Archive for August, 2013

A somewhat surprising benefit of living in a new country has allowed me to identify some aspects are unique to my own culture. One tenet of the American spirit that we take for granted is that Americans, generally speaking, are very hospitable, empathetic and friendly (New Yorkers and Eagles fans excluded).

In Panama, especially rural, indigenous Panama, people don’t ever say kind things to one another. Ever. I want to clarify that they are very kind TO ME and to outsiders in general, but to their own families or friends… forget it.

While education and infrastructure related to water, sanitation and hygiene are important, one of the most influential aspects of my job, I’ve found, has been working on developing character. I’ve been doing this through my Ultimate Frisbee club that I started at my school (Las Aguilas Fuertes de Lajas Blancas). I cannot believe the improvements I’ve seen in these kids in just a few months working with them.

When we started, practices were chaotic, the kids didn’t listen or respect me or each other. It was pure anarchy. I’d turn around for seemingly 2 seconds and they’d be dangling from trees, throwing my Frisbees into the jungle, and sending their naked 3 year-old cousins in to find them. I needed help. With the assistance of a few other volunteers and some tools provided by Ultimate Without Borders, I’ve been able to see a HUGE turn around in their behavior.  Kids actually listened when I asked them to stand in a line, they told me when they couldn’t attend a practice, they even… wait for it… used words like “please” and “thank you.”

It’s interesting to note that the many benefits of sport is recently beginning to be recognized. In fact, yesterday the United Nations declared April 6 to be the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace.


“We have seen the true worth of sport and physical activity many times. It helps young people learn the value of self-discipline and goal-setting. It builds self-confidence. It defies gender stereotypes. It provides an alternative to conflict and delinquency. It can bring hope and a sense of purpose to refugees, impoverished communities and other people in need. It helps keep young people in school, it brings health.”

I could not agree more with this and I’ve experienced, first-hand how much of a difference sport can make in the lives of children in the Third World. It is for these reasons I’m hosting a camp for 40 kids all over Panama in February. The camp is not just to help them learn about Ultimate and Spirit of the Game but also about setting goals, resolving conflicts and thinking through decisions.

I hope you might help Ultimate Without Borders and me with this first camp in Panama.  You can donate to this project on the Peace Corps website by searching my last name or following this link:


All of the money for this project goes towards transportation, food and materials for the Panamanians attending the camp. Lodging is being donated and Peace Corps Volunteers are generously paying out of pocket. Feel free to ask me about any other questions/comments/concerns about the project.

Thanks in advance for all your support! I know this camp will change the lives for the Panamanian children that can attend.


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Well, I’ve officially been in site for over one year now. I only have 11 months left, and the time has flown by.   I felt like this was a good time to reflect on some things I’ve learned out in the jungle.

  1. If you want to, you can get accustomed to almost anything.
  2. 95% of the time, the hardest parts of living in the campo have nothing to do with lack of running water, thatched roofs, or the bugs.
  3. Eggs do not need to be refrigerated. Ever. I seriously don’t remember the last time I saw eggs inside a fridge.
  4. Machetes are more than just big knives. They are also lawnmowers, saws, paint can openers, toys for toddlers and orange peelers, among other things.
  5. Some people suck and some people are awesome, doesn’t matter if you are rich, poor, middle class or famous.
  6. Most (but certainly not all) people that are awesome are either under the age of 5 or over the age of 65.
  7. It is possible that a person that does not have a lot of money may still have an unhealthy obsession with obtaining it.
  8. Being poor does not mean you are lazy. It also doesn’t mean that you’re not lazy.
  9. The only things my people will probably remember about me are probably related to tickling, high-fiving and poop. I’m ok with that.
  10. The fastest way to do something is often the worst. It’s important to appreciate doing things the slow way.
  11. Emberá babies are better looking than white babies. Don’t know why. Just is.
  12. Never underestimate how quickly Emberá people will start talking to you about sex.
  13. In case you weren’t sure, it’s DEFINITELY NOT about what you know. It’s DEFINITELY about who you know.
  14.  There is no “correct” way to organize people. No one has it figured out. And all governments are corrupt in one way or another.
  15. No one is going to do something they don’t want to do. Unless you pay them.
  16. Cockroaches will never go extinct. Ever.

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So. The Jungle is surprisingly busy. And, as it turns out, a great place to host gringos!

First and foremost, in May some lovely friends were out here (yes, here: Lajas Blancas, The Jungle, Forgotten Province of Panama). That’s right folks, Javier Chan Ruiz, Megan Lyons, Nicholas Catania and (drum roll, please) Holly Hodges came to visit! We had a great road trip traipsing from Panama City to my village and then to the beach.

Luckily while they were here, I was able to show them how wonderful and secure the law enforcement system of Panama is. The police pulled our vehicle over twice during the visit. The first one for not stopping at a stop sign. Mind you, the stop sign was in the middle of the road, facing oncoming traffic. When, we pointed this out, the response was, and I quote “then you obviously should have remembered from when you came in to the Darien that you had to stop here.” I couldn’t make this up if I tried…

The second one for speeding 5 km/hr over the speed limit (approx. 3mi/hr). Luckily we got out of the second one because it started to rain. The police officer didn’t want to get wet writing the ticket.  Like I said, Panama’s law enforcement system is on it.

Aside from personally funding Panamanian law enforcement, we did enjoy a few days in my site, got a few tats, and, most importantly, played A LOT of Settlers of Catan, the world’s best board game. I’ve been playing since high school.   Though I had a string of bad luck while the crew was here, I did start dominating other PCVs. I was undefeated until very recently. What I’m saying is: bring it on Hodges.


Speaking of taking over the world, that brings me to my next point. In June, my neighbor had a visit from 300 high school kids from all over the world, visiting historical places in Panama.  It was called something like Ruta Quetzal and they were doing a tour of Panama and also a few countries in Europe. So, I mean, you’ve got 300 white kids show up in the middle of a village in the jungle that has 200 people – obviously I had to see this. So a few PCVs went to watch (and mostly watch how people dealt with bathing in the river). It was quite entertaining. The most entertaining part, however, was during a cultural exchange. The Emberá did their little Emberá dances, as usual. When the Europeans got up to present their culture they felt it appropriate to present jousting. JOUSTING? Really?  A bunch of Europeans show the native Indians FIGHTING? The irony was too much…

Finally, this past week, I hosted about 30 PC Trainees in my site for a week of Technical Learning. Though it was a logistical nightmare and a lot of planning, it was a really great week (also full of Settlers of Catan). We built 4 small water tanks for the community, 4 drains for the non-functioning water tap stands (that’s a whole separate issue), started a compost latrine, and made a few walkways. Each of the trainees also stayed with a host family in my community, which was definitely a highlight for my community. They enjoyed having their own personal “son” or “daughter” and feeding said gringo/a weird Emberá food and sharing with me whether or not they ate it. This may have only been entertaining for me…

A few pics from Tech Week:



Building some cement sidewalks





Group shot by the super-clear Rio Chucunaque




Heading up to the water tank to do some surveying with a water level.



Building a drain for one of the tapstands for the aqueduct.


ferrocement tank

Celebrating a well-made ferrocement rainwater catchment tank.



Can’t leave my site without getting a least a few tats. :)

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