*The contents of this Web site are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Too much to tell... lets start with the most intimate. lol

Primero, Entes de todo, gracias por visitar a mi pagina web. Hace tiempo que no escribo en esta vaina y le agradezgo por su paciencia.

Bueno - Holla to all of you who's down in Whoville for christmas!

It has been so long that i havnt written a post on here that I hardly know where to begin.

I have been in site five months and have just given myself count (realized) that ive now lived consecutively in Esquiguita longer than i have lived anywhere else since I had 18 years.. So that's cool. Go me.

I have a good working relationship with a number of people in the area and we are set to really start moving forward on a number of projects. We just finished a series of extension meetings with the entire town and are set to begin a recycling program on the 22nd of January, and set priorities for the coming year on the 21st.

Yo pase la navidad a mi sitio con mi gente tranquilamente. Hice gnochi y prepare un pavo con la ayuda de mis vicinos y unos amigos. Fue bien priti. I was not offended when they tried the gnochi in garlic butter and paresan sauce and said... "you know what would make this better... white rice..." and then proceeded to heap white rice on top of their gnochi. A little more exposure and i hope they could learn to appreciate good cooking.

Nonni are coming in early february so I am really excited about that! My computer shot craps because id been using my flashdrive at internet cafes without a condom (sombody should really develop such a device). So im in the city trying to get it back. Mayb ill enjoy a hot shower tonight. Who knows. Ill see if theres time. Im definetly picking up some new shoes lol.

Christmas is a time for family and for remembering those closest to you. If somebody is close to you... do you really have to wait until christmas to remember them? Just a thought.

So i hope to be going to bocas del toro for new years to pass is witht he bocas crew. So that will be sick I hope.

I recently attended a Novena for Patronales. Nine days at church is good for the soul. And the social reputation. The novena was followed by a two day party that featured bull riding, dancing, live music, a dj, cantadera contest (think rap battling to tipico) and a hell of a lot of straight liquor on ice. All in all a good time was had by the majority.

I load photos soon.... when i get my camera back.... and have internet.

Hasta la proxima! ...La cual debe ser pronta!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Its about time!

SRY! I know that i havn't written nearly enough on here: A brief recap in pictures of the past month and more:

Friday, July 23, 2010

From quiet homes and first beginning, out to the undiscovered...

From quiet homes and first beginning, out to the undiscovered ends,There's nothing worth the wear of winning, but laughter and the love of friends.

Post dated from July 19th, 2010

Okay cool, so I followed up on the horse thing and I’m going to be meeting Tika on Wednesday morning to go over the basics – so that’s good. We sat on his porch for about an hour or more last night just talking and getting to know each other and the family. They seem to be pretty good people. In the mean time it feels so good not to really have to do anything today. The Barbas went to go bake bread at the oven up the street and I am just hanging out in the house… glorious.

I spent the day following Claudio around, never really sure what we were doing. I’m pretty sure that he just comes in on the weekends to see his friends. We built a roof for his cousin over the oven where the women bake bread. So that was most of the afternoon.

I met with Claudio and the Environmental group on Saturday to discuss what can be done to make the project a success. It is pretty obvious at this point that they have no idea really what they are doing. In fact, Claudio went as far as to say that he thinks the vivero has failed. He is probably right. I asked him where the trees would be planted, and he had no idea. Its like ANAM simply said, “you should build and maintain a vivero,” thinking that reforestation was the obvious outcome. Right now its just a bunch of wasted energy. But I think that with a little bit of project management and leadership training, Claudio will be a really good leader. It was very interesting that a majority of the people that were there at the meeting were kin. I have noticed that about my site. Your local power base and social circle is more your extended family than it is your friends outside of that family. So we have another meeting next weekend to discuss our the mission of the organization and to set some value statements, goals, and strategies. So I really should prepare my charla for them next week. But not yet.

I went to the house of LLeovi… or something like that I can never pronounce his name… on Saturday. In addition to the excellent grub, he showed me his sugar cane press and the process that he uses to manufacture miel de cana (sugarcane honey), a carmalized sugar that is a hell of a value added product from primary production. Well done. Excellent jump sir. He also showed me both the organic fertilizer and chemical fertilizer that he uses on the sugar cane and on the rest of his crops. He said that next year he in going to switch to using the ash from the sugarcane honey manufacturing to fertilize his cane instead of chemical fertilizer. He said that the soil is phosphorous deficient and that ANAM has said that ash is rich in phosphorous. “It’s a hell of a lot cheaper than $30 per bag!” he said laughing. He is going to show me how he makes that honey on Wednesday.

In the mean time, last Thursday, I went to a meeting up at the elementary school to introduce myself to the PTA (the Padres de Familia). The representante made an appearance, and I gave the following forty second speech:

Buenos Dias Damas y Cavalleros,

Me gustaria empezar por extenderles a Uds. un gran agradacimiento para recibirme en su comunidad. Ya yo me siento a hogar con este simpatico pueblo. Para ellos que todavia no he tenido la oportunidad de encontrar ni conocer, soy un miembro del Cuerpo de Paz, un Agencia del Gobierno de Los Estados Unidos que busca para edificar relaciones entre el pueblo Estado Unidense y pueblos extranjeros por trabajo comunitario.

En Panama, yo trabajo junto con la ANAM y MEDUCA en el sector Conservacion Ambiental Communitario. Yo estare enfocado en este campo porque por haciendo inversions ambos en educacion y gestion ambiental, podemos vincularnos al beneficios de la economia global mientras apocamos nuestro exposision al incertidumbre ambiental, el fuente de nuestro bienestar. Yo se que hay mucho interes en ensenando engles. No es mi primer responsabilidad, pero si tenemos exito con la educacion ambiental, se aparece que va a ser possible.

Yo vivire aqui en esquiguita los proximos dos anos. Tengo pericia en el manejo de Ecosistemas, proyectos communitarios y accion comunitaria. Espero poder compartir conicimientos con Uds mientras trabajamos juntos hacia una manana mejor y mas sostenible. Estoy aqui para apollarles a Uds. A sus ordenes.

It seemed to go over pretty well. They received me with a bit of applause and told me that I should feel welcome. They said that they would be more than willing to work with me in environmental education but it was rather obvious that they really wanted to focus on teaching English. So it will definitely be a process. Poco a poco.

After the meeting, I went to Chitre and met up with John and Jessico, John Payne and our Regional Leader, Dylan. After introductions, we walked to MIDA and took a bus to ANAM to make introductions. While at ANAM, I picked up the environmental guides to use in the schools. We met briefly with the director of both organizations and they seemed very accommodating, just like almost every other Panamanian I’ve ever met.

After that, we went out for dinner and drinks, went to a pool hall briefly to hang out, and pretty much got hammered before going to the casino and playing blackjack until 4:30 in the morning while ordering free drinks from the bar. And oh yeah, there was a brief foray into the club that was next door that was selling dollar drinks with a three dollar cover. It had somewhat of a 17 year old’s birthday/ pretty good frat party feel to it. Pretty funny.

After going back to the hotel and knocking on the door for 15 minutes, the guy at the front desk took pity on me and let me in to my room where three others had already passed out. The next day, after getting about four and a half hours of sleep, I had a wicked hangover that I nursed through bad/really freaking good chow-mien and gatorade. By brief stop into the internet café was somewhat less than productive. I got an email off to Jen asking about the possibility of a tour of the embassy when my school here goes on a field trip to Panama City in August. I didn’t get to finish or print out any of my letters of introduction because the café that we were using didn’t have any printer. And then it was time to return to site.

P.S. It’s becoming obvious to me that community work is really based more on friendship and leadership than anything else.

No Title

Post dated from July 21st, 2010

I write this as a man rides up on a motorcycle and stops just in front of our gate, gets off of the bike and goes to answer his phone. He walks up and opens the gate carrying a carta intended for the Mrs. He must be a personal courier of some kind.

Then I received a message from Francisco saying that he had spoken with the director at my school and that he had explained to her that he will be finishing his dealings with MEDUCA in the morning. He will send two copies to me, one for her and the other for the regional director of MEDUCA in Chitre.

Now that that has been said,
Is it a sign that it is hot when the dog is taking a nap behind the curtain in the outdoor shower because it’s cooler than anywhere else? I think yes.

I’ve learned a lot in the last couple of days. I learned that its not the smartest idea to ride a horse with balls. It will try to fuck you up. Guaranteed. Seriously, I went to Tika’s house yesterday morning to try to ride his horse. He wasn’t there at the time, but his wife told me three or four times that it was “bien bravo” and she asked me if I knew how to manage a horse. I said yes I knew how and I proceeded to saddle and harness it.

As soon as we were out past the fence, the damn thing took off galloping at full speed. Tika’s wife had warned me that he liked to rear so I was patient with him and didn’t pull back too hard on the reins. Eventually, I would do everything short of try to choke him with the damn things. He just wouldn’t stop. It was all I could do to try and keep him in the middle of the road. At one point, he took me up against a barbed wire fence to try and known me off. I was too stubborn for that so he put me up against a bunch of trees and low hanging branches. Finally he was a bit worn out and I managed to stop him in the middle of the road heading toward the river. I got off of him and turned him around. I mounted him again and no sooner had I gotten my second foot in the stirrup than he tore off again, this time up the path heading toward the church. Safire the horse and I scared a woman and her son to death as we raced up the path, pressing both of them against a barbed wire fence. By the time we got to the main road once again, Safire was at a full gallop, this time on pavement. I managed to turn him back toward Tika’s house just in time to completely startle a gray mare with a 45 year old man riding her. With a startled, concerned look on his face the owner calmed her before she got the chance to rear.

Safire and I had blown by, my hands getting caught in the tangled mess of mane, reins, and lead rope that I had wantonly left draped to the side; my right foot at one point coming free of the stirrup. In a blur we had missed the entrance to Tika’s house, and without a firm grip on reins, ni stirrup, I held on, gripping the horse’s sides with my knees while my pelvis moved to the three gated rhythm of a horse in full stride.

Finally, just before he was about to put me into another barbed wire fence, I was able to untie my hands, grab the reins, and pull Safire to a dead stop. He was very angry with me, chomping at the bit, shaking his dirty mane, and snorting in defiance. I climbed off of him once more, turned him around, and walked him back to the house, where Tika’s wife was waiting. “What do you call a horse that’s not quite broken yet?” she asked. “Dangerous,” I replied.

It was the talk of the town for a majority of the next two days. Tika’s wife would say, “Tika tried to tell him that he was a bit dangerous (which he did not I swear) but he still wanted to ride him. So there, now he’s ridden him and he knows better.” Okay, so maybe she didn’t say it in that many words, but that is certainly the message that she meant.

When asking about the cuts on my face and why I was walking funny, the teachers at the school, my colleagues, would say, “and the students said ‘there goes Ryan on the horse running! Did you see him!?’” Half the town saw me while it was happening, and the other half was in general agreement as Monday morning quarterbacks that next time I should take a female. They’re calmer. And I probably shouldn’t go by myself.

Thanks guys.

Don´t Read This Unless You´re a Nerd

Post dated from July 13, 2010

I guess this is the sort of thing I think about while sharpening a machete for an hour while on standfast due to riots…

It just occurred to me that the only reason that the church, the party, the government, empires, the corporation – the reason that these have all been the dominant social institution of their time is because they have all been very effective at organizing people (although I guess resources secondarily) along different lines. In order to increase their effectiveness, they each promote a value system that allows them a greater degree of influence. Corporations’ propaganda surrounds material well being. The propaganda of the church revolves around faith. The propaganda of empire is centered on conquest. The government, nationalism obviously. Party control is based on group affiliation or in group/out group politics. Propaganda of each is intended to actively influence the behavior of individuals on a personal level by changing what they spend their time thinking about and by changing their basic assumptions. That is the purpose and nature of propaganda.

The corporation in its present form was proposed as a way to solve technical problems and their social consequences through organizing labor according to a market economy. The market, an accumulation of people’s individual choices (at least people that have equity in the market), chooses the products that it wants, that people think will make their lives better. Through people’s individual desire to attain those products they are motivated to work together in a social hierarchy to attain a better material life with equity (within the context of the whole market system of organization) measured in salaries paid to labor. The idea that this organization of labor makes the lives of all stakeholders on the whole better is what gives it the moral authority to operate (if you have no individual bias which no morality is without). The idea that it works that way for a majority of people is what gives it the social and subsequent legal authority to exist in a liberal democracy based upon individual liberties.

The corporation is a very effective organizing machine because, like the church, it speaks to people on an individual level. It, unlike the church though, focuses on immediate material needs or wants that it proposes to be needs. The party, the government, Empire, only really ever speak to individuals when addressing their collective needs… or taxes. Taxes have proven to be a very effective method of organizing people… like a market economy.

It is important to note that these methods are only effective at organizing because they motivate by speaking to a human need or desire that is not satisfied, that is not completely fulfilled, whether it be camaraderie, prestige and pride, material want, hope/spirituality. During the present age of wealth, most material wants of the classes with any productive resources are met. Thus, the commodification of other human desires (especially prestige which is ipso facto an arms race), or the normalizing of greed is looked to as a way of maintaining the institutions dominance over individual behavior and thus as a way of controlling resources (both in terms of labor and assets.)

Those with productive assets are in better shape that those without, but nobody that is plugged into the network economy is really immune to its influence. In other words… no matter what line of work you are in, if I own the productive assets… you work for me as long as I can convince you to want the things that my productive assets are making. As long as I can convince you to value what I am making, even if it is shit, I am creating “social value” as measured in dollars. This is the reason that the advertising end of marketing undermines the integrity and moral authority of a market economy as the principal method of organizing people. There ceases to be a co-authored relationship between producer and consumer with the principal responsibility of value creation falling on the producer. The consumer has no real opportunity to assign a value based upon a personal “value system.”

But why would any of this matter to those of us that possess equity within the market already? Why would we, who have equity shares in large corporations as our primary productive asset be bothered by this state of affairs? A rising tide raises all boats does it not? Even if it raises those that begin with more higher than it raises those that begin with less?

The answer lies in the dynamic of the Market. The market is the interface between the individual as a consumer making choices and the literally global production forces organized to cater to any desire that he is willing to pay enough equity for (read as work hard enough for or give up enough potentially productive assets for). That alliance of production forces will try to sway his desire in any direction that makes him more likely to pay. They do that by actively trying to change what he values. They actively try to commodify and change his values.

As of yet there are a few values that have not been internalized to the market. For example, as of yet the parent/child bond is more or less sacred even if the nuclear family isn’t. However, with the advent of marketing directly to children in the last decade or so, that may be changing. Does the empirical evidence support the hypothesis that kids are getting harder to raise?

Capitalism makes individuals out of every former group. With the market fulfilling virtually every need, why does any individual need any other individual other than through their role as a producer? Do not get me wrong, the market has done wonderful things. It, with the occasional governmental tutoring, has allowed an incredible standard of living for a portion of the population never before even dreamed of. It has organized labor is such away as to not only produce, but to allow for a considerable amount of equity and reinvestment.

However, it has also made individuals out of everybody. It has changed our values with neither our permission nor our reflection. When we bought that last cell phone out of a desire for more personal liberty, did we know that we were, ipso facto, buying ourselves less time to be home with our families specifically because we did not need to be? Do we really believe that it is, as a radio commercial I recall in Miami “so good it will make you a better person?” Do we know that we have been convinced that it is okay to work on average a 50 hour work week for our standard of living? We have been convinced that it should be worth it to us.

The reason why many traditional societies rebel against the market system (like many people in Bocas del Toro are doing as I write this(honestly I don’t know enough about it to say that)) is not because they disagree with a proliferation of a higher standard of living. It is because they disagree with a forced (if not insidious) surrendering of their sovereignty over their values. Forced surrendering of one’s values is the rape of one’s individual, and cultural dignity.

In the end, the question of capitalism is more about a choice of lifestyle. The community that I currently stay with is rather well off. They are much better off certainly than they were a half century ago, owing primarily to market forces and a maturing of the segment of the population with at least a primary education. However, they have been buffered from advertizing, and buffered even from those products that will not pay the largest dividends in terms of their well being. PVC pipe and Weed Eaters made it. McDonalds, plastic siding and doggie sweaters did not. They just weren’t worth the leg work. And for this reasonable standard of living that they enjoy now they work, on average, 5-6 hours a day, much of it work around the house (it’s hard to draw a line between home and office so to speak). When Marcilino was 25 (he just told me) they would work from literally sun up to almost sun down. There was more labor involved with living. One had to carry the cane or corn from the field on a basket on one’s back instead of putting it in the bed of a pickup truck. The weed eaters, PVC pipe, cinderblocks, and even cars have actually made their lives better and more productive. They are actually investments in well being based upon already held values as opposed to just consumables that the market has made a social norm.

And that’s all I have to say about that. Like I said… just a thought.
Thank you for the inspiration Mr. Martenelli.

Just a Walk Up a Hill

Post dated from July 9th 2010

We walked to the fuente de agua hoy (the water source. It was about a four hour ordeal from start to finish. We started out from the house on foot at 7:30 am wearing out rubber boots and wielding our machetes. Once the road ended at the base of the hill, Marcelino and I walked an additional hour following two men on horseback from the town, one with a spade shovel, the other with a machete and a dog. We had met them at the cistern, two 15 x 15 x 6 bunker like concrete structures with pvc pipe running to them and dumping water in from the top. Both were partially buried and covered, one with a concrete cap and the other with tin sheets held down by screw pins. The milky water runs from these reservoirs to another little cinderblock shed that houses two Israeli made water filters. According to the men on horseback the two sand filters have to be changed every year or so but it’s a pretty expensive change … on the order of a couple hundred dollars… so it is seldom done that frequently. It seemed to be working just fine when I was there, dumping dark chocolate milk out one pipe, and what I would assume to be the relatively crystal clear water that we drink and cook with, out the other covered pipe that runs into the valley to feed Esquiguita.

After looking at the cisterns, Marci, the two men and I continued into the hills for another hour or so, following the path of the river up a relatively steep grade surrounded by terraced, deforested cattle pasture. We finally arrived at a small quebrada, a smallish waterfall that had been intensified by a steel wire reinforced concrete dam. The source of the towns drinking water is a tube about eight inches in diameter that runs immediately into the middle of the dam protruding into the reservoir about a foot and a half above the silt layer and three feet below the surface of the water.

The reason for our journey today had been two fold. First, I had wanted to go up into the hills. Because it is the regional water source and because it is an area with a much sparser population, it is a reforestation priority. I also wanted to see the water source to decide if it could be improved upon. Judging by what I saw today, I would say it is a model system. The other reason for our trip, and the reason for the men on horseback was that every 4 – 8 days, they must go up to the dam and shovel out the silt layer that builds up around the pipe. If it rains more, they have to go more frequently. If it rains less, less frequently they must go.

Yesterday Marci said that running water had been a gift of the central government back in the day. Marcilino said it was Omar Torrijos’s project back in 1975. I asked the group of men today who had organized the town to petition the government for the system and nobody seemed to really know though Marcilino said that it had been the Representante and everyone generally agreed that it had been a government project from the local level on up.

On our return trip, we stopped at an avocado tree, chopped a couple branches with our machetes and threw them at the fruit, eventually recovering eight large avocados that will probably be ripe by tomorrow. I also talked to somebody about acquiring a horse. I couldn’t exactly understand everything that I heard but things seemed to stay positive. Other than that the vivero seems to be in good order, with much more green since we moved it into a sunnier area. But judging by what I saw today in the mountains, we are going to need a hell of a lot more trees.