February was a tough month in a lot of ways, but keeping busy at the end of the month and now, entering into March, is helping. School has started again and things in the garden are looking great! The teacher who is in charge of the garden and I sat down and discussed, what, and where, we wanted to plant this year, and I was thrilled to see that one of the books she has as a guide includes some basic, easy to understand information about crop rotation. That said, we have planned the garden this year, carefully arranging root vegetables like yucca where we had had tomatoes and cucumbers the year before, cucumbers and tomatoes where we had beans, leguminous “nitrogen fixing” vegetables like green beans and kidney beans where we had corn last year, and corn where we had yucca last year.
For anyone ever curious about how pineapples grow, look below. I know that until this year I had no idea that you could just plant the top of the pineapple in the ground and then….1 1/2 -2 years later, the pineapple flowers out from the center. Its really pretty cool looking….
School garden talk aside….
February was tough personally, but also at a community level, as the unexpected death of a 14 year old 8th grader devastated everyone in Nuevo Paraiso and the surrounding communities. Without getting into too many details, Alicia was 14 and pregnant, expecting to give birth near the beginning of February. Being so young, she was at an especially high risk for Preeclampsia, a medical condition characterized by high blood pressure. If left untreated, which hers was, it can (and in her case did) develop into eclampsia, the life-threatening occurrence of seizures during pregnancy.
I know that everyone always flashes back the last time they saw someone before an unexpected death, and in my case, I had seen Alicia 5 days before she died after an emergency c-section. Amazingly, her baby girl was saved, and weighed a shocking 8 pounds (giant for babies born here) and is in great health. The last time I saw her she seemed happy, hugely pregnant with swollen feet, but it seemed a normal amount of swelling to me. She told me she was nervous about having the baby, but that she was looking forward to going back to school after the baby was born, so that she could graduate from 9th grade. She seemed calm, and happy.
In Panama, when someone dies, people traditionally accompany the family every night until the day of the funeral, and then for 9 days/nights after the burial, saying a rosary every night to help the spirit of the deceased rest in peace. The first night I went to accompany the family with some of my neighbors, the air was filled with the tension of the raw pain of the family, Alicia’s older brother and younger brother and younger sister, all making brief appearances moving in and out of the house, and the wails of her mother rising and falling during the hours that we were there. In the days that followed however, as time heals and dulls pain, so does having loving family and friends nearby to share in grief. I thought it was a beautiful way of supporting the family just to be there, present, with them. Even though as the days went on, the conversations of those present often strayed from Alicia and her family, it seemed, at least, that the mere presence of so many people helped to make the burden of her death more bearable.
As February drew to an end, school began once again. This year, much like last year, I will be working in the school in my community 3 days a week, and in a school down the road 1 day a week, and using Fridays to work with the environmental women’s artisan group and doing other things that I need to do (like starting to look for jobs back home). In the school in my community I am helping with the school garden, helping with English classes in the elementary and middle school, doing an after school English club for both the elementary and middle school, and doing environmental education classes with the elementary schoolers. Also, the director just told me that she is interested in having me paint a mural of a world map on one side of the school, which was a project I had proposed last year but never got around to doing. I think it would be a lot of fun.
Also this month…the arrival of the new group of CEC G72 Volunteers. I am excited to get to go help with their training next week because, new, fresh, enthusiastic, altruistic, hopeful PC Trainees are usually a pretty awesome group of people to work with. They are outgoing, responsive, and most importantly, usually INTERESTED in what you have to say. So that should be a good experience next week.
Beyond that, we have our COS (Close of service) conference coming up, and then Tech-Week at my site, when the new group of 25 volunteers will spend 1 week living and working in my community and at our school, putting into practice what they have been learning in theory about working in a school garden, home gardens, teaching in the school, and getting to know community members. It is still a lot to plan, but I am really excited and HOPE that it turns out to be a success for everyone.
After that….on April 11th, the volunteer who will be replacing me when I leave at the end of June, arrives in my site. Crazy. I think, in all honestly, it should be a great thing to have an overlap between me and the new volunteer. It is possible, of course, that we might walk on each others toes a bit, but I think that it will be a great way to transition, and sort of “hand off the torch”. I, at least, am very optimistic about it.
That said, this post has been a bit on the writing heavy side, which actually, I think is good, as I know that I have been a little bit less than up to date in terms of my blog. However now I will fill much of the rest of the post with pictures. Those which immediately follow are from Monday after school, when Yoya convinced me that she wanted to cook chicken for dinner. And, since there is no electricity and this no refrigeration, one must buy the entire chicken, live, if one wants to each chicken for dinner. Yoya, having more experience (and guts) than I, in this process, agree to help with the killing/de-feathering/de-gutting and cutting into pieces of our poor chicken friend.
I’m sure the chicken didn’t feel that Yoya was being very “peaceful” even as she flashes this peace sign over its recently be-headed body.
and at times it was just sort of sad and gross. Needless to say I am pretty sure that I am going to go back to being a full fledged vegetarian when I get home. It’s been real chicken….and delicious, but getting chicken blood on my hands and scraping out the contents of its stomach before cutting it up and cooking it was a reminder why I really just prefer lentils….
The following pictures are of some of my friends/neighbors working on the re-purposed magazine/soda can/feather jewelry that we have now sent to the US in hopes of selling it at the BC Arts Fest at the end of April, thanks to the help and support of my amazing sister, Hilary.
Although I didn’t show up in the picture, I was playing the maracas as a part of our improvised band (and I was told I was pretty decent…)
That’s all for now. Coming up in April I will have some exciting news about what is most likely going to be my last big project here in Panama – a 2 weekend long youth camp based on promoting creativity and arts education to rural panamanian youth. It is going to be awesome! Any thoughts, ideas, comments, questions, updates, news from beyond the limits of my community are more than welcome!
The ladies in our women’s group, now named Esperanza Verde, have been hard at work making more re-purposed artisan work – bags/purses made from Cheetos and Doritos wrappers and jewelry made from magazine beads. Here you can see us at the Feria de Chorrera, our most recent event where we worked at ANAM’s booth talking to people about the purpose of our artisan work.
Our next big event will hopefully be the Boston College Arts Fest this April, where we will be collaborating with some BC students to sell some of our artisan work in Boston!
Things for the next few months are going to be very busy as I try to wrap up my work here and hand it off to the volunteer that will be arriving in my site at the end of April, to take over the projects we have going on – the women’s artisan/environmental group, finishing building a group meeting house, work in the school garden, environmental classes, english club and the baking group. Hopefully I will be able to put up a few more pictures in the less than 5 months I have left, as I know I have been sort of behind on that in the past few months.
Time is flying…..
Layer 2 finished on our mud oven in La Honda – hoping it works next week when we finish layer 3 and try to fire our first loaf of bead