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In the "Cult of Escapism"

In the "Cult of Escapism": May 2011

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Without a License

Last week, I got pulled over twice in one minute and three times within forty minutes.

1st Time – My family is visiting and we’re driving across Panama on the Inter-American highway. My father and sister are the first two drivers and probably average about 90-100 kilometers per hour in a collective three hours of driving.

Enter me.

It’s my first time driving in eight months and it feels great. There are few cars on the road, the weather is perfect – the highway invites speed. Unfortunately, speed limits here change more often than Charlie Sheen blows cocaine - 60 kph, 80, 100. Averaging about 100kph, I slow it down in an urban area just in time to see the cops. One steps down from his motorbike and beckons me over.


I have an official government ID and my family is carrying diplomatic passports so I’m not too worried. Then I realize I don’t have my license on me.

Double dang.

The cop reaches the car and asks for my license; I hand him my government ID and tell him we’re with the embassy. He reads the cover, glances at my picture inside and says, “You’re with the embassy?”
“Ok, slow down.” And with that, he leaves.

I pull out, the four of us laughing in amazement. Misjudging the speed limit, I take it to 80 and get pulled over again literally about a minute later.

2nd Time – My ID is still warm from the last interaction and I’m utterly confused. The cop comes over and we go through it again.

“You’re with the embassy?”
“Yes. And I just talked to your friend and I was driving slower.”
“You were going 83kph; the speed limit is 60kph.”

I inform him that speed limits here are constantly changing and I’m having trouble keeping track. He tells me to slow down and returns to his motorcycle.

3rd Time – About forty minutes later, I am third in a line of four cars. We pass a cop, who steps out and points to me, ignoring the two cars in front. I entertain my family with a series of obscenities about the injustice of such an act and pull out an ID slippery with bacon grease.

“I’m with the embassy.”
He inspects the ID. “You’re a Peace Corps Volunteer.”

Uh oh.

“Yes, I’m working with the Panamanian government and for the US government; I help small businesses.”
“And them? Can I see their ID’s?”

I turn and my dad holds out all three stiff, black diplomatic passports. The cop glances at the covers of each, just enough to see the word ‘Diplomat’ (luckily in Spanish it’s diplomatico); he doesn’t even open them.

“They don’t speak Spanish?” He asks.
“They’re new, that’s why I’m driving. I’m showing them the west side of the country.”

He nods in understanding, showing that he understands nothing about diplomats.

“You were going much too fast.”
“I was just trying to follow the two cars in front.”
“No, you were going much faster than them.” (He actually said this)

Speechless, I just look at him until he tells me to slow down and returns to his motorcycle.

I drive, extremely slowly, until we’re out of site and then immediately change drivers. In four more days of driving, no one else got pulled over.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Bat is Back

I don’t know how many rounds are left but I can tell we’ll be going the distance.

Another Try
After about two weeks out of site, I returned home to a floor adorned with bat poop. Before I left, things had been quiet and I thought the fight was over – apparently we were just between rounds.

Two nights in a row, I had 2 AM duels involving me fruitlessly swinging a broom at a bat who answered by eating fruit and then pooping on the ground. Clearly I needed a new tactic.

Combining traditional and modern ideas, I ground up a bat-proofing leaf found here in the Comarca, mixed it with crushed garlic and spread it across the space between roof and wall. I also taped strips of aluminum foil the length of the ceiling, having heard that bats don’t like the shiny silver and may even cut their wings on the edges.

Between the Roof and the Wall

Once again*, the bat flew over the smelly piles and between the strips of aluminum. He may have paused to check his reflection in the foil. And yes, he pooped on the floor.

I’m going to the city tomorrow and intend to buy bat poison. Hopefully, I can also find a flamethrower.

*If you haven’t yet, read A Losing Battle at

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

An Article about Charity

I have another article up at PolicyMic, check it out at this link:

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I Think My Neighbors Saw Me Naked

I think my neighbors saw me naked today. Here’s what happened:
The sun is almost finished with us but you can still see clearly without a flashlight. Returning (victorious) from a volleyball tournament, I go straight for the shower. Now, my shower has three “walls” (blue tarp), all of which have large holes in them. Each time I shower I must decide, do I wear boxers or risk it and go naked? Generally, when the sun’s up, so are the boxers; night brings them down. Although I have, many times, risked it during the day and gotten away with it.
As the day was torn between light and dark, I was torn between humility and exposure. Calculating, I decided that people rarely visit once it’s dark and the boxers should stay on the clothesline.
While soaping my chest (an extremely enjoyable act for hairy men), I glanced at the house and saw my neighbors – an ancient lady and her granddaughter – retreating from my porch. They were about ten feet from me. I stepped behind the tarp and calculated again. Apologize? Pretend like nothing happened? Strike a pose?

They at least knew I was there. Expecting them to run away shouting “Unclean! Unclean!” I asked them to give me ten minutes. “We’ll wait here” responded the old lady. They sat down on the ground, within sight and facing the shower.
Side note – Ngöbes always bathe with something on – women in their traditional dresses (i.e. fully clothed) and men in shorts. This suggests that they assumed I was clothed and never saw me naked. I hope.
They sat and again I calculated: A) If they saw me naked, there’s nothing more to see; B) I hadn’t yet shampooed my hair. So I continued, quickly, put my towel on and went into the house.
Minutes later, we were on the porch, drinking Tang and talking about the weather. They gifted me 14 mangos from one of their trees (the gifts are out of control lately – this family alone has given me about 30 mangos in the past two weeks and they’re not the only gifters; I’ve been averaging about five mangos a day and still have about 20 left in the house); I explained to them who Bin Laden was and why he now “walks with the Devil.”
Best case – they saw me shirtless, but I’m shirtless around my house about 98% of the time – no problem.
Worst case – they saw me completely naked. But now there’s nothing left to hide; maybe next time they can help me soap my chest.  

My Shower

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Six Months in Site

A full six months in site; a quarter of my service complete. It went by faster than Yogi Bear running after a picnic basket and was just as violent as Yogi Bear mauling a camper once he catches them. Ok, so it wasn’t usually violent but it did go by quickly. Reflecting back, I wonder, what have I accomplished? What does the future hold? Will I ever stop sweating? What is May Day?
Quick answers: I’m used to sweating and wearing pants every day in the tropics (accomplishment); the future holds moisture (sweat and rain…and sweaty rain); no, I’ll never stop sweating. Those philosophical questions answered, let’s move on to other important discoveries.
·         I like shampoo. I went without shampoo during training (10 weeks), just to try it. Soap works in short hair, so I wasn’t repelling anyone with stench but I learned that a shower (or whatever you call it here) is more refreshing with shampoo. I prefer Pert.
·         Same goes with shaving cream.
·         Life without electricity is not hard. But I’ll probably live somewhere with electricity after the Peace Corps – I heard inhaling kerosene every night is not particularly healthy.
·         Cockroaches are the scum of the earth but bats are more of a nuisance. I hope they don’t find a way to reproduce together (bockroaches?).
·         Ngöbes are the toughest people on the planet; no argument.
·         Licenciado means “degree holder” and is wielded here the way Americans say Doctor. Therefore, I’m often respected like a doctor. Returning to a country saturated with licenciados in a year and a half will be a real buzz kill.
·         I miss couches.
·         Development work is slow and frustrating but it feels so damn good when you accomplish something.
·         Panamanian students (K-12) could probably learn more from one Clifford book than 12 years of school in this broken, pathetic school system. For example, they may be able to answer, “Does Clifford chase giant cats? Can he kill a person by pooping on them?
·         I now loathe paternalistic government projects, but I live in one. Hypocritical?
·         Only one overnight in the hospital but three total visits. None in the last two months. My body can now successfully process terrible things.
·         Kill count: 4 tarantulas, 2 scorpions, 1 bat, most of the cockroaches in Panama, and about 978,000 pounds of rice. 

Also, I managed to find some fast internet so here are some pictures from the first 6 months:
Working the Field

An Insane Bearded Man Husks Corn with his Host Family

Pepito in my Life Vest..and a Dog

Pilaring Coffee Beans

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Video from the Jungle

Here are the videos David and I filmed on our epic Inventory Management hike (If you dont know what I´m talking about, scroll down to the Run Through the Jungle post):

Reflecting in the rain:

Accross a log, over a river:

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Losing Battle

I’ve co-existed with a bat since February and, out of laziness, done nothing to stop his nightly entrances. But lately he’s been pooping on the floor and I’ve had enough. The following post comes from multiple journal entries over the past two weeks – a chronicle of my losing battle against my nocturnal roommate.
April 15
“I finally killed the bat. My heads up and ever-caring mother researched friendly ways to remove bats and stocked my mind with good ideas and good intentions. These ideas fell, with the bat, into the pit of my latrine.
Midday, I went to the latrine to investigate the best way to attach my new toilet seat (thanks parents, best birthday present ever). I lifted the seat and jumped, thinking I had just seen the world’s largest cockroach. A folded, hanging, until-recently sleeping bat glanced up at me (by the way, if bats are blind, how do they know they prefer dark places?). I eyed him from outside the latrine and considered my opportunity.
I practiced my attack by javelining a large stick into a pile of dirt nearby. I limbered up and approached the bowl. At peak limbering, I stabbed the bat full force and he dropped into the latrine like a small, dead animal dropping into a latrine. I can imagine few fates worse than his, but I guess you’ve got it coming when you hang over a latrine hole by one foot for several hours.
After he dropped, I looked in apprehensively, expecting the worst (i.e. the bat flying out of the darkness, directly at me, literally on fire and covered in poop) but saw only a smelly black tomb. To be sure, I dropped several bucketfuls of dirt and rocks into the hole.
Tonight I sleep without the melody of flapping wings.”
April 16
“I killed the wrong bat. One poor blood-lover lies at the bottom of my latrine, covered in dirt and feces, while his brother lives in the rafters of my room, feeding and flying free. So I have proved capable of murder, just not accurate murder. Tomorrow, I battle the bat for real.”
(Note – laziness won out again and I did nothing for over a week)
April 24
“I’m trying everything at once. After a three day trip, I came home to a floor full of bat poop and finally decided to do something. If I don’t kill, or at least permanently deter a bat tonight, I’m gonna be pissed.
One Deadly Banana

I’m counting on one of these tactics to work; I don’t have a backup plan.”

April 26
A Garlic Wall
“I need a backup plan. After a one day break, the bat is back and pooping. Last night, chasing him with a broom, I saw him fly over the walls of garlic and past the poisoned bananas. I think I heard him laughing. 
My friend David fixed his bat problem by hanging razor weed from the spaces in his ceiling. No one in my community seems to know where to find this magical plant but I continue to ask. Lengths of mesh or screening are still options but I hesitate, weighing the cost against my living stipend. So I’ve been trying to think of other ways to block the entrances. Pyrotechnics are definitely an option.
If the bat was nesting in my house, it would be different. My aforementioned ever-caring mother sent many solutions for ridding bats once they settle. But he seems to commute just to poop on my floor. Which really isn’t fair. If I knew where he lived, I could at least go poop on his floor and see how he liked it. Maybe then he’d get the idea. Or maybe it really is his brother in my latrine and he’s just avenging his smelly death.”
(Note – As of May 3rd, the bat has stopped pooping on the floor. I still hear him flying through the house at night but there’s nothing to clean in the morning. My defenses have since rotted so I doubt they are deterring him. The Berlin Wall may have descended over twenty years ago, but the Cold War continues in this volunteer’s house.)
A Bat House (I think)

Crushed garlic lines the space between the wall and the roof. Chunks of ripe banana spiked with rat poison lay in tempting locations throughout the house. A new broom leans against the wall next to my bed, in case things get physical. I built a bat house outside as an alternative feeding location (ironically, there’s a chunk of poisoned banana there too…so much for a peace offering).