Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Next Chapter

I became a "Returned Peace Corps Volunteer" on June 10th, 2010, although in my case it could be better termed "Returning". I am now part of a team of cyclists pedaling back to the U.S. and volunteering along the way. Our team is Cycles of Change and you can find more information on our team blog.

Thank you for all of your support during my service.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Gross National Toughness

I learned what it meant to contribute to Panama's gross national toughness last week. When I was a new volunteer, still fresh faced from training, I spoke with a veteran volunteer, and he shared his ideas about an innovative economic index that Panama could use to measure its riches in terms of its people's 'grit': gross national toughness. It would account for the sweat, blood, and tears shed daily in our communities.

Last week was my final week in site. Being so, my neighbors invited me to share a special meal with them Monday evening. I padded barefoot over the hill to their home at dusk and was not far into the journey when I felt a jarring pain in the toes of my right foot. I looked down to see my baby toe jutting out at almost a 3 o'clock position. I strained my foot muscles to try to encourage it back into position. My toe was not encouraged. After much ho-hum and a call to the Peace Corps doctor, I hobbled back to my hut, took a respectable dose of ibuprofen, and proceeded to set my toe, which required much squishing and wailing.

I nearly had my toe in place when a team of eight strong men arrived at my house to carry me out to the taxi stop in a hammock in the blackness of night. I put a halt to their good intentions, asked one of them help me to finish setting my little purple swollen toe in place, taped it with band aids, prepared them popcorn, and called it night: my pinkie contribution to Panama's gross national toughness.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tjä Toë

A couple Thursday mornings ago, Ernesto and his grand kids led me up the hillside to his farm to collect almonds. We had been waiting for the harvest for months ever since the branches filled with pink blossoms late last year. We climbed the hillside passing his plots of pineapples, green beans, basil, peppers, and peanuts. Eventually we climbed above the fog and drizzle that enclosed our houses below.
I sat down on a fallen tree trunk and found my eyes stinging with tears. Precious little time remained for me to savor with neighbors I had grown to love. Ernesto has proven to be the teacher of all things: introductions to dozens of new fruits and edible or medicinal plants and advise on how to evict bats that visited nightly and the very large snake that took up residence in my roof. His grand kids have pulled me through the rough patches. They bring me tea or herbs when I cannot rise out of bed. They have taught me how to prepare all of the new foods their grandfather brings me. They also fire my oven. They are much more adept at the task.

My Peace Corps service will come to a close in a couple weeks. From there a new adventure will begin. On June 20th, my friends Kat and Kate and I will embark on bicycles for the United States. Along the way we will be joined by five others on a tour we have called Cycles of Change. More information on the participants, route, schedule, and mission is available at We will be updating regularly throughout the tour.
tree frog

a ubiquitous cacao pod photo

candied orange peels

orange peeling

my prep station
examining a walking stick insect

a wild cacao relative

tree roots that could inspire a Halloween mask

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Buzz about Ag Biz

Saturday, March 27th marked the final day of the Bocas Agribusiness Seminar. As the sun peeked over the horizon we left our homes, hiked out of the community, forded, or in some cases traipsed, across the San San River, and waited for out taxi. The cable suspension bridge had washed out four weeks prior and even made national evening news, which caused the governor to promise he’d build a new bridge within a month; however, construction has not yet begun. Luckily, though, it has been dry.

At the appointed hour Don Solano, our skillful and sporadically puntual taxi driver, arrived to whisk us off to Changuinola for the last day of the seminar. Along the way we were stopped at a banana crossing, which could be equated to a train crossing, especially here as train tracks in the area were ripped up years ago and rumored to be purchased by the Chinese. The bananas were on their way from the field to the washing and packing plant, to be boxed up and piled into a semi truck painted with yellow bananas and a bright blue and yellow oval seal, eventually put into a shipping container to cross an ocean, ripen from green to yellow, and be sliced on breakfast cereal.

With little further adieu we arrived to the seminar, and the farmers were a buzz with new friendships. Thirty-three farmers, all indigenous, from eight different communities participated in the seminar. We were missing a couple on the last day. Olmedo from my community could not make it. His brother suffered a serious machete wound the previous day in Sieykin. As I had hiked to the taxi stop that morning, Olmedo was hiking the three hours over the mountains to Sieykin to tend to his brother who had cut open his knee which had required nine stitches to be closed back up. He is still recovering. Olmedo says to have taken away his machete.

During the final seminar day the participants were asked formulate and share with the group a goal that they had for their farm. Their goals included doubling their production of plantains in the next ten months, upgrading the infrastructure and pasture lands for their goats in the next six months, and planting three more hectares of cacao with their families utilizing the agroforestry systems that Peace Corps Volunteers had taught them. Some drew maps or work calendars to further illustrate this goal. We ate cake that a woman in my community had made. She had been my first student. It was a jubilant day.

Sunrise from Druy

A bridge to the river bottom. The other half tumbled

how to keep your pants legs (or skirt bottom) dry

Don Solano's majestic beast

stop! banana crossing

role playing marketing your product: platains

a stately ag biz participant

team building, a group sit

fishing, in the fish tank

counting the catch

my haul

Mauricio & Cuko

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Thanks to all of you that have helped support the agribusiness seminar. Your generosity has been amazing. And thanks to all of you who continue to follow my blog despite my recent shameless overt pandering for money.

The holidays found me back in the states, where you all dazzled me with your fancy phones, caught me up on last year’s booms (i.e., Sully’s water landing, açai berry) and busts (i.e., cash for clunkers, Tiger Woods), and showered me in hugs. Sorry for showering you all in tears. It is just what I do. Tomorrow I will head back to my community in something like Santa Claus like fashion, with my pack filled with puzzles for the kids, yarn for my knitting ladies, and specialty chocolate bars processed from purely Panamanian cacao (the very chocolate grown by my farmers!) for my farmers. It’ll be their first time tasting the finished product. I hope they are thrilled as I am.

Austin, Texas recycle bins even feature cocoa pods

Austin mural

Congratulations, Corin & Kieran!

my folks

thier livelihood

the homestead

my host family

celebrating mother's day (dec 8) with chocolate-banana swirl cake

my host brother is cute (turn your head to view)