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.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Aqueduct Theory 101 (Abridged)

I say the world "aqueduct" so much, someone finally had the courage to ask me what one is. So basically it works like this: There is a naturally flowing spring that collects water. First, a capitation box must be built around it to protect the spring from contamination, erosion, and choosing a different path. The water is then piped to a lower elevation to a storage tank. The tank is designed to fill up during the night (when all the taps are closed) and be used during the day (when the taps are in use). The tank is designed for 30 gallons per person per day to include drinking, bathing, and washing clothes and dishes and also assumes population growth. From the tank, which is located at higher elevation than the town, the water is piped through a network of tubing to each house via gravity.

The following pictures are of us burying the tubes.

In my case, I'm using a spring that produces roughly 5 gal/min. We completed the capitation box and are now burying the network of tubing to the tank and to every house. We must bury nearly 3 miles of tubing by hand roughly 2´deep (pick-axes and shovels). Once the tubing is in place, we'll go back and build the 4000 gal concrete tank. For tubing I'm using PVC sized from 1.5" to 1/2" depending on flow, friction losses, and elevation differences. The tank will be concrete block with a poured top with several finish coats. My design assumes potable water from the spring source, but future chlorination at the tank may become necessary.

Since my community has never had potable water before, we must also make our rules and regulations as we go. They have decided to charge $1/month for the water. If the payment is not received for 3 months, they will physically cut-off the service. A new house that didn't donate time to the construction has to pay $80 for a new hook-up as well as tubing required. Every house is allowed only one tap.

Starting Aug. 11 my community will participate in a seminar series devoted to training communities how to manage aqueducts. Nine communities will participate in this series this fall, and eight more next spring. The series - organized and taught by Peace Corps Volunteers ( and funded by donations) - will include topics such as: 1) What is potable water? 2) How to make basic repairs 3) Basic accounting practices 4) How to protect your watershed 5) Leadership building exercises and group-based challenges 6) Community participation and goal planning

I've decided to monitor this seminar series and the following series as well to contribute to my Masters of Science in Civil Engineering. I will specifically study if, how, and why or why not this seminar series correlated to better functioning aqueduct systems. Most local projects fail not because of the design, but because locals lack skills, understanding, or money necessary to maintain their systems. If this link is not made, all projects - no matter how simple - are doomed to fail. This seminar series hopes to improve this link between designers and managers.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

What to do if you're not working? ANYTHING!

Ok, so I know that last entry was kinda a rant. Yeah? Anyways, here's what's been going on meanwhile...

Beach on the San San Pond Sak Nature Reserve.

The whole Bocas crew at our last regional meeting.
Fishing on a raft with a hand line.
Colin says he could draw this a million different ways. I agree, but I just took a pic instead. This might be a wall mount.
Four of us helped look for sea turtles and patrol the beaches the other night in San San Pond Sak Nature Reserve. We came upon her around 1am, watched her lay her eggs, then helped her back to sea. Went to bed at 4am. Very unique experience.
She probably laid close to 30 eggs, then dug a fake hole to confuse predators.
Climbing the tower at Ryu's site. It was supposedly built by Americans during World War II. Notice the shear joy on my face.
Up close and personal with this 3-clawed sloth which fell out of a tree as I was walking.
Cliff jumping at Adam's site. I made him count to 3, then I sort of slipped as I jumped, and completely belly-flopped and slapped my face. Good form, good form. Once was enough.
Adam used to be my closest neighbor, and he helped me out a lot during my first year. I already miss the guy.
Took a spill at Ryu's site (not from the tower thank God). In an unrelated story, I managed to start my composting latrine on fire yesterday. I was burning a box full of ants, thought the fire was out so I went to bed. Woke up at 5am and fought the blaze all morning by running to the creek with my 5 gal bucket. Apparently they were fire ants...

Sunday, July 15, 2007

What makes this so hard

They don't see their potential. Their culture has been stripped to void. I'm perpetually sick. I'm not earning any money. I'll be spending three birthdays down here (25, 26, 27), prime years of my life for girlfriends and dating, but I have no one to date. I'm forced to eat unhealthy: mostly all fried foods or packaged and very, very little fruits and vegetables. I'm sleeping on a 2" pad. I'm constantly stared at, I'm constantly dirty, I'm constantly being bit. They aren't working, let along talking to each other. When I try to have a meeting to address the problem, no one comes. I'm overcharged for everything. When I'm happy I'm happy for 5 minutes. When I'm sad I'm sad for 5 days. They aren't any sports in my community, no where to exercise. My closest neighbor and two great friends just left. To get away from this area and over the mountain range to an actual city costs several day's pay. I eat too much because cooking is something to do. My house has been broken into 3 times already. Our water project, which should have been done by now, won't be finished until next year - that's if we start now and work continuously, which we won't. I've lost my ambition to travel. All the half-way educated people have moved out, the smart ones that remain are smart enough not to get involved with the rest of the community. I'm becoming dumber because my brain isn't challenged. My Spanish is crawling along at snail's pace, but I'm already better than half my community (since they hardly ever speak Spanish). I'm lethargic and numb. I've lost all ambition to take on new projects. People give me advice, expect me to use it, but have have no idea of my situation. I'm incredibly, incredibly bored and I have over a year to go.

Friday, July 13, 2007

My weekend a couple of weekends ago...

Friday morning I got up and the teacher asked me to take a picture of every kid for the Ministry of Education.
This is the Latina teacher Lourdes that hikes in everyday. Now I know what you're thinking...I've thought about it too...but the truth is I can't understand her Spanish at all. It's way too grammatically correct and way too fast.
After the pictures, I came back to my house where I promised my neighbors I'd teach them how to make banana pancakes. They LOVED it! (They had given me the bananas).
After the banana pancake charla, I hiked out to the road, met a girl with a machete gash on her arm, then started the hike up to Nico's site where he was hosting the two new Bocas volunteers for training. They are currently building a road into Nico's site, so I caught a lift on top of the backhoe. I commented that this size backhoe (Cat 320L) is really small to cut a road with, and the driver said, "Tell me about it!"

I got up to Nico's house and met Jim and Rebecca, the two new vols. They were dressing a duck for dinner that night.

Mark came up with some friends, brought some cooking supplies, and we all hiked down to the swim hole to beat the afternoon heat. The hike was about 45 mins, filled with poison dart frogs, toucans, butterflies, and flowers.

We took a dip with some local kids - our guides.

We marinated the duck, wrapped it with peppers and onions in bacon, then grilled it. It turned out amazing.

Some of Nico's friends came over and brought us some cocoa, so we ground it up and made organic hot chocolate and talked over candles well into the night.

I crashed on Nico's floor. For breakfast we fried up the heart and liver with bacon, eggs and onions. Mmm....

After breakfast I hiked down with Nico's baseball team to a 3-team tournament being held adjacent to my site. It was funny: one team brought all the gear, another team had brand new donated jerseys but no shoes, and the third team had neither jerseys nor shoes. They shared gloves, bats, gear, and umpires.

Mo's team, Isla de Colón (the team with shoes and gear) won by a landslide.

I hiked back to my house and crashed for the night. I then got up early and cruised out to the islands to meet the family of another volunteer.

I spent all day Sunday swimming and relaxing and playing with starfish.

This was my weekend a couple of weekends ago...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Internet is slow.

So I was gonna do a little "day-in-the-life" (Read: Rob), but blogger is being really slow and I have a ton of pictures and not a ton of patience. I'm in Davíd right now visiting the doctor again. I've had another stomach bug the last couple of weeks again, not fun. Well like I said, I wanted to post a bunch of pictures for ya'll but will have to try again some other time. Take care.