Wednesday, January 20, 2010

6 months in site update

Well hi there! In good ol´Catherine fashion I´ve managed to make myself obscenely busy and have neglected my blog. Gracias a Dios, my family realized I needed some kind of technology to boost my spirits in the campo and stoked me out with this sweet netbook. So I can now type my updates from my site and post them when I get internet in the city. Sweet!

I guess I´ll do a quick recap of the monthly highlights:

October: Completed my 3rd month in site! This means I got to mnove into my own house which isn´t much but it has worked more or less. A month of finalizing my community analysis and a killer Halloween celebration on Isla Colon.

November: In Panama, November is basically a big holiday. Separation from Colombia, Flag Day, Grito of Los Santos, Anniversary of the founding of Bocas del Toro, Independence from Spain... I´m sure I´m missing some. The first week of the month of ferias was spent in my buddy Lee´s site celebrating Panama´s separation from Colombia. It kind of felt like Thanksgiving in the sense that we ate turkey, mashed ñampi (basically a potato), watched a parade on TV, and hung out with the 150 folks that make up Lee´s town.

December: My good friend John came to visit! The first (and hopefully not last) of my loved ones who decided to brave the jungle and pay me a visit. He got to experience my daily excitement, trash cleanups, meetings half in Spanish/half in Ngabere that last for 5 hours, harvesting of cacao... Apart from my community activities we managed to visit the mountain town of Boquete at the base of Volcan Baru and kick it on the beach in Bocas del Toro. After the visit, I celebrated Panamanian Mothers´Day on the 8th and congradulated my graduating junior high students on the 16th. For Christmas I got to go back to the good ol US of A and had an absolutely wonderful time! Definately was too short a visit.

I think next I´ll do what we do at our regional meetings which is share the "rose and thorn" aspects of my life here.

The "rose" or great things about the job:

I can say that I successfully ran a community trash clean up day with assistance from the education agency in providing food for the afterparty and environmental agency who hauled our trash away. A small victory but I´ll take it.

We´ve gotten a library committee set up over the last month or so with two successful meetings and are in the process of applying for book donations.

On a personal note my three former host families are amazing. My first family (with their enormous clan of children) are still some of my favorite people in town. I can roll into their house, pick up a baby, and feel right at home. My second family are a little closer to my age. The wife is 29 and the husband 34 so we can talk about more relatable stuff. My third host family adores me and refers to me as their "hija Californiana". Another comforting thing to have here.

The "thorn" or not so great part about the job:

About once a month my body decides it´s had enough of the crappy water (no pun intended) and I have to endure a less than comfortable hour and a half bus ride to get to Changuinola to get myself some amoeba pills. I could get more graphic but I´ll leave it at that.... if you want a funny and informative description of giardia check out this site :

Loneliness and job frustrations do occur. The way of life here is much slower than I’m used to so if talked about projects get delayed or just don’t happen at all, it becomes aggravating, especially when I hear of other volunteers having successes. The cultural differences do exist and I will always be the weird one here so combating loneliness is something else I struggle with.
Earlier this week a friend and neighbor of mine in site passed away. He was young, only in his 40s, and probably had something curable. However in this culture, many indigenous feel intimidated at the thought of going to a doctor or feel they will be rejected with the assumption that they don’t have money to pay for the medical services. Needless to say, after a week of not being able to keep any liquids down, the family still wouldn’t take him to the hospital. Paying him a visit on his final day was one of the worst images I’ll ever have to see. The whole situation was just a damn shame.

On the horizon….
I do have much to look forward to that will keep me busy over the coming months. In October I became the proud mother of an adorable puppy named Osa and she continues to make me smile every day.
This coming week I have a leadership conference in Coclé in which I get to bring someone from my community. I chose a woman who I felt was one of the stronger female voices in the community and since men definitely dominate the leadership positions in the community, I felt it right to bring her.
Due to some annoyances with my living space (basically that it blows) I will be moving to a much more “tranquilo” residence in early February. It has a huge porch, space for a garden, and only a few neighbors that are very chill people. Once I get back from the conference we will be making some last minute repairs and it will be move-in ready!

In the spirit of the new year (and since one of my resolutions is to improve my skills in speaking Ngabere) I’ll leave you with some Ngabe vocab. Much love and saludos!

Ñantore: “Buenas” in Spanish or the general greeting you say to people in passing

Drekukwe: “what’s up?” or what I say when I get sick of saying Ñantore

Mä nigi mdente?: where are you going?

Ti nigi basare: I’m going “pasearing”, which can mean anything from visiting, to going to the store, to going wherever basically

Mä tä dre noaine?: “What are you doing?” A common question I get asked. Sadly I usually have to answer in Spanish. Unless the answer is Ti nigi basare, hehe!

Ti binine juben aune däbotete: “ I’m going to the river to bathe and wash my clothes.” I say this often.

Ti tä ichi kri kain: “I have to take a big poop.” Great for getting out of unwanted conversations and usually true during those amoeba times.

Mä tä bren?: “Are you sick?” and/or “Are you pregnant?”…. yeah

Mä toro brare/ Mä toro meri: “Do you have a man?” and “Do you have a woman” hey these are important questions right?

And finally because they like to be silly at times just like us….

Choochoo budiere: “naked boobies”

Take care of yourselves!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Kuin deko!

Like I suspected, I am horrible at keeping this thing updated. But I've got a little bit of time to kill right now so lets see how I do!

I am a little more than 2 months into living in my site and things are looking promising for the most part. Here's what my days consist of:
hanging out in the school, sometimes doing activities with the kids
walking around visiting and attempting usually awkward conversations with people
going to local meetings
making bracelets on weekends with the artesania women
visiting peoples farms

My future potential projects are:
composting latrines
getting the former environmental youth group organized and active again
continued work in the school with conservation-themed activities
"huertos familiares" organic home gardens (already got one taker who I'm gonna start making compost with over the next couple weeks hopefully)
possibly some kind of trash/recycling system

There's a lot of possibilities but it's rough always having to take the initiative and not having a comfortable 9-5 schedule. But that's why I signed up for this!

One of the things I do when I feel awkward and like I'm not accomplishing anything is share my love of cuisine with the locals. My accomplishments include pancakes, french toast, cookies (*note that chocolate chips were unavailable so I substituted crushed up peanut m &ms and cut up snickers bars. oh yeah baby.), spaghetti, and by far my most memorable cooking triumph: 14 pizzas cooked on an outside fire, an 8hr project that fed about 25 people. They still bring it up a month later.

When I feel the cabin fever setting in after every couple weeks I try to get out for a night or two and see my other peace corps pals. All in all life is slowly getting easier. There are definately many rollercoaster weeks, days, hours where I'll experience every possible mood in the same day. Just imagine having PMS every day of your life, and thats kinda what Peace Corps is like! haha! But I may never be in this neck of the world again, so what else can I say. Bring on the rollercoaster!
PS: thanks to those who have sent me stuff! it always brightens my day! My phones sadly to not receive international text messages (lame). If you call me I only get cell service on one hill with either phone so it may take me a while to call you back. Photos take me forever to load on here. Go to my facebook to few documentation of my misadventures!


Friday, July 3, 2009

It´s Official, Here I go!

So last we left off I was finishing up training and had visited the region that I´ll be working in. Since then I´ve visited my actual site which was a decent combination of exciting/overwhelming/children everywhere/ I ended up getting sick with an amoeba and spending the night in the hospital before returning to my training community. Kinda a rocky entrance but I´m sure things will improve (mainly my immune system).

Our swearin ceremony was by far one of the best days in country so far. We went to the ambassador´s house and yours truly got picked to deliver a speech representing the Community Environmental Conservation project in front of the Peace Corps staff, volunteers, the ambassador, and the Panamanian Vice President. No pressure really. To my delight, and in spite of my nervousness I nailed the speech in spanish and I am almost positive no one saw my body trembling behind the podium.

After a rockin swear in night celebration and a couple more days of office business the majority of the group 63 crew and I hit the beach and spent the last 3 days goofing off and pretending that the immenent shock of reality wasn´t really real. Well now I am one night away from moving to my community and a bit petrified. I am not allowed to spend the night out of province for the first 3 months which means I´ll be separated from a lot of my gringo buddies and will be working my butt off trying to master a 2nd and now 3rd language. It´s rough battling insecurity and loneliness when you´ve got so many people back home rooting you on. It´s hard to explain how it feels if you´re not here so I won´t go into it too much.

Ok so for reals this time here´s my contact info if you care to reach me or send me stuff (nothing expensive since it may take a month to get here and could possibly get stolen):

phone: 50765360230 (I think you have to dial 011 first or 001. one of those)
My other cell phone is 50760898524 but does not work in my site afterall so only use it if you think I might be in the city which is rare.

for mailing stuff my address is: Catherine Fabiano- Cuerpo de Paz
Entrega General
David, Chiriqui
Republica de Panama

It never hurts to write something religious on the envelope like ¨propriedad de la iglesia¨ or ¨Dios bendiga este correo¨ to prevent supersticious postal workers from opening it. They still probably will.

Stuff on my wish list would be cd´s (gotta buy a battery powered boombox since i don´t have electricity. I like reggae and rock or any new popular stuff that I may be missing out on here.), motivational poetry (seriously, attitude lifters are essential here), and of course any photos you got always make me happy.

Lots of love to everyone as I head into my site! Wish me luck!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"You wanna go to Bocas mon?"*

* This is the question that guys in Almirante chant at you as you pull in on the bus as they try to make some cash by taking the English speaking tourists to Bocas island.
So, by the way, I got my assignment and as of July 4, will be living in the Bocas Del Toro region in a Ngabe indigenous site. Woohoo! I took a trip last week to visit the area and it´s basically gorgeous. Although from looking at a map it appears I am close to the beach, I am actually a 20 min hike, 30 min bus ride, 1 hr boat ride, and 15 min walk from an actual beach. But my site has a cool river running through it.

Training has been intense. My last two weeks I traveled to the provinces of Cocle and Bocas del Toro for technical and culture training. Now I´m back in my training community with just 3 weeks left til I swear in and am officially a Peace Corps volunteer. It´s crazy thinking of how fast this has all happened.

My next big challenge is my Ngabere classes (which is REDICULOUSLY hard) and getting myself mentally prepared to do my site visit next week in which I spend about 5 days in my site getting to meet the people and look into what I will likely be doing for the next two years. My primary jobs will likely be working with the elementary school finding ways to implement the mandated environmental eductation topics in classes, working with the local environmental group, and possibly doing some solid waste/latrine projects. I´m stoked and freaked at the same time.

I´m excited to be almost past the brutal training period but sad I´ll be leaving my gringo buddies and nervous to be kissing the English language goodbye for a while. Should be a challenge but I´m still up for it :)

Sorry this one´s so short but I have a half hour of internet left and lots of important Peace Corps business to do (totally a lie, I´ll probably just go to facebook). But I definately miss all of my friends and family and think about everyone all the time. Thank you for all your kind messages and if you do so feel like talking with me here is my new Panamanian cell number: 50760898524

Hugs and kisses! Jatuaita mare!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Aqui en Panama!!!

Hola from Panama! Before I start my first report I'm going to apologize in advance for not posting pictures. I will do that when I get some good ones but honestly, I'm super busy, a little lazy when it comes to figuring out that stuff, and I only have taken like 3 pictures. Que fracasa soy :)

But anyway... After a day and a half of paperwork and ice-breaking games in DC we left for the airport at 2:30am. Needless to say my welcome to Panama was a little dampened by my exhaustion and the crazy humidity that awaited us. After a full night's rest/coma, I was my old self again and can actually say after 6 days in the country, I'm starting to adjust to these crazy conditions that are the antithesis of northern California.

We're staying in military-base style dwellings at the moment and tomorrow we leave for our rural training sites to live with our host families and begin our next 10 weeks of preparation to be actual volunteers. Right now they refer to us as "aspirantes" because we're still in training. I had two interviews a couple days ago: one with my two bosses in charge of the Community Environmental Conservation sector, and one with a language instructor to find out what my skill level was. I absolutely love my bosses and they seem to like me and want me to do education, possibly with younger children. They're very discreet at the moment of what sites they have in mind for us since we still have much training to do. In about 3-4 weeks I will know which site I am being placed in. My language interview went well too. I think I am in a high-intermediate class more or less (you have to pass as intermediate in order to be sworn in) which is awesome because that means I am already at a level necessary to begin work.

Today we visited a current volunteer's site and got to learn how to plant mangroves, visited the local nursery where they were growing tree seedlings, and ate an amazing lunch of rice, lentils, coleslaw salad, and chicken straight from the yard. Yummy!:) While we were working sorting seeds I got to converse with a couple girls who are in the volunteer's environmental youth group. They were rad to talk to (when i actually understood what they were saying) and seemed to enjoy my descriptions of the "agua frio!!!" that we have on the california coast. The highlight of the day was that I was the only "gracefull" one to fall in the mud in the magrove forest about 10 minutes into the start of the day and got to spend the rest of the day with mud all over my butt. Very Catherine of me.

Overall this experience is positive but I will not deny that I feel overwhelmed at times. Someone here described Peace Corps as a roller coaster which is sooooo true. I've been way stoked at times and very sad at times too. It's hard when we have down time and I think of my family and friends and even feel a little guily for leaving. However the more I try and step outside my comfort zone in activities, interviews, and classes, the more I feel like I could really succeed here. When I think of being here for 2 years I really freak out so I've decided to take things one day at a time. It all seems more manageable that way.

Well sorry to rant on and on but this will be the last day I get internet access for a while. Tomorrow begins our training and I am both nervous and excited to meet the family that gets to take care of me and teach me Spanish for the next 10 weeks. As soon as possible I will update you all but for the time being know that I am well, happy, parasite-free, and loving all of you! Adios!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Say cheese!

So this one's really more for me. I wanted to throw some photos together for me to look back at in case I feel homesick for Northern California. These are the things I think I will miss the most:

Freezing cold surf sessions in 50 degree sharky water!

Getting to know the trails of Sonoma County quite intimately as you can see.

Involving myself in silly hippie activities in Golden Gate Park.

Random dance experiences that can only occur on Castro St.

Scaring pigeons outside 7-11.
(notice the craptastic voyage parked on 48th Ave.)

Carving pumpkins on Halloween. I tried to carve the outlines of the continents. If you look to the bottom right I think you can find Italy.

My car "the craptastic voyage" and my home in Santa Rosa.

Flying down the driveway at my old house in Freestone. Occasionally I remembered to look both ways at the highway.

Having friends nearby that love me so much they'll dress up and take embarrasing photos.

The OG ladies crew that once in a blue moon will all be in the same room at the same time. Wait, where's Janna? crap. nevermind.

The excitement of SSU field trips.

Hugging in bars for no reason. Maybe the Redwings won or something. I wasn't paying attention.

Beach cleanups. And relay races for that matter.

Politically incorrect family Thanksgivings.

And last but not least... strolling through the redwoods and realizing how blessed I
am for having all of the above!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Prep time...

I was urged my many to create a blog so all could keep try of my adventures as I enter the next big part of my life... Peace Corps service in Panama! The bonus aspect of this is that it seems much more efficient than flooding everyone's inboxes with mass email updates for the next two years. You're welcome. So I'm 57 days away from heading to orientaion/staging, and I can't help but smile at how I wound up here, standing on a really big ledge about to jump into what will surely be the craziest, scariest, most amazing part of my life so far. So here goes...

Flashback to late January just over a year ago. I'm sitting on top of some kind of wooden tower at Tom's little resort on the Arajuno River in the Ecuadorian Amazon. I'm unsettled which in my mind is a combination of "sad" and "friggin pissed off". We visited the children of the Santa Barbara community today. Equipped with coloring books, balloons, and a soccer ball, we arrived to find a school with no teacher, a shoreline serving as a place for washing, drinking, and bathing, and the kids that turned out ot see what these gringos were up to. Following an afternoon of gift distributing and a soccer game where we were schooled by 5 year olds, we found ourselves on the other side of the river, relaxing in comfort in our lodgings that came complete with hot showers, electricity, a tree swing, and fully stocked kitchen. Sounds nice. So why was I in hell?

I left the group and climbed to the top of the tower to soak the day in. Amanda comes and sits with me and we talk about all we have experienced in South America. In the past month I have seen the impoverished coastal desert of Peru, the Quechua of the Andes, and the children in the Amazon. How many Americans do they see? Do they know what our lives are like? If they were to ask me why I should live comfortably while they struggle for survival how could I answer? This bothered me a lot. Up in that tower I told Amanda I would not be happy unless I volunteered after college.

On January 9th, 2008 I got to fulfill my map-nerd dream of standing on the equator. On January 9th, 2009 I received my invitation to serve in Panama as a Community Environmental Conservation Extension Agent. I am overwhelmed with excitement, fear, pride, insecurity and oh, every other emotion that one is capable of feeling. But I'm hopeful most of all that I after coming this far I'm on my way to accomplish what I set out to do a year ago. Feels pretty good.

coastal Peru

Machu Picchu

Santa Barbara, Arajuno River, Ecuador