Wednesday, November 21, 2007

How do you say winter of discontent in Spanish?

Well, I guess now I can ignore that title question, since it may be that winter is over. We´ve had two weeks of little rain, plenty of sun, and nice breezes. This helps my morale quite a bit, since good weather makes for easier coffee harvesting and better coffee drying. The long days of hiking up to the coffee finca, harvesting and depulping coffee, and hiking back (usually 5-6 hours of walking with about the same of harvesting) are so much easier when I´m not soaked by a cold rain. And on days when I´m not going up the hill to that farm, I feel better about looking for work with other locals, since it is less likely that plans will fall through with pouring rain at daybreak.
Plus, we are out for thanksgiving! We arrived up in the cool highlands of western Panama a day early to eat good food, enjoy the cold, and take a hot shower. Tomorrow we will eat piles of classic thanksgiving fare and hang out with the majority of volunteers in this country.
I´d like to write about the work party the other day- suffice it to say they emphasize the party part. A family made about 10 gallons of corn beer to pay relatives and myself for hours of cutting down brush under the hot sun. The payment comes as you work, so these guys get progressively very drunk and belligerent while working with a machete on rough terrain. I largely abstained, since I didn´t want to cut off my own toes or anything. Then they got very obnoxious, as the quite drunk often do, and so we left a little early. I made prospective work plans with about 4 of them, but I´m betting they´ll have been too drunk to remember.
Finally, a road report. Even though the road to our new site is not bad, they are grading it and smoothing it out anyway, and it is sweet. Trucks can get up the formerly muddy spots without slowing down, and I can even ride my bicycle! Not having such a nightmarish transport situation is really really nice.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

More complaining about the weather, but still no pics.....

As I mentioned, the wet season is here. A typical day brings bright sun in the morning, clouds gathering by 10 AM, and heavy rains kicking in anywhere from 10:30 AM to 2:00 PM. Once they start, they may not stop until after dark. Basically, going anywhere in the afternoon means getting soaked and slipping and sliding in the mud.

So that is the weather. It is amazingly depressing, largely because unlike in the U. S., you can’t escape it. There is no jumping in the car and going to a movie. There is no reading a good book and listening to music loud enough that you need to look out the window every so often to see if the rain has stopped. No- you sit under your porch, with the wind occasionally blowing rain in, feeling damp and bored. I’m tired of reading, but that is one of the few options available when it is raining so hard that the tin roof makes a roar that can’t really be talked over. So we read, and make coffee and tea, and try not to fall when we have to go out to the latrine or use the sink, since they are both a treacherous though short walk through the mud away. If you want to go anywhere, you put on the rubber boots, grab the umbrella, and expect to fall in the mud, or at least get quite wet. Going inside is not really a better option, since it is dark without any electricity even in the middle of the day, and still damp; in fact, many of our clothes, shoes, etc. have mold growing on them, and it stinks.

On top of this, now is when I have to harvest coffee weekly to do my thesis research. The farm I’m getting coffee from is a beautiful, well-managed one that produces tons of coffee. Problem is, it is about a three-hour walk one-way from our house. So my harvest days often start with the alarm at 4 or 4:30 AM, getting going by five, and walking the first hour in the dark. If I really hustle I can get up there and be picking by 8 AM, then hopefully be done by 1 or 2 PM. Mostly though, I end up doing some initial processing and not hitting the trail until 3 PM. If my load isn’t too heavy, I have actually taken to jogging most of the downhills on the way home, and the other day I made it back in exactly 2 hours.

But that doesn’t mean I’m done. I have to check the coffee’s fermentation every two hours starting after 10 hours, so I’m stuck getting up through the night frequently; when it is done, I end up washing it, which takes about 15 minutes a sample. Needless to say, the next day I’m trashed.

Associated with this is the lack of understanding of the locals. They wonder why on earth I keep going way up there to harvest coffee, when there is some much closer. Well, because there isn’t a coffee depulper anywhere closer, which I need. They also think that the solar coffee dryer I built is a coffee nursery, and that I’m trying to grow thousands of coffee plants. I’ve repeatedly told MANY locals that it is not, it is truly just for drying coffee, like I told them, but still, they don’t get it. So when I don’t have thousands of coffee trees growing soon, they’ll think I’m a real failure, even if I do manage to get a masters’ thesis out of it. Ah, such is life.

Still, despite my complaining, the coffee research is going well, and will be relevant. Karinne is also making progress, despite the miserable weather for fieldwork. The people in our new community are enthusiastic to have us there, so I feel bad that my coffee work is sucking up a lot of time for the next few weeks.

We live a life devoid of excitement. I truly can’t say there is anything exciting that we have done in the past several months, if not longer. We have work that can be satisfying, but never, ever exciting. We talk to people, hike around, do work, get rained on, go to the city, visit other volunteers. Often fun, diverting, entertaining, rewarding, but not exciting. This contrasts sharply with my work & life back in the States. Even an average day of work on a fire crew was exciting, since it often involved dangerous work with chainsaws. And the good days, wow, loaded- trees torching out, helicopters buzzing by, etc. When I wasn’t working, I was often mountain biking or snowboarding, and those things are really exciting. This is proving hard for me to deal with, since it seems like something I basically need, and as time goes by, I miss it more and more. Well, they say that Peace Corps is a good time to get to know yourself, and I already knew I was an addict to this kind of thing, and, lo and behold, I know that even more now. Drinking lots of coffee is fun, but still, not doing it for me. I am jonesin’!

Sorry about the sad lack of pics, K has the camera, and she is off working on her thesis fieldwork, so maybe next time.

The joys of errands

Yesterday I bought canned peas. It doesn´t sound very exciting, but since vegetables are not available at all in our town, there will be some night, after a week or more in-site, when they will be heavenly. Yup, I get excited about canned peas.
I´d written up a longish update for here while sitting with our laptop at our regional leader´s house yesterday, but now the computer here won´t recognize the fauxpod, so I can´t pull the file and paste it in. I will later today, or maybe when we come down the hill again for thanksgiving in a couple weeks. Suffice it to say that time is flying by, November is largely booked up with coffee stuff, and that sort of busy schedule may continue with some luck. It makes me tired but happy to be doing good hard work.
So I promise, more words, and hopefully even pictures later.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Season of mold

Greetings from the depths of ¨winter¨, more accurately known as the rainy season. Torrential downpours, ubiquitous mud, almost everything stinking of mold. But it is also the coffee harvest, which has mostly been monopolizing my time and keeping me up the hill in our site rather than down in town checking email or updating this blog. Ok, right now I´m off to look for lunch, but i will do my best to write more later today.