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

Monday, October 1, 2007

Light, Night, and Waking

Generally we’ve been going to bed between 8 and 9 while in site. The sun goes down around 6:30 and by 7, it is dark. Only one of our three host houses have had working lights, with the batteries in the two others no longer holding a charge from the solar panels. The batteries, good for about five years, cost about $120. One of the two families ironically connected a replacement the day we moved, after we had pointed out that $2 a month for a battery was significantly cheaper than the $15 a month they were paying for gas to run a generator, and the noisy, stinky, generator powered only one light, versus the three fluorescents connected to the battery.

So in the evenings, we generally sit around with a candle, flashlights, or our solar-lid water bottle. Since they all have solar panels on their houses, the only impressive part of that is the size, and its water bottle aspect. But they are so impressed with our Brookstone crank flashlight – thanks M&D Dierks for the birthday present – not needing batteries that one family bought a small hand-squeeze LED light; here’s hoping it lasts long enough to provide a savings over buying batteries every few weeks. We play cards, or talk, and turn in early by US standards (our excuse: our brains are tired from thinking Spanish all day).

We sleep under our mosquito nets (watch for a post later about their benefits besides just keeping away mosquitoes), thankfully sharing a bed again (our second house had us in separate twins). Beds are generally wooden platforms with a foam pad, which we augment with our backpacking sleeping pads, and we bought two nice sets of full sheets. Some nights we’re warm, but some nights after an evening rain can be cooler and we sleep with a long-sleeve shirt for just a bit more warmth. And let’s not talk about Panamanian pillows.

The morning starts around 4am with a flapping of wings (about 5 or 6 times) as the first gallo (rooster) revs up for his call. I can generally turn over for more (fitful) sleep, but it isn’t long before the family gets moving and while quiet, the morning fills with the sounds of hand grinding corn for the tortilla (not like a chip, but a dense, Frisbee-shaped bread, about an inch thick and a foot wide, with a wedge broken off for each person’s breakfast), filing and sharpening a machete, chickens clucking for breakfast, more rooster calls (not just at sunrise, but anytime of day), and the one that prompted me to want to write this post, the pigeon races across the zinc roof at our current house. (Man, are they loud and I think they literally just go back and forth for a while, maybe until they see all the residents emerge from the house.) The smell of coffee mixes with the cooking tortilla, and by just after 6, we’ve gotten up too.

Often (like while I was hand writing this to later type for a blog entry), we sit on the porch enjoying the early morning light and slight cool (and it had better be cool, because we are wearing long pants, long sleeves, and socks to keep off the chitra, which are like the insects in the US known as no-see-ums) while reading or writing. Around 7 we eat, and by 7:30 the day’s work begins (for us, and resumes for them). Once we are out on our own, it will be interesting to see how our schedule adjusts.

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