04 May 2008

The Spanish verb Esperar means 'to wait' and also 'to hope.' Waiting is hoping. Hoping is waiting. Not only do you wait for the bus to come, you hope it comes. Thus the virtues of hope and patience are infinitely bound in Latin America.

The subjunctive tense defines the lives of many people in rural Panama, even if they don't use it in their speech. Entire lives happen in the subjunctive tense. Possibility, waiting, hoping, when and if . . .

03 October 2007

Well, we´ve been in site for two months now. Settling into more of routine, which means more regular blog updates. Yay! A quick synopsis of the last 5 months:

Mac and I arrived in Panama May 16th, 2007. We spent the first 2.5 months in language, culture and technical training in a community about an hour and a half outside of Panama City. We covered everything from composting with worms to the imperfect subjunctive.

July 26th we were officialy sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers and the 29th we moved to our new community: a little town of about 500 people in mountains of Coclé, bordering Omar Torrijos National Park. Our transportation is a bus from Panama City to a transportation hub and from there an hour´s ride in the back of a 4x4 truck on a gravel road. No electricity but lots of fireflies.

Mac´s Peace Corps sector is sustainable agriculture and mine is environmental conservation, though our work descriptions and goals overlap quite a lot. Mac will likely be working with coffee farmers on improving harvest quality and quantity and looking for a better market. I´ll likely be working in the school: teaching environmental conservation and english. I´ll also be teaching computer classes in a school about an hour´s walk from our community.

Our official work right now is doing a community diagnostic: to learn what the people in the community need and want from us over the next two years. This work translates into ´pasearing´everyday: making neighborly house calls, perhaps the way people in the states used to pre-1940. We are lavished with food and hot, sugary coffee on these visits. Wonderful, friendly people, who drop everything to listen to us chatter in our broken Spanish, sometimes for hours.

We´ve got the beginnings of a few projects: an environmental youth group, an herb garden, and a decent seed collection for reforestation projects. We´re especially excited about gardening prosepects: neither of us has lived anywhere for more than a year since we graduated from high school and we´ve had nothing but sickly houseplants for the last 8 years. The house we´ll likely move into once we move out of our host family´s place already has banana, platano, coconut, pixvae, mango and coffee growing around it.

Everyday sheds new light on old philosophies of development and environmental conservation. We´ve got just as much to learn here as we have to teach, which pretty much sums up the PC mission.

It is Mac´s birthday tomorrow so we´re spending the day to his liking in the regional capitol: we´re going to eat a whole (large) box of Cheerios for lunch, we´ve got inside information on where to buy a wheel of gouda cheese, and later cold beer and a Phillies playoff game. Go Phillies!

29 September 2007

We spent three days up in the mountains picking coffee with a couple from our community. Thinking a lot about environmental philosophy. The coffee farm we were working on is the furthest into the mountains of any of the coffee farms in our community: the closest to the National Park. The owner of the farm was talking to us with pride about his coffee trees, the amount of area he had deforested to expand his farm. To get to the coffee trees we first walked through a cool, spongy, forested area that dumped us out into his hot, dry coffee farm. I was upset. Mac asked me what was wrong as I angrily started picking coffee. I pointed to the giant white skelton of a tree that two people wouldn´t have been able to fit their arms around. "Look at that tree," I said and burst into tears.

But what could I do, standing there on parched soil, miles away from my environmental ethics notes, coffee trees bending over with the weight of their fruit? Coffee is the only cash crop the owner has, the only money he´ll make all year.

I picked perfect, red coffee berries until my fingers were raw.

28 September 2007

It´s hot in Panamá. Hot. Mac and I are sweating in an internet café in our regional capital, pounding out our first quarterly reports for the Peace Corps.

A photo of nostalgia for cold and for home. This is a picture from a visit home last year. Me and my first horse - almost 30 now - still fat and happy in his retired years.

Snow is already flurrying around the Great Plains. Shaggy horses with their winter coats turned tails to the wind.

Off to the best restaurant in town for lunch: burger, fries and an icy coke for $1.60.

14 August 2007

Brooke and Mac as official Peace Corps Volunteers. (I´m even wearing the t-shirt.)

16 July 2007

Two months in Peace Corps Panama, to the day. The much promised blog revival has been slow in coming. Volunteer life is busy (or Aspirante life I should say, I don´t get the official title of PCV - Peace Corps Volunteer - for two more weeks). The U.S. government says I need to put an official disclaimer at the top of my blog before I say anthing else. Something to the effect of, "The views expressed in this blog are in no way intended to represent the views of the Peace Corps or the United States Government." Just in case I was starting to sound a little too much like white house press secretary Tony Snow.

08 March 2007

I'm adding a link at the right to Jim Tantillo's Nature and Culture class blog. I took the class the Spring of my freshman year at Cornell when it was still titled, "People, Values, and Natural Resources." I like the new title, though. It was one of the most useful courses in the Natural Resources major, and one of my favorite classes at Cornell. Join me in the discussion!

I met with Jim when I was in Ithaca for a stint a few weeks ago. He had great advice on pursuing graduate work in environmental ethics. I've finally realized that I can go to graduate school and study something other than science. Very exciting times in the life of this lab and field weary biologist. Just imagine: getting paid (however little) to read, learn, think! And all without a micro-balance or repipetter in sight . . .

07 August 2006

An incredible sadness in North Dakota: Drilling for Black Gold. Drilling for black gold just over 400 feet from my idyllic childhood home.

It makes me incredibly sad to think of all the wonderful qualities of my childhood home that are lost as a result of the placement of this oil well. I feel like the thousands of hours that my parents, my two brothers and I spent over the years working on the farm (building shelter belts, restoring barns and outbuildings, fixing fences, planting gardens, eradicating leafy spurge, etc.,) are lost. All the time and hard work we put into building a beautiful, peaceful country home is lost.

The recent oil boom has been an incredible boost to our local economy; something I am glad for (even though I'd much rather see the state developing our wind energy resources). The terrible part of this story is that big business oil is being pitted against, and favored over, our state's other great resources: small family farms, open spaces, and high quality of life. The last thing the prairie needs is yet another abandoned farm house.

It's hard to deny that small-scale farming and ranching has become more of a way of life than a way to earn a living. A way of life that North Dakotans are fiercely proud of. As we continue to develop our oil resources I ask that we not sacrifice these farms and the quality of life that makes these rural communities strong. With proper legislation surely we can find a way for oil development and the small wonders of country life to co-exist peacefully.

17 May 2006

I thought about my last post, and decided that maybe I'm wrong. The little community we moved to did welcome us. A family with three young kids moving to town was the most exciting that happened to Medora, ND in 1987. My family is very well respected in the area. My parents made friends outside the National Park community (an ever-changing subset of liberal, environmental, transplants in an otherwise static, one-cow town) and went to all the local brandings, ropings, and rodeos. We stayed for the parties afterwards, even though we never brought the right kind of beer.

I decided I couldn't have a wedding there because I would have to invite several hundred extra people (most couples simply post an invitation to the community in the post-office). Hundreds of people who would all show-up because they love me, even if I am marrying an Easterner.

We wouldn't have been treated like outsiders if we hadn't considered ourselves outsiders. The North Dakota move was suppose to have been temporary: just a few years. We almost moved to Big Bend, TX and later to Golden Spike, UT (I guess my parents were hell-bent on living in small, conservative towns) but inertia took over and here we are, almost 20 years later. Maybe we thought we were better than the people in that town, with bigger plans, brighter dreams. I always did. I never planned on sticking around, even when I was 10 and in love with the one of the best showdeo steer riders in the state.

In the end I think my parents simply didn't find people they really connected with. People with the same interests and opinions. Becoming locals meant sacrificing too much of who they were and what they believed in.

I never gave up on the idea that I had bigger things in store than that little town. One of the most mortifying experiences of my life was getting caught, two years out of high school, waitressing the graveyard shift at Perkins. My high school classmates came home from college over spring break. There I was - in an oversized, hunter green shirt - serving hashbrowns and eggs over-easy to their drunk asses at 3:30 in the morning. I told them that I was going to Cornell University in the fall (explaining that it's a college in upstate NY), but it probably seemed like idle talk to them.

I've lived the rest of my life since then trying to prove to everyone from back home that I'm better than that.

Better than what, exactly? I'm not sure anymore.

14 May 2006

I found out yesterday about towns in North Dakota giving land to people willing to move there and stay for a certain length of time. As testament to how removed I am from the actual goings-on in that state I heard this from friends visiting from Minnesota who'd read about it in the New York Times.

You can read the article here but need to be a TimesSelect subscriber. Also check out this article for free. Of the people they interviewed from North Dakota I personally know three of them and know the family names of most of the rest.

Both articles mention a website called Prairie Opportunity. They're not giving away land (I don't think anyone is actually giving away land), but they're trying to recruit 5000 people to move to North Dakota, sort of. If you read on it sounds like they don't actually want you. They say, "Many are too far removed from the rural to ever become a part of it . . . Odds are, you are not a candidate for NW North Dakota. You have succumbed to the cities." The website reads like a poorly written military recruitment flyer. It also sounds a little cultish. "Northwest North Dakota has an opportunity for 5,000 people. Not the first 5,000... the right 5,000." A biblical recruitment of 5,000 people to, "live under clear skies, drink clean water, to worry less and enjoy life as it was meant to be enjoyed."

The best part of the website is the guestbook: the website recieved a bunch of hits and comments as a result of the NYT article. Mostly wacky idealists and a few appropriately cynical cynics. I'm one of the latter, but my post didn't show up, so here it is:

One commenter to this board asked, "Would Jewish people be accepted?" and "Would people with liberal views be accepted?" Sadly, the answer is 'no'. Not because your Jewish or liberal per say, but because you'd be an outsider.

People are nice enough in North Dakota, just as people are nice enough anywhere. And finding community is hard anywhere, even in cities when there are thousands of people and groups to choose from. In rural ND there aren't different communities to choose from. Either you're in THE community or your not. Having different religous and political views only makes it harder.

My family moved to North Dakota when I was 6. I grew up in SW North Dakota and left when I graduated from high school. I went to college in upstate New York and now live in Eastern Massachusetts with my husband, an Easterner from Philadelphia. My parents are still living in ND, almost twenty years later, and are still considered outsiders. Outsiders even though my family is Caucasian, loosely Christian, and not overtly opinionated politically.

Even if you value honesty and hard work and you believe in community and family you won't be welcome in North Dakota unless you are also a registered Republican and go to church on Sunday. I'm being glib, but not wholly untruthful. There is a man that ranches just north of us; he is an amazing naturalist and an outspoken liberal and environmentalist. He has struggled the past few years because no one turns up to help him with branding or calving or fencing.

I have moments when I'm nostalgic for North Dakota, for the wonderful youth I had there. Sometimes my husband and I think about moving back: we like the idea of living and raising a family in a small community. Even if we could find jobs I still don't think we'd move back. We'd be miserable without a community of people we could connect with.

Alcoholism and drug abuse are high among my friends who've stayed in the state. The physical isolation is difficult enough. The emotional isolation of being liberal and non-Christian would be impossible. This website almost blatantly says you're not wanted if you're different.

It's admirable in a way: the fierce pride North Dakotan's have in their harsh, dying landscape. They don't think there are many who can make it under such circumstances: the weather, the isolation, the lack of resources. Probably there aren't. This says to me that circumstances need to change. The unfortunate reality is that most North Dakotan’s don't want to see it change. They aren't ready to embrace diversity of any kind.

This state will continue to decline until its residents open their minds and hearts to more than a select 5000. To do this North Dakota must embrace the original spirit of the Pioneer. The original pioneers came from a multitude of cultures and built thriving towns and cities. Often these pioneers were laborers from the old countries, who knew nothing about farming or prairie life, but they were tenacious and they had vision. They didn't come to North Dakota to find a quaint and idyllic life: they came for the opportunity to build an empire. North Dakotans must embrace THIS pioneering spirit - the spirit of change, growth, and opportunity - if they want to see positive changes in the state.

09 May 2006

Moving to North Dakota "was like coming to another planet." But at least is puts us on the cutting edge of intergalactic space exploration. The article references Fryburg, ND - only 10 minutes from where I grew up.

I sent this link to all of my family. My brother in law wrote back with another story of ND in the news. Apparently a financial magazine recently published a list of '50 ways to improve your life right now.' Meditation, growing a plant, and quitting your job were all included on the list, as was MOVING to NORTH DAKOTA. Maybe we'll all be there soon.

19 April 2006

We mailed our invitations off yesterday. Yippee! The theme of the evening became "too late now . . ." as we remembered inconsistencies and changes we'd meant to make after inserts were already printed and envelopes were sealed.

The theme of my yoga class last week was giving up and letting go. I'm going to need constant reminders to do both until June 10th has finally past and Mac and I are well into our cross-country, U-Haul-Honeymoon adventure.