April and Kevin in Kuna Yala, the northeast coast of Panamá

Monday, June 4, 2007

Volunteer Visit - Noah & Karinne

Hello all,
We are sneaking in 20 minutes at an internet cafe (only cafe doesn´t seem quite right as there is no coffee or tea here). First off, sorry no photos this time...I have the camera but no way to make it talk to this computer.

We are in Santiago Panama...West of the capitol by about 4 hours on a bus. We just finished a volunteer visit about 3 hours North of here in the mountains. My rear end is sore from the bouncy ride. Think of the worst 4 wheel drive roads you can imagine...then ride over them on a bench in the back of a pick-up truck with 12 other people and you are getting close to imagining the trip to see Noah and Karinne.

Noah and Karinne are married PCVs who have just finished thier first year of service. Every trainee went out to visit a volunteer this week to learn more about what it is like to be a volunteer. Noah and Karinna were great hosts. They made us brownies! In addition to good food and great company we got to experience life with electricity and water that comes and goes at will. It is just a fact of life where they live because the systems that run the water and electricity are old, iffy and volunteer maintained at times. I have come to find that if I have to do with out either water or electricity in my home I want the water...it is heavier. :)

Noah and Karrine live in a cement block house with a zinc-coated steel roof. It is very typical of Panama. The windows are decorative cement blocks that have openings in them. Sometimes the windows are screens, often not. The houses are all painted bright colors, Noah and Karrine live in a bright peach house. They have an indoor bathroom with shower, but the water pressure is not always high enough to shower...so they often bucket shower. They always flush the toilet with a bucket...for those of you who don´t know this skill you should learn it because it is usefull whenever the water goes out. They also have an indoor kitchen with a propane stove, but many of the people in their area cook over wood fires and fogons (fagon= three rocks with a pot on top). Thier house was nice and cool because of the altitude and cloud cover, but there are some areas of Panama where the metal roof really heats up the house.

The weather at thier site was awsome, reminicent of warm spring in Maryland. The altitude (700m or around 2200 feet) keeps it cooler Cool to crisp in the evening, and warm to hot in the sun of the day. We went out for walks to see the counrty...lots of steep hills. We went swimming in a local swimming hole on a crisp stream with waterfalls. We also go to got to thier first ever charla - or talk. They got the community together to talk about coffee poroduction.

Coffee is the main cash crop in thier area and they are trying to get the farmers to focus on the quality of the product that they raise. It is hard for them to understand that the way they raise and process thier coffee could be important to the price that they get. This is impart because, while Panamanians drink a lot of coffee they sure don´t seem to care about the quality of it. It is roasted beyond dark and drunk with lots of sugar.

It is hard for them to imagine a culture like ours that has a segment of the population that are as coffee crazy and quality oriented as we are. There are about 8 steps in coffee harvesting and processing...and each of them can have a big impact on final quality. Attention to these steps can raise the price that the farmers get for thier products, but first they have to believe that it is important enough to invest the effort. Noah and Karinne´s community doesn´t have the prime coffee climate necessary to produce award winning coffees (altitudes above 1000m are best for coffee), but they can produce darn good coffee that will fetch better prices than they currently get.

Needless to say, we got to see coffee growing. We even got help with some production by helping Noah peal some of his beans. We roasted and drank coffee from local beans and had a generally good time. The scenery was simply breath taking in almost any direction. I have some photos that I will try to post next time. So, do I want to be posted in the Mountains? Part of me does, but part of me is wary of the chiva (truck for passengers) ride.

Hope all is well back in the States. I must admit to knowing almost nothing of what is going on in the world. I don´t know enough Spanish yet to easily read newpapers or follow the TV news.
Send your Panama questions in and we will try to answer them.
Love to all.

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