) and they even got up and sang for us in return. It was interesting hearing them sing in Ngoberre and I wondered what they were saying until they switched to Spanish and realized they were singing Evangelical hyms (so far, many people in Panama are either extremely Catholic, extremely Evangelical, or sort of Christian).

While the nights at our host family’s house were fun and educational, we learned the most during the day, during our hands-on tech training. This consisted of two primary activities: an analysis of and presentation to a local small business and two hours of teaching a grade school class. Myself and seven other trainees talked with a local honey producer, who showed and explained to us the honey-making process and talked extensively about his business. After a few hours of talking with him and using our Business and Organizational Capacity Assessment (BOCA) tool, we got together and prepared a diagnostic activity, which we presented for him the next day. Basically, we got him to identify some of his business’s weaknesses and walked him through the process of rectifying them. We were happy, because we had decided the day before that he really needed to draft a written business plan, so that he could get organically certified and get permission to sell his honey in supermarkets, and he ended up arriving at the same conclusion (without us directly telling him). It felt good to use the Peace Corps tools and I am excited to work with the businesses in my own community.

Teaching them to teach themselves

We were also given two hours, in pairs, to teach primary school students. Some trainees received a curriculum, while others (like me) were told to teach whatever we felt was best. Myself and a 23 year old to-be accountant from Arkansas decided on doing a poster contest, where we told the students (fifth graders) to split into groups and pretend their group owned a local store and they needed to make a sign that would attract more business. We also gave the students fake money and brought different colored markers and different sized paper, which they could “purchase” and use to make the sign. Afterwards, we went over the key vocabulary words in English. The idea was to teach the students about the concept of a budget (they had to choose between more colored markers or a bigger sheet of paper), some basic marketing concepts, basic math, and a little English. It was fun and my boss recommended that I work with kids as a secondary project once I get to site.

Overall, the trip was enlightening in that I got to use some of our development tools and experience life with poor sleeping conditions and without electricity or running water, which leads me to part two of this mammoth blog post.

I found out my site today - it is a large town called Soloy in western Panama, on the very west end of the Comarca described above, about an hour and a half east of David, one of Panama´s big cities and the capital of the Chiriqui province.  Strangely enough, I will not have electricity or reliable cell phone service but I am supposed to be teaching computer classes at a local school, which has internet.  Its tough to say until I get there but I may end up with no electricity but still have internet.  Interesting. 

Otherwise (and more importantly), there will be many work opportunities there, including: a coffee group, which is looking for leadership and basic management training, a cooperative looking to expand its local store, a woman´s artisan group, a church group working on development projects, another church group that runs basic internet and photocopying services and is looking for someone to help with computers and management, and finally plenty of opportunities to work with the school by way of technology classes and/or after school sports and other activities.  If all of this is true, I am extremely excited since I want a lot of diversified work.  We get to visit our sites in two weeks and move into them in four weeks.  Next week, many of us (including me) begin learning our local indigenous languages - I will be learning Ngborre. 

*Some facts about Chami - 95% poverty, 86% extreme poverty, most people have latrines and access to water but not all and many still use a river for bathing/drinking. 
**Unexpedtedly for me at the time, Greg has since become the first to leave - I wish I could explain why but I really didnt see it coming. We hope he is the last.   

A final word, I have many more pictures from my time here, but it literally took me 10 minutes just to upload the three posted above, so further visuals will have to wait. 


At October 5, 2010 at 9:54 AM , Blogger Ken Poletti said...

Cactus Jack...or I guess I'm going to have to switch to your "new" moniker, Panama Jack...what's happenin' hermano???

...gear shifting...

I just erased an entire update of what we have been up to, in order to fill your request of "news from afar". Seems, and I know this will come as a surprise to you, I had too much to say...ahem. So, since this is my first ever attempt at relying to a blog, and I need to keep it under 4096 characters, I'm going to say "best of luck to you"...and "good on ya!"

Now I'm gonig to push the Post Comment button and see if this baby

At November 5, 2012 at 11:15 AM , Blogger bama said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At November 5, 2012 at 11:19 AM , Blogger bama said...

I must learn the rules of posting comments. I only wanted to add to me previous comment. Instead I deleted it. Oh well. I love the mountain top picture, your dance at the top exudes joy! Things are getting interesting. I will read on. Billie


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home