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Freeballing in the Bull's Mouth

In the "Cult of Escapism": Freeballing in the Bull's Mouth

Friday, October 21, 2011

Freeballing in the Bull's Mouth

I recently learned that it’s easier to lead a seminar with no underwear on. This isn’t intuitive until you enter the Bull’s Mouth and realize the many ways it can threaten your personal parts and how freeballing can help. 

Ok, context. Last week, I went to the northwestern most province in Panama, Bocas del Toro (Mouths of the Bull), which borders Costa Rica and the Caribbean Sea, which means, it also hosts many gringo tourists. It also houses a significant number* of poor Ngabes (indigenous – same ones I live with) and therefore PCVs. My friend and fellow volunteer Adam invited me to help him with a Project Management and Leadership seminar in his site in Bocas, so, ignorantly, I put on my underwear and headed north.

Dense green mountains surround Adam’s site, creating a windless heat bowl. Just add water and the jungle sprouts every kind of stomach virus, bug, and bacteria you can think of, and then 15 more you’re never even heard about.
View from Adam's porch

Upon arrival, I realized looking around that while I undoubtedly live in a tropical site, Adam lives in a tropical. ass. site. He also has powerlines with no electricity.

“Oh those.” Said Adam, “Those go all the way to Mexico. The government displaced the farmers in order to build them but we don’t get any of the electricity.

Awesome. Another victory for the indigenous.

Anyway, it was extra hot and extra buggy, which meant there were also extra chiggers. “They’ll bite your balls” said Adam. “It helps if you don’t wear underwear.”

My balls, you say? Underwear off.

See, chiggers like to burrow under bra lines and waistbands and bite until you pinch them off. Pant lines are not as tight, therefore not as warm, therefore less appealing to the chiggers. It was also a lot cooler.

Enjoying the new breeze down below, we prepared for the seminar, by which I mean I told Adam and his counterpart what to do. I’d already led the seminar once in my site and Adam almost religiously refuses to prepare for anything (which is ironic, because he’s without argument one of the most successful volunteers in the country), which made me the pre-seminar authority. Which was fine, I prefer to freestyle public speaking anyway, and the lack of discussion while preparing meant that we prepared quickly, which meant we had time to go do stupid things in the jungle.
Adam swinging in

Now, Adam is 32, going on 24 and I’m 23. When together, we drop an additional six years in maturity and tend to make healthy decisions like: jump off high rocks into rivers; swing on vines into rivers; climb up the middle of a waterfall and then jump off it into the river. You may detect a theme.

We got lost at one point and while vine swinging, I kneed Adam in the kidney, but otherwise we escaped our own debauchery unharmed. Plus, Adam has another kidney.

The seminar went well – we presented to the new directors of the tourism and cacao producer’s group that Adam works with. His counterpart, the president, did a lot of presenting, which is better and also easier for Adam and I. The group was sharp too, which meant we finished early each day and got to do more jungling and spend more time talking with community members.

I’ve visited several volunteers in their sites and I enjoy seeing the way they interact with the community. Many volunteers put on a bit of a persona, in order to be taken more seriously, or simply out of self-defense. Adam acts exactly the same in his community, except he responds to Chiro.
Me on a waterfall

I have a Ngabe name as well, but only about half the people use it (if that). But no one was saying Adan or Adam. “No one knows my English name” he told me. “Someone named me Chiro when I first came and that was it.”

The most notable thing about his name, however, was how frequently it was stated in the course of a conversation. Example:

Adam: “Hey! How are you Community Member 1?”
Community Member 1 (CM1): “Good, Chiro. Where are you going, Chiro?”
Adam: “To the artisan house to do a seminar, are you coming?”
CM1: “Yes, Chiro. I’ll be there later, Chiro.”
Every sentence. It was almost part of the punctuation.

His community members also had another amusing speaking habit.
Chiro on his porch
“Oh shit!” Adam’s neighbor screamed in greeting.
“Oh shit!” Adam responded.
Apparently he’s fallen off his own mostly sturdy constructions (like the ladder up to his bed) and used the phrase. Closely surrounded by neighbors, his cursing was heard and mockingly mimicked and is now a common greeting.

Overall, an excellent experience. Between the jungle and the well-functioning tourism and producer’s group, it was a pleasure visiting and working with Adam. The freeballing both literally and figuratively paid off and I’m happy to report that my personal parts are chigger free and that 14 people know a little more about being community leaders.

Hopefully Chiro also teaches them the liberation of freeballing.

*No, I don’t have the actual figure. Consistent readers of this blog are now realizing how useless the footnotes are. 


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