Saturday, July 7, 2012

Long time coming...

It’s been a long time coming- the closing blog entry for Julie Nicole Travels. So, rewinding the clocks, it’s been about 5 months since the last time I updated. After reading through it again, it feels so light and free! These last few months have been... I can’t even describe it. There were times when I thought that if I had to take on any more, I just might drop it all.

I was oddly reminded of something I learned in social psychology, way back in college, about the Holmes and Rahe stress scale, a list of 43 stressful life events in the past year of your life that rate you on to a scale of 300 on possibility of illness from stress. I’ve thought of it quite a bit, adding up major events of my life, wondering if I am near the limit. Things like Marriage, Pregnancy, Change of Residence, even down to change of eating habits and traffic violations affect your final score. At this point I think I’m at about 243...

Anyway, I can now say, in hindsight, that I have successfully completed my tour of duty with the US Peace Corps. Signing up for another year enabled me to actually feel like I did give something back to the community that gave me so much. I must also say, I don’t know who will really care about reading it, but I highly recommend taking the time to draft a Description of Service (DOS) that includes all the things you feel are important about your service. A nice DOS and getting a pat on the back from your Country Director can make everything seem like it was just fine, even if you’re still sweating over what kind of little legacy you’ve left. It just makes you feel good.

My original August 2012 departure date was moved up, put into warp drive, because of some personal reasons, and so I had to get everything about my service finished by May. Throw in closure with community members, fellow Volunteers and duties as editor of the newsletter and this left little time for horsing around. (I never did get up to Bocas.) I wanted it all, and I wasn’t going to be satisfied until the inauguration of the solar panel system of Ojo de Agua had taken place, my dog was on the plane and my fourth issue of La Vaina was ready for print.

It nearly killed me, but I did it.

Here’s a link to the last May 2012 La Vaina I got to help put together. If the link doesn't work search Peace Corps Panama Friends La Vaina. Emma and David really did the bulk of the work. I have an article describing my going away party and my project, for those interested.

And so, now that I have somewhat summed up what I consider the work responsibilities I felt I needed to accomplish in order to successfully finish service, I’ll share my personal goal for the last few months: Get my new little family back to the States with me.

Leaving another country abruptly after living there for so long can be incredibly nerve racking, especially when you have decided to throw down some of your roots there and let it really be a part of your life. I never dreamed that my service would end in such a way. Instead of coming back home alone to the challenges and rewards of life, I will be sharing it with Henry, Elfrida and a new baby girl. It’s definitely been a turn for the better, no matter the obstacles, and now I can’t imagine any other life for me.

I’ve been back in Mississippi about 2 months now, careful to take it easy, or at least as easy as one can possibly take it while planning and being a part of a wedding, and now I feel like I’ve reached a moment to breathe, reflect and sum up this journal I’ve kept over the past 4 years.

I really love all of you who have cared enough to keep up with me on these travels and I hope you will continue to do so through other means. Thanks to everyone who was touched enough by something so far away to donate to the solar panel project in Ojo de Agua and make it a reality. There are some very happy and proud students, parents and teachers because of it. Take care and keep in touch. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Archeaology, yea!

We started out the day at around 4:00 a.m.

For those of you up-to-date on my living situation, I've moved in with a nice middle-aged woman named Exidra who owns a tienda near where I was formerly living.  My landlady wanted her house back, after 2 years, and was also fighting with most everyone in my community, so I decided to move after the new year began.  A little change-up.  Or change-back.  I've come to appreciate having meals cooked for me again, and a flush toilet.  Only downside with host family living 2.0 has to be that I don't feel comfortable enough to lay out the yoga mat and do poses for an hour or so, and my “nook” we'll call it, is just too small. So my neck hurts.  Anyway, I've been mostly camping out under the roof of where my new house will be located, as soon as the materials arrive. 

So, we get up at 4:00 and I sleepily wander to my nook and pack a couple of things: camera, smashed bread, a can of tuna, a half gallon jug of water and 6 oranges, to be exact.  And we're off.

Exidra's casual mention about a year ago of a rock with some drawings on it, up in the mountains where she used to live had me curious.   She finally had a free day and her grandchildren in town and we went up to check it out. She continuously referred to these drawings on the rock as an escudo or “shield” which left me a little suspicious of hoping that it could be petroglyphs.  She swore it must mean there's gold in them there hills.

We went up on the well beaten path to the cross, which I've traveled many a time, and then to the furthest house in Ojo de Agua, which I've also been to a couple of times, but then we depart into unknown territory.  It's like a whole new world opening up in my backyard.

Pine trees and views of all the neighboring communities.  It's still dark, so I can't see how steep the ascent is.  We get to the highest point about 15 minutes before sunrise, so Henry and I stop and wait for it.  And it's amazing, of course.  And cold.  And windy.  Down below, on the other side, we spot where they are headed and instantly I feel the excitement of discovery.  It's the largest rock around, visible from great distances, and fits with the characteristics of the rocks in Angie's site.  I hold my breath hoping. 

As we get closer I'm elated to see that they are not only petroglyphs, but they are the exact same style as the ones we found in Angie's site, miles away.  Like maps or marker stones.  Unfortunately, the rock chose sometime in the last 20 years to break away half of the “shield”; the piece is still there, only face down.  I eagerly began examining it to find 5 drawings in total, all in various phases of wear.  One interesting one was too high up to get to safely to examine.  Several were similar to the ones I had seen before.  It was like reigniting my love for archeaology.  I can't believe it's been over 2 years since I've gone on a dig. 

So, I'm newly inspired to go explore El Caño, the famous archeaology park that I still haven't been to that was featured in the January 2012 National Geographic. With any luck, I hope to be able to sweet talk my way into excavating for a day after I get my solar panel project done.

Afterward we went to the abandoned adobe house and headed back down.  All before lunch time.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Customs and Certificates

campo rodeo

In Panama, after a person passes away, traditionally there is a funeral and then neighbors and family accompany the surviving family members for 9 days afterwards, bringing food and candles and supporting them, keeping them company and helping them deal with the loss of a loved one.  I have made the mistake of not going to this event if I didn't know the person who passed away, thinking that it would be awkward, and I swore that for the rest of my time here I would always attempt to go and visit with the family. 

Sadly, Henry's aunt's spouse recently passed away, rather suddenly, and we went to go pay respects and stay the night.  I had been once before to visit with them and left with a very good impression of him, that he was a good person and they were happy together.  He had worked with a couple of Volunteer's in that community to do a world map at the school, among other things I'm sure, and it was very sad to think of him not being there. 

Now that I understand the culture more and more, I see that it's not awkward because it's not about you. (You might be surprised how self-centered we get living in our little fish bowl.)  It's showing support, just by being there.  You're not the center of attention, and all that is expected is a hug and to listen to stories and help keep the coffee and food going.  We spent the night in the hammock and then walked back to where we could catch the chiva out.

The next day, I was back in another neighboring community to pass out the certificates for the computer classes I gave in the beginning of January.  Unfortunately, the computadora madre, the one the whole system network is attached to, wouldn't boot-up and so we just talked a little and I snapped a pic of everyone.  Hopefully I won't get blamed, but the computer has been having issues and must have a hardware problem, or maybe just too much dirt has gotten in there. They just recently got covers for them, but it was a little late.

20+ hours got them a certificate

The NEXT day, was amazing and I am devoting a whole post to it.  Then I came out for regional meeting, where everyone received a copy of the magazine La Vaina that we worked so hard on a couple of weeks ago, and then we celebrated at the beach.  Which was great until this morning. Enguma'o doesn't even do justice to how awful I felt. Lesson of the day: stay hydrated, ALWAYS stay hydrated.  And don't drink a hodge podge of cocktails, just because you feel like celebrating.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

End, Beginning

Well, after spending a week in the city, I still haven't put together a pretty post, so this one will have to do.  We finished the magazine!  In maybe a week you can download it at this website.  Peace Corps Panama friends. I think it turned out well. Enjoy the pictures! 

St. Sebastian, 21st of January
It's been a very busy month here, and promises to remain that way.  My computer is slowly becoming obsolete.  The web browser I use no longer supports my operating system, consequently no longer allowing me to update Flash.  Or Skype.  Or anything.  So, what does that mean?  Editing is difficult.  That's why the pictures are out of order.  I'll just narrate as they come:

La Posada at my house, Christmas Eve
St. Sebastian passes through Ojo de Agua
Every year January is a very exciting time in my community.  After New Year's everyone begins the anticipation of Patronales

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Circus, Circus

Well, Christmas just got a little merrier after a visit to the Chinese Circus last night, here for a brief stint in Penonome, the regional capital.  As some of you might remember, last year I also paid a visit to the Mexican circus in Santiago, which left me in very high spirits after my first time photo shoot with an elephant.  Well, this time I was even more elated after having my picture taken with a tiger!

January promises to be super busy, have a crash course in computer literacy scheduled for the first few weeks with the neighboring community which has turned in to a lot of kids from my site begging me to take them over.  So, yours truly, being the sacrificing person that I am, has opted to give TWO classes, one for adults and one for children, during January, effectively limited my orange sucking time at the river to weekends and/or just Sunday.

Doing the next La Vaina magazine at the end of January as well, and it's patronales in my site!  Busy, busy, busy.

Heading back to share Christmas Eve in the community where I have been participating with the Posada in the church.  A couple of children dress as Mary and Joseph every night and go to a different house, singing for lodging.  It's very cute, and tonight they will be paying a visit to my house.  I was honored that they asked me to participate, seeing as how my interaction with the Catholic church in the community is decidedly limited.  Everyone will stay at the church until midnight or so.  Surprisingly, quite a few houses in the community have Christmas lights, which despite there seemingly needless use of energy, I enjoy immensely.

Christmas day will mean lots of good dinners, and later a baile with one of my favorites, Francisco de Gracias.  Hopefully we will go up to the fincas to spend a couple of nights and then back down for New Year's!

Christmas time means lots of time shelling guandu (pigeon peas) around here.  As in, yesterday had to shell a couple of pounds (read: 3 hours work AFTER collecting them) in order to get Henry to go to the circus with me.  He's so responsible.

I can't really complain, they're delicious.  I do complain about the price they're bought for in the community, about $2-3/lb.  Sold for $6 and up in the city, but only before the price drops after New Year's, where they will be bought for maybe a dollar in the community.  It is alot of work.

Having concerns about being SUPER poor, relatively speaking on returning to the States.  I will need a job, like right off.  Not wait around to see what happens after a few months, but RIGHT off.  But I confident everything will work out.  Got to stay focused on the issues at hand for the moment.

Okay, that's the update.  Enjoy the pics and Felices Fiestas!

Family portraits with a tiger!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Shop therapy

Decided to stay in the city to enjoy the Christmas consumerism another night with Angie.  Participated by going to the artisan fair near plaza cinco de mayo and bought a few things:

Guna yala mola tourist stuff.  An old mola, a giraffe christmas ornament, and some cut mola sandals for a grand total of $11.  Very cool.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Warning: I'm going to talk about IUDs

This face says it all.
 Ok, so this entry comes with a warning about the content.  I'm going to be talking about grown-up issues.  Wait for the next entry if you don't think you can handle it.  Unfortunately, I don't keep this blog just to entertain you, but rather to inform and, as you well know, vent.

In two weeks, I've finished a Kerouac novel, 2 Welty novels, one painting of St. Sebastian being pierced with arrows while tied to a tree, and one painting of a parakeet hanging from a hydrangea, all to take my mind off the following: 

So after hearing some rave reviews from peers and mulling it over for a few months, I decided I wanted to try out an IUD, specifically the Mirena, to see if it might be a good birth control option for me.  (Look it up and save me the work of explaining the mechanics of the "T".  You should probably know what it is, anyway.)  I had never really thought about it until doing some health talks and having to explain it as a form of birth control that I didn't really know much about.  After some "initial discomfort" the advantages are super light or NO periods, easily able to be removed and up to 5 years of potential protection from pregnancy.  Sounds great, right? Sign me up.  It was super easy 2 weeks ago, while I was in the city working, to visit the office ask for an appointment and have it put in.  Done.

What I wasn't prepared for was the pain and mental anguish I've had since then.  Cramping and headaches that painkillers weren't even touching, moodiness, "spotting", the works.  Supposedly with the Mirena this is normal and can last anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 months, but longer in some.  On top of that I had some distressing events in site- drunks at the house at night, drunks beating my dog during the day, mean people at meetings, etc.  I couldn't handle it.  I broke.  Although during a check-up appointment the doctor told me everything was fine and it was correctly placed I had it removed yesterday, after only 2 weeks, and I feel like I got my life back.  Really, like coming out of a cloudy nightmare.  Maybe this form of birth control is great for some, but the "mild side effects" were just too much for me, especially during an already acknowledgedly stressful time in my life.  Why on earth I didn't get a little more counseling on what might be expected beforehand, I don't know.  I guess the doctors had assumed I had done my research fully before asking for it (the information on the web just led me to believe that every body reacts differently to it, but most go smoothly) while I assumed doctors might be able to tell me all the potentials involved with the procedure. 

Anyway, I would highly suggest that you rethink getting an IUD if you are a natural, "hormone-free" 27 year old girl living in the jungle completing Peace Corps service.  If you need more convincing, the post before this one on my trip to the mall after the doctor's visit might give you just a taste of the locura I've been living (even if mostly in my mind) for the last 2 weeks.

Merry Christmas.  I'm heading back to site to, hopefully, start enjoying the holiday season a bit.