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In the "Cult of Escapism"

In the "Cult of Escapism": February 2011

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

House Upon a Hill

I moved into my own house in early February after six months of host family living. Life is completely different now and I'm a lot happier to have my privacy, own space, and control of my own diet. Below are some pictures of my place. I'm working on uploading a video tour but the "intrawebs" are giving me trouble...
My House

Main Room

"Hammock Room"




A Fish Dinner by Lamplight

My Bed, the Table

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Life with Amoebas

Amoebas are a one celled protozoa that have certain virulent strains that make you poop water every two hours until you have the good sense, four days later, to go to the hospital. Life with amoebas significantly changes even the most mundane of activities, as you can see from this useful and extremely scientific chart:

With Amoebas
Walking Around
With good weather, a pleasant and healthy activity
Too risky, might poop pants
Sitting in a Hammock Reading a Book
Leisurely way to spend free time
Your only safe option, as long as the latrine is close
Sometimes fun, always necessary to feed oneself
Pointless, you won’t be able to eat it anyway
Talking to People
Important part of community integration and generally enjoyable
Too risky, might poop pants
Conducting a Meeting
Doing my job
I wonder what they’d think of me, as a professional, if I pooped my pants right now?
Using the Latrine
Once every few days
Every two hours, it’s a war.
Riding the Bus to the Hospital
Why would I need to go to the hospital?
Do we really need to stop and pick those people up?

I have since received powerful drugs that work, I understand, like little nuclear bombs, killing everything, good and bad, inside my general intestinal area. I feel a lot, lot better, but I’ve heard I don’t have any white blood cells anymore for a while. We’ll see how that works out for me.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Soccer Game in Site

Today, I watched Besiko (my district) play Mirono (another district) in soccer. It was more exciting than sitting in my hammock and sweating, which I’ve done a lot of in the past week and it was a good place to mingle with the gente (literally, horse poop) and scope the caliber of play on the Besiko team (low).

The coach, Ruben, approached me before the game and asked me to be the referee. Goal 2 of Peace Corps is to teach your community about American culture; as such I informed Ruben that, as an American, I know none of the rules (except that neither team is allowed to score more than 3 goals, because that would be too exciting). This was a good decision because fans here are like fans everywhere and spend 97%* of their time yelling at the ref and preemptively sending hate mail to his home.

The game started an hour late (also known as, “right on time”) and was less exciting than the World Cup but more exciting than staring at the back of your hand for 90 minutes. It smelled like horse poop and on the field there were large piles of, well, horse poop.

It was also cloudy, so I didn’t sweat standing still, which was a nice change. It was still hot though, but this did not stop Coach Ruben from donning a trench coat. He claimed it would scare the other team. I realized then that while, in the last six months, I have acclimated to the heat here, I doubt I will ever trench-coat-acclimate.

We scored early with a series of skillful passes. If we had passed that skillfully the rest of the game, we would have scored at least 27 goals, but adhering to the Laws of Soccer, we didn’t score again. Mirono scored late in the 2nd half, dutifully tying the game and proving once again why it will never be popular in America. I asked Ruben if there would be overtime or penalty kicks. He said no. I said, “This is why Americans don’t like soccer.”

Then I stepped in horse poop.

*Source: The International Footballing Association of Footballers of the World

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bucket Showers

There’s a technique to showering with a bucket. The “Tip and Dump” is a classic technique employed by rookie Bucketeers and involves, contrary to what the name suggests, holding the bucket of water over one’s head and Tipping it so that it Dumps water. This is the boxing equivalent of a “Haymaker” in that it is also surrounded by quotation marks and is used to prepare food for your cows. Wait. It is actually like a Haymaker in that it is a wild but powerful punch that rarely succeeds and often backfires into one getting punched in the ribs. Wait. Ok, so maybe it’s nothing like a Haymaker but if you simply Tip and Dump, especially without quotation marks, you might miss important and dirty Body Parts.

A “Steady Stream” is a better pour and can feel, if you close your eyes and take psychoactive drugs, just like a regular shower. It also gives you the chance to Rub Yourself with your free hand, which should ideally contain soap. If soap is unavailable, you will Smell, an unpopular activity in Panama.
The Steady Stream should be applied in phases: first on head, then on torso, then on Chicken Pecking your Feet While you Shower, then on legs. This “phasing” will get you “wet,” which is a good first step that should be followed by…

Soap! As mentioned above, this is a Recommended Element of the showering process in that it makes you smell good and deters insects. Just kidding! You’re in the Peace Corps, nothing deters insects! But smelling good will help your Professional Image, something you carefully cultivate throughout your service, without realizing that you already ruined it your first three months in site when you grew that Big Disgusting Beard.

Once you smell good, it’s time to shampoo. Here a Slow Steady Stream is crucial because shampoo suds are Hard to Get Out. You may want to ask the Child That’s Been Following You for Weeks to help get the suds out. It won’t be weird, really.

Now that your hair and body are Soft and Fragrant, it’s time to dry off. Ideally, everything up to this point should take less than one minute, because bucket showers are, by definition, Uncomfortably Cold. To alleviate the cold shock, I recommend Peeing in the bucket first.

If you’re not a river bather (the other, colder alternative), bucket showers will become part of your everyday life here in Peace Corps Panama. You will remove your clothes, wish you hadn’t because it’s cold, pour water on yourself, wish you hadn’t because that’s even colder, and repeat this process until you are whimpering like a five year old that skinned his knee. If you are Smart, you have no doubt Queried (you don’t ask, you query, because you’re Smart) yourself, “why would it be cold in Panama, a country so close to the equator?” You will generally bucket bathe early in the morning or in the evening when there is no “””Sun.””” Therefore it is cold. Now stop asking silly questions so I can keep complaining.

If you bucket shower while living with host families, or share a shower with other families once you live alone, you will probably wear a bathing suit, which makes it difficult to clean your Nether Regions (the area between Poland and Denmark).

The result of this Relaxing and Cleansing shower process is that when you go to the city every few weeks, you will shower at least four times per day for approximately four hours per shower. You will also poop a lot. But that’s a different story altogether. 

Monday, February 14, 2011


Before reading this post, I suggest reading a short article I wrote about the mining effort in the Comarca at It contains things like facts and citations that are generally absent from this blog.  

The road is being built and the bidding has become more competitive, the mine is coming and the Ngobes are not happy about it.

Many community members went to Panama City this past weekend to protest in front of the General Assembly building. Last Monday, hundreds of Ngobes blocked the Inter-Americana (the main highway that goes across Panama and into Costa Rica) until the riot police tear-gassed them. A three year old girl died - it is unclear if it was from the fleeing feet or the gas itself.

The protests continue this week – on Tuesday they will again block the Inter-Americana, in a different location, and on Saturday they will march across David, the provincial capital and second largest city in Panama. I’d like to go watch but that could compromise my neutrality, something we must maintain as volunteers. It could also be dangerous, as a foreigner and perceived enemy (foreigners will be doing the mining).

However, I feel safe in site – no one here thinks I’m siding with the miners. In fact, I had my most productive mine conversation last week, started by a man who simply wanted to know why the government was willing to destroy the environment so completely. I explained the amount of money at stake (an estimated $200 billion) and the significance of the reserves (would be the 2nd largest in the world). I also explained that since administrations are limited to one five year term, immediate financial gain can be a huge motivator, especially for a president like current president and lifelong businessman Ricardo Martinelli, who owns the Super 99 department store chain (think Wal-Mart).

Martinelli acknowledges the environmental damage – he knows the facts and stated that the Ngobes would receive a “fair” financial compensation. I’ve heard 20% from various community members. If that’s true and the estimates are correct, the Ngobes stand to gain about $60 million per year. That’s a lot of money, but apparently not enough for the dozens I’ve talked to in site and the thousands set to protest in weeks to come. I guess money isn’t reassuring when your river is poisoned and your crops cease to grow.

The man understood and thanked me for the explanation but then asked a terrifying question, which I have since been asked three or four times, “What do you think they’d do if we started using guns?”
I need to look up the Spanish word for “tank.”

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Each family I have lived with has had a baby about a year old. Please leave your vote in the Comments section under this post - who is the cutest? 

This is a Cute-Off.




Monday, February 7, 2011

A Sharper Knife Needed

I killed a chicken today.

New, aspiring volunteers visited Laura last week, so she bought a chicken and enlisted a friend in the community to help prepare and cook it. I tagged along. When we arrived, one of the kids took the chicken and tied its leg to a tree. It shifted nervously, dodging on-coming humans and tangling itself in the rope. Maybe it’s smarter than we give it credit for.

The Four Ignorant Gringos stood fidgeting, not sure whether to be excited or nervous. Lorena, our to-be cook, sensed our nerves and teased us, suggesting that Laura make the kill. She adamantly shook her head and Lorena looked at me; I said I would. She laughed and I laughed but I was more nervous than amused.

I imagined myself gripping the head in my left hand and skillfully slitting the throat with my right, killing the chicken instantly and without pain. Lorena handed me the knife and I pressed my thumb to the blade. Dull. My aspirations of a one slash kill faded with that touch and I knew I would be sawing.

They tied the legs and hung the chicken from a branch. It hung straight down, swaying and swiveling its head. Even a brain that tiny knows that is a bad situation. Lorena mimed what I was meant to do and I approached the chicken and grabbed its head.

It struggled, shaking its body and trying to shake its head but I gripped it tighter and waited for ominous music to start playing but there wasn’t any so I pressed the hilt of the knife to the throat and slit as hard as I could. No blood. I slashed three more times, hard, and the neck dislocated and the blood poured out, rushing at first, then trickling. I stepped back, my right hand shaking with adrenaline and my left hot and sticky and red with blood.

The chicken began shaking violently and I hoped this was what always happened but after a minute, Lorena said it was still alive and feeling guilty and determined I grabbed the head again and sawed the neck until the body stopped moving and Lorena said I could stop. The body hung straight until the middle of the neck, which stuck out at an angle and yawned and the eyes were closed and the body swayed but was otherwise still.

I wouldn’t say it was fun, but not traumatizing either. I’ve been invited to kill a cow in the near future – hopefully we use a sharper knife.