Monday, February 21, 2011

Hooray for Visitors

In the year and a half that I've been living out on Peninsula Valiente I don't think I've ever really felt lonely. I mean, I'm pretty much surrounded by people all the time. I often find myself gettting up at five in the morning just so I can savor my morning coffee in the hammock and enjoy a couple of hours of "me" time before things really spring to life and people start dropping by.

Like this crew of kids and their moms who hike the muddy finca trails through the woods to come to school. They know they're welcome, so they come up on the porch to put on their shoes and socks, and starched white uniforms before heading on to class. This was the first day of school and the moms were spritzing all the kids with cologne before sending them on. Pretty darned cute. And of course, being a cut-up, I got in line for my spritz. They love that stuff.

And after school kids are always coming by to hang out a while, usually asking me to let them read one of my books--old newspapers serve the purpose--and maybe catch me in a generous mood when I might give everyone a soda cracker.
And of course I have a lot of adult visitors to, like these guys who came over for our water committee meeting.

So, given that I have so much company, it always surprises me a little how much I relish visits with, as the Ngabes like to say, mi gente -- my people. That's usually a neighboring Peace Corps volunteer, like my friend Charles, who lives out on the other side of the peninsula. I went over a few weeks ago to visit him and help him build a rainwater tank.Until I get the chance to do it, I don't realize how much I miss having a conversation in English, and especially with someone who is sharing this same special and somewhat crazy experience as me.

So it was even more of a thrill when I walked up to my porch one day in February to find that my son Kelly had finally arrived, having made his way down on the bus from a visit back to the site of his Peace Corps service in El Salvador. It was great having him here. To those of you who know Kelly, it will be no surprise to hear that my community loved him. He fell right in, making friends, learning phrases in Ngabere, tickling little kids, and conducting office hours on the front porch.

Despite the fact that it rained almost constantly, we had no problem staying busy for the week or so he was in town. In addition to coming along and helping with aqueduct repairs we worked together to build a sixty-five gallon ferrocement rainwater storage tank. When it was time to precast the base, it was Kelly's inspiration to bring the mud up onto the porch to make the form for the dome shaped bottom plate.
The mud worked perfectly as a form, as did the rest of the project, and the finished tank is full and supplying the water for the washbasin in the latrine I wrote about in the previous blog. Everyone here loves the tanks and a lot of people want me to help them build one of their own. (more to come on this project in another blog post)

We visited just about everyone in the community at one point or other, and paddled over across the bay and up the beautiful Quebrada Sribidiri, one of my favorite places around here.

We'd gotten about as far upstream as you can go without getting out and dragging your canoe, when the calm was broken by a raucous clamoring in the distance that Kelly guessed was a pack of wild dogs, but that I recognized immediately as something much more animated than that: a junta of Ngabes hauling a dugout boat up out of the woods and down to the river. We parked our canoe and hiked in a ways to see the men struggling through the mud to drag the massive boat out.

I was glad to be able to get some photos since I´ve always been one of the people doing the hauling on these operations before. Kelly took the opportunity to jump in and pull the boat along the home stretch to the river bank. I shot a little video but i{m not sure I can get it to work on this page. if not, the youTube link is

Great stuff. It means a lot to share the experience and I feel awfully lucky to be a volunteer in this age of digital photos, internet and instant communication. Lucky indeed.
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