holy shit, a blog update

Shamefully copy&pasted from a comment I made on Aleah’s blog:

After a year of talking with the older generation of my community, I’ve gotten a sense of how much has been lost on the space of a generation. People here are becoming less and less in touch with their traditional dress, music, storytelling, woodcraft, everything. There’s a handful of folks who still play the old tamborito and sing in the coro, only the abuelas really know which plants are medicinal, there’s only one trapiche in town that still works. Nobody has juntas anymore. The kids (at the risk of sounding like a grandpa) really don’t give a damn about their history, their culture, their heritage; they’re hypnotized by television and cell phones and the rest of the flashy garbage that comes along with modernity. The things I love most about this place are the things that are disappearing the fastest as global capitalism extends its reach even to this tiny mountain community.

The road getting cut fifteen years ago was like pulling the plug out of the cultural bathtub of La Pedregoza– too much has swirled down the mountain and out of memory. I’m lucky to be here while much of it still exists. I don’t know what the future will bring.

…And on a less melancholy note: I’m gonna start transcribing my more interesting journal entries from the past year and putting them up on my blog as the weeks go by. I dunno if anyone is still following this thing after eight months of inactivity, but watch this space.


Hey everyone, I’m really sorry that I’ve been so lazy about updating this thing, but things have been super-busy. It was a lot easier when I had a laptop, but that thing is deader than hell nowadays. When I come down to internetland I’m usually more interested in catching up on the news and watching ZANY YOUTUBES than writing a blog post.

I know. Mea culpa. Once momma and poppa come down wth the laptop this summer I’ll be better.

Anyhow, I know lots of you guys want pictures, so I decided to share this:


None of my pictures are up there, but there are some waaaay better photographers than me down here, and this album gives an awesome look at the huge amount of diversity here in Panama.

I love you all,




One of the goals of volunteers in Peace Corps Panama is to promote youth and gender development. These activities have included youth groups such as Muchachas Guías (Girl Scouts), Panama Verde (an environmental conservation club) and other initiatives such as Junior Achievement in the schools. Other than youth groups, our volunteers’ gender development initiative includes working with women’s groups giving them seminars on anything from sexual education to how to run an effective business. Work with men includes (but not limited to) seminars on alcoholism and prevention.

For the past couple of years volunteers have organized a nationwide GAD (Gender and Development) Youth Conference where 50 youth from all throughout Panama are invited to attend a 3-day conference. At the conference Peace Corps volunteers in conjunction with a Panamanian agency, in this case APLAFA  (an agency that works with sexual health and family planning), to facilitate sessions on self esteem, self image, leadership, goals and values, and HIV/AIDS awareness. The conference is set to take place on February 17, 2010.

As volunteers we have already met 30% of our budget thanks to a generous donation from the Panamanian Lion’s Club but we need your support to help get us the rest of the way to our goal. After the donation we received, we still are short near $5,700. This amount covers transportation, all meals, and materials needed for the conference. For many of the participants this is the first time they will leave the comfort of their communities and be exposed to not only other Panamanian cultures but also learn valuable life skills. Based on previous conferences the experience is valuable and life changing.

Many of us volunteers are working together to contact our friends and family who want to donate to. As the conference is quickly approaching, please donate soon. Help us to make the 2010 GAD conference a reality for these 50 Panamanian children! You can review more details about this proposal and make a donation at: 


(If unable to view hyperlink, visit www.peacecorps.gov click on Donate Now and search by project number 525-132)

Mini-Update: International goodwill mission

A (very) drunken member of my community waves me down as I am walking up the road, shakes my hand for an awkwardly long time, and says:

"Aaron! Listen to me! I. Love. America. I love it. I have, in my (belch, stagger) r-room, an American flag. (sway, giggle) Next to the Panamanian flag."

He pauses to shake my hand again. He then pulls out his wallet, yanks out a dollar bill (Panama uses US dollars for their money), unsteadily thrusts it in my face, and continues:

"Look. American Dollars. If yooooou don’t have dollars, you don’t have money. No money. Money."

He then puts his hand on my shoulder. Thinking better of it, he shakes my hand again. He returns his hand to my shoulder, and leans in as if he is about to tell me a secret:

"Lisssen. We’re friends. (stagger) Me an’ you. Panama an’ America. Best (sway) friends. The best! If Panama can’t do something, America will come and help us.”

He stumbles a bit, and steps back. I excuse myself, I have a meeting to get to. He shakes my hand. I wave. He waves. I start to walk back up the hill. He calls after me:

"Aaron! America! America has the most advanced technology in the world!"

Trip to Cerro Escobal! My host dad killed a wild pig!

December 15, 2009   1 note  

Hey! A blog post!

Howdy! Not much has gone down in the way of hot news since my last update.

I’m a little over a month in-site, so I changed host families last week. I’m staying on the other side of town, which means new neighbors, new views, and, best of all, cell phone reception! No more 25-minute walks to make a call. My host family is nice enough, but I was spoiled by how awesome my last family’s kids were— this new batch is a little higher on the annoying three-year-old scale. My host dad makes his living as a tenant farmer on an absentee landlord’s land (not voicing my opinions on that situation is really hard), and supplements what he grows by processing and selling the fibers that Panama hats are made from.

Thanksgiving was kind of a wash, four out of the seven of us (I was one) who met up in Panama City came down with some kind of stomach bug. We were just too busy shitting to find the time to go out to a restaurant, so we got exotic foreign snacks like triscuits and peanut butter from a gringo grocery and spent Thanksgiving in our hotel room watching cable TV and using the bathroom. Poop aside, it was really nice to see other folks from my group a month after we swore in and to have such a long phone conversation with the fam. I had a good time even if my bowels didn’t.

Last week, Kathryn (the volunteer next door) and I, along with one of her community guides and a few members of the Pedregoza water committee went waaay up in the mountains to look at the springbox that supplies water to a small, isolated group of houses up there. The family clan that we were visiting had come into some free materials and, knowing that us Pedregozeños had the know-how, asked us for help renovating their water system. Sometime this month we’ll go back and actually start building them a new springbox. Real live Peace Corps work in less than two months!

Other than that, it’s been more of the same: lots of rice harvesting, paseando to different houses in town, sweating, picking oranges (December is orange season), talking about the weather, and getting settled in town. I’m gonna start doing my community analysis this month with a town census and a general health survey. Wowee!

Kwestion Korner

Do you have any burning questions about the Panama, Panamanian culture, my work, the Peace Corps, La Pedregoza, Spanish, or whatever? If you’re reading this on Facebook, post a comment and I’ll answer you there. If you haven’t been swallowed up by the social networking hivemind, send me an electronic mail at tabletopgandhi at g mail dot com, and I’ll post the questions and my answers HERE ON THIS VERY BLOG. DON’T DELAY!

Two Weeks.

Two weeks in, and I’m already starting to settle in and get used to life here in the campo. My host family for the first month is wonderful: A great couple and five awesome kids. The home that they’ve been generous enough to share with me is simple, but cozy. It’s a four room cinderblock house with a dirt floor and a barra(adobe/cob) kitchen with a thatched roof just down the hill. There’s no electricity, the water comes from a springbox about 50 meters from the house (we’re too far from the center of town to be able to use the aqueduct), and an overfilled outhouse in the way of services. I couldn’t care less about the lack of creature comforts, I feel totally at home, way more than I ever did in that horribly empty one-bedroom I was living in this time last year.

I think that proyecto amistad is going really well. I’ve worked with folks in the community every single day that wasn’t a Sunday or a holiday, when I took some much-neededrest. I’ve cleared a half-acre of brush with three other guys using nothing but machetes, planted corn, hauled sack after sack of sand on my back for a half-mile in order to make cinderblocks, mixed mortar and laid block for what will be my bathroom, walked up the mountain to harvest corn and eat oranges right off the tree, and dragged about 80 pounds of palm fronds down the mountain with nothing but my back and a bark strap around my forehead in order to thatch a roof. It’s exhausting work, and the people around here shrug it off como si nada. The men and women here are strong as fuck, and I’m well on my way to being in the best shape of my life. It’s pretty damn humbling working with people who have been doing this stuff for their entire lives, and I know it must be pretty hilarious to have this grown-ass man of a gringo come in and be completely unable to complete basic tasks that a six-year-old should be able to do. 

My community is a truly beautiful place (no pictures yet, I’ll drop a photo dump sometime this month). We’re way on up in the mountains, with a commanding view of the lowlands down to the south. On a clear day, I can see the Pacific from the center of town. On Cerro Escobal, the mountain from which the people make their living, they grow bananas, mangoes, guava, plantain, sugarcane, cassava, rice, corn, passionfruit, ginger, taro, oranges galore, two different kinds of mandarins, limes, cashews, breadfruit, peppers, squash, and so on. I’m not gonna be going hungry here.

How am I feeling? It’s a rollercoaster. I love the town, love the people living in it, love the fact that I’ll be spening the next two years of my life here, working. I miss my training group but some of us will be getting together for thanksgiving, and I’m lucky enough to have a fellow volunteer from my group working less than a half-hour from me, so that isn’t too bad.

Homesickness comes and goes. One thing I’ve realized over the past week is just how magical the summer really was— it was probably one of the happiest times of my life so far, and I miss that feeling. I miss the music, the festivals, the wonderful new friends and the sense of finally coming into my own on the bass. I miss working with Clara at boxerwood, living with Nate and the guys in fartburg, grubbing in the garden with mom and dad, visiting Ben in Chicago with Melissa and Andrew. It was a sweet, fleeting couple of months. All of these amazing memories are so fresh in my mind, but here I am, thousands of miles away.

I’m excited, happy, lonely. I’m ready to work. I’m ready to see where the next two years take me.

Sometimes I play the banjo down here.

Sometimes I play the banjo down here.

October 21, 2009   1 note  

"Long Live the Working Class"


"Long Live the Working Class"


October 4, 2009   1 note  

Culture Week: Coffee Adventure! All of these were taken in the processing barn of a local coffee cooperative. All of the coffee is sold regionally.


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