February, 2011


Valencia is where El Cid (meaning’Master, ‘from the Arabic ‘sidi,’) served as mayor. Valencia is known not just for its old quarter, Ciutat Vella in Valenciano, but also for its fabulous new science museums whose swooping architecture offers as much contrast to the old town as, say, hip hop does to flamenco.

The seemingly short flight from JFK, preceded by the dash through the snow from the white snows of our little Pennsylvania town, took us to Madrid’s new airport additions. From there it is about an hour by plane or a few more by train to Valencia’s own modernity, followed by a subway ride to downtown. We turned the wrong way out of the metro but we asked a fellow pedestrian and soon we were on the right track. With two back packs, one hanging from the front the other from the back, I could not walk too much farther and in fact had to rest a few times. With all that stuff and my warm coat, I weighed about 75 pounds more than normal.

We knew Ximo from our time in Florida. He was getting extra training in electrical engineering at the University of Florida and in fact helped us move once. We’d met him at international folk dance event, which we attended most Friday nights. Valencia’s his home town and after a night at a hotel and the following day some visits to apartments, we went to his parent’s house to stay until we found a place.

They live just a hair outside the periphery, a short bus ride you pay for with a card charged up at a ‘stanco’ also called a Tabac. Their house is tall and skinny. She is the opposite, short and not, but he is almost my height. We practiced our ‘vostros’ with them (I shall explain later), and find them fairly easy to understand. Besides they are friendly and welcoming. They even have internet in the house. My how modern Spain has become.

And also how expensive compared to our last visit. That was in 1998. We lived in Madrid. A lunch in an every day place cost around $5.00 then. During our first day and a half we ate out every meal and the minimum is around $10.00. This includes a first and second plate, a desert and a glass of wine. Compared to Paris, say, it is a lot of food, but not much cheaper.

One night they made a rabbit and chicken paella, with green beans, large white beans, baby artichokes and red peppers. I’d had two paellas for lunch our first day and a half here. This was much better than what I was served in one of the restaurants and at least as good as in the more expensive place. They cooked it on their patio on a huge gas burner using a large paella pan. In technique she does not differ from anything I have read or done.

We sat at the kitchen table, eating right out of the pan, which is the custom when it comes to paella. I got in trouble for eating the burnt part, but otherwise, it was a lot of fun. We hope to see them again.


Pen and ink, water colors, Panama

Pen and ink, water colors, Panama


Las Lajas Beach Hotel, Panama
Las Lajas Beach Hotel, Panama numbered print

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Las Lajas Beach View To the Sea. I did this from the room of our cabin on the beach and sometimes in the surf
Las Lajas Beach View To the Sea. Numbered print.  I did this from the room of our cabin on the beach and sometimes in the surf

[wpecpp name=”Las Lajas Beach View To the Sea. Numbered print” price=”30″ align=”right”]



Las Lajas View To the Sea
Las Lajas Beach View To the Sea, numbered print. I did this from the room of our cabin on the beach and sometimes in the surf

[wpecpp name=”Las Lajas Beach View To the Sea, numbered print” price=”30″ align=”center”]


Las Lajas Beach, Panama (water color) numbered print
Las Lajas Beach, Panama (water color) numbered print

[wpecpp name=”Las Lajas Beach View To the Sea numbered print” price=”30″ align=”center”]


Orange and Coffee, Panama, in the mountains near Santa Clara, Chiriqui
Orange and Coffee, Panama, in the mountains near Santa Clara, Chiriqui. Numbered print

[wpecpp name=”Orange and Coffee, Panama. Numbered print” price=”30″ align=”left”]


Man In Canoe, Panama
Man In Canoe, Panama, pen and ink numbered print

[wpecpp name=”Man In Canoe, Panama, pen and ink numbered print” price=”30″ align=”center”]



Kings Day Parade Photos

On January 5th we happened across the King’s Day (Epiphany) parade.  This is a celebration of the arrival of the three kings to the baby Jesus scene in Bethlehem.  This is the day of gift giving here in Spain.

The parade included jugglers, acrobats from the circus, and many people in middle eastern costumes of various sorts.  Minnie, Mickey, Donald and the like also made appearances for some reason.  The big attraction is all the candy and things the paraders heave as they pass by.  The kids had a blast.  We shared our space with 4-5 of them who otherwise would ahve been a little less well located.

One piece of candy landed on my hat and another in my elbow.  As you can see you did not have to try hard if you had a good location.  We did, at a Starbucks table.  We got some coffee from elsewhere as there was no table service.  I almost lost 15 euros as she gave me change for a 5 not at 20!

Select photos are here: https://plus.google.com/photos/111993279450383941292/albums/5830589852330944769








Some mythical beliefs I have run across:

Latino beliefs

Last December at Christmas time, I was talking with a woman about the holiday.  Somehow the subject of Santa Claus came up.  She said she was sure that there was not one now but was not sure if there was one in the past.  She was talking about a Santa Claus that went to each home on Christmas eve delivering gifts, not about a historical St Nicholas, for example (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Nicholas).

Several times this year the subject of ‘La Bruja” has come up. La Bruja means the witch (feminine).  The version I heard says that the Bruja hides at night and jumps upon unwary passers-by in desolate areas.  She reserves special mistreatment for those who doubt her existence.

Also see;


Ngäbe beliefs I have collected. Ngäbes are an indigenous people who live in reserved areas called Comarcas, which are somewhat and only somewhat independent.

1) as related by a young Ngäbe woman in Santa Clara, Chiriqui in July, 2010

  • A woman liked to drink blood during the full moon. She would go to a funeral to mourn but it was just to get near the body and at night she would drink the blood. Her activity was eventually uncovered and she was killed. The diviner told them to bury her face down or she would comeback. They failed to do so and she came back at the full moon, upon which they saw the shape of a donkey. She took the donkey form and then ate some people. But the diviner took the form of a tiger and killed her, cutting her into pieces for the animals to eat so she could not return.
  • If someone dies under mysterious circumstances it can be blamed on people who badmouth others.
  • If a baby is ill they think a spirit is tormenting it. They come together and pray to get rid of the bad spirit.
  • A baby was ill. An uncle went for medicine and while he was walking he saw a naked person and a dog which began to run towards towards the naked person. He closed his eyes and when he opened them again the naked person had disappeared. Rocks began to fall on the uncle but he continued on. A voice said, “ Go no farther, the baby is already dead.” He went on anyway to buy the medicine but he had no money and could not make the purchase. He went back home and the baby had died when the voice spoke to him. 2) as related to me by a volunteer who has lived with the Gnäbes for two years.
  • Myth of the headlamp: When they were still nomadic, people with lights coming out of their heads came and ate some Gnäbes. The Gnäbes went to the forest to find a protective herb, put it in a bottle, and the next time the people with lights came the Gnäbes were protected.

  • If you keep candles lit the ‘maleantes’ (bad guys) can not bother you. If the candles go out, the maleantes will come.

  • If the theory of evolution were true, then monkeys would be becoming humans, said one in response to an explanation of evolution.

  • Evil eye stories (ojear is the verb for ‘to give the evil eye’)

    • B was supposedly the victim of an evil eye because some woman wanted him.

    • A previous volunteer in the community was also the victim, which caused her knee problems.

    • E related the story of a boy who was walking to his family’s secondary dwelling. He complained of being tired and returned home. That night his sister woke up to find her brother standing in his bed with his head on backwards. He was dead the next morning.

    • Twins have the power of the evil eye and they know it. One of them is always good and the other always bad. In T’s community one of them, was only fed chocolate beginning soon after birth. The parents had determined which of the twins would be evil and had deliberately caused his death.

    • In E’s community the village matriarch died suddenly. E returned from an outing and found the village deserted. He eventually found them living in the rough, fearing her spirit would harm them. They had gathered some belongings and a piece of metal roofing, using it or just trees for shelter from the rain.

The Hometown Fair

In March, while visiting one of the local’s coffee finca, Peg stumbled across some old hand tools. They were no longer a part of the routine of local farmers but very much a part of their history. The moisture that fills every breeze had deteriorated the wooden and iron rudimentary implements and not one local person was impressed by their existence.  Peg, however,  saw an opportunity to turn a piece of local history into an instrument for community building.

Five months later, for one very busy weekend, our sleepy little hamlet more than doubled in size as more than 750 people came to experience what began as an idea to  exhibit old farm tools that grew into two days of entertainment, sharing of traditional foods, handicrafts, music, in what everyone now says will be an annual event. Peg’s little idea, big vision, and even bigger commitment helped community members to learn valuable organizational, planning, marketing, and task management skills and to ultimately experience the joy of working together to accomplish a goal. And they did so with great success.

Both the mayor and the local representative made in-kind and cash contributions to the effort. Community members contributed their time and talent as they divvied up the responsibilities through numerous committees: publicity, stands, sports, entertainment, logistics and others.  They did a fabulous job!

Along with the intriguing displays of farm equipment from days gone by, there was ongoing entertainment. University students impressively performed some complex Panamanian folkloric dances while donning exquisitely designed dresses and a couple danced the Congo.   The school organized an elegant competition for Queen, in which the most talented teenagers danced across the stage to live music.  On Sunday, Peg and I demonstrated some international folk dances, including one from the United States called 12th Street Rag, which was created by black Americans in New Orleans as a take-off on a staid Scottish dance.  A group of local teens demonstrated their martial arts prowess through combat demonstrations and by breaking some pieces of lumber with their well practiced kicks.  There were soccer and volleyball competitions and a marathon, the winners of which walked away proudly with handsome trophies. There was even an exhibition of some very striking quarter horses.

Local agriculture and environmental groups had booths, as did some national government agencies.  MIDA (a government agency that supports farmers), after I gave them some technical assistance, was able to share their slide show.  The local town councilmen showed a video of the village displaying its attractive scenery and agricultural products, some of which are distributed across the country.  APRE, a producers association with nearly 100 members, shared some of the products of the region. ADATA (whom I helped with their website, see http://adataeng.megabyet.net/,), Fundiccep and Giropila, local environmental groups, also attended, selling promotional items and providing education materials.

So what exactly do Peace Corps volunteers do? We support the local people as they discover that they are capable of doing great things. Peg injected them with some organizing tools and task management skills and was a continuous source of motivation and encouragement with just a slight assist from me with technical support, booth wiring, and trash management. I obtained a donation of trash barrels, arranged for their transport, sawed them in half since they were way too big, bought plastic bags for them and for vendors.  In an amazing display of energy the locals made sure everything was cleaned up.  As a result the fairground was a appropriate backdrop for the clever booths and huts the locals constructed for the occasion.

This fair brought enthusiasm and a sense of community to our village, some earnings for worthwhile local charities, and the community learned many valuable lessons. They learned that they are capable of working together to create something that benefits them all. They learned that trash is something that must be planned for and managed if they want to protect their quality of life. And they learned some very practical and replicable organizational skills that will last them for a lifetime.

They are already using their new skills to evaluate the event and begin planning for next year.  While I was recuperating from minor surgery Peg took the 10 hour bus ride back home to attend the first post-event meeting.

This group is going to hold the fair next year.  Peg had them write their suggestions and concerns on sticky notes, and she organized the notes into a SWOT  (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats) analysis.   This is one of the PC’s methods for strengthening organizational skills.  As a result they have the sound beginnings of an organizational plan as they start to build upon their threats, look for new opportunities, deal with their weaknesses and form strategies to deal with threats.

Thanks to Anita for her contribution to this story.

Training in ag business

In July I brought two people to a seminar that Peace Corps has been offering for the past several years in Agricultural Business.  This program deals with basic business aspects of farming:   SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threats), general planning (vision and missions statements, goals, objectives) which is one of the parts I did, Setting up a corporation, personal finance, marketing, farm layout, loans (I did this part), insurance (I helped with this part),  and more.  This seminar took place near Penonome, the small regional capital of Cocle.  Fortunately we were outside of this hot town, a bit cooler albiet rainy.    There were 16 participants and about 10 volunteers, all of whom had one role or another.

I learned quite a bit from this seminar, especially how complex the farming process is.  Aside from know what to plant, how much, when to plant, how to fertilize, how to control pests and weeds, and much more, you have to have a good way to sell your products.  This complexity is illustrated by means of a chain wherein participants hold a card reading one of these activities (and there are more than I wrote), and then arranging themselves in order.  It took all 16 people or nearly!  I also learned how bright many of these people are, and how articulate and hard working.

These are farmers who sell their products so they are a bit above subsistence.  Most use chemicals but there are organic farmers among them, including one who is the coop president in his small town producing high altitude coffee.  I learned from him that a Canadian company has moved into his area.  They are looking for organic coffee.  Our home town group has that very product so I hope to help make some connections.

This seminar seems too long to me.  Beside that and some problems with the food, which was typical Panamanian meaning it lacked anything green and fresh and besides they served a dessert on top of a pile of yellow rice, and besides the volunteers who did not do much meal planning so we ended up with a dinner of sausage and ice cream, the week long event went well.

Oh, I forgot to mention, a local host served me liver and onions, for breakfast!  Panamanians do not often serve a breakfast menu as we know it, for them it is just another meal.

On the following Monday I helped A, another volunteer, do a half day seminar for a non profit organization.  I talked about keeping yourself organized, and about how to organize your computer.  They are using Windows XP.  I have switched from Windows to Linux, the Ubuntu version, but along the way I have learned how to run Windows from inside Ubuntu (you can also do it the other way around).  I can just switch back and forth, with no worries about Ubuntu getting infected with viruses and other malware from the internet or from flash drives.  These problems are rampant here in Windows products.

I enjoy spending time with A.  She is very bright and well educated so we find enough to talk about, and we seldom squabble.  But if you learn how to squabble with someone., that means you have made the effort to get to know how to do it well.

Dodging bullets, sleeping in caves

Somehow our staying in Volcan during the emergency period earlier this week became Peggy’s departure for the United States and my fleeing into Costa Rica.   This came about apparently while one of our neighbors was listening in on my phone conversation with our landlord Lily.

I had called her to explain what was happening, although we had explained it to our counter part, who in fact was there when our sector leader came to our Business Planning Seminar to tell us that we had to close the seminar a day early.  Nonetheless we felt we should let her know directly.

So the neighbor who had been listening in somehow came to the conclusion not that we were comfortably waiting in nearby Volcan, a mere 45 minute, 200 curve bus ride away. We stayed there because it is closer to our collection point where we all had to go if we were being evacuated, and to food, medical care and our transport options were better.  In addition, we stayed with two other volunteers, one of whom is a nurse.  If anyone needed extra help, being unable to walk or whatever, there being four of us together gave us more options.

By the time we returned, our neighbors thought we were possibly not returning.  So for fun I began embellishing the story, complaining about having to sleep on the stone floor of a cave in the Costa Rican mountains while police passed within inches and tigers roamed in the darkness.  They are used to my joking by now and know more or less when I am being serious.  More or less.

Yesterday’s strikes peaceful

Demonstrations in Panama City yesterday came off peacefully.  Martinelli, the President, announced the government would suspend implementation of the so called 9 in 1  law, also called the ‘chorizo’ (sausage) law.  The government presumably will hold dialogues, and would not prosecute strike leaders.

Peace Corp volunteers are still restricted to their present locations.  Further demonstrations are scheduled this week.