Thursday, August 9, 2012

I think today I'll give everyone a rundown of what my day-to-day life is like here in the mountains of Panama:

I get up usually around 6:30 or so, more or less with the sun which rises everyday around 6 (but doesn't hit my house for a while given the surrounding mountains) and sets at nearly 7 (there isn't very much seasonal variation). After using the nearly full latrine (I'm fortunate enough to have one), which I do quite regularly...I sit down in the 'kitchen' area next to the open fire which is used as a stove and wait for breakfast (when I get any).  If there happens to be breakfast this particular day, it can one of a small variety of things: boiled green bananas (which are kinda just like potatoes...they're rarely allowed to age enough to have any sugar in them), yucca, otoe (like a big purple potatoe), or rice and beans (by far the most common). None of these options have any sort of taste, especially by our American standards, so it has been quite a challenge getting used to not looking forward to meal times. But as time has gone on, I have become accustomed to eating these things and have learned to appreciate very subtle differences in taste which can make a HUGE difference. Just a little bit of salt, or a couple of pieces of onion in a bowl of rice can go a very long way to making a slightly depressing meal into something capable of brightening my day (really...I'm not kidding haha).  If there's not breakfast however, I'll invariably get a cup of coffee.  But I should explain that coffee here, even if it is locally grown (often from "just over there") isn't like coffee in the States. Here the coffee is completely drowned in sugar, which, though disappointing so some in the States isn't so bad once you get used to just have to think of it as juice, I guess. And since it's consumed in VAST quantities (maybe a gallon a day) it's probably better that they don't drink espresso.
Still alive. Still with mustache. Although I did pay a guy 1 dollar to cut most of my hair off since this picture was taken.

Once breakfast is done, I have some options as to what to do with my day.  Once or twice a week I wash my clothes, which of course is by hand here. And I try to do it as often as possible to prevent mold from growing on sweaty (or even slightly moist) clothing, although some mold is completely unavoidable in this country. If there is no laundry to be done, I might read (which I do a LOT), or go visit some of the people in the community to try to learn names, problems, let them ask me questions, etc...Sometimes I'll go to help in the fields.  Last week I helped my counterpart (the guy who is informally designated as my main partner in town) dig out and fumigate a colony of nasty big red ants in his field.  It turned out to be about 6 feet deep and extend out about 20 feet in all directions....pretty big.  Other times, I'll go to my 'cell phone hill', which is the nearest point at which I can receive service (about a 45 minute walk) to check messages and such.

Family compound. Kitchen/grandparents house on left. Mom's house on right.
If I'm home for lunch, I eat more or less the same thing as I did for breakfast, although on select days it might include a small piece of chicken on top of the bowl of rice (and the same thing for dinner), of course accompanied by 'coffee'.  

Trusty buddy Peluchi. Pretty much impossible to stop him from following me everywhere....mostly because I don't hit him with sticks like the rest of my family...
My favorite days, lately, have been helping cut wood for use in building houses.  This is done purely using a chainsaw.  The tree is cut down, a clean surface is cut and then the lines for the board (they cut either 2x4 or essentially floorboard (called tabla) which measures whatever they can cut, usually 1"x10-12") are painted using a string. How straight and square the lumber is is directly proportional to the skill of the individual chainsaw man and is quite a funny process to observe. I have a picture that I promise to post in the next entry (I've forgotten the correct cable to do so today). I can assure you, though, that OSHA would very much approve of the whole process...

Community meetings are also a great way to spend my time (if I'm informed that they are happening). I've been making the rounds to various health committee meetings, women's groups and actually went to a meeting for the organization of the entire transport system of the Comarca which was exciting since the reservation here is quite young and the government is still trying to take shape.

The chiva (or carro): Comarca transport solution. In this case it is transporting  the corrugated 'zinc' for my roof although we also carried some people up with us as well.

A couple of evenings a week I do a language interchange with maybe my closest 'friend' here in town. His name is Chirachi (pronounced Chee-raw-chee) and he speaks enough english that we can have a conversation.  So I help him with his english and he helps me with the local language (called Ngabere). My community has also given me a Ngobe name (which is the name I go by): Tochi Kin Ngimo (pronounced: Toh-jee Keen Gee-mo) which means Tochi from Pena Blanca. I like it, although many of the kids still just call me 'gringo' which more or less means 'white man', although they're learning.

More to follow soon,



  1. Chet (Tochi Kin Ngimo),
    This is so awesome. How is the house coming? I love the dog, he is so cute. So sad that they hit him with sticks. You look great. Starting to check on places and sailing stuff. Cannot wait to come visit and see your place. Keep up the great work.

  2. Chet, if you can survive me + the Christmas tree in La Paladium, you can certainly make this work. Plus, mashed green bananas sound DELICIOUS.

    Second thing: I believe you are finally in a relatively "finalized" position? Can you give me an address por favor?

  3. Hey Chet, We had the pleasure of meeting your parents a few nights ago. Love them! We could've talked about you all night -- were your ears burning on the evening of August 15th? We will be traveling through Panama sometime in May 2013. Maybe we can meet up with you somewhere and treat you to some better food. I enjoy reading your blog. Would you consider adding the "Follow By Email" widget to your blog so that I can signup and get an email every time you update? -Heather

    1. Heather and Scott,

      I would be very much in favor of some better food whenever you guys will be passing through! Just let me know your plans as May gets closer. And I'll add the follow by email feature right now.