Monday, March 9, 2009


It’s been about a month since I’ve blogged last. It has been quite an interesting month. I’ve journeyed to the United States and back, as well as all the way to Santa Fe, in the Darien Province in Panama (East of the Canal). I also had a week of In Service Training (IST) with everyone from my training group. Following this week of IST, I hosted Ngobe-Bugle language classes in my village for volunteers in the province of Bocas Del Toro. Basically I’ve spent the last month traveling all around Panama and the USA.
In Service Training was from February 9-13th in Rio Hato, Cocle, Panama. Rio Hato is roughly 10-11 hours of travel from where I live. This training consisted of more language sessions and technical sessions similar to what I went through for Pre Service Training (PST), what I did for the first 2.5 months in Panama. Another facet of IST consisted of being able to see and catch up with all the individuals that I arrived in Panama with. It was great to see everyone!
Following this training, I returned to my village to prepare for a week of language classes with other Bocas Del Toro PCVs and a language teacher from the Peace Corps. 4 other volunteers and the language instructor lived in my village for 5 days. We had daily language classes, and cooked delicious gringo food for my host family. The mornings consisted of language training in Ngobe-Bugle, and the afternoons consisted of training in Spanish. Check out the following pictures from the language class week!

Lulu deciding to climb around on my back while I was cooking.

Piper and I cooking Panamanian hojaldres (fried dough, kind of like small elephant ears).

On Sunday February 22, I received a phone call from my mother in the US informing me that my grandfather had passed away earlier that morning. I received the phone call shortly after my soccer game; we lost by the way. Anyways, after receiving the call, I had to back up a few clothing items and hike out of my site so I could get a bus to Changuinola in order to book a flight home to the US for the funeral. The following morning, I left Changuinola at 5:15 in the morning to make the long journey to Panama City. I traveled from Changuinola to David, took a pit stop in David for lunch and to use the internet a bit, then I traveled all the way to Panama City, arriving at 10:30 PM. I checked into a hotel so I could shower and get a few hours of sleep. I checked out of the hotel at 5:30AM and proceeded to grab a taxi to the airport for my 8:20 flight. After flying from Panama City to Miami, I then had an 8-hour layover in the Miami airport. I grabbed some lunch and coffee and found a nice floor spot next to an outlet so I could use my computer and the Internet to try and catch up on all the news in the US. Basically, I found out that the US economy is falling apart and the United States may not exist when I finish in the Peace Corps. My flight for O’Hare left at 8:15PM EST, and I was giving my mother a hug at the airport at about 10:45PM CST. Returning home for a funeral is not necessarily a happy homecoming, but it was nice because most of my family was in one location. Therefore, I had a much easier time getting to see everyone while I was home. To my grandfather, my you rest in peace. I will always carry with me the many great memories we have forged together. I will continue to celebrate your life with every breath of my own.
While I was home I did get to catch up with friends and family. I spent most of my time hanging out with my family. I did manage to sneak away for one day of snowboarding.

I love snow!

I also made a short trip down to my old college campus and to Indianapolis to visit old friends. I arrived back in Panama on Wednesday March 4.

Upon arriving back to Panama, I traveled to Santa Fe in the Province of the Darien. The Darien is the Province farthest east in Panama. It borders Columbia. The highway into the Darien actually stops at a dense forest before the Columbian border. There technically is no full constructed highway connecting Panama and Columbia. Anyways, since I flew into Panama and was all ready in the middle of the country, I decided to go visit some volunteers in the Darien and help out with a feria (fair). The feria was actually pretty neat. It was very similar to a fair in the US. There were a bunch of food vendors, small farm-like attractions, and fair rides.
I was east of the canal in Santa Fe. Santa Fe is inbetween Metiti and Aqua Fria

Felix is the Regional Leader's cat in the Darien, and yes, he is ferocious

Following the feria, I traveled to David and then to Changuinola in Bocas del Toro where I am now. I will be traveling back to site shortly. Supposedly while I was in the States, my community was going to finish my house. I have doubts that they have, but my fingers are crossed! I’ll post up some pictures soon of my completed house!

Aqui en la lucha,


Sunday, February 1, 2009

Marine Life and the House Skeleton


Playa Blanca (White Beach) Pacific Ocean
Farallon, Cocle, Panama

Before I proceed into my housing update, first I would like to deliver a small anecdote about a recent visit to my friend’s beach house in La Playa Blanca (The White Beach), a beach on the Pacific. First, I would like to provide a little background information to preface the story. I have a friend from Chicago that has a Panamanian mother. My friend’s nuclear family lives in Chicago, but she has family here in Panama as well as a wonderful house on the beach. She was recently in Panama, and I made a very quick trip to see her and her family at the beach. I actually spent more time traveling back and forth from my village to her house than I spent hanging out with her and her family. The trip from her house to my village consists of two bus rides. The first bus ride from Almirante to David is roughly 4 hours, and the second bus ride from David to her beach house is roughly 5 hours and fifteen minutes. It was a lot of traveling, but it was great because they all had wonderful questions about my Peace Corps experience. It’s always fun to share all the craziness of the jungle. Anyways, shortly after breakfast, we ventured to the beach to swim, play Frisbee, and enjoy the beautiful Panamanian weather (it is technically the Panamanian summer right now, so it’s warmer and doesn’t rain as much). I decided to take a short walk down the beach. As I was walking back to our spot on the beach, I stepped down into the water only to feel something move very quickly and a quick shot of pain in the top of my foot. Since the water was murky, I couldn’t see what I had stepped on. So I exited the water to analyze my foot. Looking down at my foot, there was a small hole in my foot above my third toe. There was a little blood coming out but not to bad, and there was not a lot of pain. Not knowing what it was, I decided to go back up to my friend’s house to clean up the wound and further research what type of animal I had encountered. On my way back up to the house, I passed by one of my friend’s family members; she asked where I was headed. I said I was headed back to the house to clean up my foot. I pointed down to my foot only to realize that now, the top of my foot and my toes were covered in blood. She took one look and decided it would be best to come help me clean up my foot. While we are cleaning my wound, everyone else shows up, and they decide it would be best to take me to the doctor to have it looked at since we did not know if it was a stingray or some other kind of marine creature. So we wrap up my foot and drive to the closest clinic roughly a 3 or so minute ride, very close. The doctor gives it one look and just said “raya” the Spanish word for stingray. By this point in time the pain was a little worse, and they told me it would continue to increase as the stingray’s toxin begin to spread further into my foot. Anyways, the doctor further cleaned the whole in my foot and I received two injections in the buttocks. Quick note here, Panamanian’s love to give injections in the buttocks, not sure why, but they do. This was my first encounter with injections in the buttocks. What better way to start then to receive two injections in the buttocks? The doctor was nice and gave me one in each cheek. After receiving the injections and sitting around the doctor’s office, I was beginning to experience more pain in my foot. I could feel the pain crawling up my foot and into the lower portion of my leg. The pain was also pulsating with severity. I know I just made it sound horrible, but it was not that bad. Although, I believe I did not experience the worst of the pain because I received an injection for the pain so quickly after I had been stung. Oh yeah, I received one injection for the pain and one to stave off infection. After receiving my treatment, we returned to my friend’s house where I was instructed to sit in the hammock and soak my foot in hot water, drink a few cervezas, and read a book. Anyways, the trip was extremely short, but I had a wonderful time!
A few notes on stingrays

Stingrays bury themselves in the sand and wait for their prey, in this case me, to pass above them or step on them. When this happens, they flip up their barbed tail and stab their prey. Frequently, the barb in their tale breaks off in the wound, lucky for me it didn’t. They usually dwell in relatively shallow water. It is recommended that when walking in waters that are largely populated by rays that the individual shuffle their feet as they walk through the water. This act makes them flee the general vicinity. Their toxin causes localized pain and swelling as well. Soaking the stung area in hot water, the hotter the better, causes the toxin to break down quicker, thus reducing the severity and duration of the pain.

The wound is above my toe. Roughly two weeks have elapsed; therefore, the wound has healed up nicely.
My feet are kind of gross and hairy. Enjoy!

House Update

Last week we constructed the “skeleton” of my house if you will. Tomorrow Monday Feb 2nd we will be hanging the zinc for the roof and hopefully getting the floored built. Check out the following pictures!

The little guy above loved to have his picture taken, as all little children in my community do.

We built this structure in roughly three days. It seemed to want to rain a lot when we were working. So that definitely slowed down the process.
Hopefully I'll be able to complete my house in the next few weeks. I actually have a week long training event coming up from February 9-13th in the province of Cocle, about 10 hour trip from my village. I hope my villagers will continue to work on it while I'm at training. My fingers are crossed.

Aqui en la lucha,


Friday, January 16, 2009

¡Junta Grande!

On Wednesday January 14th, I, with the help of my neighbor Cornelio and my friend Charlo, organized a Junta for 30 people to haul the wood for my house from the three different locations where it was cut to the center of town, where I am building. For the Junta, I purchased 30lbs of chicken, 15lbs of sugar, 15lbs of flour, butter, pinolio (ground up processed corn for a strange drink), milk, salt, 3 dozen eggs, onions, peppers, garlic, coffee, and 30 lbs of rice. There may have been a few more items that I can’t remember. I spent about $80-$90 on food. The deal with juntas is that if I provide the food, they will work. The day of the Junta was also the same day that my boss was coming to visit and see how I was doing. Originally the Junta was going to be scheduled for the 17th, but since my boss was coming, I was able to arrange for the Junta to be the 14th instead. I told them my boss, jefe in Spanish, was coming and that he really wanted to work. Since the wood was in three different locations in my community, hauling it was a great way to show my boss, Zach, my beautiful community. The hikes ranged from 30minutes to an hour one way. One of the hikes was practically straight up hill. The longest hike was mainly flat ground. The hike was beautiful, but hauling heavy wood on your shoulder through sticky, slippery mud can be a bit tiresome.
Anyways, my boss arrived at about 6:30 in the morning in time for breakfast. I wish I had my camera with me for breakfast. We had egg sandwiches and coffee. The bread was made fresh the previous day; its actually called a Johnny Cake. It’s made with the water from coconuts as well as a little shredded coconut as well. The Johnny cake was cut in half lengthwise, a slab of butter was tossed on it followed by some eggs scrambled with peppers and onions. I think this was by far the best breakfast I’ve had since I’ve been living in Rio Oeste.

The above picture is of Johnny Cakes. This first batch was made with some funky yeast. They didn’t rise properly. They should be a little thicker.
After breakfast Zach and I were each handed a length of rope before we started the uphill hike to the first location of the wood. After arriving at the location, we tied together 3-4 10-12 foot boards and then tied our rope around one end. After everything was secured, we just started dragging the wood down the side of the hill. It almost became a race. There were about 20 of use running down the side of this hill guiding the wood between the trees and the bushes. The wood would start to gather momentum and you just prayed that it didn’t knock you off your feet or your neighbor. If you think of lumberjacks directing logs down a river, that’s what we were doing, only we were directing boards down the side of a steep, steep hill.

The guy in the middle in the gray is my boss, Zach. This is Zach and I with our leashed wood almost to the bottom of the hill.

From the bottom of the hill we tied the boards to horses to finish hauling them to my future house location.
After this first trip, we replenished our water supply and started the hour hike to the farthest wood location. It was a beautiful hike that followed the course of the river.

Loading up the horses.

We arrived at the site to help load the horses, grab a few boards, and start the hike back with the boards on our shoulders. This hike was rough because we forgot to grab our pads to cushion our shoulders for the long haul. My shoulder was bright red with the skin beginning to peel off by the time we were done. After that, we grabbed lunch and went to the third location up in the hills of my host family’s finca. This hike was short and easy, which was a nice way to finish the workday.

This is the site where I am building. I’ll provide more updates as my house comes together.

En la lucha,


New Year’s Eve The Isla Colon Adventure

For New Year’s Eve, I along with about 12 other volunteers, ventured to Colon Island and the town of Bocas Del Toro. The actual town of Bocas Del Toro is the tourist hub in Bocas Del Toro. This central location in the islands is full of little restaurants, bars, shops, hostels, and hotels. There is a beach on the island, but the most beautiful beaches can only be reached by hiring a boat driver to take you there.
The main launching point for this island paradise is the sketchy town of Almirante. Almirante is the closest town to my village. Every time I venture into Almirante to purchase supplies, I am constantly hassled as a tourist. Everyone always assumes I’m going to the islands, and I’m constantly giving them disgusted and annoyed looks and telling them that I’m not a tourist. I live in Panama. As I passed through Almirante on New Year’s Eve day, to my dismay, when asked if I was “Going to Bocas Man,” sadly I had to say yes… Anyways, we took one of the water taxis through a company called Jampan. The price quoted to us at first was $3 per person. By the time we actually started paying the price began to increase to $3.25 then $3.50. Arriving on the island was a strange experience. Getting off the boat I was greeted by the signs for a Subway Sandwich shop. It was strange to be back in a place where a majority of the people spoke English and were of fair skin.

After arriving on the island, my friends and I made our way to our hotel. It was called Hospedaje Dona Irma. It was basically a house with the top floor turned into a hotel. Each room had two beds and a fan. At the end of the hall there was a sink and mirror along with two bathrooms, each with a shower and toilet. The fee per night was $8.50, which was great for the poor Peace Corps volunteer.

On New Year’s Eve we explored the bar night scene on the island. When midnight hit, I was sitting on a pier watching fireworks over the water. The following day, two other volunteers and I rented some bicycles from a hostel and road them to the beach for the day. It was nice to go relax on the beach. Also, on our bike ride there was a cave off the road that we explored; it was full of bats! Check out the pictures of the island and the beach in my Flickr account!

En la lucha,


Friday, January 2, 2009

Feliz año nuevo

Happy New Year!

I spent my new year on Isla Colon (Colon Island) in Bocas Del Toro, Panama. I'm currently uploading pictures into Flickr. So go check those out when you have a chance. I'll update this New Year's blog in the next few weeks with some pictures and more descriptions.

Aqui en la lucha,


Ngabe Cookies

Still having large quantities of chocolate, I recently put it to good use. Therefore, I thought I’d share some pictures of my most recently chocolate cooking adventure. So I made No Bake cookies or “Ngabe” cookies as our village residents have named them. Check out my pictures of the “Ngabe” (No bake) cookies with fresh, delicious cocao.

The initial mixing

Looks lovely doesn't it.....

They were delicious and did not last long.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas in the Jungle....average at best.

Christmas in the Jungle, or rather a lack there of….

Yesterday was Christmas. I wouldn’t have known it was Xmas unless I looked at a calendar or called home. On Christmas Eve I climbed into bed after a day of cutting down wood in the jungle for my house only to have my host family in the room above me turn on their tiny TV (the screen is probably 3 inches by 3 inches) and watch some Xmas movie in Spanish. I’m not sure what movie it was, but all the voice acting was dubbed in Spanish. Although the dialogue was in Spanish, all the Xmas songs were still in English. So here I am lying in bed in the middle of the Panamanian jungle, mildly depressed because I’m not with my family in the snowy climate I’m used to for Xmas eve being forced to listen to the song “White Christmas,” an expression that has absolutely no meaning to Panamanians. I sat there praying that it would start raining as hard as possible to drown out the noise of the TV…sadly, the rain waited till Xmas morning.
On Xmas morning I woke up at 530AM Panamanian time (530CST) to get dressed and prepared to go cut more wood for my house. Depending on how smoothly the cutting went, we were slated to finish cutting the 2105 ft of wood necessary for constructing my house, but I’ll talk a little more about that in a second. All right, so I wake up to get ready to leave to work by 6 only to be greeted by rain. Panamanians aren’t ever on time in the absence of rain. When it rains, they are even less punctual. So I climbed back in bed to listen to the rain while I waited for my host father to wake up so I could find out when and if we were still going to cut wood. The rain slows down and he wakes up around 7. I climbed out of bed, made the daily trip to our composting latrine, put on the dirty sawdust-covered clothing I’ve been wearing for the past 3 days, took my drug cocktail (malaria pill, vitamins, anti-inflammatory I twisted my other ankle last Sun in a soccer game so now I have two bogus ankles), brushed my teeth, readied the gas and oil for the chainsaw, and headed to my neighbor’s house for breakfast. Anytime you have a workday in my community, the person who is getting help with work is expected to provide breakfast and lunch for all the workers. Most Panamanians run on rice, sugar, and green bananas; therefore, buying food for the day isn’t that big of a deal.

Merry Christmas! The above picture is of me on Xmas morning. I’m holding my wonderful snowman and getting ready to put on my mud-crusted dirty pants and rubber boots. I don’t really know why I have on two different colored socks; they were both clean and close that’s the best explanation I have.

So we venture to my neighbor Cornelio’s house where his wife has prepared the food for us. Breakfast was a few fried eggs, rice, green bananas, and coffee flavored sugar water. Not the usually Xmas breakfast of biscuits and gravy that I know and love, but hey I did get two eggs. After breakfast we made the 30-minute hike to the huge tree we cut down 2 days prior. This tree was roughly 3.5 feet in diameter; see the picture below. I put my hat on top of my machete in front of the tree to trying and give a little scale.

Anyways, after our hike we started cutting down wood. We cut about 5 boards and then the chain on the saw broke. Luckily, we had an extra chain. So the guy cutting the wood, his name is Benicio, puts on the new blade and we get back to work for about another hour before the saw just stops working. Also, during the morning, we were periodically drenched with rain. Lunchtime was approaching, and Cornelio’s two sons had all ready been sent out to bring us our lunch, so we packed up our stuff and sat around waiting for them to show up with our lunch. The picture below was our lunch on one of the days we worked. It was boiled green bananas, rice, beans, and tuna served to us in big green leaves.

So after lunch, we returned home to talk about working on Saturday to finish cutting the wood. I needed to go to Changuinola to get more money and food to finish working on the wood. So after hammering out the details of working this Saturday to finish, I backed up a bag and grabbed a bus to Changuinola to get supplies.
Not really your traditional North American Xmas. Although it was a new experience, it was definitely a Xmas experience I wouldn’t like to repeat. It was my first Christmas away from home and my family. Every year I know others go through Xmases without their family, but being my favorite holiday, being away from my family was rough. I was actually dreading calling home at first because I knew my mom was going to answer the phone with a “Merry Christmas.” When I did call, she did she did exactly that; it brought a tear to my eye. To all my family, I love and miss all of you! Thanks for being so supportative. I will be home for the holidays next year!

Anyways, a quick summary of the housing project. I’m building my house in the center of town. We are cutting roughly 2105 feet of wood for the house. The house will be 16ft by 16ft with 2 rooms (8ftx8ft) and a porch(16ftx8ft). The kitchen will be on one end of the porch. We have cut down wood in 3 separate locations, all of which are between a 25-35 minute hike from building site. After we finish cutting the wood tomorrow, Saturday, I will begin playing a big work day of roughly 20-30 people to haul all the wood to the building site. It’ll be interesting to see how this unfolds. Some of the lumber locations are crazy difficult locations to hike to without having to carry a large quantity of lumber. Plus, there is no way to get a horse into these places to haul wood either. So it should be interesting. For more pictures of cutting down trees, check out my photos. I’m also going to try to load a video of one of the trees being chopped down. As of now, my house is slated to be finished by the end of Jan or beginning of Feb. My fingers are crossed.

En la lucha,

Brian “Koguira Noin”