Monday, June 23, 2008

June 17 Brett and I just got back from a trip...

Dear Friends and Family,

Brett and I just got back from a trip to the other side of Panama with our Spanish teacher’s family to visit their extended family. It was so nice getting to take a trip to see another part of the country other than Panama City. I learned very quickly on the trip that city life and people are very different from the country life and people. When we arrived to the area where Luzmila’s family lived we had to go down a very long bumpy road made of rocks and dirt. Any person that was out and about when we passed said good day to us and us back to them. This is very different than the city life because in the city in general no one talks to anyone else unless you are buying something. Another difference was how to greet someone when you see them. No matter if you are in the city or the country the same things are always said if you know that person. The only difference is that in the country people also always give a kiss on the cheek (which only happens at church in the city). Also when greeting someone it doesn’t matter if you just saw them at another family members house 10 minutes ago or years ago, you must greet them as if you hadn’t seen them forever. The same goes for good byes; you act as if you will not see them again for a long time even if you will see them later on in the day. I really liked the country life in this aspect because it seemed like a more hospitable and friendly way of life than that in the city.

One of the days while we were visiting Luzmila’s family we visited all the families homes. I thought this was a little strange because we had already met everyone at Luzmila’s parents home but they all wanted us to go to their houses as well. Most of the family lived in the same neighborhood so it was very easy to go from one house to the other. At each house they would show us around their house inside and out, give us fresh juice to drink and sit down with us and have a conversation. In one of the homes lived a family of four, mother, father, eight year old son, and a two year old girl. The son had heard the night before that we would be spending the night with one of the other family members and he told Luzmila that we could come spend the night in his room because he had bunk beds. We ended up staying with someone else but the next day when we visited his home he brought out a children’s book that had vocabulary lists in English and Spanish. Come to find out he had studied the night before so that we could talk to us some when we came back. I was so touched by him that I cry just thinking about how kind he was to us even though we were strangers.

Homes in the more rural areas are more basic in design and decoration. Owners build on to their homes, install running water and bathrooms as they have the extra money available. Every house had a yard where they had avocado, orange, lime, mango, and many other fruit trees. They also had chickens, pigs, dogs, and cats. One of the most amazing things I saw while in this part of Panama was a special kind of fence. When people make a fence they cut a piece of tree or a good size limb and stick it in the ground to make a fence and attach barbed wire to it. After a while the limb begins to grow and becomes a whole tree, thus making the fence a large row of trees. Our language teacher ended up wanting starts of many different places from her family and all she had to do was break off a stem. She told me that it was this way for all the flowers and plants in Panama. Just put it in water for a few days and then plant it. I just found this amazing since it’s not this way where I come from.

One of the days we were in Chiriqui they took us out to where they have a sugarcane field and where they make sugarcane cakes. They make the sugar about once a week and since they knew we were coming, they waited to do the process when we were there. It was a really great experience - getting to watch and help as the sugarcane went through the press. Then they let us taste the juice it produced with a little lemon added to our cup. Next, the juice was placed in a large metal vat that was on top of a home made outside oven. After the juice was cooked for about an hour and it had become thick like honey they poured a little into an old gourd and told us to let it cool before we dipped our fingers into it to taste it. I think that was my favorite way to eat the sugarcane. After that, the sugarcane cooked for one or two more hours until it boiled and changed from a black color to clear yellow to mustard yellow. When it finally changed to mustard yellow the men took the metal container of sugarcane off the oven and let it cool a little. From there they poured the sugar cane into molds and let it cool, and while the men were doing this the children scraped the metal container to get the sticking sugarcane and eat it. After the molds were ready we all helped to take them out and place them in plastic bags to be sold at local mini supers. While we were doing the entire process there were hundreds if not thousands of bees all around trying to gather all the sweet food. Some of the bees got into the final product but one of the family members assured me that bees are not unclean like flies and cockroaches because bees only eat from sugar and flowers. I was thinking, "Well I still sure hope I don’t end up with the sugarcane with bees in it."

Also at the sugarcane place we helped peel coconuts which took me about an hour just for my first one. They didn’t let Brett and me use a machete or allow us to use anything else to break down the outside to help because they wanted us to have a "cultural experience". After the first one they let us use things to help with the process but it was still very long and hard. We ended up using the coconut meat for a candy mixed with the sugar when it was in a honey type stage and then boiled and placed in molds. I don’t know if I will ever get to see this process again but it was definitely one that I will remember for the rest of my life.

When we went to leave Chiriqui the family asked if we would come back and visit them sometime in the future and told us that we would never lack a place to stay in Panama. Elva the sister that we stayed with the longest while we were there wanted to give us a gift for coming to visit and she ended up giving us a painting. She has been taking classes here and there over the years learning how to paint. She gave us a painting of Panama La Viega which are the ruins of the first city of Panama. It was her very first painting in the first painting class she had taken. Even though it was her first, you would never know it by looking at it because it is so beautiful. This gift meant so much to us because it was made and given to us by someone we know and that means so much more than anything we could buy at a souvenir shop.

In Him,

Dear Friends and Family,

It has been a really good last few weeks. Rachelle and I have taken on another student for English that is a friend of our friend David. Her name is Cherry which is of course her Spanish/English name and it is after the word cherish. She is a very nice 19 year old girl. Like
many of the Chinese students, she has not graduated from high school and has come to
Panama to work and find a rich husband. Since coming here we have dealt with so many young
people who are fleeing from something in their lives back in China. Each one has a different story which is usually sad and is hard for them to tell us because it is such a shameful thing. It is these things that have brought us so close to these young people and it is truly a blessing getting to
work with them every single day.

This past weekend we went to the other side of the country to the city of David which is right next to the Costa Rica boarder. We went with our language teacher to visit her family. While we were there we went to a black sand beach which was really pretty and out in the ocean there were many small islands that were bright green. It was a very pretty place. That night we saw
her family which consisted of about 25 people. That night her father brought out his accordion and played it for us and we tried to dance. Actually it was more jumping and swinging around, not really dancing. It gave everyone a good laugh.

The next day we went to see some of the family members make sugar cakes out of sugarcane. They had a press hitched to a horse and the horse would walk around and the men would feed the cane into the press and all the juice would be squeezed out of the cane. Then they would put the cane juice into a tub that set over fire. It took about 2 or 3 hours to cook and when it began to boil it became thick.

While the cane was boiling they handed us some coconuts. Filipe and I had a contest to see who could shuck their coconut the fastest. Filipe finished in about 30 minutes and I finished about an hour after him. When we finished peeling the coconuts they where cut open and scraped out to make candy. The candy was made from boiled sugarcane juice and coconut which is also boiled and put into a mold. When the cane juice became think like molasses it was poured into little cakes and set to dry, then taken and put into bags for selling in local stores. This was a once in a life time experience for me and I will never forget it.

The time we could spend with Luzmila and her family was a priceless time and I only wish I could go back again to visit them in the future. They welcomed us with a true joy and gave us the best that they had. This is a memory I will have for a life time.

Please be yarping as we are starting to come down to the end of our time here in Panama and start to work on our papers for school and things for when we get back. A lot of things need to be done in a short amount of time and it can be a little stressful. Yarp that the friendships that we have made will be lasting ones and be carried on even when we get back to the states. Thank you for all of your yarpers and for thinking about us.
Many Blessings,