Friday, January 4, 2008

New Years Pics

Hey Yall!!! Just wanted to share some photos I took of new years, which was also my baby sister´s first birthday. My host dad went all out. We killed a pig (Im convinced no animal could make more noise while dying), had a pinata, and a nice cake. He even had a cooler filled with ice to keep some icecream that he bought down in town cold.

On Christmas, I got to sing christmas carols in english and spanish, and on new years, we sent off a lot of fire works and burned scarecrows. Ill let the pics do the rest...

These two girls are my neighbors, and I´m probably closer with them then any of the other kids. They are amazingly sweet, soooo cute, all about hanging out with me, and never ask me for things (which is KEY). Their names are Maria and Erica

Host bro isaac, posing as usual, getting ready to make some trouble.

Uncle Abdiel and Uriel, who broke his arm falling off a horse last week.

Host sis Yerri (right) with our neighbor Enida (thinks I should marry her aunt)
Erica and Marias little bro David...he was afraid of the pinata.

Smoking the pork so it will keep all week.

Host dad with the baby...he is a really good papa

Gettin ready to blow out the candles

the pig, after we killed it and removed all the hair

Getting ready to hang the pig

The baby asleep at 4 am, while we are killing the pig for her bday

Me cutting the head off of the pig

Yah. Things are different here.

Love yall!


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Merry Christmas

Hi All!
Im sooooo sorry that I have been terrible with this blogging. I lost my internet addiction from the states, and whenever I have it available, I end up checking my email and getting out of there as soon as possible. As you can see by these picture below, my time out of site can be better spent outside of the city (that beach is dangerously close to my site, although I´ve resisted the temptations and only visited once).
I dont no where to start to update you on the last 2 months since I got to my site. There is no ¨typical day¨ that I can describe. My typical activities include killing and cleaning LOTS of chickens, harvesting oranges, planting beans, chopearing (essentially weeding with a machete) planted fields, playing double games of soccer on sundays (that kills me, but baseball season starts this week), swimming in the river, spearfishing and shrimping in the creeks, teaching and learning how to cook, lots of reading (6 or 7 books in the first 6 or 7 weeks) and just conversing and conversing and conversing with the gente. My food is varied, and includes lots of rice, pasta, beans, lentils, green bananas, chicken (ALL parts, including stomach, neck, feet), fish (ALL parts as well, including the eyes), beef (actually, only cow foot), and the occational garlic bread when I make it for my family and neighbors. My town is very busy, being on a paved road, and very close to afuera (anything outside the comarca is afuera, and the United states is refered to as alli, or over there). When I got back from Thanksgiving, I really settled in, and while I still haven´t met all the people (Im not even close), there are at least 6 or 7 families that I have become very close with.
So you are probably wondering what Christmas will be like... Well, my family is very religious (Evangellical) so we will be celebrating Christmas. We have a fatted pig that will meet her maker on Christmas eve (Noche Buena), and will be eaten for several days. Not your traditional seven fishes, but it will do. I will try and make some calls on Christmas (the payphone is fixed!) but I can´t spend too much time on the phone because I dont like when people think that I have a ton of money, and when they see me on the phone for a while, that is what they will think.
Lets see, what else is there to report on... Project wise, my head is spinning with ideas. I am working on a design for a family size slow sand filter, because there are lots of people in town that want to treat their water, but don´t like the taste of chlorine. The coach of our soccer team is 15 years old, and very active and motivated, so I am considering starting some sort of fundraiser with him to get uniforms for the soccer team. Actually I am considering making that a matching fundraiser, if people are interested in donating to match whatever the team (including me!) is able to raise on its own (I doubt if it will exceed 100 to 200 bucks total). I have english classes starting (ugh) the first week of January, and I will also be teaching Internet classes to some teenagers that already have some experience with computers at school. There are still some people that dont have latrines, and desperately want them, so I will start trying to get that funded as soon as possible (luckily in my town, getting people to want latrines is not at all a problem). I have been working to get the pump in town fixed to get water to our storage to the rapidly approaching dry season, but this may be a lost cause (there is just not enough money available to the water committee). I will be meeting with people that arent connected to the aqueduct in January to begin working on an expansion of the system as well. Other potential projects include Mud Stoves and ovens, and an iguana raising project (to sell and eat).
In case you can´t tell, and in case anybody is worried about me, I am extremely happy here. For the first time in my life, Im not biting my finger nails! The people in my town are wonderful, my site is breathtaking (see below), I am extremely close to a paradise-like beach that is always practically empty, and if I really feel like a taste of America, I can take a bus 1.5 hours to David and catch the latest American movie (it is pretty bizarre going from the indigenous culture to David) We will see how I feel come Christmas (my first away from home), but I have been about as happy as I have ever been the last 2 months. I will let the pics below speak for themselves....

These first ones were taken at sunrise from my favorite spot at my site (about a 15 minute hike uphill to a clearing, has views of the ocean and mountains all around)

The birthday party for my sister Yerrysbeth (right). I picked up that cake in david for a solid 3 bucks, and baked the brownies in the oven that was gifted to my family.

Me, Lydia, Pete and Joanna on a little hike in the mountains on Thanksgiving
Some neighbors. Abuela on the left taught me to make bollo the other day after we went harvested Maiz nuevo together
Me eathing spaghetti at a neighbors birthday party

The beach (about a half hour away) at sunrise

During the day

My host brothers and sisters dressed in their Sunday best

Sorry for the lack of people pictures...I try to keep my camera out of site is much as possible, both because it makes me look rich and because people ask me to take pictures of them CONSTANTLY! Not that I mind taking them, but developing can be a pain in the butt. O well,
Goodbye, and Merry Christmas to all!!! I miss you all very much, and you will especially be in my thoughts during the holiday.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hey Yall,
I posted a bunch of pictures (newly captioned) on snapfish. There were too many to post on the blog at one time. If you didn't get 3 emails from me with 3 different photo albums, let me know ( and I will get that out to you. Today is the big day that we officially swear in and become volunteers...more to come shortly!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Site Visit

Hey All!
Once again, my internet time is short and sweet right now, because my friends and I are going to catch a 5 pm movie before we head back to our training site. Also, once again I am without my photo card and I didn´t bring my camera to my site anyway for the site visit...but. However, I spent the last 6 days in the site where I will spend the next 2 years with the family that I will live with for the first 3 months. It is absolutely beautiful...even when it rains, the town is in the clouds so you are looking down on a cloud forest below. When it isn´t raining, you can see the ocean in the distace, although it is only about 45 minutes of traveling for me to get there. The house that the previous volunteer built is really nice and has a great view, but it is pretty far off the road. I think she liked to have some privacy. I want something more near the center of the town, so I am going to be building a new house during the first 3 months while I am staing with my host family. Im going to try and make it something with view, but the central part of town is a little lower elevation so Im not to sure.

My family consists of a mother and father in their late 20s, and 4 kids aged 12, 9,5, and 9months. They all have tons of personality (although my spanish is still a little too slow to understand some of their jokes) and the baby is sooooo cute (you will see lots of pictures soon). The family is relatively well off because they get some money monthly from a missionary. They still live in a bamboo house, but the food was really good. I ate chicken necks and feet for the first time and witnessed my first chicken pateo killing (chicken pateo is the chicken from the patio, not from the store...they scough at store bought chicken).

The day that I got there, a representative from a water committe from a neighboring town (about hour and a half hike) showed up with a written solicitud for help with an aqueduct in their town. I hiked out their on Saturday to take a look at their spings and the layout of the town. They were very poor (more so than my community) and had many other problems besides the lack of water (no latrines, no school, no health center). We had a meeting afterwards, and about 30 or 40 people showed up from a town of only about 100 people. I first had to explain what peace corps was (and wasn´t) and told them I would help. I´m not too sure how the aquaduct will work out because it is a pretty tough hike (all the cement, sand, stone will need to be hauled in on shoulders) and the houses are really spread out (making the cost really high relative to the amount of people you are reaching). If we don´t end up getting funding for an aquaduct I will still complete some sort of project there, but we shall see.

After that first request, I was also approached by two other near by communities. The previous volunteer wasn´t an engineer, and she didn't feel comfortable working on aquaducts (she build a ton of latrines), so I think I will be fairly busy working on water projects. In my town, their is an aqueduct and a tank, but many houses aren´t connected to it. Also, the source dries up in the summer. Their was a big politically funded project in the town to put in a big pump and tank at a spring below the town about six years ago. Looking at it, I figure it had to cost at least 10 grand. The pump has only actually worked twice. They want me to help with the pump, but I am very hesitant because a) Im not a pump mechanic (I can size them and help design what would be needed) and b) it was a completely unsustainable project so start, and I think money would better be spent finding another spring above the town even if it is really far away. We would only have to transport it to the existing spring boxes anyway, so I think it is possible.

That is all for now, I promise I will be updating more regularly once I am settled in my site. For those of you expecting a call, the phone card system has been down for over a week now, so I will call when it is up and running. Peace!



Saturday, September 15, 2007


Okay Everyone,

So Im sorry I havent been able to update my blog since Ive been here. My time on the internet has been short in sweet. Everything here is absolutely amazing. I am living with a family that consists of my 21 year old brother, my 21 year old niece, and a mother and father. I have become very good friends with my brother and niece, I get to watch the yankee games once in a while with my father, and my mother gives me medicine everytime I clear my throat, and makes me take my raincoat whenever I leave the house. Oh ya, also yesterday she hemmed my pants after I specifically told her I liked them long. A little bit frustrating, but I know she only does it because she cares about me.

The other volunteers I am in training with are probably the best group of people I have ever been around in a group setting (no offense to anyone reading this from past schools, etc.). One of my friends was a construction foreman for habitat for humanity for a year in New Orleans (post Katrina). Another was a helirepeller fighting forest fires. There are some really amazing personalities and experiences that get more interesting the more we get to know eachother.

A taste of training
Yesterday, at 8am i taught hand washing and teeth brushing to kindergarden students in spanish. I went straight from there to build a lorena stove (lodo=mud arena=sand) which is a mud stove that uses much less firewood by trapping all the heat released and carries the smoke out a chimney rather than to the cookers face. After slopping on the layer of 50% cow shit and 50% mud dirt mix that makes it look real nice at the end (whole process took about 5 hours), I grabbed a quick bite to eat and then off to 2 hours of language of Ngabera (indigenous language training). Ti ka esteban (my name is stephen). Toro na (literally means I dont remember, but has roots in the old greeting : What did the animals tell you in your dreams last night? I dont remember was the response so that you didn´t bring some bad karma on yourself. Now, it is just used as Hello). From Ngobera training I went to to spanish language training. Yesterday was cultural day, so we learned to cook a bunch of traditional Panamanian food. We were supposed to have dance lessons, but we ran out of time. Needless to say, the days have been full. Whenever we get out from training a little bit early, I go over to el cuadro (the field) to play soccer or softball with the locals.

Last but not least, I got my site placement last week. I am in the Ngobe-Bugle Comarca, in the foothills of the mountains. I have a view of the Pacific ocean, and a 45 minute walk-ride to a beautiful beach (Las Lajas) that rarely has more the 2 or 3 people visiting. My town is more easily accessible than others, so even those not looking forward to a hike should definately come and visit. The community has about 600 people, which is fairly large, because it isn´t up in the depths of the comarca. There is a volunteer there now that is finishing just before I get there. She has constructed about 60 pit latrines over the last 2 years. My main job is to secure their water situation. Of 61 households, 14 are served by an unrealiable aquaduct, and the rest get water that is diesel pumped from a creek. The pump is breaking down and the creek dries up in the summer. I have heard that there are two more springs up above town that are pretty far away. Depending on the summer (january-march) flow from these springs, I will likely be designing and building new spring boxes and aquaducts to tap these sources. I am also really excited about building my own Lorena stove to start promoting them in town, getting knee deep in composting, teaching in the schools, getting involved in sports leagues or creating one if none exists, and building latrines for the handful of families that still are lacking. I am somewhat lucky in the fact that the people in my village do grow some vegetables in addition to root crops, bananas, and coffee (some volunteers go months eating nothing but boiled green bananas). Sorry if this has been all over the place...I dont have time to reread it, and there was a lot to cover (and I haven´t even scratched the surface). We are leaving tomorrow for a week of technical training in the comarca, mostly building composting latrines (which are pretty awesome). Then we have a week of cultural training (also in the comarca) before heading back to our latino town of Santa Clara to finish up our regular training. I will be at my site at the end of October! Gotta run!


Tuesday, July 3, 2007

4th of July

Hey yall...sorry about the wait. I wrote this blog about a week and a half ago, and wasn't going to post it, but I think its okay so here you go:

I must keep you waiting on my official ipod charging blog as there s something else I have to get down...

Last weekend, we heard that on Sunday night, Milford (my hometown) was having a fireworks show for the first time. Would they shoot them off from Silver Sands or Walnut Beach? Would they shoot them off at Gulf Beach near the harbor so they could be seen easily from a beatiful, thriving downtown? Nope. The fireworks were at...The Connecticut Post Mall. A pretty odd choice if you ask me, but I could live with it. As some of you may know, we live 5 minutes from the mall, and I figured we should be able to watch them from our back yard. So, we sat in the yard on lawnchairs around 9 PM waiting for the fireworkds to start. Finally, around 9:30, we see some flashes through the trees. Unfortunatly, they were not high enough above the treeline to make them enjoyable, so me, my mom, and my Dad hopped in the car to try and find a better view without actually driving to the mall. We tried the sidestreets around our house, but nothing. We continued driving until we reached Post Rd., Rt. 1. We tried to see from Krispy Kreme, but the view was not consistent enough, so we went nextdoor to, of all places, McDonalds. And we parked, of all places, right behind the flagpole. I didn't think twice of any of this at first, but suddenly I realized how American I was right at that moment. Me, sitting on the hood of the car, staring at the booming fireworks high in the sky being launched from the mall (which has pretty much doubled in size in the last year)on the most American of holidays, the 4th of July. In the foreground of my view, a flagpole. Atop that flagpole, a large American flag. Just below that, another flag of equal size sporting the red background and the all-American Golden Arches.

I struggle almost daily with my feelings on issues like globalization and America's role in the world. As an undergrad, outside of my engineering curriculum, I gravitated towards the departments of Development Sociology (country not child) and City and Regional Planning. Here, Marx was God and the World Bank was nothing but a bunch of neo-colonialists. I learned to HATE McDonalds, Walmart, sweatshops, Adam Smith, and Larry Summers (check out "Let Them Eat Pollution", a leaked internal memo written by Dr. Summers when he was with the World Bank). I even wrote a paper on the dangers of the commodification of land, labor, and money and my professor ate it up.

In the last few years, I have studied more seriously some economics and public policy, and have become more of a centrist on these issues. I don't mind that my shirt says "made in India" because the sweatshop where it was made may be pulling its workers' families out of extreme poverty or giving women their first access to an income. I have met and learned from several World Bank advisors (one senior level) that I have all the respect for in the world. As tactless as Larry Summers is(you may recall his most recent blunders as President of Harvard), there are points in "Let Them Eat Pollution" (a justification for exporting pollution from rich to poor countries) that I actually agree with to some extent. Finally, I have learned to at least respect the power of markets, and along with "The Wealth of Nations", I even own a book entitled "The Wisdom of Adam Smith." It sits awkwardly on my shelf next to "The Communist Manifesto" and "The Great Transformation".

Sunday, July 1, 2007

They Should Make an iPod Patch

With a month and a half left before I take off, I have started to seriously think about packing. I am allowed 80 lbs of total checked baggage, plus a carry-on. However, the single piece of advice I have received from every volunteer I've talked to in Panama is: Pack light!!! There is a lot of steep terrain in Panama, many of the work sites are 2-3 hour hikes from the nearest form of vehicular transportation, and 80 pounds gets heavy real quick in 100% humidity. I have set my goal at 60 lbs checked baggage, all in my trusty Wolfskin pack and a day pack to use for carry-on.

You find out a lot about yourself when packing for Peace Corps. Its like a real-life version of that hypothetical question "If you were stranded on a deserted island and could only have 5 things with you, what would they be?" The clothes part is easy, because there is no pressure. Whatever you don't bring, you can probably find in-country, or if need be have it sent to you from home. However, I need to make important decisions on various other candidate items which I will not be able to find and Panama, and which could not be sent from home because they would surely be stolen (a funny side note: they suggest that if something valuable does need to be sent, put it in a box for feminine hygiene products...some norms have no borders and apparently one of them is that guys don't mess with tampons). Anyway, I need to figure out what things I can and cannot live without for 2 years. This is no small task. Luckily, I have a couple significant advantages over most PC volunteers. I have already spent a significant amount of time in my country of service. Many volunteers are getting their passports for the first time. More importantly, I have a better understanding than most of how frustrating development work can be. I am using this advantage in a strategic packing exercise:

I picture myself alone after dark in my wood hut with dirt floors. Rain is pounding on the zinc rooftop. I haven't been home for 8 months, and haven't even seen another Peace Corps volunteer for over a month. I just spent all day building a spring box (a cement box used to protect water springs from contamination). It came out terribly, and apparently nobody even cares about the project because the men in the village that were supposed to help with construction showed up 2 hours late and left at noon.

Now: At that moment, what will keep me sane?

For me, it will likely be music.

So, I need to have some music with me. But it can't just be any music. It is to be really great music, music that I can get lost in, or music that puts me in another place entirely. Unfortunately, there will be many days when I will need something to keep me sane. The situation described above (or something like it) is not uncommon, and there is not one, or even 10 albums that could get me through 2 years.

I need my ipod. Okay, need is a strong word, especially for something that didn't exist 5 years ago. I don't need my ipod to survive, but I need my ipod to keep myself in working order.

There is, however, a slight problem. Sure, that internal battery is incredibly effective at making the ipod super sleek and the size of a credit card. However, Steve Jobs did not target the "off-the-grid" market in his design. So, I have spent the hours of 12-2 AM for the last 4 or 5 days figuring out how to best keep my ipod charged. This has turned into a internal struggle in itself, to be detailed in the next episode of...dun dun dun...Esteban in Panama