Sunday, April 17, 2011

It's over!

Hi,

Well, this is my last Peace Corps blog. And though everyone at home keeps telling me that these two years went by so quickly--just flew by--I have to disagree. Time might have felt fast to everyone leading their normal consistent lives but for me, this time has often dragged by, and most days feels like a lifetime.

The last few months have been incredibly busy and tons of fun. Heidi came down for a week and we did a tour of the country and right after my friend Camilla came down to visit too. So I’ve been entertaining or filling out my close of service paperwork. It’s my last week in Santa Fe and I am starting to try to process the transition back to the US. A returned volunteer described it like waking up from a dream, once you’re back stateside the whole thing seems so distant and unreal. I know from my few trips back that you can’t just flip a switch or at least I can’t, so patience will be crucial.

My plans have changed, again, I received an incredible offer from the Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington which blew all my other offers out of the running. The program is comparable (top-ranked) to the others in environmental policy but the school is also very strong in non-profit management, something that will support my future goals. I was also drawn in by the fact that the dean is a woman, because we need more women in leadership positions ( i.e. me, and I need some role models). I won a research assistantship that will cover my full tuition, health insurance and provide me with a living stipend, so financially it is the smarter choice as well. And being directly involved in research will give me great experience for a Ph.D. program. So it is not NYC in May but Seattle sometime before September. Much closer to the Bay Area. : )

Daliah is also preparing for the transition. Heidi brought her down a kitty carrying box that I can carry on the plane and we have been practicing using it. She’ll need to be inside for about 12 hours, so we’re building up to it. I am taking her in for all her shots this week.

With my flight two weeks away I honestly don’t know how I feel about leaving. Whereas, all I’ve wished for most days was that it was over and I could just go home, I am scared to leave. For all that I’ve struggled with living here, this lifestyle is the most familiar to me now. The leap back (and the gap feels insurmountably wide) into the larger-than-life, big-box retail, excessive consumerism US-lifestyle is daunting to the point that it almost makes me want to just stay here. It was the utter ease of things that made me uncomfortable on pervious trips, I just get in a car whenever I want and go to a fully stocked store to meet all my needs? No boats, no hikes, no waiting, no real hardship or struggle to survive. I understand here, even if I don’t like it all the time. And it is hard to know that once I leave there is no coming back here, how it is now. Perhaps the curse of development, but everything has and will change dramatically in this country. Even in my two years things have been changing, new roads and building creeping in everywhere, internet at bus terminals. So to my surprise I am savoring my last few weeks here and returning with trepidation. Although, I always have been more of a city girl so all this will probably pass sooner than I think. I’ll always be grateful for the perspective.

See you all in May!


Allison

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mud Adventures and Toe Trauma

Just on the other side of the cordillera from where I live is a beautiful Caribbean beach named Calovebora. The cordillera is the mountain ridge that divides the direction of the flows of water, sending rivers and rain down one side towards the Pacific or the other toward the Caribbean. Everybody in Santa Fe talks about trips out to this beach, so naturally I wanted to see it. My friend Anayansi invited me on a trip happening the week of carnavales. I was torn, I loved the craziness party week of carnival last year and I had been talking about going again for months leading up to it. But, since I am leaving so soon I decided to try something new.

When she explained the trip, Anayansi told me it was a chiva ride to Guabal, a 3-hour hike to Rio Luis and then a 3 hour cayuco ride to Calovebora. When a road is paved out to this beach it will be an hour drive. As it stands, half the fun/challenge is getting there. So as I assimilated her description and I mentally doubled the hike time because Panamanians are notoriously fast walkers and underestimaters of hike times. She told me to be at the chiva stop at 4:30am to catch the first chiva out. So I set an alarm for 3:50am the first day of carnival instead of heading down the peninsula to the house my friends had rented to start the party.

I got to the chiva stop at 4:30am and proceeded to wait until 5:30am when Anayansi and the 3 Japanese volunteer workers showed up, and then until 6:00am when the chiva finally arrived and loaded up and headed out. A chiva, is a pick-up truck essentially. It has a modified bed with a roof, sometimes tarps wrapped around metal tube supports and sometimes sheet metal. Two wooden benches run down either side of the bed. It is a form of transportation that quickly induces car-sickness, usually ensuring at least one puking child. I grabbed the seat at the tailgate so I could see the views, which are spectacular through the park. Directly across from me a man boarded with two dogs. One puppy and one small Lassie-ish adult. I was minding my own business talking to Anayansi seated next to me and enjoying the changing colors of the sky as the sun came up, when about a half hour into the ride Lassie became sick at my feet, and continued to vomit and dry heave for the remaining hour and a half of the ride.

We got to Guabal and I carefully removed my bag, trying my best to avoid the dog vomit. We arrived at about 8 am and I put on my boots, noted that my bag was twice the size of everyone elses', waited for Anayansi to talk to a friend and around 8:20am we set out on the hike. I was quite comfortable with my trusty backpack and stiff but comfortable hiking boots. Stiff from previous encounters with very muddy roads. We walked to Ortiga, which should be 45-minutes to an hour but as we learned there had been an aguacero (down pour) the day before and the path was mud. Pure mud. Picking your way through mud always makes a hike take longer. Your feet stick to the mud, your boots become caked with mud and weigh more and more. It all adds up to a much slower pace. It becomes kind of a game, who can find the most solid path through, we were all making suggestions and gingerly tapping areas to see how solid they were. Inevitably, everyone puts their foot down in the wrong spot and ends up knee high in mud. One Japanese volunteer, Mickey, seemed to make an art of finding the softest spots to step in. Which was pretty funny, until she completely broke her shoe, and had to go the rest of the way barefoot. Anayansi proposed that when she starts her tours through the area she could call in Adventuras de Lodo, or Mud Adventures. I’m not sure the average tourist would jump on a tour like that, or enjoy the reality of the experience, which is pretty exhausting.

We walked into Ortiga about an hour and twenty minutes later. We stopped at the river to cool off as the morning sun was already strong. Anayansi found a friend she knew from Rio Luis who was heading that direction from Ortiga and he agreed to accompany us with his horse. So we got our bags carried by horse and went on hiking towards Rio Luis. About 2 hours in there was a tienda with a generator and, therefore, cold sodas. We all gladly drank one and continued walking, the views are beautiful in the area, expanses of untouched cloud forest as far as you can see, breathtaking. We reached the turn-off towards Rio Luis and started heading down lots of steep hills. I realized at this point how much my feet were hurting. We arrived in Rio Luis at 1:40pm and all I could think about was getting my very heavy and wet boots off my feet. When I did, I realized that the mud/water up-hill and down-hill 5-hour hike had done some damage. My feet were swollen with water and two toes were partially without skin and hurt like hell to clean.

We had lunch at the house of a woman Anayansi knew from when she was a Professor at the local school years ago. Patacones with rice and beans. Then we started asking around about cayucos. Cayucos, are dug-out canoes and the traditional river transport in Panama. We were turned down by two cayuco owners and finally found one who agreed to take us at 4pm.

I had envisioned a pleasant ride down the river and arriving around 7 pm to settle-in and grab dinner. But, the river was so low we had to walk along river rock shores at the shallow parts and let the river carry the cayuco and our bags down stream. There was a lot of in and out of the cayuco, taking turns, some of us walking, some floating along. And we moved at a snail’s pace. Until I hit my tired foot on a rock and stubbed two toes. Then I was allowed to ride in the cayuco the whole way, as my feet were not looking so good. We moved along quite slowly. About an hour on we found another cayuco who agreed to take us down stream, so I rode along in that cayuco the rest of the way. And the trip dragged on and on. It got dark, and we were soaking wet. The stars were brilliant, there is zero light pollution in the middle of the jungle. The trip went on and on, and even more slowly in the dark. I kept hoping to see lights of a town around the bend. I was sitting on the floor of the cayuco with water splashing around me, shivering and thinking warm thoughts. Finally, at 11pm, seven hours later, we got to a shore. I assumed the shore of the cabana where we were to stay.

Instead, it was the house of a friend of the boat driver’s. There was discussion about the danger of going to where we were supposed to stay. Apparently, Calovebora’s isolation lends it to cocaine trafficking. Something, no body had cared to mention before we set out. Additionally, all the other cayucos we had passed coming down stream were running cocaine up stream. Unsettling news indeed. The drivers were worried about our safety at the beach. It was proposed that we all sleep there. But there was on an open deck outside with one hammock, nada mas. And five of us. My standards are Peace Corps-low but sleeping on the deck of a random house is still just below them. I at least was carrying my own hammock in my very large bag. But with some questioning, as in, could we not get to the cabin by land? We learned that, why yes it’s a 5 minute walk from here. I am continually baffled by the differences in Panamanian and American (or Japanese logic in this case) In my mind, it seems that the fact that we were so close to where we wanted to be would have been offered up voluntarily. Also, Anayansi might have mentioned earlier that we had keys to a place to stay on the beach. For whatever reason, lack of exchange of information is common and decisions based on partial information, while logical from the one end, always puzzle to me. I’ve learned to not argue these points.

So we walked up a hill, well really I hobbled up a hill and down a dirt road to the cabana. It was rustic but at least there were foam mats for everyone and I could hang my hammock inside. So we all milled around brushing teeth, trying to get dry and went to bed, a little cranky and quite hungry really. No body really slept much, who knew a beach could be so cold at night.

The next morning was beautiful, although I was limping around, the beach is indescribably pretty. We had breakfast at a “hostel” type place and walked down to the beach, which was strewn with piles of drift wood. Mangrove drift wood is some of the most beautifully formed I’ve ever seen, if I hadn’t been concerned with the weight of my pack for the hike home I would have taken armfuls. Anayansi and I made a sand castle and talked and I showed her mom’s droplet castle technique, which she loved. Then I went for a swim to wash off the sand. Unfortunately, being slightly clutsy runs in the family. But I will say visibility under water was limited because of wave action. A piece of beautifully formed mangrove drift wood that was beneath the water’s surface met with my big toe in painful fashion. It hurt, but as my feet were already sore, I didn’t realize the gravity of the blow until I finishing swimming and hobbled to the sandy shore. Where my toe promptly started gushing blood. My entire toenail was already purple and throbbing something wicked. So, the state of my feet became of real concern as a five hour (or more) hike awaited us the next morning.

Earlier then I would have liked, we boarded into cayucos once again to head up river. I explained the state of my feet and that I would not be disembarking to walk along the shore at all that day to the driver. So we started up stream, slowly, slowly, slowly. We left at 1:30 pm and arrived back in Rio Luis around 8pm. Which was better then 7 hours I guess. The ride is beautiful and I used my time to decide which grad school to go to, I’ve been accepted to 4 programs so far, but my real choice was between Berkeley or Columbia. The quiet, slow ride up-stream allotted all the time necessary to muse and weigh the factors. I ultimately decided on Columbia. For lots of reason but the deciding factor was experiencing a new place and trying a new lifestyle, while I love Berkeley and everything the Bay Area has to offer very much, I want to keep experiencing new things. The Peace Corps has taught me that if it has taught me anything. So it’s NYC in May, for sure, final answer. And home April 29th.

After we came ashore at Rio Luis, we walked in the dark back to the house of the friend of Anayansi and thank goodness there was dinner this night. We all talked over the hike logistics, everyone was dubious about my abilities to walk out of there. We settled on leaving at 6:30am but having horses sent after us with the bags. (The horses were in a farm an hour and a half away so someone had to go get them first and then set out after us). I cleaned my wounds and bandaged up my toes, took some acetaminophen and went to sleep. We were staying in a room with just enough floor space for 4 people to sleep and my hammock hung above the sleeping Japanese girls. At one point, a bug dropped into my hammock and I reflexively tossed it out onto the floor, which in this case was the bed of Satoco. We all laughed pretty hard.

The next morning, I put on two pairs of socks and eased my feet into my boots, not without serious cringing and oh oh oh-ing. But I got them on and could hobble about. And so, after a patacones and fried yucca breakfast, we set out up all the hills around 7am. The first hour I did ok. Then I got my bad foot stuck in a mud pit and my boot got ripped off and it had to be put back on and my mood started to go downhill. By about two hours in, I was notably pale and felt like vomiting from the pain. Finally at around 9:30am the horses caught up to us. I realized that I couldn’t walk out without doing some more serious damage to my feet and taking a long long time. But I was quite against the idea of riding a horse out. Panamanian horses are small. And I am not a Panamanian-sized person, I was not stoked on the prospect of killing a malnourished horse. But Anayansi assured me that the male horse could carry me out. So I mounted a horse for the first time here in Panama. And dangled my aching heavy feet from it’s sides.

It was not as bad as I thought it would be and we finally got to the cold soda tienda again. Two hours later we were back in Ortiga and an hour and a half after that we got back to Guabal. Likely, if I had tried to walk, we wouldn’t have made the last chiva to Santa Fe.

I’m not sure, as my toe is still throbbing and my butt sore from the horse ride, and I sit in my hammock writing this on the last night of carnavales instead of dancing at the PH until 4am, if I missed out on the party or the hike shouldn’t have been missed. I do hope I avoid infections in all the wounds on my feet though.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Almost Home Coming

Hello,

Well it looks as though, if everything gets approved on this end, I will be coming home April 29th! I have been accepted to Columbia University to earn a Master’s of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy at the School of International and Public Affairs and The Earth Institute. This has been my dream program for years and I am delighted to have been admitted, not only that, they have offered me an environmental studies fellowship. While I am sad to put off west coast life for another year (the program is 12 months / three intense semesters) New York City is a pretty exciting alternative.

How can I leave all this behind you might wonder. I am quite prepared to finish my service in Panama. As you all know, it has been a rough ride but I know I’ll never regret any of it. I am going to really enjoy living in a relatively bug free apartment within a culture with just a little less proclivity for sexual biases, not to mention, hot showers.

Santa Fe is a place I definitely see myself returning to. I am toying with a conservation land trust idea for properties that boarder the park. I have all the in-country connections to do it but I need to spend some time figuring out the legal steps and finding funding for a project that big. It could be great, maybe tie it into carbon sequestration or corporate off-sets. I still have some research to do.

I visited Isla Leones a few weeks ago. Everything is the same. The day was strange because they had invited a bishop to the island to give a group of kids their confirmation. It was nice to see Eduardo my old host dad and Cecilia and some of the kids, but I had no strong feelings. I especially didn’t regret leaving. Or miss that boat ride.

The Amigos del Parque and I are writing the curriculum for the in-school program next year, it will focus on the importance of conserving forests and trees. I won’t be here to see it implemented but I am asking my boss to send a follow-up volunteer to support the program.

Daliah has fleas and refuses to eat my many cockroaches but is otherwise happy.

See you soon!

Love,

Allison

Sunday, January 30, 2011

La Feria!

Hi,

The longer than usual rainy season has finally ended. During the raining season it is customary to do very little outside your house except for holidays, I took that custom very much to heart. But now, finally, everyone is a emerging again. The school year ended back in early December but the rainy season dragged on an extra month longer than normal, so not much of note happened in December.

January is proving to be much more exciting. Although one of the three groups I was working with has dispersed for lack of interest, the other two are starting very exciting projects. I am especially looking forward to seeing the Amigos del Parque Nacional Santa Fe get thier sustainable ecotourism and environmental education program off the ground.

At the end of last school year we held three in-school presentations about biodiversity and conservation but we a striving to establish a more formal and regular program in three schools this coming school year (early March). In an attempt to make the program self-sustaining we have created a tour guide service (sustainable ecotourism program). Amigos members are available to lead guided nature hikes with proceeds going to support the in-school education program. It’s pretty exciting. The group is made up of young college students with an inspiring dedication to the cause. Dario, the 19-year-old president of the group, is so organized and proactive, the contrast with the environmental leaders in my old community is shameful. We are having planning meetings and coordinating with other programs around the country.

This weekend is the Santa Fe Fair, I am not sure exactly what to expect but it is a huge deal. Two of the most famous tipico artists in Panama will be performing and people are coming in from all over the country. The amigos will have a booth with information about their work and the national park in general.

I am also working with my friend Anayansi, the president of the orchid association. She reminds me a lot of mom in her creative artistic abilities, fun crafts and green thumb. The other day I was telling her about Martha Stewart because she is the Panamanian equivalent. She makes jewelry out of seeds, shells and other natural materials. She also has an astounding collection of orchids native to the Santa Fe area. Working with Anayansi is so much fun. She teaches me how to make jewelry and makes pretty things for me.

Tonight I made 50 origami paper bags out of newspaper for her to use at the fair when she sells jewelry, instead of plastic bags. She is committed to recycling and reusing, so we share different methods of recycled crafts, which have also become a way to pass the time for me, especially when it rains. I taught Anayansi how to make a stamp out of a potato, which I don’t think I’ve done since kindergarten, and she loved it. We are stamping the paper bags with her name and an orchid. And tomorrow I will be helping her finish setting up the booth that the orchid association will have at the fair.

I am starting to make my preparations to come home! I am so excited to have made it through to the other side of all this. My graduate schools applications are all submitted and I’ll hear back in March, but I have my fingers crossed for Berkeley, or at least Seattle. I miss west coast culture very much. Daliah is well, but she has no idea what’s in store for her in America or on the airplane for that matter.

Lots of love,

Allison

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The National Park and Bugle People

Hello,

Today, for the first time, I finally had the opportunity to go into the Santa Fe National Park . I have been here in Santa Fe (the town) for the past two months but I have been quite busy, working with three groups and settling into my new house. Life is much better up here, I genuinely enjoy my work and all the new experiences. I wonder if this is what it was supposed to be like all along.

So, today, I went to the ANAM office, across town and up a formidably steep hill, at 9a.m. to meet the technicos for our planned trip to a school near the boundary of the park. I am lucky to be working with both the Jefe of the local Santa Fe Agency, as well as, the Jefe of the National Park, two heavy hitters in the environmental protection scene up here. When I got to the office it was bustling with inquiries, I was greeted by Augustino and the usual uncomfortable show of how beautiful he thinks I am. In which, I ask how he is doing. He responds very well now that I see you. He says Eladio (the Jefe of the Park) told him I was coming and it made his day complete knowing his angel was coming etc. I generally roll my eyes and respond as sarcastically and coolly as my Spanish and need not to offend (for professional reasons) allow. This is just the start of a full day of agency-wide perfectly culturally excepted sexual harassment (as we would call it in the states). I’m not sure there is even a coined term for it here because it is business-as-usual, just how men and women customarily interact. Although, being a tall blonde with blue eyes, I get more than my fair share of interaction.

So, I wait patiently for my jefe friends to attend to the people in the office. I had a nice talk with a man from another agency who did me the courtesy of not harassing me. Augustino and Eladio made sure I knew about the discoteca happening Saturday. Augustino sternly confirmed that under the right circumstances I could go out with them if I wanted to (of course I would be home early and not out all night he assured me) and was I allowed to drink a little beer if I liked? Yes, of course I could if I wanted to I said, although NEVER would I “interact” with already very forward agency men in the presence of seco.

When everyone was ready, we went the hill in the ANAM truck, north towards the park. About ten minutes away is Alto Piedra, and a school in which I recently gave a presentation on the importance of conservation and biodiversity with my friend Jonathan from the Amigos del Parque group. Alto Piedra is the end of the paved road. Augustino hopped out of the truck here and switched some things on the front tires (I know not what) that I presume made four-wheeling and fording rivers possible. We continued on just the jefes and I. After about another ten minutes, we passed a sign for the national park and forded the first branch of the river. Entering the park is majestic, the trees are much older and taller than outside the park limits. Moss and vines cover and drape the trees. Trees make me happy. And cloud forest trees are extra serene and stately which makes me extra happy. For the next hour, we traverse a bumpy road and ford two other rivers, as we climb and descend vistas continually open up revealing vast stretches of protected and intact forest covering the mountains in view. Millions of bliss inducing trees.

About 30 minutes along, after the third large river crossing, we came to the ANAM office for the park. We stopped and met the park guards who were spending the week at the office. Staff is rotated out in weekly shifts because of the difficulty in traveling back and forth.

When we continued on, the conversation centered on the jaguar sightings recently in the park. A mom and her cub had been seen, as well as a large male. Apparently, one had killed a small cow on an indigenous resident’s farm. [The park is inhabited by the Bugle indigenous group and while I have met occasionally with Nagbe, today was my first time meeting Bugle people. Although, the two groups are difficult to distinguish by sight (similar dress) they use two different languages. And so today, also, I heard the Bugle language for the first time. We stopped by a Bugle residence, on the insistence of Eladio, although I felt uncomfortable going to “see how they live” in such a frank manner, he was eager to show me, so I went. The father of the family told us about another jaguar sighting.]

Another 45 minutes down the road, we have crossed several more streams and left the limits of the park on the opposite side. After the last big ridge, we were on the side of the mountain where water flows down to the Caribbean sea, we have also reached the dividing line between the Bocas del Toro province and the Veraguas province making it my first official visit to Bocas. Our destination was the school at Guabal, we plan to give a presentation there like the ones we have done in Alto Pierda, el Alto and Santa Fe.

During the ride Eladio had been giving me a lesson in traditional Panamanian music, tipico, and more specifically a style called decima. Whereas, usually I find tipico as appealing as I find hard core rap (read: I disdain tipico), coupled with the views and my tree induced serenity, it seemed to fit the scene. Decimas generally concern a man who loves a woman who doesn’t love him and so he drinks. Florentino from the backseat (as I have the honor of shotgun) asked if men do the same thing in the US and I said of course, and then he asks and the women? The same, I reply. This gets long laughs. Silly American women thinking they are men‘s equals. To continue my gentle harassment throughout the day, Eladio deemed the decima about beautiful women, the decima of Allison, and so it was called for the rest of the day as we cycled through his CD collection. This segways into, someone should write a verse for Allison to describe etc etc etc and your eyes would inspire decimas etc etc. Comments like these are sprinkled into the conversation at every opportunity.

Thankfully, because I am more than blonde hair and blue eyes, I was able to interject a few observations about the environment and convince Eladio that I do indeed have a useful education under my belt. We hypothesized a little bit about why the jaguars are so active lately, lack of habitat, competition from hunters for food, or perhaps just an older jaguar who can’t hunt wild animals as ably anymore. Eladio during this exchange also proved to me he is more than just a chauvinistic political appointee.

When we arrived at the school, the scene was more fiesta-ly then scholarly. We found out that today was Dia de los Estudiantes (Student Day). The whole school was outside and there was tipico music playing and decorations around, and a piƱata. To my confusion, a young student was presented as the Director and she led us into the office, a middle-aged gentleman, who seemed more likely to be the Director than her, followed her inside and having found us three chairs we all sat down together. I discerned that as part of the Dia, students were assigned all the administrative and teacher roles and got to play a-day-in-the-life-of, while teachers and staff acted like students. Kind of like, take-your-daughter-to-work day I suppose. In any case, my confusion abated, the young student started off conducting the meeting (which was adorable, she was so freaked-out that she has to deal with agency personnel and a white person), but it was quickly passed to the true director and we planned our activity. Given the fiesta, arroz con pollo and potato salad were on hand and we were invited to lunch. After which, they asked what I know about computers.

Granted, I am no IT specialist, but my familiarity with computers, FAR surpasses their experience. As part of a government initiative the school 30 mini-laptops and what should be a wireless internet system. Unfortunately, whoever installed it forgot to set it up for them and they have no idea how to get online. (Common missteps in hand-out programs 101 - dumping a bunch of stuff and forgetting to teach people how to benefit from the stuff so it just goes to waste.) I used my extensive, router resetting, computer restarting, wireless connection on-offing, troubleshooting skills but to no avail. Disgraced in my failure to fix the internet, the jefes and I returned to the truck for the ride back to Santa Fe.

Back in town, at the ANAM office full of male techs, the sexual innuendo or directness, began to wear on me. Augustino asked someone to clear a seat for his novia, for which he received my sharpest professional reprimand. Three others scrambled to find me a chair. Eladio insisted on driving me home, though it’s not a far walk, and made sure I knew to call him, as soon as I got back from the states for a ride or refresco, noted that my eyes are like the sea, that he doesn’t often get to spend all day with a woman as beautiful as me (indeed he had stared at me at points in the day in an unsettling way when I wasn’t looking but could feel his fixed gaze, he probably should have been focused on driving), and that it was a good trip overall owing to, of course my beauty and our success at the school-and we arrive at my house, thank goodness.

Generally, I am content in my new work, it’s the kind of work I want to do forever and what I have been working so hard for in past years. Personally, I am looking forward to resuming a life back home, I think this experience has even quenched my wanderlust for the foreseeable future. Though it seems not much can be done for my natural tendency towards the hippy traditions, I found a vegan cookbook in the volunteer free library and have started experimenting with some delicious recipes lately. Electricity brings with it refrigeration and a blender making my experimentations possible, and super fun.

Daliah is alive and well. Although we had a very grave scare when she decided to attack and kill a coral snake one night last month. It bit her paw and left her paralyzed for 3 days, I was looking into kitty harnesses with wheels and staring forlornly at her in her little invalid kitty box. Then one morning, she just popped up good as new and yawned at me. This not withstanding the 3 X-rays the vet took to convince me she had a broken spine, and it certainly was not a snake bite, he was certain. But then again, it seems my good friend David Clarke was right all along about the snake bite.

Home for a week in 3 days! See you then!

Love,

Allison

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Saving baby sea turtles and Santa Fe.

Hello!

Fun note: Last night I went on a patrol of the beach my friend lives at for nesting sea turtles. The turtle moms come up on the beach at low tide at night to lay eggs. We saw an olive ridley sea turtle nesting and got to see it up close on its way back to the water. After the nest is found the eggs are collected and moved to a safe hatchery to avoid poaching by humans or getting eaten by stray dogs. I got to extract the nest we saw last night and moved the 82! eggs to a new hole I dug within the fenced off hatchery!

I am excited to announce that my site transfer was approved. Even better, I got to help pick the site and found work in a mountain town called Santa Fe (I think I have talked about Santa Fe in past posts).

What is even more exciting is that Santa Fe is kind of like heaven on earth. It is a picturesque little town with a coffee roasting factory nestled in a valley surrounded by gorgeous mountain views. When I move, which is taking some planning, I will have electricity, in-door plumbing, and a regular bus route to Santiago, which will only be an hour and a half south of me. I am most excited about a refrigerator. Plus, there is internet access in Santa Fe, as well as a cooperative (grocery store) with anything you could need. Plus, plus, I already have a friend up there, an ex-volunteer owns a restaurant in town. This will be a whole different life. : )

For now, I am staying with friends and helping with their work (thus the sea turtle fun). Daliah will move with me sometime in September when I have my housing all settled up in Santa Fe. My new job will be working with a group called Amigos del Parque. Santa Fe is located on the border of Santa Fe National Park, which I will get to know because I’ll be working with the local ANAM technicos of the park and some friends from the protected areas department.

In the meantime, I am getting everything organized to apply to graduate schools and planning another trip home in early November. : )

Hope everyone is well.

Love,

Allison

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Swimming with large fish and reaching my limit.

Hi,

Coiba was incredible, breathtaking, the real paradise, it restored my faith in dedicating my professional career to environmental conservation. It made me proud to have done work within its buffer zone. We spent the days snorkeling with huge schools of colorful fish, white tip sharks and sea turtles and lounging on golden beaches (my favorite island was called Granito de Oro or grain of gold). We saw four humpback whales, many dolphins and flying fish. After Coiba, I headed to a vacation resort to spend two days of luxury with the rest of my group, where we celebrated surviving the first year of service in our respective communities. The first week of July passed by like a dream.





Granito de Oro from the boat.





A polka dot fish.















Unfortunately, my bliss didn’t last past the bus ride to Panama City I took after our reunion. I have officially reached my island life limit. My personal unhappiness has outweighed my environmental ideals and dreams of transforming my island community. I realized my utter lack of emotional resilience when a failed tree planting day sent me into a severe tailspin of doubt. The mess of mixed feelings and indecision that has plagued me is still trailing behind me but I have successfully made the decision to stop living on the island. My stubborn tendencies have made me delay the decision (which is clearly the right one from all other perspectives) for months and I am still a little defensive about justifying the move.

I am working out the logistics with my bosses but they are completely understanding and willing to help me work successfully AND be happy. Ideally, I will move to a mainland community along the bus line that runs to port. This way I will still be able to spend time on the island a few times a month but I can live in a less isolated place. (And maybe even have electricity!) I can also pick up some activities in the new community and provide support to nearby volunteers’ projects more easily.

In site (back on the island), I am going to get the group organized to plant the trees we have worked so hard to cultivate and in early August I am building three heat/wood efficient stoves, one at the school and two at the casa comunal (community gathering space). After that I will step back and have a much less active role in the community, relinquishing the modicum of control I have gained had to happen sooner or later, and it will be interesting to see if any of my work sticks.

I'm spending some time in the city to do physical therapy for a knee thing that's been bugging me and also getting a lot of grad school application work done. Hope everyone is well!

Love,

Allison

Nikki and I all wet from the rain after spotting four hump back whales.











One of the whales!










And a white tip shark.

(P.S. My pictures do none of it justice. You all need to come see for yourselves.)