Sunday, October 12, 2008


No Peace Corps experience would be complete without a crazy, tropical disease, right?

3 months into service, and I’ve got mine. I have Leschmaniasis, a parasitic infection transmitted by sand flies, which manifests itself in big, ugly open ulcerations on the skin. I can remember when the little bugger bit me, and I few weeks later my itch turned into a big red sore on my inner upper arm. Gross. At first, our Peace Corps doctor was optimistic, and sent me back to site with topical crèmes and antibiotics. Then when it didn’t go away, she sent me to a dermatologist to be biopsied. The doc shot me with anithesia, cut a little piece out of the sore (real creepy) and put it in a bottle. A few days later I had my answer: LESCH.

My community cures leschmaniasis, like all health problems, with plants. When I began to ask around the village about the sore on my arm, everyone proudly showed me their own leschmaniasis scars on their legs, arms and face. Needless to say, this being an everyday occurrence in my village made it quite difficult to explain to everyone why I had to go into the city for PC mandated, Western medicine.

Now I’m in Panama City, wishing I had been more receptive to plants in lieu of needles. My treatment is 20 straight days of Glutamine IVs. It’s not bad, I just don’t much like being pricked with needles on a regular basis (and who does, right?) But besides constantly having an IV strapped to the back of my hand, being here in Panama City is somewhat of a vacation. I’m enjoying the indoor plumbing, electricity and internet. Luckily, there’s been some PC volunteers trekking through the city for regional meetings and medical checkups, so I’ve had good company. And I’ve actually even managed to make some new friends by bumming around the cities cafes.

While I’m in the city, I would love the chance to catch up with as many friends and family as possible. I am reachable on my cell (a huge plus versus my community phone where it can be rather difficult to communicate with and/or entice small children to come find me), so I hope to do some catching up with many of you!

Sunday, October 5, 2008


Amy’s HOME SWEET HUT is just about done! A few weeks back, my community organized a big 2-day junta, and we cut just about everything needed for construction. On Day 1 we cut penca (the palm leaves that make up the roof), and on Day 2 we cut the jira (wood from a certain tree here that makes for a strong, yet very flexible floor).

So I don’t know much about constructing houses or huts, but I do know how to throw a party. And nothing makes people work with more “animo” than food and booze. To feed everyone, I bought 12 GIANT chickens to make Panama’s traditional dish, sanchocho (which is more or less a glorified chicken soup). Luckily, I well overbought, so men, women and children were all able to eat.

As much as I had enjoyed going to the mountain to cut the frame of my house, for the junta I stayed at home with the ladies. There’s only so much defying of gender roles an American gal can do here in rural Panama. But what an experience my days in the kitchen were! At first, I was very timid in the kitchen. Anyone who knows me well can vouch that a combination of my impatience and love for dining out has always kept me from really learning how to operate a stove or oven. But the ladies of Embera Drua were fantastic teachers, and I think they had a lot of fun telling me what to do. In a few days, they had me slicing and dicing chicken carcasses and even cooking over a fogon. Not sure if either of these skills will be of use in downtown Chicago, but now I sure know how to cook for a small army in the jungle.

As you can see from the photos, the junta was a great time. I did have some frustrations with some of the muchachos of my community drinking too much and conveintently disappearing when the booze was gone and it was time to hoist the pencas and put the roof together (note my rather unamused face in one of the shots below). But all in all, it was such a great experience to watch my community all work together to accomplish something. I nearly cried on the morning of Day 2 of the junta. I came out of the house from counting nails, and saw my host dad AND mom, in the rain, aligning penca to finish off my roof, and I got all teary. It was then that I realized just how much I love this little village.

The house should be all finished off this coming week! My architect (as I like to call him), fell very ill for a bit and we held off on finishing touches. I still don’t know quite what ailed him; he’s afraid of hospitals and our traditional medicine man thinks he just has “viento,” or gas. Regardless, he’s now doing quite well and all that’s left to do is close in a little room for me to sleep in. I can’t wait. As much as I love my host family and love living with them, I’m a grown woman used to living alone, and I need my space. That, and I’m so ready to cook for myself (I’ve had about all the fish and plantains I can stomach), and I can’t wait to decorate. Jungle motif, perhaps? ;)

First pile of wood, first cut, framing out the house, and proof that Embera have incredible balancing abilities...

A couple of my favorite workers take a rest :)

Making sancocho with the ladies, and serving it up to the hungry gente!

Carrying palms STRAIGHT uphill for my roof!

Yup, that's me! Hard at work, hoisting penca :)

Embera roofs are put together bottom-up, and then you've got to slide your way down!

Junta fun!

At last....HOME SWEET HUT! My architect Auristo, me, and my host dad Adan.