This page has moved to a new address.

In the "Cult of Escapism"

In the "Cult of Escapism": September 2012

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.

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Scorpion Story

As I ducked under the mosquito net to get in my bed, I glanced at my calendar, September 10th this time next month I'll be in Panama City, closing my service and ending my 27 month commitment. A strange mixture of feelings swirl within me and I OH SHIT THAT'S A BIG SCORPION!! Oh NO, NO NO IT'S RIGHT NEXT TO MY BED!! IT HAS BABIES ON ITS BACK!!

No joke, literally 18 inches from where I lay on my pillow, there is a four inch scorpion with BABIES ON ITS BACK. That capitalized detail might not seem important to you so I'm gonna teach you some knowledge: the babies hurt MORE. They can't yet control their venom output and so they just use it all. When human babies and cats are killed by scorpions, they're often killed by babies who can't control themselves (I have no citation for that fact). And there were like 20 of them on momma's back.

Note the clusters of ants - they've got babies
I'll tell you a secret, reader, most scorpion sightings aren't that big a deal, they just make for good blog posts. Once spotted, scorpions are pretty slow and generally go for the “I'm not gonna move” strategy, which makes them easy to kill. But when you kill momma scorpion, the babies might scatter, hiding in your house like tiny, living mines. So I freaked out a little.

OK, I freaked out a lot.

But not so much that I didn't think to get my camera. Unfortunately my cheap little digital doesn't take good pictures at night, but you're welcome anyway for having the presence of mind to document this beast.

Anyway, after the photos, I got my machete and stabbed her. I cut her nearly in half and tried to crush as many babies as possible in the process but when I let up, she started crawling away. In two pieces. Damn woman, you strong. So I stabbed twice more and she fell on the ground, twitching. A few babies had scattered and I focused hard on finding them and systematically eliminating them, when I noticed the hundreds of ants suddenly swarming towards the slaughter. After only a few second's hesitation on my part, there were about twelve ants per scorpion baby and I could barely see the momma anymore under the swarming black. A natural clean up. Doesn't matter if I don't get all the babies, the ants definitely will.
Cleaning up the pieces

And as I write this, I see scorpion babies and one of mom's legs being carried into holes in my wall. I recently wrote about how I want to set ants on fire but no more, tonight they're my new best friends.

Also, if you got bored after reading my reflective first two sentences, don't worry, I promise never to write anything about “feelings swirling within me” ever again. That would be far too serious and self-analyzing for the likes of this blog.  

Friday, September 7, 2012

Dear Jif

In a shameless attempt to get free peanut butter, I sent the following letter to Jif:


Dear Jif,

As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I often face physically and mentally challenging situations, such as:
  • Isolation
  • Parasites infecting my stomach
  • Living without electricity or indoor plumbing
  • Flesh-eating bacteria.

However, the only situation I consider a true emergency is:
  • Running out of peanut butter.

When that happens, my mental fortitude breaks down and I immediately board a bus, which takes me out of the mountains of the indigenous reservation in which I live, two hours to the nearest provincial capital. Which brings me to my first Thank You:

Thank you, Jif Distribution People, for distributing your amazing product to the Panamanian provincial capital of David, while maintaining an affordable price. You make my life more liveable and more delicious every month.

I should here mention that the Peter Pan Distribution People have also found their way to my provincial capital and offer their creamy peanut butter at a similar price point. Which brings me to my next Thank You:

Thank you, Jif Flavor and Texture People, for making a product far superior to the mediocre Peter Pan brand creamy peanut butter. The Jif 18 ounce Creamy Peanut Butter is the Michael Phelps of creamy peanut butter and Jif's competitors are 'those other' swimmers, whose names we don't know and who entertain and delight no one outside of their immediate families.

Finally, thank you, Jif Contact People, for receiving this letter and forwarding it to the Distribution People, Flavor and Texture People and CEO. I want them to know that during my two year service to my country (America), I had many tough moments and in those moments was able to turn to Jif, instead of drug abuse. You have all made my life more liveable, delicious and drug free.

And in all seriousness, I absolutely love Jif creamy, which served as my number one, go-to comfort food during my service and which I will continue to choose, for myself and for my children, for the rest of my life.


Jack Fischl
Community Economic Development Volunteer
Peace Corps – Panamá

So far, no free peanut butter - just a cordial, but generic email response. I don't think it made it to the CEO.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Things to Which I'm Ready to Set Fire

Since hearing that Adele song “Set Fire to the Rain,” I've been determined to actually do so. I'm assuming it can be done, but would involve extremely dangerous chemicals. If any one has any suggestions, I have plenty of time and plenty of rain with which to experiment.

We're now at the point in Panama where it's about certain to rain every day, typically in the afternoon, which restricts me to a half day of activities and guarantees that my clothing will never dry, even if it was not wet in the first place (this is true). While I appreciate the cooling effect of the rain, if I could set fire to it and get rid of it, I would. Here are some other things to which I would (and might) set fire:

  • All of my clothing – exactly 100% of my clothing smells bad. Some of it smells almost unbearably bad, but with a month left and so much rain, I figure I'll just wear what I have and then burn it all on the way out. Some of my clothes I've been able to sell (with adequate warnings) as part of my house cleaning/fund raising, but if I don't sell it all, I'm seriously considering burning the remainder.
  • The ants next to my deck – this would be a delicate move, given the proximity to the house and that I don't want to burn any of my carefully cultivated grass. But those little bastards have been biting my feet for two years and then retreating underground to mock me. They probably have tiny computers with tiny YouTube videos of me cursing and slapping my feet. If I could selectively set fire to just them, I would. 
(Anecdote! I actually did set fire to some ants once. Another volunteer told me about the thrill and satisfaction of pouring alcohol on a line or swarm of ants and then dropping a match. So I did just that and those ants just disappeared. And there was a very faint, but very satisfying, popping sound. There's still a black mark on my floor – totally worth it.)
  • If you squeezed that frame, it would crumble
    My back window – this would be another difficult undertaking since I don't want to burn any other part of the house. My back window was never really properly installed and I never made any attempt to fix it, so every time I open it I have to lift and pull in a particular manner, which is awkward and unnecessarily difficult. Additionally, for whatever reason, this window has housed nearly all of my resident termites for the past two years. It got so bad that I actually doused the entire window in extremely hazardous, poisonous chemicals that I definitely should not have been handling. It's probably the closest I've ever come to killing myself and I will almost certainly create deformed children. Yet they still managed to survive long enough to hollow out the frame and all four sides of the wooden window. So now when I execute the necessary lift-and-pull, the window feels like it will just break into pieces, which it legitimately might. Best to just set it on fire.

Anyway, I realize that the 'Adele song'-'Things that annoy me' connection was pretty weak, but I needed a medium through which to complain about some of the physical challenges of life down here. Now, who wants to send me a barrel of gasoline?