Panamerican Proceeding

Lend me an ear and you will hear the rants and raves of this volunteer. "Nothing is stronger than the heart of a volunteer" says Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle (parden the pun), but perhaps no one is crazier either. Why do we care so much? Herein lies a glimpse of my Pan-American experience.

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Location: Bocas Del Toro, Panama Este, Panama

The proceeding 'Panamerican' is a Master's International Student and Peace Corps Volunteer. Disclaimer: Contents are the author's viewpoints only, (need to stress only), and many may have been written on particularly poor days.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Just when you think things are going good....

I have written this blog entry 100 times in my head already. Sometimes I've written it terribly sad, or funny, or cynical (me?), or downright mean. I've written it friendly and grossly rude. I don't want to write it anymore and I certainly don't want to write it now. They say if you are truly upset about something the average person tells 17 people. I'm shooting for hundreds, I'm that pathetic.

My mason arrived Monday morn and we were immediately friends, and he was immediately given my bed, food, and my respect. We held a community meeting but no one showed up so the few of us were forced to make the work schedule - who was working when. (Obviously not the way you want to do it.) Any questions before we begin? No one was there to ask them. Work commenced on Tuesday and wrapped up on Saturday. He's been called the "best mason in Panama by some."

I worked Tues, Wed and Thurs. Friday I tried lining up another dump truck load of sand after one vendor proved his incompetence. Saturday morning I bought all the materials for the next springbox we would start on Monday, hiked back up to view the final, amazing finished product, and helped haul tools to the next work site. Little did I know there wasn't to be another work site. I was informed that afternoon there will be a community meeting to discuss our mason's work. Ok, we'll have a meeting, you guys wanna plan out this next week and change who's working when, cool with me.

The meeting got off to amazingly blunt start with our teacher going on and on about how it's the worst construction he's ever seen. (Of coarse he'd never helped, or attend any of the meetings). Many others continued. I fought for my man, complimented him numerous times, explained to them that he does things a little differently than you've seen, but that's because it's better, cheaper, and less work. They didn't buy it. Surprisingly, instead of throwing up his hands and storming off, he was amazingly patient. When he was finally granted an opportunity to speak after sitting there for two hours listening to people tear into him, he calmly said, "I'm sorry, can I please see a show of hands of who was here at the meeting on Monday?" He made his case, they didn't buy it. They didn't hire him, but they certainly fired him.

I am not that patient however. The whole project is on hold until I figure out what I want to do. Will they accept another mason or will they only insist on doing it themselves? Do I have enough money to fund their proposed overkill? Are they competent to actually build what they say they can? Do you fund a project that may be incorrectly built? How does that relate to your funder's expectations? What will they say next year when they come to inspect it, "Can we have our money back?" Is potable drinking water a right or a privilege? Who's job is it to supply it? What is my role as a volunteer in this situation? Do I stay? Do they even want me here? Was I invited? Will they ever learn? Will I?

Fight or flight: I did both. I escaped to catch my breath, and let them cool down. I doubt they realize their Rubicon, they are probably just wondering why I'm being so inconsiderate. Why wouldn't I want them to have water?

PS-I won't be posting pictures for awhile because my camera fell into a river yesterday.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Playing Catch-up

Things that happened in the last month (in order that I remember them).

I got sick this morning. I had 5 visitors in my site last week who I met down here. I added a few friends I tracked down and the link "What I've Read" under my Links list on the sidebar. We started on my aquaduct this Tuesday. I hauled 3 loads of gravel and 5 loads of sand between our drop-off point and our springbox - on my back. In all, my community hauled 3 yards of gravel, 3 yards of sand and 13-110lbs sacks of cement, 4 tubes, 3 bars, and multiple tools the 30 minute hike uphill to my spring. My mason got hurt so we had to postpone work for 3 weeks. I met up with Mary and some friends. Ryu got leisch, but now is cured. I might have an idea for my thesis, something like "A Springbox Construction Manual." I read Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer in less than 6 hours, finishing late last night. School started again. I sent 6 kids to a Panama Verde camp put on by other volunteers. My brother and sis-in-law are expecting their first baby. I got a really long email from my buddy Ryan in the Dominican Republic. My regional leader moved houses. Pivetta and I surveyed my aquaduct. I bought a chakura for $1.50. I ran into a Columbian "Survivor" filming crew. My handheld GPS, my USB drive, and my camera (my 3 most expensive items in Panama) all stopped working within a week. My camera is now working again. My long awaited personal ATM card finally arrived in the mail. I bought a non-stick frying pan but it only lasted a week until the fake teflon all scraped or burnt off. I killed 5 more scorpians. I went snorkeling and saw dolphins. I walked into my site late once without a flashlight, used my cell phone to light the path, but got lost 2 seperate times even after I asked a family to borrow their flashlight. It took me over 2 hours to walk the 30min path. I cut my foot, it's not that bad...not related to being lost. I sat in an a political speech in my site...some guys running for something talked a lot. I stuck around for the food they brought, probably like everyone else. They asked these dudes for materials to build a latrine for the school, nothing like buying name was mentioned a lot during their speeches...I have no clue what they were saying. I finally bought a curtain for my shower, but prefer to shower in shorts so I can wash them at the same time. I completed Grand Tourismo on the hardest setting...just kidding...a Streets reference. I helped a kid translate some words into Spanish but was stuck on "bruy" and "truc." I beat Jacinto, Francisco, and Basilio (twice) in "Damas," a local version of checkers. It was the first time I beat an opponent that was sober. I got the headstand down, but still have a lot of trouble with the forearm stand and handstand. I let a 40 something Panamanian sleep in my bed and I made him 2 meals (my mason). Yeah, that's definitely it for know. I'll try to keep more up-to-date.