Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Almost done

September 28th 2010

I am finishing my service in a few weeks and this will probably be my last post. It has been an incredible time here in Panama. I have learned an incredible amount during my stay. I am grateful first to the Peace Corps for their support and respect. I have always been treated well by the organization as a whole. I must also thank the American taxpayer for supporting an agency that allows a joven like me to do this. I swear…I’m pretty sure it´s worth it.

Sorry no more pictures. My third camera broke.

Because I am not an eloquent writer, it´s easier for me to simply make a list of the general lessons I have learned in Panama:

Empathy and understanding. How does an American, with all the ideas and experiences we have as Americans, relate to an indigenous subsistence farmer who has no idea what the internet is or does? How can an American truly feel what it feels like to be hungry because there is nothing to eat or money to buy it? How can someone who has never had more than 200 dollars understand that an American can make 80,000 dollars a year? How can a Ngäbe actually see the point in putting on a condom? It took a lot of time for prejudices and personal barriers to come down, but the ability to put yourself in someone´s shoes, truly listen and understand their viewpoint is eye-opening. It will take a lifetime of practice to perfect.

Poverty sucks. People who consider themselves ¨poor¨ and don´t feel like they have control over their lives exist, and it is very sad. There is also very little a ¨rich¨ person can do to help. I have seen the devastation of paternalism and the way it strips people of their pride and motivation. It´s sadder than hunger. People get angry if I won´t give them things for free and I´ve been told I´m going to hell because I won´t completely share my richness. They feel entitled to gifts because god has determined that they will always be poor. We want to eradicate suffering, but we can´t, only oneself can. Feeling pity and giving a poor person something humiliates them, takes away their pride and keeps them poor.

Humility. I am forever humbled by Ngabes in some respects. They can do physical work like ants. Their bodies just don´t feel pain (or they never admit it) and they never get tired. By being put in an environment that I´ve never lived in, I have been laughed at for all the ridiculous things I´ve done because I didn´t know, or have no practice at it. My farming skills, which had radically improved, were awful at the beginning. I could carry a little more than half of what they can at first. Nobody is born knowing everything and we can´t know everything.

Humans are incredibly adaptable. People joke with me that I´ve ¨gone native¨, but it is only that I´ve had to adapt. We can go out of our comfort zones and do a lot of things we never thought we could just because our bodies adapt and we´re willing to have an open mind.

Suck it up, it´s not that bad. You have to carry this 150 pound sack of sand for 2 hours? Ok. You won´t die from it. No dinner tonight? You´ll be ok. You have boils? It could be worse. Only 5 more hours of walking and it´s definitely about to rain? Who cares? Most people in America are big complainers and we get stressed about things we can't control. I remember coming to my host families house after a night of incredible winds to see if their hous fell down and someone is injured. I came to the remains of her house and saw her sitting there laughing. You can´t be upset at every uncomfortable thing that happens. You will always be uncomfortable about something whether it´s the scorpion that just stung you or your friend is 10 minutes late. Let it go.

Just keep working. Don´t worry about a thank you or the rewards. There is no word in Ngabere for thank you. They just don't use it. Don´t worry about the people who didn´t show up to help or the negative people who tell you it´s a stupid idea and it´ll never work. If it´s worth doing in your opinion, do it.

I am looking forward to being in the states and adjusting back to being Eli again. Chöti, my Ngäbe alter ego, will have to figure out how to live en los estados unidos.

Ja twoida ti mräkä. Kä nibi jutö tibta dre mun ti olo kidaba ngwäne ti ñämä nere kätärate. Gwongware, ni niki mun kaite nunekare sede, akwa gari ñaka munye dre ti noinaba nere. Ti puedo mun niere, akwa nu gar munye.


Eli Weber

Chöti Nurubu

Friday, July 9, 2010

July 2010

It´s been a while since I´ve written something, so here´s a quick update.

We chopped down a tree and are making a boat. We live in the mountains, so none of us have ever made a boat before. We have a small lake about 4-5 feet deep to use it in.

This is what I´ve been doing for the past 6 months....Latrines! Here, Evanhelisto and some helpers are throwing a base that they´ll move over a hole.

A Hole!

People in Baglá, getting ready to throw a base.

The whole process of managing a latrine project was a great experience. I feel that there are few things so technically simple that could be so complicated to organize. People had to be trained, materials brought in and delivered, meetings scheduled, and work done. All this was done with no cell phones or easy means of communication, the Panamanian sense of time (does a sense of time even exist?) and the fact that everyone lives almost as far away from each other as possible. We had no cement mixers (outside of shovels), used as much local materials as possible and did it all with a smile.

Everyone worked hard to get their latrine done. No American works that hard to just have a hole to defecate in. Imagine that you had to make a 8 foot deep hole (see above), carry a 100 lb bag of cement and 9 buckets of sand and rock up a steep hill for 1 hour, just to have the materials to build a base.

We´re finishing up the last of the work right now and doing some lessons on disease prevention to finish up the project.

Thanks to those who donated to the project. I appreciate your help.

A little less than 4 months until I return to the motherland.



Friday, January 29, 2010

Latrine Project Funded

Thanks to everyone who donated to the latrine project! I now have all the funds. Community meetings to organize work are in February. Work will start as soon...

Monday, January 11, 2010

December 2009

Paula´s family plus me and Dana.

Here is a letter from the student council president. The rest of the students wrote similar letters too and they are in the mail.

Hi Zariannar,
My name is Alexi Flores and I am 10 years old and in 3rd grade. I am behind in school because I could not go to school for a few years. My mom died a while ago. My dad, brothers and I were living far away in Cerro Algodón and there was no school. Now we live here in Laguna and my dad has a new woman. I now have half brothers and sisters. My family works well together and we all work hard.
I am the president of the student council here. We are a rural indigenous community in the comarca. Many of the things you guys wrote about in your letters were new to us, but the teacher and Chöti explained some of it. Everything we have, we get from nature. Our beds, houses and many things are found in nature. Roofs are made of grass and walls are made of tree branches. Materials are very expensive to buy. Companies from the outside come and bring us things like notebooks, pencils, books, games, boots, clothes and backpacks. Robert from the peace corps built latrines for us and helped build another classroom for the school. Before, our school was only one room, now we have two made of cement blocks and one of wood branches. We also have solar panels, so we can watch movies.
Students have to walk very far to go to school. Some walk 2 hours each direction, but we are used to walking a lot and carrying heavy things on out heads. I don´t have to walk much because the school is close to my house. There are two communities that go to the school: Laguna #1 and Laguna #2. The school is in Laguna #1 and I live there too. Laguna #2 is farther and they have to walk to get to school.
In my community, we have horses, dogs, cows, chickens and pigs. We plant corn, rice and beans. We have papaya, bananas, lemons, mangos, oranges, cacao (chocolate), pineapple, guanabana, nance, guava, sugarcane, chayote and coffee. We have a lake with fish and in summertime it dries up. When the rain returns, so does the lake. We have another lake where we put fish during the summer.
I like to play soccer, run, fish, hunt birds, rabbits and armadillos with my slingshot. They are all very tasty. Some of you asked if we have snakes. We do and they come to the community and we kill them. They bite people and animals. Animals usually die, but most people can be saved. The snakes we have here are the X (fer de lance). We also have yellow boas. We sell the boas to the Chinesse in San Félix for 75 dollars!
We don´t have stoves, but we do have fogoms, which are three rocks with a fire in the middle. The teachers make lots of interesting foods like pancakes, hamburgers and french fries. Chöti makes cakes. Chöti made a mud oven where we can make bread.
I am religious. I am a christian. God helps us eat rice, yuca, otoe and corn. The government doesn´t help us much and programs from other countries don´t get here. The government says there aren´t poor people anymore, but it´s not true. The teacher tells us that there are poor people in other countries too: Africa, India and even in the United States where people live in the street and don´t have a place to sleep. I have a house and a place to sleep. I eat rice and don´t live in the street.
You should learn to read and write in spanish so we can write more. Our comarca has a long and interesting history.
That´s all. I hope you like my letter. When you are big and president of the United States, you can help the poor villages of the world, including Panamá.
Your friend,
Alexis Flores Santo

I hope you enjoy the letters and drawings that you get (assuming it navigates the Panamanian mail service). The kids worked very hard to do it. I debated whether the letters some of them wrote were too much for 4th or 5th graders to read. Children talked about being hungry, violent domestic problems, as well as other important but sometimes depressing aspects of their lives. They also wrote about their lives in ways you can relate (pets, food, family). We left the good and the bad in the letters when we translated them (Dana helped quite a bit). Don´t take it as an attempt to make you feel guilty or sad. The whole goal is to understand other people.

Happy new year,


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Latrine Project up on Peace Corps Website

The surrounding communities have asked for a latrine project for my entire service. Organized by family groups, they will work together to build latrines in their groups. If you would like read more about the project and possibly donate, go to this website: www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=resources.donors.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=525-134

Sunday, December 6, 2009

El Mes de Patria

November and December are a continuous stream of holidays. Independence from Columbia, Independence from Spain, Uprising of Los Santos, Mother´s Day (which is celebrated VERY differently here) as well as others are all packed into a one month period.
One of my closest friends in my community, Diocelina. Her, her brothers and sisters hang out\ bother me every day. Here, she is reciting a patriotic poem that she memorized for independence from Columbia day.

Emilia. She found some scissors and decided to cut her hair.

The school´s independence from Columbia ceremony. Pictured is Maestra Paz and Director Mario.

Reciting a poem.

A Kinder student reciting his poem.

Mrs. Paz´s class writing their letters.

An art project that Mrs. Paz´s class did

More art from Mrs. Paz´s class

The director´s 4th and 5th grade class

Things are going well.

Water seminars are done for now. Everything went great: participants learned a lot, had fun and are motivated to teach other community members. Government agencies have shown interest and may incorporate this into their water infrastructure work, maybe.

Latrine budget is in the paperwork phase but should be up on the Peace Corps website by Christmas. If anyone has money that they don´t want and would like to help out, check back later for the link.

School letters are all done. This month, I will have time to translate the 70 letters that the students wrote. The letters are great. Each kid worked very hard to try to explain their lives. I hope you like them. They should be done and delivered to Rutland, VT by the time school starts in January.

Happy Holidays,


Monday, November 9, 2009

School Letters

Thank you to the students of Rutland Intermediate School for writing letters to the school here in Laguna. The 60 kids that read the letters really enjoyed hearing about you. They aspecially loved seeing the photos you sent! Many things that they saw and read were very new and different, so it took a good deal of explaining. Just helping them to pronounce your names was quite a challenge!
Many of you wrote about video games that you play. I don´t think the students still know what they are.
Some of you talked about in your letters about your pets, which included rabbits. The students were surprised to know that people care for rabbits in the house (aspecially since they are eaten here).
One of you sent in a picture of an amusement park with a person in a Joker costume. A student pointed out to me that it was the devil.
Many things you talked about are unknown here: skateboards, skiing, snow, lacrosse as well as many others.
It was great for the kids to know that there are many more crazy gringos like me. It was also great to show the similarities between the American and Panamanian students.
I am getting the last of your letters responded to at the moment and translating the ones that have been written. You should have the letters ¨soon.¨

Here is an example letter from a 3rd grader:


Cody Perry

E.S.M. (in your hands. This is a common way to start a Panamanian letter)

My name is Alexis Flores

I live in the community of Laguna.

I am in 3rd grade.

I like to play soccer and other games.

My favorite food is rice with chicken.

My school is small and rural.

My house is made of grass and Wood.

In my house, there are 14 people.

My teacher is named Rosaura Paz.

My dad Works in the mountains, planting rice, corn, beans and yuca. In my house, I have a black dog named Perdida (Lost) and we play a lot.

In my community, we don´t have light (electricity) but in the school, there is a solar panel and in the evening, w ego to watch a movie there.

In the community, there are latrines and a wáter system. In the past, there wasn´t a water system, but Peace Corps helped us with this necesity (note: Peace Corps did not build their aqueduct).

I say goodbye to you with much love to my new friend,


Alexis Flores

Mrs. Rosaura Paz's 2nd and 3rd grade class writing their letters

The school cafeteria

This is the school. No picture in Panamá is complete without a chicken.

Mrs. Paz's class

Again, thank you for writing.