Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Histo-what?

Imagine living in a rural farming community with rivers and streams flowing down the mountains and through the center of town. Imagine going to sleep with bats flying around your room and feeling lucky that they can’t bump into you inside your mosquito net. Imagine waking up to the call of the ever-present chickens around your home and community. And imagine making abono orgánico by digging up soil and mixing it with gallinazo.

I lived in such a community as a CEC volunteer and loved it. When else in your life can you live in such a beautiful place where you are welcome in every home, and people offer you brindi on every visit?

However, I did have intestinal woes which lasted much of my service in that community. At times I would stay in bed in the fetal position hoping the abdominal pain would go away. At other times I would make strategic trips around the community, knowing which latrines were well taken care of when nature made its urgent call. I downed enough antiparasitics, antibiotics, dewormers, and steroids to evict whatever may have been living in me at the time.

I returned home in late May of 2010. I immediately started education classes and accepted a position teaching high school Biology. As a full-time student with a full-time job as a first year teacher, I was exhausted on a daily basis. Who wouldn’t be? I still had a little cough I left Panama with, but overall I felt pretty good. I didn’t even get the flu or a cold from the variety of pathogens the kids seemed to fill my room with on a daily basis.ng the abdominal pain would go away. At other times I would make strategic trips around the community, knowing which latrines were well taken care of when nature made its urgent call. I downed enough antiparasitics, antibiotics, dewormers, and steroids to evict whatever may have been living in me at the time.

I started out this school year with a sore throat that just wouldn’t go away. I was seen by ten doctors and specialists who each mentioned they had never seen anything like it. Possible diagnoses included tuberculosis, parasitic infections, fungal infections, and even cancer. CT scans, bronchoscopy and laryngoscopy with cultures and biopsies, blood tests, and urine tests were all performed.

When several of the 35 tests came back positive, I was admitted to the hospital with a diagnosis of disseminated histoplasmosis. With Google on my side, I learned about the disease. Histoplasma capsulatum is found in soils in river valleys. Bird and bat droppings enrich the growth medium for the fungus causing highly contaminated soil. Histoplasmosis is caused by the inhalation of Histoplasma capsulatum spores from contaminated soil. The spores become airborne through disturbing contaminated soil. Patients who develop clinical manifestations of histoplasmosis are usually immunocompromised.

It all made sense. My community seemed like a perfect place for the fungus to grow. My job description made my contact with the spores likely. And months and months of chronic diarrhea would have certainly compromised my immune system. Plus, the first described case of histoplasmosis was made in Panama.

The infectious disease doctor described the likely course of events. The middle and upper lobes of my right lung were infected with histoplasmosis during my service and just chilled there without my awareness. It ate away a ping-pong sized hole which with time walled-off from the rest of my lung. Eventually the fungi entered my bloodstream and settled in my throat. It was there that the fungi ate away at my epiglottis and surrounding structures, swelling them up like a balloon and causing the pain, trouble breathing, and swallowing problems that kick-started my search for a diagnosis.

With a diagnosis, treatment began. I was started on Amphotericin B infusions through a PICC line (think chemo) lasting four hours each day. My reactions to the medicine eased through a week in the hospital by pre-medicating with Tylenol, Benadryl, and morphine. After another week of outpatient transfusions, I began treatment with Sporonox, an antifungal medicine that I will be taking daily for at least the next year.

I learned a few lessons through the course of diagnosis and treatment:

Document everything! Many of the drugs prescribed during my service were recorded in their Panamanian names that doctors here could not decipher. Some papers in my medical records requested from the Peace Corps Post-Service Unit were missing and others belonged to other volunteers, including a positive pregnancy test with the name and social security number of another PCV. Also some medical complaints were lost in translation: an infected bug bite for which an antibiotic was prescribed was recorded as swollen due to a fall. Keep a medical journal.

You know your body better than anyone. The general practitioners insisted that I had a viral infection when antibiotics didn’t work. So I started going to specialists and got the ball rolling. A radiologist kept me in isolation for an entire day thinking I had TB even though I didn’t have any other symptoms of the infection. So as soon as I was let out, I went to an Urgent Care for a TB test which was negative. A nurse in the hospital failed to follow the infusion protocol for my drug. So a call to the duty nurse who rectified the problem. Don’t be afraid to speak up.

Love your health insurance. I never thought health insurance was particularly important. I was young, healthy, and invincible. My employer paid my premium each month. I accidently signed up for the better plan this year and paid an additional $30/month out of my paycheck. Boy am I glad I did! The medical bills have added up to over $70,000 while the medication I now take costs about $1,000/month. My out-of-pocket has been about $5,000 so far. I would have been screwed without insurance.

Applying for FECA benefits is not scary. It seems like a daunting amount of paperwork to gather and months to wait when you feel like crud. My doctors were less than forthcoming with providing the required paperwork listed on the form (CA-2). After several requests, I finally sent in what I had and figured I would send any additional paperwork as requested. Just two weeks later, my case was accepted. Reimbursements were also not as difficult as listed on the Peace Corps website. FECA actually only requires one form (OWCP-915) and receipt to process a request instead of getting each provider to fill out a separate affidavit (OWCP-1500) and medical notes. Organize paperwork by provider, not date, to make things easier in the long run. And did I mention document and keep copies of everything?

I don’t mean to scare you with any of this, just keep you informed. I certainly don’t regret a minute of my service. I hope you stay healthy and enjoy your time in Panama!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Updates...

Okay, so it's been what? A year since I COS'ed? I figured it's far time I updated my blog with the second half of my service. I think I will be able to recover my files from my dead little laptop, so pictures will follow. (Perhaps I'll do that when school is out for the summer.)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Description of Service

Description of Peace Corps Service

Kerry C. Piper
Republic of Panama 2008-2010

After a competitive application process stressing technical skills, motivation, adaptability, and cross cultural understanding, Peace Corps invited Ms. Kerry Piper to serve as a Community Environmental Conservation Volunteer in the Central American nation of Panama.

Training

Ms. Piper began an intensive 10-week pre-service training on April 16, 2008 in Santa Clara, a small town located about an hour west of the capital, Panama City. The program consisted of language training, technical skills training, and area studies training. As part of the technical training, she took a lead role in planning a day-long environmental festival. She assisted other trainees in the selection and adaptation of age-appropriate activities for over 250 elementary school children in the training community.

The Pre-Service Training included:

  • 110 hours of formal instruction in Spanish
  • 135 hours of technical training in environmental education and natural resource conservation
  • 190 hours of observation and application of conservation techniques in rural communities across Panama
  • 30 hours of cross-cultural training related to the history, economics and cultural norms of Panama
  • 40 hours of medical, safety and administrative issue training

The In-Service Trainings conducted 4, 6, and 9 months into service included:

  • 6 hours of formal instruction in Spanish
  • 15 hours of project specific and cross-sector technical training
  • 20 hours of training in project management and leadership
  • 10 hours of cross-cultural training
  • 42 hours of training of the trainer including learning theory and nonformal education techniques

Assignment

On June 26, 2008 Ms. Piper completed training and was sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer. She was assigned to Cabecera de Cochea, a rural mountain community of 270 people in the western province of Chiriquí approximately 10 hours from Panama City. Her primary assignment involved working with an environmental group to promote ecotourism and reforestation and teaching environmental education to instill an understanding and appreciation of the environment in youth.

On April 20, 2009 Ms. Piper relocated to Vaquilla, a community of 1,000 people in the central province of Coclé, just four hours from Panama City. Her primary assignment here involved creating environmental education tools for teachers and fellow Volunteers and facilitating trainings using these tools. In addition, Ms. Piper developed logos and brochures to promote ecotourism, worked with board members of community groups to strengthen leadership skills, taught courses in computer literacy and English, and served as a regional representative for the Volunteer Advisory Council and Editor-in-Chief of La Vaina, the magazine of Peace Corps Panama.

Agricultores y Conservacionistas Senderos de Volcán Barú

Agricultores y Conservacionistas Senderos de Volcán Barú (ACSVB) is an environmental group dedicated to the conservation of the southern zone of Volcán Barú National Park through reforestation and the promotion of ecotourism. Ms. Piper facilitated a series of seminars to aid group members in the development of leadership, planning, and networking abilities. She worked with group members to design an environmental action plan to improve an office used for tree nursery management and hosting ecotourists and to develop and build sustainable trails in the National Park.

Together, she and ACSVB applied for a grant through the Atlantic Panamanian Mesoamerican Biological Corridor Project (CB-MAP II) and the National Environmental Authority (ANAM). Ms. Piper taught members how to use a GPS and map existing trails, a required component of the grant application. She assisted group members in the planning and realization of tours for ANAM VIPs arriving to assess the strength of the group and the feasibility of the project. The group was awarded $40,000 to fund their project.

Eco-English Course

Ms. Piper developed and certified a three-month, 40-hour Eco-English course through the Ministry of Education which combines environmental education activities with English vocabulary pertinent to the budding ecotourism opportunities in her community. She designed lessons with a variety of interactive activities to engage learners. Twelve dedicated students, ranging in age from 13 to 53, completed all assignments with a high level of accuracy to graduate.

Girl Scout Troop

Seeing the need to engage women in conservation activities from an early age, Ms. Piper formed a Girl Scout troop. Seven girls between the ages of 7-13 attended weekly meetings consistently. She taught environmental education and life skills at each meeting, building self-esteem and empowering young women to act on their own informed decisions.

She was awarded a $418 Volunteer Activities Support and Training (VAST) grant through the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) grant to support her troop. She brought four of her girls to the Annual Girl Scouts National Camp in the province of Coclé focused on HIV/AIDS and the environment. Ms. Piper was responsible for 20 young girls in her group, in addition to her own troop. She facilitated daily camp activities and energizers for over 300 campers. She created a meeting bag filled with supplies to implement a variety of activities to reinforce lessons learned at camp. Before her departure from Cabecera de Cochea, she trained a mother to take over the Girl Scout troop and continue supporting the community’s young women.

Environmental Education Tools

Ms. Piper created an effective and easily applicable cross-reference of over 500 environmental activities in the Environmental Education Activity Guides available to Panamanian educators from their National Environmental Authority. She did so by applying themes to the learning objectives of the national curriculum for Natural Science and Agriculture. She then assigned these themes and a teaching method label to each activity. The thematic index enables a fourth grade teacher to create a unit on organic compost by linking dynamic games to explain the theory with practical experiments to apply them. The teaching methods index allows a first grade teacher, who needs to strengthen the reading skills of her students, to draw from a number of environmental stories.

Due to her close interactions with top Panamanian ministry officials, the cross-reference has been incorporated into teacher trainings on environmental education certified by the Ministry of Education and will be included in the next edition of the Environmental Education Activity Guides.

She also translated and adapted activities from Flying WILD- An Educator's Guide to Celebrating Birds, a program of the Council for Environmental Education to create a guide dedicated to the diversity and conservation of Panama’s avifauna. Ms. Piper promoted this new guide to the National Environmental Authority and other NGO’s in Panama to broaden the scope of programs they currently offer. With a $60 Volunteer Advisory Committee (VAC) grant, she was able to create a kit of all materials needed to facilitate the activities contained in the guide which she used with several youth groups.

Environmental Education Guide and Trainings

Ms. Piper took a lead role in modifying the goals, objectives, and indicators of the Community Environmental Conservation (CEC) Program as a member of the Program Advisory Committee. The Committee decided that a comprehensive manual to guide trainees through Pre-Service Training and help Volunteers to meet the goals and objectives of the CEC Program during their service was essential to the success of both CEC Volunteers and the program.

She drew from her experience teaching in rural Panamanian schools, work with environmental groups, and research from documents published by the North American Association of Environmental Educators, Peace Corps Information Collection and Exchange, and other experts to write chapters on environmental education and conservation in Panama with a fellow Volunteer. She then edited all components and used Adobe InDesign to publish a comprehensive training manual for Peace Corps Panama Trainees and Volunteers. It guides Trainees through the basics of environmental education, instructs them on how to approach Panamanian schools, plan interactive activities with teachers, train teachers in environmental education, build leadership skills in community groups, create environmental action plans, build networks between community groups and government agencies/NGOs, and implement project plans. It also includes anecdotes and case studies from the best practices of current Volunteers and an appendix full supporting documents.

Using the CEC Reference Guide, Ms. Piper facilitated 6 hours of In-Service Training on environmental education for 13 Group 63 CEC Volunteers and 32 hours of Pre-Service Training for 17 Group 65 CEC Trainees. She developed training plans addressing the preparation and professional development needs of environmental educators using Bernice McCarthy’s 4MAT system (motivation, information, practice, application) to engage participants of all learning styles.

The National Authority of the Environment of Coclé invited Ms. Piper to co-facilitate a week-long, 40-hour continuing education seminar for 39 Panamanian teachers. She translated key sections of the environmental education guide for use in the seminar and presented the information with numerous hands-on activities to apply the learned knowledge.

Graphic Design for Ecotourism Groups

Using Adobe Illustrator, Ms. Piper designed logos for five environmental groups from Chiriquí to Colón. These groups have used their logos on letterhead, signs, and polo shirts to promote their projects to other community members, tourists, and agency personnel. She also designed an English-Spanish brochure for Albergues Navas, a bed and breakfast near Omar Torrijos H. National Park in Coclé, which can be found in tourist information centers all over Panama.

Project Management and Leadership

Project Management and Leadership (PML) is a training program to create transformational leaders and strengthen groups. Created by Zach Barricklow and fellow Volunteers in G56, this program has grown to become a cornerstone of many Peace Corps Panama Sectors. Transformational leadership is a process that cultivates the ability to grow and stimulate positive change beginning on a personal level, moving to a group level, continuing to a community level, and eventually extending to an institutional level. Through this process, community members begin to cultivate qualities of a transformational leader.

Ten sessions guide participants through the individual level of influence to the institutional level. In each session, participants practice various skills that they can bring back to their families, groups, and community to become stronger leaders and more successful managers of projects and initiatives.

Training community members, in what at times are abstract topics, is facilitated through the use of a facilitator’s guide and participant’s manual. Ms. Piper revised the "Project Management and Leadership" manual by designing more worksheets and improving the flow of the document. She facilitated a total of 98 hours of Transformational Leadership seminars for 56 participants in her communities and in national seminars.

Secondary Projects: Computer Literacy and English Education

At the request of the director of the General Basic Education Center (CEBG) Vaquilla, Ms. Piper taught 150 hours of computer literacy to 244 elementary school children and 9 educators, during which time they achieved competency in basic computer management, Microsoft Word, and various education software.

Vaquilla receives an average of 50 American tourists a week who arrive for a rural tourism experience. After touring an organic farm, they are treated to a presentation of folkloric dance at the elementary school and lunch in the home of a local family. Few of the tourists speak Spanish.

Ms. Piper taught English classes at the request of the Tourism Group, covering basic conversational phrases, food, family, and home. She also taught classes in the middle school modeled after the successful Eco-English course she developed.

Secondary Projects: Volunteer Advisory Council and La Vaina

The Volunteer Advisory Council (VAC) is a group of Volunteers consisting of a 4-member board of directors and 9 regional representatives who meet once per trimester to discuss issues and concerns facing the approximately 160 Volunteers serving in Peace Corps Panama.

Ms. Piper was elected by her peers as the regional representative for Coclé. During her tenure, she pushed for improved training and response to security incidents and participated in a roundtable discussion with the Country Director, Programming and Training Officer, Safety and Security Coordinator, Training Director, Assistant Training Director, and VAC board of directors.

La Vaina is a 60-page magazine published three times a year by the Volunteer Advisory Council of Peace Corps Panama. La Vaina strives to inspire and entertain rather than simply inform Volunteers. It is distributed to all Volunteers and staff in-country, as well as Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and NGO partners. Volunteers and other readers should be able to pick up an issue and enjoy it a day, month, or even years after, gaining insight into Volunteer life and development work in the field. Each issue of La Vaina has a theme creating a cohesive publication.

Ms. Piper managed three cycles of La Vaina. In the months prior to publication, she solicited articles from Volunteers and others who can shine light on the topic, including Peace Corps staff, agency personnel, and community members. She also solicited artwork highlighting the talents and experiences of Volunteers to illustrate each article. Just prior to the publication of each cycle, she dedicated a full week in the office to edit articles, layout the pages in Microsoft Publisher, and delegate tasks to her assistant editors.

Language Skills

Ms. Piper has achieved an advanced competency level in Spanish during her service and has effectively used Spanish to communicate in all of her different projects and daily social interactions.

Close of Service

Ms. Piper completed her Peace Corps service in Panama on May 25th, 2010.

Pursuant to section 5(f) of the Peace Corps Act 22 U.S.C 2504 (f) as amended, any former volunteer employed by the United States Government following her Peace Corps Volunteer service is entitled to have any period of satisfactory Peace Corps Volunteer service credited for purposes of retirement, seniority, reduction in force, leave and other privileges based on length of federal government service. Peace Corps service shall not be credited toward completion of probationary or trial period or completion of any service requirement for career appointment.

This is to certify in accordance with Executive Order No. 11103 of 10 April 1963, that Kerry Piper served satisfactorily as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Her service in Panama ended on May 25th, 2010. She is therefore eligible to be appointed as a career-conditional employee in the competitive civil service on a non-competitive basis. This benefit under the Executive Order entitlement extends for a period of one year after termination of the Volunteer’s service, except that the employing agency may extend that period for up to three years for a former Volunteer who enters military service, pursues studies at a recognized institution of higher learning, or engages in other activities that, in the view of the appointing authority, warrant extension of the period.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Finishing up

I have one more day of training tomorrow morning. (I leave my hostel at 6am to get into the office, and then leave the office to get into the training community by 8am.) Our regional meeting starts at 9am... yep, won't make that. And the volunteer/pc office part of the regional meeting starts at 11 or 12pm. I might make the end of it. Most important part is that I'll make the beach overnight. lol It should be fun!
Then I get back to my community the next day (wed afternoon), pack up, clean up, have a visitor on sunday to pick up my fridge, and leave sunday afternoon to get back to the city for my language interview monday morning. Oye!!! Then monday/tuesday I have to get a blood test, close out my bank account (I just got my reimbursements deposited, so I've got a wad of money in there right now. Yeah, don't want to think about carrying that cash on me...), meet with everyone under the sun in the office to sign my forms and finnnnnnallllly, catch a plane back to ya'll! (I'll be staying with my host family for my pre-America introduction.)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Election day

I was on house arrest until 3:30pm today, as all of Panama couldn't leave their houses until they got census-ed. It only happens once every ten years, and in the long run, it's probably more efficient than how the US does it. Maybe not... Anyhow, Isaac and I were staying here at the hostel and we had food stocked up as we couldnt' leave to get any (and no stores would be open anyhow). We started getting hungry and antsy around 11am. I went down to the fridge and found someone ate ALL our food: a tupperware of super delicious ginger pasta with loads of veggies, and another big tupperware of more pasta waiting for fixings. ARGH! So now were were trapped, hungry, and antsy. Luckily we still had some chips and salsa which held us over until we were counted and released later in the afternoon. We beelined it to the grocery store just to get out of the hostel for a bit. I got fruit and yogurt which I had been craving, while Isaac bought and downed a whole liter of chocolate milk.

We went out to dinner around 7pm when all businesses were allowed to be open... only to find that most kept there doors shut. So much for dinner at the good vegetarian restaurant. We still had a good dinner and chatted a whole bunch. It's going to be weird to leave such good friends behind. Isaac and his wife, Melissa, bought a coffee farm in another volunteer couple's site in Cocle. They'll be returning to the states (Vermont) after planting the farm. (They bought 10lbs of coffee seed from me and the president of the coffee group in my site.) Melissa's parents are in DC, and she's going to go to the Outer Banks with some girlfriends from home at some point, so I'll see her around.

I'm working on my presentation for tomorrow. I was just going to set the trainees off with an assignment, but I found a much better way of explaining everything from a chunk of the presentation I did last week. So I'll present that info better and then set em free.

Oh I can't wait to be home!!!! I just want time to learn a ton and have fast internet and libraries and coffee shops to do it in. :) I'm looking at sublets. I think I want to be walking distance to a bar. hehe. I really need to meet people, and I don't want to have to worry about driving and all that.

Monday, April 5, 2010

COS prep

I left my fridge with some chopped veggies and fruit in the freezer. It's all in little tupperwares. I hope it survives the week until I get back. I also had a tupperware of some kind of new fruit (it's like a melon, green and a little spikey on the outside, green on the inside with a hard seed pod in the middle filled with lots of fleshy seeds, and starts with a "g"). It didn't taste as good as I hoped, and accidentally left it in the fridge. Eww. I don't want to think about it. Hopefully nothing will be able to get inside of the plastic container and make it really yucky.

Hmmm, in other news, as I said, I've got my dentist appt tomorrow. I started my meds today, but Lourdes (PC Medical Officer) had a full plate today, so I only started on the paperwork and she checked blood pressure, pulse, and weight. I feel like last week I was probably 10lbs lighter since I had no water in me. Oh well, at least I'm healthier now. And that's an improvement on when I had my tummy probs. (When it was hurting, I wouldn't want to eat anything, so I'd just have brownies or lemon cake or whatever I could bake and just read in my hammock or bed all day. Not the best diet and exercise plan!) I did some squats the other day as part of an exercise routine and man... I don't know if I was still dehydrated some, or just since I had stopped it for the week I was sick and a couple more days when i was out of my house, but geeze! My quads were still telling me about it today walking down the stairs in the bus terminal today.

Last week in site (well, weekend since I got back Friday afternoon), I chugged out lesson plans for 20 hours of training. I've got 12 more hours to come up with a plan for. (I forgot to tell our Programing and Training Specialist, Carlos, that I'm not going to do plans for the 8 other hours of Week 4, nor plans for Tech Week (Week 5) which is all day every day, or 40 hours more. Every hour of planning takes almost a full page of writing justifications, learning objectives and procedures. Once I cover all the trainings that I'll be personally facilitating, I'm gonna call it quits!

Plus, I'm putting together the training manual. While the Goal 1 guide for "environmental education in the schools" is pretty much done, we decided at our last meeting that instead of doing two separate guides, we'd do one big one with getting started, goal 1, and goal 2. That means that to make it easier in the long run to integrate everything, I've gotta pull out all the material from goal 1 and move it from Microsoft Publisher (which is a beginner's kind of publishing program that doesn't let you move things around easily) to Adobe InDesign (which is much easier to work with in that you can move chunks of documents around instead of page by page and update changes, like fonts and tables of contents, in the book all at once). Only problem is that I have to copy and paste everything from one to the other. And for our goal 2, "environmental action in the community," everyone is working on different parts of it, which they should be sending in April 9th. So it's kinda weird trying to set up the pages without knowing what I'm going to receive... and trying to start writing intros to each of the four objectives without having all the info that will be going into each section. Perhaps I'll take these days of my COS meds and hold off on the other work until my boss starts paying for me to be in the city instead of the med office. :)

It's weird talking to other PCVs who are COSing (close of service, aka leaving at the same time as me) as they are just chilling in their sites until they leave. I feel like it's getting to be crunch time with everything that's happening right now. Well, I'm not doing much in my site right now either. A guy was supposed to stop by my house for computer lessons so he can then take an air conditioning repair class through the national training center/institute that does all kinds of job training for rural Panamanians. I'll have to find him when I get back to site and ask him what happened. To his credit, I came back to site on Good Friday (so he was probably in church most of the day), then there was Saturday (which even if it's not a designated religious holiday, my people always celebrate every day for nine days before any religious day), and then Easter Sunday (which is about as churchy as things get in a Catholic community). When Kayla told me that there was a 5 hour mass on Thursday just leading up to Good Friday and Easter... I decided (seconded by Kayla) that i wasn't going to go near the church until it was all over as I didn't want to get sucked in and spend (is that bad of me?) all that time when I could be getting other things done.

I cleaned off my desk. That was a big improvement. And hung up all my clean clothes that I washed. We didn't have water Sat afternoon or all day Sunday, so I didn't wash the other clothes and sheets I had waiting. But I did put clean sheets on my bed. My kitchen is pretty clean too. I accidentally left a bag with two onions in my food storage bag (where I keep my dry goods like beans). It didn't do so well. I could have rescued them, as only the outside layer was bad... but with my tummy, I just chucked the onions to the skinny dogs and annoying chickens. Plus, onions are like $0.60/lb. I can afford new ones when I go back next week. :)

Speaking of which, Kayla's b-day is April 11th. So we're going to the beach for the night... and then that following morning, I'm supposed to catch a bus in Penonomé at 6am to get up to Chiguiri Arriba at 7am to kick off the medical gira. (The US Army is bringing doctors in to treat the people in my area, and I think veterinarians too. I'm going to be their translator. lol, I hardly know how to describe all the things that go wrong with me in Spanish, so it should be interesting. I can at least talk to my gente and ask enough questions to get to what I need to tell the docs. They just better not use their slang on me. aka, Women with a stomach ache is the polite way to say they are pregnant, etc. We'll see! I'm just hoping that some of the docs will be cute and around my age. Heck if there is a cute one, I might put in another week of translating with them in the next town they head to. lol!

Kathryn, one of the girls who attended my Culture Week in site last September, is coming to help out too. She's a good friend and is going to spend the night at my house for at least one night. We'll have a girls night, which I'm looking forward to. I just hope she doesn't pick Monday night... as I'll just be arriving back to my house after a week of being away, and it won't be pretty. I think I need the cleaning fairy to come through. (The two air mattresses that popped a while back are folded up in a corner in my bedroom, no doubt collecting some kind of mold. I don't know if I should just bury them, burn them, try to haul them out of my community to dump in Penonome, or give them to one of my neighbors to try to fix. Decisions...)

Hope that catches you up some!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Electricity

Sometimes a Volunteer can’t help but be out of site. In order to do our job and maintain our wellbeing, we have to pop out of site every once and a while to visit agencies, load up on groceries, and reconnect with the outside world. For me, these trips can be accomplished in a day trip to the provincial capital. Other trips out of site for medical, programming, and training are lengthier, requiring at least one night out of site. And when these trips are combined, you better hope nothing catastrophic happens back at home.


This past week, something did: my town lost electricity. You might be questioning my campo-ness if after two years of living in rural Panama, I still can't live without light. That’s fine by me—I love electricity! While my electric treasures ate up my Settling-In Allowance and then some, they are worth every penny to me. Instead of buying my food bit by bit, I can literally load up on fruit, veggies, and meat in Penonomé’s Public Market. Depending on how long I’ll be out of site, I can let green tomatoes ripen in the crisper and fill my freezer with pineapple and papaya which will be ready for a great smoothie upon my return.


Typically my town loses electricity at least once a week, though only for a few hours at a time. Usually it’s out in the morning when I want to boil water for a cup of tea or around dinner time when I have a pot full of beans to cook. I’m flexible; I’ll wait, skip the meal, or go pasear.


Evidently, the electricity went out soon after I started my hike out of site. It was back on by the time I arrived home days later. However, the surge blew out my power strip, which protects all my kitchen appliances including my electric stove, toaster oven, blender, and refrigerator. The good news is my appliances survived. The bad news is my fridge was without electricity for a whole week.


How did I know that my electricity hadn’t just se fue-ed that day? The varying states of decomposition of produce told part of the tale. I surmised that the pile of dark green mush in the freezer was once a head of broccoli. The pumpkin had turned into pudding. The black bollo shapes were the once-green guineo chinos I received from Señor Toribio shortly before leaving. The sprouts growing in a cartucho on a carpet of fluffy, white mold were a gift of frijoles nuevos from Señora Berta. I was looking forward to those treats.


The three fruit flies that escaped when I first opened the door of the fridge told the rest of the tale. That may not seem like many, but these probably emerged from one of the thousands of maggots squirming over every available surface inside. I carried each load of spent food out of my kitchen, through my office, across my porch, around my house, and to my compost pile. With each trip, I’d make a pit stop at my sink to rinse off the larvae crawling along my fingers and across my wrists. I carried the shelves and drawers out of my kitchen, through my office, across my porch, and down the hill to the sink to wash and sterilize.


I then tackled washing the fridge itself with a sponge and a load of soap. Each swipe of the sponge lifted countless larvae from microscopic goo to gluttonous round ones to dark, crunchy chrysalis. While they were dreaming of their metamorphosis to reproduce and continue the species, I was doing everything in my power to stop it. I raced the sponge out of my kitchen, through my office, across my porch, down the hill and to the sink. Repeat.

At various moments throughout this three and a half hour cleaning spree, I’d feel ticklish—not unlike a soft touch or a slight breeze, bending the fine hairs on my body and exciting my tactile sense. I’d look and no doubt find a juicy, white worm wiggling to and fro on my shoulder or a small, almost anorexic youngster on the back of my hand. These too experienced a truncated life cycle.


Once I finally finished, I headed into the center of town to buy some food for dinner. While the selection at the kiosco is limited, I pieced together a decent meal. In my kitchen I chopped up an onion, carrot, and culantro, dumped them into a pot, poured in a bit of lentils, filled it up with water and a packet of Costilla Criolla, and put it on the stove. I turned the small, black knob to about medium heat. The little orange light didn’t go on. Great, the power was out again.



Mom, here's a guide to my Spanglish:

campo (a place way far a away, or someone who lives in the boonies)

pasear (action of going around to people's houses to chat and visit... almost always resulting in getting a full plate of rice and beans or some kind of food or drink)

se fue (left, went away)

bollo (baked corn meal in a tube shaped by the corn husks... I'm not a fan of them as they don't have much taste.)

cartucho (plastic bag)

guineo chinos (Chinese bananas, think big bananas that are more cubic than round)

frijoles nuevos (new beans)

kiosco (little store consisting on about three rows of 5ft long shelves, selling essentials like rice, beans, and soap)

Costilla Criolla (Panama's version of beef bullion cubes)