Friday, November 13, 2009

The Black Christ Festival

Check out our friend Marin's blog to see our trip *(and pilgrimage) to Christo Negro. The post is titled Walk It Out.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

UPdate for June, July and August!

Hello to all for June, July and August.
It has been a busy month or two (or three) for Brandon and I recently as we have been in movemiento the past several months. We’ve had quite a few visitors in the past several months, as well as a number of varied work-related responsibilities recently. The beginning of June had us preparing for and hosting four new Peace Corps Trainees (Volunteers-in-Training). They were towards the end of their 10 week training that is mandatory at the beginning of every volunteer experience here in Panamá, and we were to host them with a week of Caribbean coastal culture- Afro-Antillean style. Brandon and I went through the same training when we first arrived, but obviously with a different volunteer (one who turned out to be a neighbor here on the coast.) The week typically involves staying with a host family in the community that you are visiting for the week, learning about the culture through said host family and the community, and participating in different activities that are planned throughout the week. While we hosted culture week we organized a bake sale with the school kids and trainees to raise funds to buy paint and supplies for a world map that we would be painting on the exterior wall of the school. We also worked in the school garden, preparing the beds for planting, and held sessions on cultural exchange and gender inequities in the region.
We also tried to have a Congo dance demonstration by community members; unfortunately there is a very strong religious presence in town that has taught our community members that it is unholy to dance outside of church. Thus they don’t practice, and have lost, many of their beautiful cultural traditions such as the Congo dance. (We will make sure to put up a specific blog entry on the Congo dance, as well as some photos or even video of some of the dances here in the area- as not every town has lost their cultural means of expression.) So, pretty much, the week went off without a hitch (thank goodness) and the trainees were sent off to finish their training- not to be seen again until one of them (Marin!) became our neighbor in the middle of July.
Then came our 2nd (!) wedding anniversary (the first three will all be in Panamá if you can believe it,) and Ashley’s family visit. On June 15th four of the Horn clan - Ashley’s Mom, and sisters Meggan, Morgan, and Hillary all came down for a two-week visit. It had been only 6 months since Ashley’s mom had first been to Panamá, but it was the first time that we had seen my sisters since before we had left for our Peace Corps service in April of 2008! Most of their time here was spent just relaxing (aka: trying not to roast, or fry) in our little town, going for swim-breaks in the Caribbean, and doing some small craft projects with sea shells they collected. The girls made friends with some townspeople, and everyone here thought that they were giants for being only 15yrs old (beautiful ones though!) Towards the end of their visit we headed back into Panamá City where we stayed in a hotel (yippee!!) and saw some of the ‘big’ city. Meggan and Morgan turned 15 (!) while they were here, so Brandon, Mom and I tried to surprise them by taking them out on a Panama Canal boat tour through Lago Gatún (the lake that feeds the Panama Canal) and its surrounding areas.
The morning of their birthday we woke up early and headed out on a covered fishing boat (with birthday cake hidden, but in-hand) to cruise around Lago Gatún looking for monkeys (we saw Howlers as well as Capuchins), lizards (we saw a small variety of alligator) as well as sloths (a 3-Toed sloth was spotted) and various types of exotic birds. After about an hour or two out on the water, tooling past large container ships that dwarfed our boat, we arrived at our afternoon destination- a very Swiss-Family-Robinson-esque floating house boat where we had a beautiful (and delicious) Panamanian lunch and the (by then discovered) birthday cake. After lunch the twins went off to go fishing (of course) with Brandon and some other folks on the tour, and Mom, Hillary and I decided to go kayaking to a remote waterfall and swimming hole. It had been a beautiful day until about 2pm when it started to downpour (which is typical this time of year in the city,) leaving the waterfall full of debris and more muddy than swimmable; so we took some photos and turned back around before our non-tied-up kayaks decided to float away without us in the rising creek water. Needless to say we were all soaking wet (fishermen/women included) from the torrential downpour by the time we arrived back at the houseboat. The Girls and Brandon decided then that they might as well go for a swim, diving off the houseboat’s 2nd story balcony, made especially for creative jumps into the lake. After several cannon balls and mid-air jumping-jacks, we all dried off as best we could from the rain or the swim, gathered our things together, and hopped back into the covered fishing boat to be returned back to our hotel for some warm showers and a hot dinner.
The rest of their visit was spent relaxing in the city, doing a little shopping and visiting the Panamá Canal Museum before they took off, headed back to the States. (Just for the record- Meggan, Morgan and Brandon caught about 20 fish between the three of them within an hour’s time!) So at the end of the month, the whole bunch of them left, to leave us with just two weeks of actual work before Brandon’s family came to visit in the middle of July.
The Gries family arrived on the 15th (just in time for my birthday!) and made a quick trip out to visit our community. Robert (Brandon’s dad) was able to practice his Spanish while he and Linda were meeting everyone (a tradition we have is that we take every visitor around to each community member’s house to introduce them to everyone in town… Peace Corps volunteers excluded, as they are able to introduce themselves and usually feel more comfortable just wandering around town on their own.) He quickly learned that even if you may be able to speak Spanish in the States, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be able to understand it as spoken here, especially in our thick-accented community, (as many other American-taught Spanish speakers find out.) After the family/community introductions Linda and I got down to business making ice cream cone cupcakes to hand out to community members for my birthday. After the birthday wishes and Spanish-speaking intents, we headed back out of town to stay over in Panama City before making our way to Chiriquí.
The next morning we headed out to Boquete (in Chiriquí). Boquete is famous in Panamá for great white water rafting, world-renowned coffee plantations and being home to lots of ‘gringos’- and with good reason. Boquete is like a perpetually beautiful, mild, spring day in lush, mountainous Colorado. Plus, for the relatively small size of the town, there are a plethora of small, intimate restaurants with authentic, diverse, and very tasty menus. We were able to try a good number of them while we were in town; from an amazing authentic Sicilian restaurant that served enormous calzones (see photo) and jumbo shrimp to a hole-in-the-wall local Panamanian fresh strawberry stand that served freshly made, delicious, strawberry shakes. They were all very, very delicious- and now greatly missed!
First up on our list of things to do in Boquete (other than eat really good food) was to go to a coffee finca or farm. Brandon’s father has an affinity for good coffee so we took a tour of one of the most ecologically friendly and highest-quality coffee farms in Boquete: Café Ruíz. There we had a Panamanian tour guide who walked us through fields of coffee as well as the processing plants, teaching us the different stages of coffee growth, different varietals, and the various stages of coffee production- from bean to bag. At the end of the tour we enjoyed a great coffee tasting and received a free bag of beans. Next up on the list of activities was horseback riding. So the next morning we rode out of town in an uncovered 4x4 Jeep that took us to a small town outside of Boquete to the east. There we encountered our horses and took off for a several hour horseback ride through parts of the town as well as its surrounding areas. It was a beautiful day and we were able to see a lot of the surrounding countryside from a vista point we stopped at for a snack break. On the way back to the ‘stables’ Brandon’s horse had decided it had had enough of taking it easy, and walking slowly in line with the rest of the horses, so it took off and the two of them (Brandon and the horse) made it back a good 5-10 minutes before the rest of us.
Then, as if that weren’t enough the next day we went on a zip-line canopy tour, high up in the mountains above Boquete. Transportation to the zip-line was on a private, mostly mud and gravel trail with potholes the size of a small vehicle, which lasted about ½ and hour (to get 2kms mind you.) Once we arrived at the top we were given a debriefing and safety talk and signed our lives away to fate, hopped back into the vehicles and continued onward and upward (as we were not at the top as we had thought!) Another 15 minutes in the vehicles brought us to the first part of our zip-line ride, very high up in the mountains. Fully geared up, we walked anxiously to the first part of the line and one by one were clipped on and sent on our way over tree tops and streams, and probably a number of unknown dangerous animals that would have gladly eaten us if we had by chance fallen. But, luckily, none of us fell and we all arrived happy and safe (if not a bit more exhilarated) back at the debriefing point. There we all enjoyed a cold drink and took some more photos of the view before heading back to Boquete.

More to follow, but no time to write so you’ll have to wait until the next installment… the End of July and August!

Love you all!
Ashley and Brandon

Friday, May 29, 2009

"Free Time"

Just thought I would give an update of some of my (Ashley's) hobbies here in Panama- the things that are currently keeping me sane!
A 'typical' Panamanian day is never like the next except in that you probably have at least a good 6 -15 hours during the morning/day/evening that you have nothing- absolutely nothing planned. This is a great time to start working towards your next (or current) 'in-site' or community project(s), doing research, finding out what kind of interest around town there might be, or making materials for your project. However, it is very difficult to fill weeks or months upon end of 6-15 hour days of researching, gauging interest, or making materials for a particular project. Don't get me wrong- I'm sure some people do- but I would like to think that I am a very efficient researcher (because I love it), interest gauger (also helps that I live in a tiny community with my husband), and materials maker (thanks ID/Graphic Arts training!) SO, I am left with a plethora of time on my hands.
Many volunteers will spend their free time pasearing or walking around town visiting people all day, maybe taking in a couple movies or doing a half-day marathon of watching telenovelas (soap operas). Others may sit and talk with families, one-by-one, working their way around town (possibly looking for a free home-cooked Panamanian meal) until they get too tired to go to the next house (especially the case if you live in the mountains), and decide to move on home after one, last, cup, of sugar-laced coffee. But, because I just so happen to live in a very tranquilo (laid-back) town, that just so happens to house no more than 20 lived-in homes, that just so happen to be smack up against each other and built on a very flat beach, it usually doesn't take much more than a couple of hours walking around town to get to everybody's house to hear the bochinche or our version of the news (aka: gossip). (We also happen to live in THE MOST centrally located house in town and have almost every single community member walk by our house more than once a day, saludaring us or just saying 'hi'.
SO, while I am suprisingly busy these days (in and outside of the community), I still happen to find time for my current hobbies: Crocheting and Gardening.
I learned to crochet here in Panama from a girlfriend of mine that I met while in our Peace Corps 'de-briefing' in Miami before flying to Panama. I spent a good week in her community a while back, and during one of our 6-15 hour, no-plans-days she taught me how to crochet, and I immediately announced that I would make a blanket. So, 3 or so months later (and many nights of sore, callused & blistered fingers), I have now crocheted the sq. ft. equivalent of a 'body-blanket'.
Here you can see it being tested out on my loyal test subject.

Yes, that's right- I only have a 1/4 of it finished! My fingers are dying- but I can't stop now, I only have 3/4 of the thing to go. (I'll post a photo of the finished project... hopefully before we leave the country next June.)
My other hobby- gardening, also happens to be a lead-in to a community project that I am trying to drum-up interest for in right now, and I'm sure you'll never guess what it is... That's right, you guessed it! Its growing your own fruits and vegetables in a town that doesn't, ever, sell them! I know it is a crazy idea, but I think it just might work.

So far I am growing spinach (a great vining kind that gets as large as a 10' Christmas tree... I think I might actually put lights on it at Christmas.)

Arugula (Which neither Panamanians or ants like, which means it's all mine... and maybe Brandon's)

Tomatoes (this one happens to love where I planted it)

Cucumbers (you can't see it now because he is just a little guy, but it will be ama-zing! I might even get ambitious and make pickles. You like the homemade campo trellis don't you- another by-product of ingenuity... or an extra 6-15 hour day to kill.)

And, last but not least, Green Beans. Can you spot the green bean in this photo?

Most of the plants have taken really well (with the help of a little horse-poo) and hopefully within no-time we will all be eating home grown veggies (given that it starts raining someday soon!)

So- that's my current hobby list- check back for more updates, but don't expect an update all that soon on the blanket thing... its going to be a while.

Love from Panama