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Archive for February, 2008

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Update…Happier and Healthier

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

Here’s a basic update on me and how things are…

A few days ago, I was down in the dumps due to being sick. Well, I am happy to report that I have improved greatly over the past few part due to the medicine I’ve been taking, in part because I’m more in control over what I’m putting into my body, and in part because I have decided to return to David the upcoming weekend for one night of luxury.

Well, not really luxury..more like a clean bed, a hot shower, and so on at the hotel I visited last weekend when I was really sick. I decided I both need it and deserve it.

I was feeling rather sorry for myself and quite miserable until I decided to just go ahead and make the trek to David and spend just one night in the hotel there. Deciding this so lifted my spirits, that frankly now I am quite cheerful!

On the volunteering side of things, I went back to work..that is..volunteering, yesterday.

My first class of the day had 46 kids! We did an art project about butterflies using words in English to make the butterflies. The kids loved it. They go back to school next week, so I’ve only got the rest of this week left with them. Tomarrow we will be making enormous snakes out of paper, and writing a story about a snake.

My afternoon classes for adults has expanded into two groups. One group has no experience with English, so they are beginners. We’re just now finishing up with letters and moving into words. Many sounds in English are unfamiliar to the Ngobe tongue, so they need alot of practice.

The other group is extremely advanced, so their focus is on writing. We are writing letters of introduction as well as describing past events right now in this class.

My homestay is, as always, interesting. It is really astonishing to me how privacy is not understood at my house..but how could it be, as personal space doesn’t exist-what with 10 to 15 people living in one or two rooms. I will really appreciate personal space when I get home. I probably will not need as much, since I won’t be accustomed to it.

On the other hand, it is precisely because of this custom that the culture has here of sharing, that they opened up their house, their family, and their lives to share with me. I am always amazed by the graciousness of Catalina and her family…they are welcoming and hospitable to people at all hours of the day or night.

Having an outsider, someone from a totally different culture, living with them can’t always be easy..yet they take it in stride. We have developed a very nice comraderie, in spite of..or perhaps due to..the hilarity of our cultural differences.

The upcoming week, I hope to visit some other families for an introduction to the homestay program here. The women in these families are well traveled, and familiar with other cultures. They work in areas of health and social activism and employment for women I think they will be perfect candidates for the homestay program.

I will also be visiting the local medicine woman. I am really looking forward to this, as it is a rare invitation. I am hoping to work with her and incorporate her into the ecotourist project.

I also hope to photograph more of the women here..particularly domestic scenes and women working up in the mountains nearby.

I have been working on my trip a bit more as well…

The Camino part of the taking shape quite nicely. I have a ticket to fly into Madrid from the USA on May 6th. I’m giving myself a little under 6 weeks, which is more than enough time to do it without too much pressure. I’ve decided to skip the Pyrenees part, as I think it would be too grueling. Although, after living here for 3 months, who knows! I hope to have a few days at the end to rest in Santiago, and, I hope to then travel back to Madrid and so on for some museum hopping and so on.

After Spain, I will be heading to England, hpoefully meet up with my friend and travel goddess Sande. I hope to travel a bit with her, then head off to a working volunteer retreat at a Tibetan buddhist monastery in Derby.

I have applied to the monastery in England for one and a half months. I am hoping the work will be hard, but that the environment will be balm for my soul. Right now I plan on being there for part of July and August.

In September, I plan on quickly heading over to Paris, where I have a friend to stay with. I won’t have much time..maybe a week…but that will be quite nice.

From Paris, I will fly on to Istanbul, Turkey. I will travel thru Turkey for a few weeks, then make my way to Georgia, where I have a volunteer job working with disabled kids on a farm. From there, on to Armenia, where I will be working with the elderly and orphans.

Then, I will head back into Turkey, and fly to Jordan, where I have a job teaching English to girls. From Jordan, I will fly on to India, where I will travel a bit, and of course, volunteer. I will be volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta. I hope to spend some time in Calcutta, and then move up to Northern Bengal, and work with the same organization in a community of people with Hansen’s disease. I will also be visiting and working in Nepal, Bangladesh,Myanmar….and so on.

So that’s the next year in a nutshell!


Giardia, Anyone?

Monday, February 25th, 2008

Well, I´ve got giardia.

The odds of me getting giardia here were pretty high-especially because I am living with a local family. If I was camping in my own tent, and had control over every aspect of the preparation of my food and water, the odds would still be prettty high.

The river here is contaminated with giardia, ecoli, and lots of other bacteria and parasites, because the people go to the bathroom in the water. They have always used the river as a bathroom-and in the past, they didn´t have as many problems with contaminated water, because they didn´t have as many people living here.

My illness started about a week ago- I think.

It is the result of random chance and cultural differences.

How it happened, was that about a week ago, my families house stopped having running water(normally water straight from the river is pumped from the aquaduct to their house for two hours every night). This meant that we had to-or should I say, I had to-go down the hill, fetch water with a bucket, and then carry that same 5 gallon bucket up to the house. Sound easy? It isn´t.

Sometimes I was tired from teaching and tutoring and so on, so I would ask one of the boys in the family to go get the water for me.

When I would go get water, I would get it upstream. The kids were basically scooping it up where people went to the bathroom and pigs went swimming. I did not know this until it was too late, several days later.

Additionally, the family ran out of gas for the stove. We had to wait for the gas man to come by with more-and he never showed up all week. Which meant that the only alternative to the now defunct gas stove was cooking over a woodfire-not something I am particularly adept at, especially in the Ngobe fashion(very little wood!).

Basically this meant that I left the cooking of my water to the women in the family, as whenever I attempted to start a wood fire, I caused a great upheaval-having used more than two tiny pieces of wood, and so on.

I felt I had throughly explained the need for ¨hardboiling¨the water, and satisfied that this was being done, went about my other tasks, and assumed the water was boiled. A fe days later. as the sharp stomach pains started, I realized it had not been boiled.

When I asked them about boiling the water, they told me they had ¨cooked¨it. This means: they had heated it a little bit.

I could not get angry, even though I had explained the importance of boiling the water countless times. To be angry, or show being upset, would really be very upsetting to my hosts.

It is not the custom for the Ngobe to be confrontational or upset-it is more important for everyone to get along. It is confrontational enough for them that I can´t drink their water as they do, and by not drinking it, am pointing out that there is something wrong with it, or in their mind, wrong with them or their actions(using the river as a bathroom).

I felt a little sick-but not too bad, and I hoped for a mild stomache flu at the worst.

By Wednesday, I thought I was better, and was very glad becasue that night I had been invited to have dinner with 15 missionaries from Tennessee(thanks, guys-that was the best food I have had in months!). But right after dinner, walking home, I felt terrible. Something was wrong.

Thursday I decided not to eat anything, and see if that helped. It did, somewhat. However, the real problem at this point was the water situation. Since we had no water at the house, I was having to fetch my own water, boil it-and use that single bucket for all my cooking, washing, and drinking needs. I wasn´t drinking much at all, because I was rationing myself.

My plan was to get up early Friday morning and catch the 5:30 chiva(goat-another word for the 4×4 that you have to catch to get out of this place), head to David, and stock up on some backup supplies: water, gatorade, and food that didn´t have to be cooked.

I woke up Friday morning miserable. Thinking it was solely because of my diet and lack of water over the past week, I hopped on to the chiva heading to David.

Rather, I should say, I sqeezed on to the chiva-vehicles designed for cargo, not for passengers, the chiva drivers are notorious for cramming as many people as possible into the back of their vehicles, sometimes as many as 16 people.

Sometimes people are not particularly clean, having walked ten hours or more to catch the chiva. Sometimes they have lice, fleas, or other bugs, having been living in cramped, almost outdoor conditions, with animals. However, everyone is in the same boat-packed in so closely, no one can even move.

Once I made it to David, I headed to the supermarket, where I stocked up on everything I though I would need for two months. I bought enough water for few days, figuring I would have some back up water for when I didn´t have time to boil any.

I took a taxi back to the terminal, and boarded the chiva to return to Soloy. The driver of this chiva has a terrible nickname-they call him ¨Black Hand¨, because he is always taking advantage of the Ngobe. Today was no different-he packed us in like sardines, then locked the door-and went off in search of other passengers. He left the windows down a little, but already, the heat was unbearable. There was also a strange smell.

I suddenly noticed where the smell was coming from-it was coming from a very sick Ngobe woman, obviously infected with smallpox. The woman became sicker and sicker, and the Ngobe pounded on the inside of the chiva to be let out(or to let the woman out) but the ¨Black Hand¨never returned. Finally, some other guy came and let us out-and the woman with the smallpox left the chiva, trailing behind her husband, carrying a tiny child.

I had not seen sadness until I saw that scene.

I boarded a different chiva that was ready to head to Soloy-and the ride was agony. So much bouncing along, and nothing to do but grit your teeth and bear it.
By the time I got home, I was dizzy from the heat. I just wanted my bags of food and to got o bed.

Saturday morning, I woke up in terrible pain. Adan came to visit me-and then several of the other volunteers in the area.

My family did not seem to understand that I needed water-which I was storing on the back patio.(Ngobe do not drink water usually-and when they do, not much. They drink hot coffee or soda drinks.) I kept asking for water, but I was too tired and weak to get up from the bed.

By the time Dennis came(a local peace corp volunteer), I was crying and had a fever. Dennis took one look at me, and I knew I was going to the hospital.

We managed to get into yet another chiva-and that bouncing ride was the worst one yet. I had been afraid to get back onto the chiva, purely because of the terrible roads…
We got me to the hospital..where, a very nice doctor took one look at me and told me I was severely dehydrated and also had giardia.

Five prescriptions, 6 bottles of gatorade, a few hours of bad tv in a so so hotel in David,an actual hot shower in the same hotel, and yet another chiva ride back to Soloy-I´m back at ¨home¨, still not feeling great, but a little bit better.. Still not eating much, but drinking lots of water(that I´m boiling myself).

Also am taking this experience very much to heart-and in spite of not wanting to refuse food, etc offered to me, I have decided for now to only eat and drink what I have prepared myself.

Taking a break from teaching for a few days, and blogging for the next week.

If you are reading this blog, please leave a comment to this post. I need comments, they keep me in contact with the world.

The Comarca is a world of it´s own.


What Did You Say?

Thursday, February 21st, 2008
I´ve been meaning to take the time to write about funny language mishaps I have here. Unfortunately, I have had quite a few. Although my Spanish improves day by day, it´s still beginner Spanish. Combine this with the fact that ... [Continue reading this entry]

It´s Hard to Explain The Universe

Thursday, February 21st, 2008
Last night was the night of the total lunar eclipse. My family and I had stayed up late to watch it together. I was having hard time staying awake, as I was really tired from working alot during the day. Also, ... [Continue reading this entry]

Hello, Girl Scout Readers In Alabama!

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008
Hello. Girl Scout Readers in Alabama! Your Girl Scout Leader, Becky, sent me an email telling me how you are all reading my blog. I wanted to say thankyou! It is such an honor to have you experiencing the trip along with ... [Continue reading this entry]

Spending A Sunday With The Assembly Of God Ngobe

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

Last Sunday, I finally got an invitation to the local Evangelical church, which happens to be an Assembly of God church.This church is the church that my family attends-actually, it´s the church almost everyone near me attends! I had been ... [Continue reading this entry]

Balseria and Chicha de Maiz

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008
An average Saturday night, here in the Comarca: I was visiting with the neighbor kids last Saturday when we heard music playing from far came closer and closer. Someone was playing music in the street, and they were walking towards ... [Continue reading this entry]

Iguana for Dinner?, thanks.

Monday, February 18th, 2008
Last Friday my host family went to David, where they visited the local mercado. They promised me that they were bringing back some delicious, ¨cucina typica¨for our dinner that night.. I was pretty excited. Visions of pineapples and coconuts danced in my ... [Continue reading this entry]

Top Ten Things I Brought To Panama

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008
1. Long skirts 2. headlamp-no electricity here, or at least not much 3. can opener 4. travelclothesline 5.water sandals 6.sunscreen 7.tweezers to remove ticks 8. lice comb-for, well, lice. 9.pot to boil water in 10.mosquito net

What My Life Is Like Here

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008

Many people have been asking me what exactly my day to day life is like here, living with the Ngobe, in the Comarca. So I´ve decided to write an entry about my daily life and actiivies to give people a ... [Continue reading this entry]