Sunday, April 11, 2010
Trash aside, home gardens continue to spring up where I least expect them and the first harvest of the twenty original gardens has been bountiful. If I did anything right here, it was promoting these little home gardens. Through the Healthy Homes Initiative I’ve also had the opportunity and privilege to watch two community innovators “spread their wings” (for lack of less corny phrasing) and develop their leadership skills. One is a young man (age 15) from a less-than-supportive family that has become my partner-in-crime for all gardening and stove building schemes. One day when I was praising his tenacity and ambition, an NGO partner who helps with my project said, “that, or he’s secretly in love with you.” Whatever the motivation, I am thoroughly impressed by and proud of his quiet determination to excel.
On another front, the four tourism groups have made great strides towards attracting tourists and offering quality service. One group has a website (www.aglacelcope.com), all four have beautiful brochures, we’re working on a full business plan for the hostel/guest house (with help from the Peace Corps business sector), and for the first time I am seeing a relatively steady flow of tourists (and income) to the area. Next week we’ll finish painting a gigantic tourism map that will be posted down on the Pan-American Highway. And the development that is most dear to my heart is a simple one: the four groups are communicating with each other. This is a stark contrast from 2008 (when I arrived, envy and misunderstandings had created an environment of distrust among the groups); I couldn’t be happier. The result of their communication is “tourist sharing”: the tour guides from El Cope are promoting tours to the organic farm. The waterfall/hiking attraction people are recommending the El Cope guides for visitors who want to check out the National Park. The hostel folks are talking up the waterfall/hiking project to their guests. Someday you might see Barrigon in National Geographic Travel…
How could two years have gone by?
Although it’s difficult and sad to be leaving my work here, I am ready to make a change. My adventure in grassroots development has left me with more questions than answers. I’ve fallen far short of my colossal expectations of what I could accomplish in two years. And of course I’ve learned far more than I’ve taught (ha, understatement of the century). I’m okay with both of these things; I recognize the value of this experience for personal growth. And I am happy to acknowledge the modest successes we’ve had here in Barrigon. But for the last year I’ve had the nagging feeling that there is a better way. To be an agent of change, I guess I mean. Don’t ask me what it is… but if you happen to know the secret recipe, I’m all ears.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
We harvested cacao like a bunch of gringo leaf-cutter ants, leaving nothing yellow on the trees that we climbed, pulled on, and generally stipped of all their fruit. The result: SO MUCH CHOCOLATE!
Grinding up toasted cocao seeds and making chocolate patties of many varieties:
Good slackline action shots:
Love to all!
Monday, November 16, 2009
Things are going to be a bit different for us now, as we won't have any public transportation until the level of the river goes down enough to make a safe crossing for trucks. For the moment the discussion about rebuilding the bridge has focused on a small pedestrian bridge (three cables!). It sounds like I'll be long gone before Barrigon's buses will be back on route.
The most affected folks have been the orange producers and transporters. There are many pick-ups full of oranges rotting outside of peoples homes right now. Just as oranges come into season...
And the secondary school students, who to cross the river to get to school in El Cope (the neighboring town). They stayed home today, as the river was too high to cross on foot. And it was pouring rain.
You might be wondering how I got out. Well, I found a muddy path that takes me to a different town. So I walked!
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
I have the best neighbors in the world. They are my parents and my best friends. When I leave, they take care of my cat and my garden. When I am home, there is a constant flow of food, kids, and animals between my house and theirs. I spend most evenings in their kitchen sipping coffee, listening to the radio, and “echando cuentos” (telling stories). We usually don’t talk about anything of importance. The man likes to tell me about past rainy seasons and how the wind is so strong in the summer that it will take roofs off houses. The wife feeds me and talks to me about food and flowers. She grows flowers all over her yard and mine. I have confided in them twice during some rough patches in my service here and both times they have comforted me and kept my grief private. A small miracle in this community.
One of the times I confided in them was when, this last June, my closest friend in town (a young woman who lives up the hill) spread the rumor that I was having a relationship with a married friend of mine. Well, not only was his wife (who is also a good friend) furious but a lot of people in town thought that I was a home-wrecker. I was devastated. I was embarrassed that people thought horrible things about me, but mostly hurt that my closest friend and confidant would betray me like that. Sometimes in the Peace Corps we talk about people in our sites as “community members” instead of friends. Its like we hold people at an arm’s length because if they knew the “real” us they might judge us harshly (maybe because in some ways we are more liberal and liberated than our Panamanian peers). Well, I am guilty of maintaining this distance with lots of people here in town. But not with this girl, my friend. We were tight. I felt comfortable enough with her to let her in, you know? I really trusted her.
So when this happened I felt very alone. I couldn’t talk to anyone about it because I didn’t want to add fuel to the fire or propagate more rumors. That is why I thank God every day for my neighbors. One night I sat in their kitchen and told them how I’d been hiding in my house, avoiding the hailstorm. They comforted me by telling me that everyone in town has been the victim of malicious rumors, that it was just part of community life. Most importantly, they trusted that what I said was true. They trust my integrity.
But don’t get me wrong, there are many, many wonderful people here. When I feel lonely, all I have to do is wander up some trail and I’ll inevitably get invited to coffee, oranges, or conversation on someone’s front porch. If anything, the generosity and attention of my community is overwhelming. I feel like there aren’t enough days in the week to visit all those who invite me to their homes.
As far as work goes, I’ve started a new project that I am very excited about. We’re calling it the Healthy Homes Initiative. The 20 or so families that are participating will be working on four home projects to promote health in their family and for the environment: vegetable gardening, home trash management (composting and small, family landfills), grey water filtrations systems, and fuel-efficient wood-burning stoves. Now that I have been here for over a year I feel like I finally understand what makes so many projects fail (group dynamics, hand-outs, etc) and what types of projects could be successful. So I’ve designed this project to utilize and emphasize community strengths and minimize the situations that tend to hinder progress. We’re just starting, and everyone is optimistic about the progress.
I think often of my trip to the States. Thank you to everyone who made such an effort to see me while I was home. It feels so good to reconnect to that life and realize that it...exists.
Love to you all!