So Long (for now)

I regret to inform you, dear reader, that I have ended my service in the Peace Corps as of October 31st, 2008.My decision to resign from Peace Corps was weighed over the course of an arduous few months.

One Saturday in August I was playing baseball with the guys. We had played 5 of 6 innings. The score was Ojo de Agua 3- Las Barretas 2. Of course, I would come to the plate with two outs and a man on second. Not often do the crowds in El Potrero (where the field was) get to see a gringo from the big leagues in this situation. The air was as thick as ice. Now, when trying to integrate yourself into a community where you are the only one of your gringo kind within shooting distance, you better get a hit and win the game. Otherwise, you shall suffer the irreparable damage of a choke, that age, culture, race, sport old crumbling under pressure, which spreads from mouth to mouth like a determined wildfire, leaving barren the forged reputation. At the time of the first pitch, all I could think to myself was, "Gringo, hit it and run," a typical male reaction to a variety of situations.

I swung at the first pitch. Aiming for the fences always proves to be strike one. The second pitch was the high heat. Ball one. The third pitch was cheap meat. I hit it, though not as hard nor as far as my imagination thought capable. A pity of a ground ball to the shortstop. I ran as if running from two years of certain shame. Suddenly, first base was only a body length away.

A fraction of a second before reaching first base, I thought of this--wasn't there a Mythbusters episode about baseball. Among the common explosive and velocity driven experiments aimed at testosterone juicing, there was a segment on sliding. The conclusion was that diving into a base was a fraction of a second faster than actually running upright to the base. At this conclusion I heaved my body feet first towards first base; as the shortstop hurled his gringo beating baseball towards the first baseman. I landed on my right wrist with my feet touching the bag. Safe, rang out through the land. I made it, but with a definite throbbing emanating from my wrist.

We went on to win the game that afternoon with cheers and beers enjoyed all the way back to Ojo de agua. Though, I remained in pain for a good month before I decided to get it checked out. As it turned out, I had major problems with my wrist. The cartilage between my metacarpals was displaced due to the fall. A common, slow healing, and painful injury. The Doc put an elbow cast on me for an initial period of three weeks. This was unbearable. It was difficult, if not impossible to live and work without electricity, in the wet jungle with one static arm. I couldn't work with the agriculturists. All I could do was walk around and talk to people. And talking was all I did. I became frustrated when trying to teach because I could not show a person how, I could only direct them how. Most do not enjoy being directed and even fewer learn from it. After three weeks, I went back to the doc. I was still in pain. The doc put another cast on me. This one was just below my elbow. I was not excited about three more weeks in a cast with an indefinite period with a cast after that. So, I went to the medical office and decided to end my service. Difficult decision, but the right one. I couldn't do the work I wanted to do with the cast. Being frustrated and in pain not only affected me, it affected my community. I think I made the best choice.

Thanks for reading

Mark Field DiNatale


Best friend 78

Senior Eliceo Morales

I live with this man. The photo was taken at Eliceo's farm after a morning corn harvest.



Waking up and being cold even though its 78 degrees outside. 5am rooster roll. downpours you can set your watch by. shyness. forever blabbering in the present tense. sugar with a little bit of coffee. roasting and grinding coffee. talking about the weather and doing nothing about it. ferocious saggy nippled dogs. washing everything by hand. bucket showers next to the latrine. vegtable oil drenched food. rice and beans. more rice and beans. beans with rice. rescuing drying bean stalks at 3 o'clock everyday. climbing a mountain with a 78 year old man to harvest corn. baskets full of corn. shucking. maiz nuevo. bollos. talk of the town. upside down tomatoes. the odor of burning trash at dusk. bugs that bite. foot-long shrimp. filtering all of my water. warm drinking water. mud. never present transportation. undereducated masses. massive misperceptions. moving giant rocks with tree trunks. climbing mountains. riding through mountains on horseback. long rides in vans with more than 23 people on board. where the road ends, the ride begins. riding in the back of a truck over the mountain ridge. seeing the pacific ocean from the top of the mountain ridge. no lights in the valley at night. blankets of fog seen approaching from 20 miles away, over the black mountain. walking. waving. bingo bingo bingo, I never win at bingo. content. hammock. reading. finishing that 600 page book. finishing that 900 page book. Panama is actually only panama city. everything else is refered to as the country or the interior. kids with limitless energy. talking to the school director for hours. kindergarten teach has vertigo. everyone has something to teach. everyone has food to give. leaving. arriving. moving into a new house. schedule full. stomach full. mind full. chava full. van full. backpack full.




A funny thing happened yesterday. I was looking after my worm box while talking to a 78 year old man who was roasting his coffee beans about how to make a chocolatey drink from the seeds of ocra. When all of a sudden a shriek came from behind the house. Irene, my Panamanien sister, came running up to the house, in a hurry. She spoke some form of unrecognizable Spanish to her mother. I recognized the words pollo(chicken) and servicio(latrine). After hearing these two words spoken in such an excited and half-laughing manner, I knew that something hilarious was about to take place. A few moments later all the little kids were running to the pit latrine where the shreik originated. I too am consumed with fascination and proceed to the latrine to investigate the matter further. What I find upon arrrival is something you could never imagine happening in Atlanta. A chicken, which they affectionately call "pollo de patio" or free-range chicken, had mistakenly fallen into the pit latrine while trying to cosey up on the roof for the evening. This poor pollo was stuck in a shit hole of misery and, as fate would have it, this bird couldn't fly its way out. I arrive at the latrine and Doris, my Panamanian mother, has what looks like a fishing pole with a rope attatched to it. I look at her and she says, "We are going fishing for chicken." I ask in return, "do you need any worms." We laugh. She steps into the foul smelling shack of tin and timber with a fishing pole and a flashlight. She drops the line into the pit and slides the make-shift noose around the chickens neck and yanks it out of the fecal depository. I snapped a picture seconds later. This once white chicken was noticably brown and fowl smelling (no pun intended). After the heroic rescue, the chicken just stood there with its head towards the ground, until Doris kicked it, the chicken flapped its wings and ran away as a cloud of shit sprayed over a few little kids standing near the freed shitken. I exclaimed a few moments later that I am, for the foreseeable future, on a new diet that consists of everything but pollo de patio.


A gorgeous sunset over Panama City.
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Dart frog. A killer fungus is attacking central america. It has killed a majority of the rare frog species around my site. Que triste!
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Kayla and I on a random suspension bridge over the Rio Grande, Panama.
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A tree fell in the jungle.

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Running up and slipping down

This past Sunday afternoon in the Eye of the Water began quickly, with a plate of fried bread and a cup of sweet coffee at 6am. At around 6:20 I was hiking up a mountain that overlooks my pueblo on my way to a farm to harvest beans. I all but ran up the steep slope of the mountain as I was eager to catch a long glimpse of my pueblo from the summit. The family I was with walks slowly, as they know that after the summit there is an arduous 3 mile walk to the farm, which requires as much energy as the climbing of the mountain. I finally make it to the summit after 20 minutes, where I can rest my bones against the white concrete cross placed there by catholic missionaries many decades ago. After catching my breath, I lose my breath taking in the tremendous view. At this vantage point, my pueblo looks inferior to the immense natural landscape engulfing my vision. I see razor sharp mountain peaks, 500 foot stone monoliths etched out of large mountains by millenia of eroding wind and water, two rivers 15 to 30 meters wide winding their way from some unknown natural spring to the blue horizon, dense primary jungles, and the sky whose bluish hues stand in stark contrast to the lush tropical greens at the jagged ridgline. I can see the pacific ocean between the peaks in the distance. The town looks small, and it is, a scattering of tin roofs or palm leaf thatch roofs (penca) dot the mountain side. The school is by far the most imposing structure with its painted blue roof and acre of cleared land. I can see the white cross of the church and the mud/gravel road that winds past it. Some people are milling about, probably on their way to the farm. After about 10 minutes of solitude, my family winds the last turn on the trail and waves me onward.

We cross over the ridge and begin our descent to their farm. The trail is good at first, wide and lined with trees. To my left and to my right are beautiful farms of corn, rice, and yucca. We descend into a valley following a stream bed. The vegitation begins to suffocate the stream as the incline steepens and the water speeds up. At this point, I am walking slowly in my army hiking boots. Margret and Cancha, shoeless, are skipping and hopping ahead with ease and while talking. The rocks are indeed slippery and as I fall a riotus laughter erupts from the two women in front of me. Well, they end up laughing all the way to their farm, as I fall about every 4 to 5 steps into a creek bed. No injuries to my body, just to my ego. I think next time I will go shoeless.

We picked beans for about two hours then headed back town on the much wider and more traveled path.


the outlet could be the soil

One Saturday afternoon, as I was swaying in my hammock I began to listen to my community, Eye of the Water, as it drifted past on the wind. A gust of the mountain air approaches from a distance. The leaves of various trees begin to tremble like tumbling dominoes in a flurry of excitment until finally i feel the fresh soft pressure on my face. As this happens, I hear a banana leaf scraping against the tin roof above my head; like a talon slowly carving the word connectivity into a dry chalkboard. I think of what the wind has said. A tree blowing in the wind makes contact with a mineral structure that has been mined, machined and hoisted into the air by man to serve as a shield against the forces of nature. Is the wind saying that if this tin roof weren´t there then the screeching noise would not have been made, that the intersection of natural existence and non-natural existence creates a hideous noise, a shriek of transformation. Or, as I think to myself, the banana leaf and the tin roof are co-existing and the only side effect, it seems, is a rather unpleasant noise which is considerably less unpleasant than not having a roof over one´s head or banana´s to eat. The thick rustle of leaves dies down and the banana tree comes to a silent stoic rest. My hammock stops its gentle sway, but only for a moment.

The dominoes fall again signaling a new gust of the wise old wind. This time, the wind carries with it the unmistakable sound of a sharpened blade slicing through the living fibers of a hearty grass. Someone nearby must be cleaning their vegtable garden. Perhaps, a farmer is cutting down the underbrush so his crops may have the space, air, water, sun, and nutrients necessary for continued growth. The iron blade of the farmers machete is forged in the furnace of reason. The machete is a tool that helps the cultivater manage his crop. Without this tool, planting and harvesting the crop would be more difficult for the farmer. The machete is a tool of subsistence. Of course, this farmer has the natural impulse to survive. And the farmer is cutting the ¨natural¨ growth for the natural desire to survive with the natural blade of reason. What is the wind getting at here? Is the sound of the farmer cutting the weeds, this connectivity, natural? Is this farmers more closely in-touch with nature than the unattended banana leaf scraping against the tin roof?

As the farmer cuts the last of the bad grass down a piercing, pounding ¨bam, bam, bam¨ echoes throughout the valley. The thunderous noise repeats with classic frequency and everyone knows this sound. I imagine that somewhere in the valley, a man is holding the wooden handle of an iron hammer. With great accuracy and forethought, the man aims the hammer at the head of an iron nail. Bam! Bam! Bam! The nail wedges its way into the sculpted carcass of an old dead tree. The tree has arrived at its final resting place where it will stand as an epitaph to the resiliance and usefulness of nature until nature itself molds the board into soil where another tree might grow. The sound is at once beautiful and tragic. It is beautiful that the raw resources given by nature are able to be molded by man in such a way as to make our modern world possible. But also, the tragic death of natural existence as the man uses an iron hammer to fasten an iron nail into a board, as another man uses an iron saw to sculpt a fallowed tree into a board, as yet another uses an iron axe to cut down the mighty tree. The wind has spoken and so has the carpenter. The death of natural existence, I begin to think, may originate in the unrestrained use of reason to shape our modern world. Did man drive the nail of reason into the coffin of natural existence?

These were my thoughts that saturday afternoon.

The very next day I read this in ¨The Epic of Latin America¨, ¨Man has cut himself from the tree of natural existence with the saw of reason.¨ This archeologists quote is terribly vague and, without context, deliriously overstated. However, the timing leads me to believe that I am on the right path of inquiry.


Where do I plug in this branch?

Connectivity? The spark that ephemerally connects seperate entities. A conscious conjunction of body and mind, nature and nurture. I am what they call a 21st century digital boy. accustomed to using the internet, gardgets, digital and analog machines; my mind is trained to understand logical systems. More over, the papers of the day are filled with stories about breakthroughs in post-space age nano and bio technologies, high energy particle accelerators, and missions to Mars. I consider my generation to be the great-grand child of modern electrical prophets like Edison and Tesla. A generation connected to the world through the medium of electricity. The spark of electricity, the harnessing of the electron, our modern wheel, this is my generations greatest tool, as scissors are to a barber, or a hammer to a blacksmith. Yes, there are other types of connectivity, and there is a textbook, Websters 2008, 3rd edition, extended collegiate color dictionary definition for connectivity; however, I suppose I am searching for the definition commonly held by those people of generations past, before lighting struck the key that unlocked the modern world.

Today, after I ate fish soop for lunch, I gathered my things including a machete, canteen, sombrero, a che Guevara book, and a banana, and headed to the house I hope to stay in for some time, to check out the the land. I had heard there was a tree nursury and a small vegetable garden amongst a large plot of land. I began by walking down the unpaven road towards the river. I stopped at the mini-super (bare amenities store) to buy a candle so I would be able to write once the sun set. After a brief getting-to-know-you masquerade with the tienda owner, I headed onward to my destination. I strolled past the school, which was letting out for the day. A parade of giggling kids marched by happy to be free from class. So I stopped again, said some hellos, shook some hands and quized the third graders over the previous nights English homework. I asked one bravo kid, "Como se dice Rojo en Ingles?" He responded, "Red." Correct! I ask another little one, "Como se dice Azul en Ingles?" He answers, "Bluway." Blue is correct, but he pronounced it wrong. All the children pronounce blue this way because in the Spanish language, pronunciation is phonetical to the written word. In other words, the Spanish tounge follows from the Spanish eye. In the English language, there is a only a relative connection between tounge and eye. This being that both the tounge and the eye are on the same face. English speakers do not phonetically pronounce written words. Anyways, I hadn't the heart to correct the third graders for the simple reason that they can hardly read and write in their mother tounge which is phonetic and orderly. So, in this Panamanien mountain village, the English word blue is indeed correctly pronounced "Bluway."

Onward! I took the only left in town onto a dirt trail, nearing the river Sapillo, past cinder block houses filled with waving arms and restless children laughing as I fumbled with my greetings and salutations in toddlerish Spanish. Oh well, they were laughing, which is a good sign that what I was saying was both hilarious and not offensive. Onwards! A kid followed me on his bike for a while and took the left fork as I took the right.

And there I am, standing at the gates of my future house. Undoubtedly, the gate is locked. With an ease like that of a mute in a belching contest (?), I slide past the owners poor attempt to secure the property against intruders. The back of the house seems like the most workable place to see what's around. The weeds are high. No one has been here for quite some time. I decide to clean up the yard a bit, after all, it is summer-time in Georgia which means the grass a needs a cuttin'. I put down my water, book, banana and go to work cuttin' that bad grass down with the force of my machete while wearing my faithfully dim sombrero.

Out of no where, that kid who had forked left on his bicycle pokes me and says, "Your doing that wrong. Give it here, I'll show you how to do it." He proceeds to show me the "proper" technique for chopping weeds with a half-dull machete; all-the-while eating a fruit he clandestinely picked before approaching me. He knew what he was doing. He made it look easy. I went for the fruit hanging from a nearby tree thinking that the sweet enchantment from a freshly picked fruit might be the special sauce this kid used to gracefully slice the bad grass down. I took a bite. Delicious! But, didn't help to smooth my co-ordination. We took turns with the machette and cut down most of the tall stuff within a few minutes. I begin to realize during this time that I had been asking this 8yr old which is the "bad grass" and which is the sapling, vegetable, ornamental, or medicinal. We crawl along the freshley cut vegetation in search of plants I've never heard of. He tells me about different types of trees, each with its own use, fruit, flower and season. I am short-circuting at this point. We head into the cultivated forest to explore the exotic flora inside. We pick oranges, bananas, guavas, and mamons and I pick a glimpse into the mind of an eight year old who has lived his entire life without the electricity, without the means to buy expensive gadgets, with the space-of-mind filled with knowledge of nature that follows from a life of poverty in the remote Panamanian country side. ( If there is a limit to space of mind, I haven't the slightest clue.) He talked about trees, bushes, bugs, spiders, snakes, birds, soil, rain, planting, harvesting, the sun and the moon cycles. We walked for an hour talking about our surroundings while devouring our colorful fruits like candy. At this point, I felt like the 8yr old in the woods.

We finally made our way back to the house where we planted one of the saplings that was ready in the nursery. At this point, he told me in confidence, as we were planting, that his mother was ill and in the hospital. This being the case, he was the one responsible for cooking meals for his younger siblings. There is tragic irony here. The mother is ill with lung problems, probably due to cooking over an open fire, three times a day, for her entire life. Now, this boy was suffering the same fate, having to cook for his brothers and sisters while his mother was being treated in the city. What is there to do? I walked over to the small garden and picked the only vegetable growing inside, a small green pepper, which we lavashed praise over its delicate and delicious beauty. The boy left to cook dinner, pockets filled to the brim with fresh fruit and a single pepper. I gathered my things and walked back to my host house with an old man who showed up just after the boy disappeared.

Living in the shade of an infected citrus tree.

What is written here is a fleeting glimpse of an impossibly intricate tapestry of life which will take me years to adapt to and many more to grasp. However, sometimes I am witness to a moment, which gracefully ties together these loose strings into a veritable knot of understanding; by no means Gordian. Today, after returning to my host family's house from an afternoon spent cleaning a garden and seed bed, I sat down to dinner. The plate placed before me was of rice topped with a single well done egg. As I thankfully and quietly put down the food I noticed a slight shuffle and whisper amongst the 15 or so people present. My attention was raised from my plate to the humbling presence approaching. The boss of the house, the oldest and wisest male, the yucca-winner, was returning from harvest. Senior Timoteo arrived at dusk on horse back. The horse, the beast of burden, is a weathered mix breed, a son of a gun. It has carried two generations of Timoteos family to harvest and back. On either side of the horse, who has no other known name, are the fruits and vegetables of today's harvest; a sack of platano on the left, a sack of corn on the right. The man appears shrunken atop the beast. He looks like a simple gust of wind over the peak of a great mountain. I think to myself, as he approaches, that this must be a shining moment for Timoteo amidst his heartbreaking poverty. A man, returning from his encarceration to the land with several months worth of backbreaking labor packed into two sacks on his downtrodden horse. This food will not last more than a week for it must feed 10 people three times a day. However, this man is triumphant upon return, for he has once again defeated the deamon of powerlessness, the haunting presence of poverty that pounds at his shoulders has been lifted, if only for a few twilight hours. Yet, he also returns defeated in his struggle to tame the steep and perilous land. For his corn is small again this year, and the platano's are not yet ripe; and in the back of this poor farmers mind is the gnawing knowledge that his saving grace, his cash crop, is infected with a fungus, which he is unable to rid. Another years citrus crop must be sacrificed to the gods of fate; a peakless, troughless, horizonless fate of undereducation and resourcelessness. Still, he proudly rides atop his chariot of poverty, past the children who greet him as peasants do kings. abruptly stopping play and parting to make way for the majesty of perserverence and his beast. He strides through the open air, dirt floor house, past the dinner table where I am frozen in a thoughtful gaze, a spoonfull of his rice teetering on my spoon, as I make eye contact with humbleness. His solemn and silent presence halt all conversation, play and work. He has returned. Glory and gloom belong to this poor man who brings home the harvest.



The familiar road that I travelled fifteen days ago snaked before me as a queesy feeling of finality struck an unfamiliar nerve. I was almost there, almost to my pueblo. I have been busily waiting for this moment for nearly a year. Finally, I will be living with the people I hope to call my family, my gente.
I pulled into Cope around five on a regular Sunday evening. The fog was billowing over the sharp mountains like a nervous volcano ready to release its million year old lunch. People were strolling about the streets, saying hello's and exchanging the day's telenovela-ish gossip. The last leg of my journey lay just around the corner and up the bend, some 45 minutes from where I was standing.
I walked to the bus stop to ask about the next chiva to my pueblo. The old chinese man who owns the store next door said a chiva for me was coming very shortly. A chiva for me? I didn't quite understand what that meant, so I chalked it up to my loose grasp of Spanish. While waiting for my chiva I bought a coke. Probably the last coke I would have for some time as my pueblo doesn't have electricity and therefore nothing can be cold. So I set my bags down, and took the time to enjoy the luxuriously quenching opal liquid whose magical bubbles tickled my throat.
Inbetween the extisy of a sip, I heard a rucus emenating from some unkown place around the bend. Before I was able to investigate the matter myself, a chiva pulled up and told me to hop in for a whirl around town. I gladly oblidged, threw my stuff in the back and gulped down the rest of my home town coke. We zoomed past a store, a resturaunt and the police station. The comotion grew louder with every turn of the wheels. The chiva slowed to a crawl as we turned the final corner.
And there it was, a 15 year old girls birthday party. A huge coming of age affair here in Panama. In this single story house there must have been over 60 people. And who was standing outside the party but about 12 guys I knew from my pueblo who were returning from their Sunday baseball game. They were celebrating two wins against difficult teams in the first round of the provincial tournament. I yelled out a traditional hello. !AUWEY! As we rolled by, one guy handed me a brew, another guy shook my hand, another was yelling Auwey, and another was telling me to get into the chiva waiting to take me to our pueblo. I handed off my bags, opened the beer, and climbed into the chiva.
So, 'my chiva' was waiting for me after all. The baseball team was there so we could all ride through the pale, fog obscured dusk to my new home. The queeey feeling of finality now seems to be the queesy feeling of beginning.

The arrival of the alarm and the chicken

Dawn breaks, and I soon awake. My hosts have already risen, showered, and eaten. I am slower to get up and moving, half due to a nervous belly, the other half due to my acclimation to electricity. I know that soon, I shall also wake up at 4AM with the rolling rooster howl. What is this some may ask. Well, in some towns, where many people have roosters and live close together but far apart, there is a rooster roll. One rooster who is the most bravo of them all, takes a deep breath of the morning air and howls for all to hear. The next rooster then does the same, and so on through the town until it rolls back to the bravo rooster; like a ripple of water reflected off the shore line. Believe me you, this will wake-you-up in a hurry.
Waking at dawn is the only recourse for people living off the grid, without electricity. They must take advantage of every ounce of sunlight showered upon the earth. I have become so accustomed to artificial light over my short life that I have failed to ever fully appreciate the rising and setting of thesun as a natural way to wake and sleep. I find a simple and timelss beauty in this tradition; as if someone set a universal alarm at the perfect time billions of years ago so that a man living on and by the land could heard it ring forever tomorrow.

Day 2

I didn't hear that age old alarm again today. So it goes for now. Breakfast greeted me as I sat down at the table, which happens to be outside. In front of me was a bowl, full of yucca harvested the day prior topped with a single fried egg which I had bought the day prior. I instantly noticed the difference in working to grow the food and working to buy the food. The yucca was much more plentiful and delicious. Though it went well with the fried remains of the egg. And of course, a hot cup of sweet coffee which I would see my host dad roasting later in the day. During breakfast, chickens were relentlessly entering my hosts bedroom. At first, my host father cursed at them and made awful hissing noises to warn them out. Chickens never learn. The last unlucky chicken to enter the bedroom was the one whom would have to learn his lesson. This final chicken had it coming. My host dad, hearing the not-so-subtle clucking coming from atop his bed, swiftly rose to his feet and entered the room, slowly closing the door behind him. A few tense seconds passed while everyone had stopped eating yucca to see how the chicken would fare against this weathered old man. The fight was on. The man suddenly unleashed a furry of angry curse words and the chicken started clucking bloody murder at the top of its lungs. I heard feet shuffling back and forth and wings furiously flapping. Then silence. and the door swung open. Out came my host father with a chicken in his hands and a big smile on his face. The chicken had learned its lesson. Needless to say, we ate chicken and rice for dinner.


Luxury ends with a flush.

I have decided upon some of the most striking cultural differences between The United States of America and Panama. I would like to write my views here, for everyone to consider and, if you’re feeling intercultural at the moment, to adopt.

Over the past few weeks I have used a number of bathrooms in and around Panama. The latrines I have used are normal latrines, concrete block over a big hole in the ground. Latrines are generally unpleasant, they are outside, they stink, there are insects hovering around and you can smell and see what you and everyone in your family did yesterday. If you’re lucky, and happen to be in a nice block house, there might be a luxurious flush-toilet available. Imagine, as you enter the bathroom, take your seat, and proceed to look up towards the door, you (invariably) see a sign. Of course this sign is laminated for sanitary reasons or I do rather mean the sign is shielded for clarity. Anyhow, the signs usually say a variation of the following sentence, “Please help us protect the environment, throw your used toilet paper in the trash can.” After your read this sign, your head involuntarily swings to the trashcan located in the nearest corner, which is now behind you because you have already sat down to dispose your bio-waste when your eyes happened upon the laminated sign. You see that the trashcan is full of off-white wads, wipe size, of toilet paper. At this moment, without realizing you are doing it, you take a big sniff, just to make sure your eyes aren’t deceiving you. And sure enough, the wretched smell is clearly more striking now than when you first entered the luxurious flush-toilet bathroom with stars in your eyes and, well, nose.

I found this to be odd, and i still don't understand why they throw used toilet paper in the trash can.


Coming from Atlanta, the city that loves to hate its transportation system or as I would say "It's harda to ride MARTA", I was curious to find out how a transportation system which is actually needed by the people functions. Let me try to be more clear. Atlanta is a concrete jungle. You need a car to get from point A to point B because, either there is no public transportation or the distance is great enough to rule out walking/biking. Moreover, many people in the Atlanta area are affluent enough to afford a car, which decreases the demand for an extensive public transportation system. MARTA is highly organized with specific routes that arrive and depart at regulated times throught the day and night. You pay a flat fee when you get on and can, for the most part, stop where ever you like. I would venture to say that the Atlanta public transportation system is organized but not much used.
Panama, on the other hand, is a living jungle. The majority of people cannot afford cars and even if they could, there may not be a paved road to their community if it is more than 5 miles off the interamericana interstate. Here, I should explain the interamericana. The interamericana is the spinal chord of Panama. It is a 4 lane interstate that runs from Mexico to the Frontier of Panama. In Panama, the most developed towns and the richest people are near the interamericana. Businesses and cities have grown along side the interestate simply because the interamericana offers quick and reliable access to goods and services otherwise unreachable in the campo. People have to get to work, they have to shop, and they have to visit family. So, the majority of people need public transportation to move around the country. How does it work?
In Panama City, there is a national bus terminal. Lets start with the "Diablo Rojos" (Red Devils). The buses that people who live in and around Panama City use are old American "Blue Bird" school buses called diablo rojos. However, each diablo rojo is owned and operated as a private enterprise. So the owner of the diablo rojo can decorate it however they want. This is where Panamanian culture enters the picture. Some buses have elaborate murals of the jungle, others have Disney cartoon characters painted on the side, others have American movie stars like Bruce Willi (yes, it was a picture of Bruce Willis with a gun with his name underneath that read Bruce Willi), some have religious symbolism, others have half naked women, and still others have fantasic murals of fantasy worlds with unicorns, fairies, cyclops, minotaurs, castles ect. Moreover, the inside of the buses are also decorated with various colored lights, pictures, quotes, ect. The diablo rojos are an awesome part of the culture. I think MARTA needs to spice up their buses with original artwork or something to make them more atractive. I mean, when a diablo rojo rolls by, oh, you will not miss the tremendous cacouphany that accompanies the bus, everyone looks to see the artwork, which makes public transportation much more noticable and acceptable within the society.
So, all the diablo rojos start from the central terminal and follow a predermined path to their destination. The name of the destination is painted in Olde English along the front winshield. During the trip to your destination, the bus stops whenever someone wants to get on or off. This can get annoying because you will stop and pick up three people, and 15 seconds later you will stop and pick up another 5 and 10 seconds later you will stop and let 2 off and so on. But it works because people can just walk from where ever they are to the nearest paved road to wait for a bus. Once the bus arrives at its destination, it turns around and heads back to the national terminal, picking up people along the way.
The cost of the trip depends on where you get on and off. When you get on the bus the driver gives you a poker chip denoting where he picked you up. When you get off, you return the chip and pay the price, it maybe anywhere from 25 cents to 85 cents.
The diablo rojos are known for driving at high speeds along shoddily paven roads in the center of the street, with someone hanging out the door, the music blaring and the horn constantly honking. The ride is always sensational, to say the least. A little about honking. In The United States of America, for the most part, people honk to caution others, and do so sparingly. In Panama, the honk is used to say hello and goodbye, to let someone know you're going to pass, to get the attention of a pedestrian, to flirt with women, when you like a song, when you are happy, when you are sad, and i'm sure there are other uses I have yet to see or hear. But it is safe to say that in Panama, the honk of a horn has a hundred hues.
To get anywhere out side of Panama proper, you get on a big charter bus heading to a city along the interamericana. These buses are more regulated and do not stop as often. You can also catch what is called a busito, or small bus, which is essentially a converted van that serves as an express bus because once it fills up it heads straight for the destination city. These buses cost from 2.00 to 14.00 depending on how far you travel. I traveled clear across the country on a charter bus and it cost me 13 dollars and took 6 hours. Oh yes, the charter bus drivers like to blast the airconditiong, which is refreshing at first, but results in near hypothermia after 6 hours. However, the cold bus helps to keep the passengers relatively calm and quiet.

I just realized I spent half an hour writing about transportation systems. I don't think I can pay attention to this topic anymore right now. I would rather look at a picture book.

Mike from the burnt out hotel infront of the Panama skyline.
That would be the hotel.
This is my bed in my training community. I have a bug net, a sheet, and I use my sleeping bag as a pillow. BIEN CONFORTABLE
My room at night.
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Jon pouring the soil mixture into the semillero.
Spread it.
After we planted tomatoes and peppers.
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TARANTULA! Girls Scout troop found it and were playing with it.
Volcano Baru is above me.
I am bigger than Baru
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Me atop the highest falls in North America, Yosemeti Falls, 3000+ft.
This was in Brooklyn a few days before I left for Panama.
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Keep your eyes on the cookies.
My 100th cross-cut!
I was looking, someone was watching.
It's hot. I'm hungry. Now let's hike through Joshua Tree National Park.
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the cleanin' hose.
from left to right. Charlie Brown (Carlos Moreno), Lizzie, Beth, Megan, Ashley, Me, John, Thomas, Bryan, Jennifer. We did a swell job.
Then we taught in the school.
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Building the estufa lorena
Stomping out the clay/ash/water/horse maneur mixture.
Half-way there.

The final product. Two burners on the left and a chimney on the right.
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A mangrove forest near the ocean.
A spring that feeds an acuaduct. We reforested the area.
Sloth with baby on stomach. The sloth and the baby were eating while hanging vertically until I scared it into this position.
Me in Arizona.
Working hard for Americorps this winter.
Preparing myself for the 8 mile hike to the van.

It snowed in the desert. Cactus with snow on top.
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This is my spanish classroom with my teacher Meliza on the left and Brandon and Brandi on the left.
We built the Semillero (seed bed) and began to fill with soil mixture.
The bamboo semillero.

Brandi and husband Bryan infront of semillero.
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