Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Adorable Kitty Shots! Oh, god I´m cheesy....

These days our lives here are a weird mix of routine and the unexpected. Unexpected things include losing the whole evening yesterday to painstakingly picking dozens of ticks off of each other, or waking up at 3am to the noise of a drunk guy from down the road chopping down brush and grass along the trail next to our house, or even spending good chunks of the last couple days fixing the aqueduct for our neighborhood, which is not only falling to pieces on its own, but was a prime target for a swipe with a drunk's machete.

Routine stuff includes dealing with the pets, their frustratingly slow housebreaking (so much easier with concrete floors, I can't imagine doing it with carpet), working on the garden and house, and not really "working" so much. Now when I say working, I mean out doing sweaty labor in the fields with local farmers. This is because agricultural work is kind of in a lull right now, and also because we are trying hard to move away from just being considered free, unskilled labor and towards being more a source of information and advice and only sometimes labor. This lull is being taken advantage of by the farmers around here; many have family from the city up visiting and/or are drinking heavily, then often stumbling around. Some of these guys are amazing, we see them drunk at 7am, 2pm, 11pm; I couldn't even do that in college. It is a rare day when we don't see or talk to at least one stumbling drunk. Yesterday when I was out running, I spooked one who had a big bottle of fermented corn juice in one hand and a machete in the other. The drunk with machete always makes me nervous; he may not be able to walk ok, but he's been using a machete since he was five years old, and I'm worried that he may react quickly and instinctively to being surprised, and I may find myself bleeding. So I give the drunks a wide, wide berth.

Our morale has been up and down recently. Its hard to be down here for the holidays, and thanks to the aforementioned lull we are often wondering about our purpose here. Even just the fixing of the aqueduct is hard, since things like that really reveal how unwilling people are to cooperate and chip in to fix a shared and important resource. Even though we didn't have running water in our neighborhood for four days, it was hard to get anybody to spend a couple hours going to fix it with me; everyone seems to think it should be someone else's job, that they've done enough recently themselves, or who knows? Especially annoying for me is that many people seem overly willing to complain about the lack of water loudly and frequently, often pointing the finger at someone else.

I'd really hoped that we'd have established a more give & take thing by now, meaning people who want to work with us actually seeking us out, rather than waiting for us to show up at their house then making snide comments on how we've "abandoned" them recently. I don't mind going out and talking to people, but this seemingly one-sided effort is hard to deal with. We also get plenty of people telling us they want to do this or that project, that they'll let us know when they are ready for our help, and then never hearing from them again about it. Or they'll bring it up a couple months later, and act like we've dropped the ball. I want to help people, and work with them, but I am not going to nag, nor am I going to do all of the work for them while they go off and do something else. So we will see......

We are increasingly aware of just how much wrong information we're given by people here, and we aren't sure why. This is a long story and a big weird topic, but to summarize, it has been hard to believe a lot of what we are told by anyone here, and that is depressing. They tell us something that sounds factual with such authority that we would tend to believe it, except for the fact that we are catching on and hold back from believing too quickly. Sometimes its easy, and whatever is said is so outrageous that we have no problem writing it off. For example, we were told that the previous volunteer here got a migraine headache from roasting coffee and going out in the rain afterward. Well, ok, maybe. But when asked when he got the headache, the story-teller said it was two months later; yes, two full months after said roasting and getting wet in the rain episode. So there goes the credibility. If we want some semblance of the truth, we have to ask many people, and begin to piece it together for ourselves, especially if its anything controversial or dealing with historical problems here. People seem very unwilling to say they don't know something; they'd rather speculate wildly and say it with authority. I have to admit though that sometimes I think the person we're talking to just doesn't understand what we're saying or doesn't understand what we want to know, thus they give information they think we want.

Still, I'm feeling better about being here than I was just a couple weeks ago. I like having the increased self-determination that working on my own projects brings; I can go out and make organic fertilizer or weed the garden on my own schedule, without waiting for anyone. The coffee stuff I'm working on is coming along, and is still very interesting for me. The pets are a blast much more often than they are pains. And when all else fails, we have about 10 different coffee samples from around here, and I can easily spend some time roasting and comparing tastes.

Last night was freezing. It has been very windy here, with frequent squalls blown over the Continental Divide. Last night it dropped into the 60's, which for here is frigid. Along with 100% humidity and the rain, I actually had to wear a wool shirt and socks to stay comfortable. During the day, the weather is weird. It can be brightly sunny, with cloudbursts of solid rain, and strong winds all at the same time. This makes for killer rainbows, in fact, we see at least a few stunners every day.

Today is another meeting of the agricultural producers association. These meetings are a source of frustration and optimism for us: frustration since they seem to focus on everything but agriculture, particularly ways to get free money or stuff from the government. Optimism because it is really the only group of farmers who show any desire to work together on things here. Well, this whole topic is a long story, so instead, I'll talk about something else.

One of the more interesting social differences is privacy. It seems fairly normal for people, especially children, to feel completely comfortable with just walking into our house for a look around. We've done our best to emphasize that this is not acceptable, but it still happens a bit. I guess in some of the indigenous areas this is much, much worse; I think I'd have trouble dealing with that well. As it is, I've yelled at some kids a bit, and even physically blocked them as they were running into our house.

Java the dog is growing rapidly, and much much better looking than almost any other dog in Chitra. We were visiting with an older couple yesterday, and the woman asked how we keep our dog so healthy-looking. The guy replied to his wife before we could, saying that we actually feed it and give it medicine when it needs it. This is truly in contrast to how people here treat dogs; many are sickeningly skinny, infested with parasites, and scary to even touch. Many folks seem to think that dogs can get by on just a bit of white rice every day, that they can scrounge for the rest. These dogs are not friendly or playful, they have been hungry all their lives and that has driven it out of them. As I think I've mentioned, six of the eight puppies from Java's litter are dead now, since the mama dog's owner seems not to believe in actually feeding or giving medicine to his dogs. When we got Java, she had a huge belly from a worm infestation; he even remarked on this, but wouldn't spend the $0.20 for a dose of medicine just up the road at the store that would get rid of the worms. Of course, many locals don't often take much better care of themselves- that same guy has a big, festering sore on his arm, open and dirty; we told him he should go to the health center just a little farther up the road and get it looked at for free, but he didn't even want to bother to do that. I just don't get this stuff. If people here were more religious, I'd write it off to that peculiar brand of Catholic fatalism, but there really isn't even that.

Anyway, in other news, we got a fridge. We'd shopped around quite a bit, but couldn't find one that was the right size for the right price. But our friends in Santiago got a bigger fridge, so we bought their old one, and it is great. Cold Tang, veggies that stay fresh longer, even mayo and cheese are now possible. Panamanian beer is bad, but it is palatable when cold, so this is a real boon.

I need to talk about our amazingly wonderful New Year's Eve dinner. We hadn't really realized how much would be closed then, so we struck out going to our favorite restaurant in Santiago. Our limited options rapidly decayed to "chicken" burgers at a roadside burger stand. Now this place generally has ok burgers considering what they are: paper-thin, cheap, and fast. But the chicken burgers; well, they seem to be pureed chicken, pressed into a millimeters-thin patty, and served on an oversized bun. That was all they had, and we were actually grateful just to get some food. I had two, then we went and burned an effigy of several politicians, drank a bunch of gin & tonics, shot bottle rockets at the kids down the street, and actually had a pretty damn fun New Year's Eve. Considering all the fireworks and alcohol involved, we didn't even see anyone lose fingers, which was an accomplishment. Hopefully it won't be too hard to download some pictures of the fun to this blog, we've dealt with some reticent computers in internet cafes lately.

And what would this blog be without an update on road conditions? We've been hearing since we got here that they were going to begin paving the road right around now. Just the other day, we heard that it won't begin until August. So I'll be really shocked if it happens at all while we are here. Maybe in the run-up to the next election, but that isn't till 2009. Until then, the road remains "tan feo", quite ugly. The ruts that were once muddy solidified to concrete-like consistency, making for an incredibly bumpy ride. We've gotten really lucky with our last few trips. For example, we wanted to leave Chitra last time on tuesday. We found out that the only chiva was going to leave at 6am, but the school's truck would leave at 7:30am. Well, we debated, but ended up going with the school truck. The chiva left at 6:30, we left at 8:30, and still caught them in just over an hour. Since there was only one chiva that day, it had almost 20 people in it, and they had broken one of the leaf springs for the rear axle (the other was, and still is, also broken, but tied together with some rope). Therefore they had to drive very, very slowly and probably took about 6 hours to get to town. We are heading out in two days, and I'm already dreading it.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

And onward to 2007......

Apologies, no pics, which is a shame: our little dog and cat are both very photogenic and we´ve gotten some good pics for sure. They both still are having trouble with this housebreaking thing and with not chewing everything, but still, we are endlessly entertained. Java the dog loves attacking Bongo the cat, and vice-versa.
We are also burned out on computer time, since we had a bunch of paperwork to complete today for the end of this quarter. So therefore, no real writing. And truthfully, not much is going on that has been super-exciting, just living, working, relaxing, etc. Just like real life. Well, more next time.