Friday, April 29, 2011

New address...

We've moved again-  the office this time... Here's how you can send us stuff, because we're still here!

Peace Corps Panama
Ben and Lisa Spink
Edificio 240, 3er Piso
Calle Víctor Iglesias
Ciudad del Saber, Clayton
Corregimiento de Ancón
Panamá, Rep. De Panamá

Saturday, December 11, 2010

We're still here, in Panama!

Yup, we're still here, but we've moved!  We're living in the BIG city, Panama City.  I'm working for the office as the Technical Trainer for the CED program and having a blast.  Ben is a Peace Corps Response Volunteer, working with IPACOOP (the national cooperative authority), advising them on Agri-Business practices.  He's been busy traveling all over the country completing marketing diagnostics with agricultural cooperatives.  (Peace Corps Response is a special program, initally set up to have PC volunteers respond to crisis situations - formerly Crisis Corps - but now offers assignments to Returned Peace Corps Volunteers for 3-12 months traditionally working with a Host Country Agency.

So, in case anyone wants to snail mail us anything, our address has changed, and we've come full circle - back to the Peace Corps Office:

Lisa and Ben Spink
Cuerpo de Paz Panama
Edif. 104, 1er Piso
Avenida Vicente Bonilla

Ciudad del Saber, Clayton
Panama, Republica de Panama

Ben's current PCRV position is for 6 months, which would finish at the end of April 2011, with options to extend.  He's thinking of staying up to July at the latest, and then he's going to law school!  Where, we don't know yet, but his applications are ready and being sent soon.

I will be here until December 31, 2011 (mas o menos), under my contract with Peace Corps Panama!  So, one more year!  And I'll try to keep popping in here and updating all of our dedicated followers about our Panama adventures!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Turning 30 - A Birthday to Remember!

That's right, I'm 30 now, 30 + 1 week!  As many of you know, I haven't been living in the community of Hato Chami for a little while now.  I was asked in June if I would come help plan training for the incoming group of volunteers, so I more or less moved to Panama City on July 1st.  I am sharing an apartment in the city near the Peace Corps office. 

I went back to Chami for a week at the end of July, and it was fun to hang out with my beloved community members, and I spent the work doing an informal arts & crafts camp with some of my favorite faces there.  As I left that week, I promised to come back up and celebrate the big 3-0!

Originally Ben and I talked about going all out - going someplace exotic, far-out, having a big party or something of the sort, but on further thought, what more memorable way to celebrate such a milestone than by spending it in a remote indigenous village in the mountain cloud forest!  So, on Saturday the 14th, I got on a bus out of Panama City bright and early and traveled all day to get up to Chami.  (I've had SUPER bad luck traveling long distances lately - another story - and the chiva broke down on the way up).  I spent the night in town, and then the next day I baked a cake and took it down to Balbina's restaurant.

Her family and our landlord's family came, we ate a little, sat around, talked and laughed, ate cake and got chocolate frosting everywhere.  Juana & Marizin (two of the young girls) ran all over town in the rain to try to find balloons for me, with no luck, but when they got back they decided to be creative and make their own pinata.

The girls took an empty rice bag and filled it with candy and flour - you CAN'T have a good pinata without flour in Panama!  They then proceeded to throw it all over me!  I was COVERED!  It was a blast.  That's turning 30 in style.  I don't think I'll ever forget this birthday.  It was a day filled with my new Panamanian family, my best friends in the area, some awesome kids, and Ben.  Not much could have made the day better.  My parents asked me what gifts I got this year, and I realized I didn't get anything.  Nothing material at least, what I've really gotten is the most amazing experience of my lifetime.  So cheers, and many happy years to come!

Lisa's Peace Corps Reading List

After several requests, I'm posting my Peace Corps reading list.  One of my personal goals for my Peace Corps service was to read 100 books - I'm just past that mark, and have read quite the variety of books.  From this list, you'll probably be able to guess some of my moods, some of my favorite authors, some projects I was working on, and some of my future career thoughts!  For the record, I only read ONE book in training, the rest is in the nearly 2 year period since.  Enjoy! 

1. Touching My Father’s Soul by Jamling Tenzig Norgay
2. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
3. Midwives by Chris Bohjalian
4. Cats Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
5. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
6. The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant
7. Atonement by Ian McEwan
8. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards
9. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
10. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
11. The Cloud Garden by Tom Hart Dyke and Paul Winder
12. A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
13. The Path Between the Seas – The Creation of the Panama Canal – 1870-1914 by David Mc Cullough
14. Under the Banner of Heaven – A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer
15. Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama
16. The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
17. Crossing Zion by Keith Mark Johnson
18. My Friend Leonard by James Frey
19. Sand in My Bra & Other Misadventures Edited by Jennifer L. Lee
20. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
21. Good to Great by Jim Collins
22. The Nasty Bits by Anthony Bourdain
23. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
24. Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras
25. Exodus by Leon Uris
26. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
27. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
28. Night by Elie Wiesel
29. Two Ears of Corn by Roland Bunch
30. The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights by John Steinbeck
31. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
32. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
33. Merle’s Door by Ted Kerasote
34. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris
35. Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut
36. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
37. QB VII by Leon Uris
38. Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates by Tom Robbins
39. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
40. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
41. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
42. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
43. Marley & Me by John Grogan
44. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
45. A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain
46. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
47. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
48. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
49. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin
50. The Red Pony by John Steinbeck
51. Organic Coffee by Maria Elena Martinez-Torres
52. The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost
53. Emma by Jane Austen
54. The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck
55. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
56. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
57. The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck
58. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
59. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
60. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61. Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs
62. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
63. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
64. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
65. The Long Valley by John Steinbeck
66. The Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols
67. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
68. Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut
69. The Known World by Edward P. Jones
70. The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho
71. Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
72. Career Diplomacy by Harry W. Kopp & Charles A. Gillespie
73. Inside a U.S. Embassy Edited by Shawn Dorman
74. Realities of Foreign Service Life, Volume 2, Edited by Melissa Brayer Hess, Patricia Linderman & Marlene Monfiletto
75. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
76. In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
77. Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins
78. Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut
79. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
80. Left for Dead by Beck Weathers
81. The Food of a Younger Land by Mark Kurlansky
82. A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul
83. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
84. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
85. This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
86. Living Poor by Moritz Thomsen
87. Gone Bamboo by Anthony Bourdain
88. Islands in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway
89. Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors
90. Slapstick by Kurt Vonnegut
91. Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins
92. Black Boy by Richard Wright
93. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig
94. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
95. Shopgirl by Steve Martin
96. Harry Potter y La Piedra Filosofal by J.K. Rowling
97. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
98. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
99. The Human Stain by Philip Roth
100. Bagombo Snuff Box by Kurt Vonnegut
101. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
102. The Guy Not Taken by Jennifer Weiner
103. Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
104. The Tailor of Panama by John le Carre
105. Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck

We still have lots we should blog about, so look for future posts on Ag-Biz seminars, the Business Plan Development seminar, what I'm doing now in the office/what we're staying to do, our last few months, etc!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Travels & Visitors: The story of our life from April on...

We've now caught you up on some of our activities and work through March, and if we had to sum up much of our time since then (in two words) we'd say: Travel and Visitors!

We've been on the road quite a bit lately - traveling for work purposes - working on revising materials for each of our "Community Economic Development" iniatives, seminars, charlas, etc.  and hosting lots and lots of visitors! 

The flood of visitors started in late April with my sister Sandra.  She brought "Christmas" with her - or in other words, she brought a lot of replacement stuff with her from what was lost in Ben's bag.  Even though we spent our own money replacing most of the items, it was still awesome to get so much new stuff at once - and even better to get a bag of Easter candy too!  Sandy spent 9 days in the country, and she was our first visitor to spend 2 nights in our community!  We had to brave a few significant bug attacks, but we had a great time and she got to experience an 18th birthday party, Comarca Ngobe-Bugle style!  Complete with arroz con pollo, a "chicha" made of fruit cocktail, a cake baked in my oven, and a pinata filled with candy and flour!   Not only did she brave our site for that long, but we all almost got stuck in the area because our chiva drivers went on strike on the day we tried to leave!  Good times! 

We also spent time in Cerro Punta, we hiked in the Parque Internacional La Amistad and saw a great waterfall - it was a steep hike and we all learned about "shaky legs syndrome" in the days to follow!  We had good spa time, and then headed to Boquete where we ziplined through the canopy!  We also spent some time at the beach.  It was a full trip, and made all the more exciting the last day when our David-Panama bus broke down TWICE.  The first time we had to wait an hour and a half for a replacement, the second time (with different bus) we lost the AC but continued on.  Because of the break-downs we barely got her checked in for her flight on time, but we made it!  Major kudos to Sandy for her patience with all the public transport (and it's issues)!

Sandy and I pose in Casco Viejo in Panama City.

Visitors = Good food!  We enjoy Mexican food in Panama City.

We even cook better foods for visitors!  Here I show how excited we are about "garlic bread."

And Sandy sure looks excited to eat it, or by how awesome our house is!

Lovely Las Lajas.  Ben is enjoying a Panama.

Sandy & Ben play a heated match of Ping Pong in Cerro Punta. 

Look, something cool in the jungle - hiking in PILA outside Cerro Punta.

Picking mud off Sandy - the climb down to the waterfall was steep and slippery!

In mid-May Pat & Casey came to visit us from Fairbanks, Alaska (our farthest visitors) for two weeks.  Ben and them hit up the city briefly and then saw El Valle and did some horseback riding in the rain.  Then they met up with me and we worked around some of our work commitments and regional meetings and saw Las Lajas, Boca Brava and then our community!  From there we spent some quality time in Cerro Punta and then made a summit attempt on Volcan Baru.  We turned back at 1am, and it was a good decision.  Not a fun hike!  Our visit to Boquete was quick, but we then headed back across the country to go to San Blas - PARADISE!!  We spent two nights in the land of the Kuna, relaxing in the crystal clear waters of the carribean before they jetted off back to the U.S.
Outside Finca Dracula with Pat & Casey.

Getting ready to climb Volcan Baru with a group of Volunteers.

Hanging out in Carti, Kuna Yala, waiting for our boat to go to Devil Island.

Exploring Devil Island, view of Dog Island.

Combing the reef and shoreline for cool things.

Sunset - looking at a hut, and toward Dog Island.

Nice Catch!
(Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures from other visitors on this computer, so you'll just have to wait, or visit us on Facebook.)

Ben also flew out of Panama that day, to visit my family in Virginia for a week.  He went back to study and prepare for the LSAT (law school admission test). He had an excellent week hanging out with Nikodemus, eating lots of awesome food, and bragging about it to me everyday.  I was in our community, hanging out with the bugs and soaking in the rain.  Poor me.  :)

When Ben got back, he stayed in Panama to help with a few training activities and then his parents arrived to spend 9 days here!  They flew to David and rented a car to come up the mountain and met up with me in site in time to enjoy a 5-year olds birthday party.  This was the birthday party to beat all Comarca birthday parties!  A significant portion of the town was there, we used a formal agenda, we had special invitees (us), and lots of good food and the biggest pinata I've ever seen!  It was a fun cultural experience for Doc & Meg!  Then, true to our normal hotspots, we hit up Las Lajas, then Boquete where we learned a lot about coffee and then on to Cerro Punta to learn about orchids and to relax!  Ben then headed back across the country (in airplane, lucky duck) with them and then saw them off.

In the meantime, I was off to the Business Plan Development seminar (the culmination of A LOT of my time and work in the past year) with my incredible counterpart, Balbina.  She is writing a business plan for her restaurant.  Just as an aside, Balbina is so awesome - she entered her business in a contest for Female Entrepreneurs in Panama recently, and was selected as a finalist and presented herself and her business in Panama City - she won $1,000!  Go Balbina! 

Ben arrived the next morning to help with the seminar because I was facilitating many of the sessions, and he was a great helper in helping Balbina to write her plan.  We've got one more weekend of the seminar coming up in July and then she will have a complete plan!

After the seminar, we both headed back to site (the first time we've had some "alone and together time" up there in a while) for a few days, and then Ben headed back to the city to meet up with his sister, Sam and her husband Rob.  They rented a vehicle in Panama and drove right up to our site to meet me (I'm always in site!).  Instead of a birthday party they came up on "San Juan day" - which basically means that all the men get REALLY drunk and race around on their horses through town all day.  Interesting.  The second night (they also stayed 2 nights), there was a "discoteca" in town.  Discoteca in Chami can best be described as a junior high dance with alcohol.  No one really dances, they stand around the edge drinking a lot.  After a long night, a few brave souls might lose enough inhibitions to dance a little, but the music pumps until daybreak, or longer!  In our time in Chami, we hiked out to Escopeta (the somewhat abandoned mining town), and saw the "sights" of town.  We then went to Boquete where we did a coffee tour, and then ziplined the next morning.  Then it was off to the beach, and then back to Panama.  Always on the move!

We've really been blessed to have so many awesome visitors lately, but to be honest, we're also glad to be done (for now!) - it will be good to get back into our routine, and get more time in our community.  Our time is drawing to a close (our time in our community, at least) and we really want to enjoy every moment we possibly can.  We've only got about 3.5 months left in our service now, and we're looking to the future.  We've decided we ARE staying, for a while.  We are currently working out the details, and some of them are supposed to be kept under wraps for a while, but look for the info in a blog coming soon!!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Project Management & Leadership Seminar

First of all, YES, we're still here, and YES, we know that our last blog was kind of a "bummer," and YES, we haven't updated it in a while.  So, for all of our loyal fans, we're going to try to get caught up on some of the memorable moments we've had in the past few months.  And we should start with our Project Management & Leadership seminar that we held in our community in 4 days (over 2 weeks) in March.

Before we go into the specifics, we want to give a HUGE THANK YOU to everyone who donated funds to our project.  We sought funding through the Peace Corps Partership Program, which links Peace Corps volunteer projects with people in the U.S. through the official website.  We asked for nearly $700 to help us (and the community) make this seminar a reality, and we couldn't have done it on our own.  So thank you to everyone who donated - it was a great success.

First some background info (I'm taking much of this from our project proposal submitted to Peace Corps Washington).  The purpose of the Project Management & Leadership seminar is to help community leaders obtain the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to be proactive and transformational in the community and within their respective organizations. The objectives of the seminar are:

1. To develop a shared understanding of concepts, strategies, and skills which equip community leaders with practical, people-oriented leadership tools applicable to business or project management at individual, group, community and institutional levels.

2. To orient community leaders to the practical, social, emotional, and logistical challenges which await them in the business or project management process.

3. To encourage community members to adopt a proactive approach to leadership, by focusing their efforts and actions on the areas of personal and project development which they have the power to change or influence.

The Project Management & Leadership seminar seeks to cultivate leaders and stimulate positive change beginning on a personal level and eventually extending to an institutional level. Skills and knowledge that will be acquired by community leaders through the implementation of the Project Management & Leadership seminar include the following:

At the individual level -
• How to identify values, goals, projects and priorities to have a clear personal and organizational direction
• How to manage resources of time, information and money using agendas, filing systems, budgeting and tracking of expenses

At the group level -
• How to get the right people involved in organizations and assigning them the right roles and responsibilities
• Defining and implementing productive group norms
• Structuring successful meetings
• Conflict resolution skills
• Designing a project plan based on a common direction

At the community level –
• Empowerment of other community members
• Community involvement through communication and education

At the institutional level –
• Drafting profession letters
• Public speaking and presentation skills
• Protocol and strategies for interacting with agencies

Through the knowledge and skills transferred and cultivated in the Project Management & Leadership conference, leaders grow on a personal level to be positive agents of change in their groups and in the community at large. In the long term, the knowledge and skills gained through the seminar will continue to be transferred to other community leaders and members through practice and future trainings.

At present, the people of our community and the Comarca province of the Ngöbe-Bugle people are going through incredible social and economic change. Since they began to seek the formation of a comarca (reservation) 40 years ago, they have had to organize their family groups into a government recognized at the national level, adapt their economic system from sustainable farming/bartering to a monetary-based system, and end their semi-nomadic way of life. They are now largely bi-lingual, are educated in classical public schools, and have an increased awareness of modern health care. The upshot of these changes is an astonishing population explosion and an increased dependence on the outside world.

To better manage their shifting situation, the community leaders of our region want to learn how to deal with management issues such as: improvement on an individual and family level, leadership of local groups, facilitation of relationships within the community, and interaction with the other Panamanian ethnic groups. While many of the groups will need individual attention, they all need the basic skills, knowledge, and attitudes demonstrated in the Project Management & Leadership seminar.

Conducting a Project Management & Leadership seminar in our community was initially proposed by our two community leader counterparts. Both counterparts attended the national level Project Management & Leadership conference held in March 2009 and returned to the community inspired to pass the concepts, strategies and skills learned on to other community leaders and members of their respective organizations.

In addition to the enthusiasm of the community counterparts to share the Project Management & Leadership curriculum, through the analysis of an organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, conducted with numerous groups, community members identified the need for training in the areas and themes covered by the seminar.

Thus, we started the funding and planning process.  In March 2010, it became a reality.  We invited 20 leaders from communities across the Nole Duima district of the Comarca to attend the 4-day seminar.  We had a few people come and go, but overall we had great participation and 15 leaders left the seminar feeling invigorated, empowered, stronger, and ready to tackle the challenges ahead of them in the management of their respective community groups. 

The PML seminar was originally developed by our former boss (MAJOR props to you Zach), and is an incredibly dynamic learning experience for both participants and facilitators.  Participants enjoy lots of "dinamicas" (what we might call "icebreakers," games, energy builders, etc.), skits, and activities in every session to help put new concepts and ideas into practice.  We had the help of 4-6 other volunteers from our area in pulling off this incredible logistical feat (MAJOR props to our facilitators: Meredith, Erin, Eli, Gaurav, Andi and Tyler).  Participants were invited from volunteer facilitator communities.

Things started slowly, but trust in the group built quickly, and everyone adhered to our chosen norms: respect for everyone and positive participation (among others).  I've selected a few photos from the second part of the seminar (Ben has all the rest on his computer) to share with the world!

Participating in a "dinamica" - using only our fingers, we had to lower the tube to the ground as a group.  It took several tries, but...

They did it!  Another great lesson in the importance of communication and teamwork!

Participants literally "fill the bucket" of others - learning to communicate motivating messages and empathy to get the involvement and buy-in of the community.  This lesson can be particularly challenging and FUN.  In the Ngobe culture, people just don't say "thank you" (there's no word in their language), nor do they say things like "good job."  Those words really can mean a lot!

"From your perspective, what do you see on the floor?" - a "dinamica" to teach that communication is not always straight-forward.  People interpret messages in different ways.  This lead into our discussion on promoting your group/project using messaging and logos!

A participant shares his group's logo and it's meaning.

Agripina shares her logo. There aren't many women leaders in general in the Comarca, but I invited quite a few up and coming ladies from our community and they did all women very proud! 

Gaurav teaches about formal letter writing.  And on the wall is literally the LARGEST letter I've ever written!

Checking out some examples of formal letters.  Panama has a LOT of protocol to follow when it comes to writing letters.

Tyler, in the role of Devil, and Andi, as a guardian angel, teach Meredith the "do's and don'ts" of presenting in public in one of our skits.

Participants prepare to present in public.  For some, it was their first time ever to speak in front of a large group. 

The graduates and facilitators with their certificates!  Great job everyone!

Thank you again to our donors, volunteer helpers, and to our community leaders.  It was such an incredible experience to host the seminar and to see so many leaders grow even stronger.  Peace Corps has offered us a lot of quote "Peace Corps moments" - this was another one to remember for the ages.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Worst Week of our Service. We hope...

So, it´s been a rough week.  This is probably one of those blogs best done by both of us, but Ben is off finishing the leadership seminar that we were both supposed to be at.  I´m sure I´ll mess up the details of his part of the bad week, but I´ll try to summarize as best as I can!

!Beware, if you´ve been ¨freaked out¨ by our blog in the past, you probably shouldn´t continue on.  If you do continue, prepare yourself for lots of poo talk!

Last Thursday, Ben traveled to the carribean side of the country to the province of Bocas del Toro for his Agro-Business seminar.  (He´s the co-coordinator of the initiative - he represents the business sector, while another volunteer in our region, Kat, represents the agricultural sector.)  Bocas del Toro is ¨famous¨ for it´s tourism - beautiful islands, surfing, etc (I haven´t been yet).  As such, there´s a lot of gringos roaming around up there.  To get to the beautiful islands, you get off the bus in the town of Almirante, before the end of the bus line, which is in Changuinola.  So, usually lots of gringos get on the bus in David with their large backpacks, and then get off early.  Ben was going to the end of the line for his seminar.  (I´m building to it, it´s like a math question from middle school).  So, what happens when all the other gringos get off the bus in Almirante?  The ayudante (literally, helper, or the guy who takes money and handles baggage on the bus), gives Ben´s large backpack to the other gringos.  Ben arrives in Changuinola with only our computer case.  Mayhem ensues.  The company deduces that they took it off early, but who has it?

That evening, they thought maybe it would come in on the next bus, it didn´t.  So, with everything closing for the day, Ben decides to take up the hunt the next day.  Friday he goes to Almirante and asks around.   He talks to the police and tries to get the water taxi manifest with passenger names so he can find the other tourists.  He calls our office, because the bag had his Panamanian i.d., and he files a report.  Then he goes out to the touristy island and actually finds this couple in a park.  They tell him that when they got in the taxi, the driver put the bag in the back and they didn´t realize it until they arrived at the boat launch, where they refused the bag and the taxi driver said he´d take it back.  Back where? 

Ben goes back to Almirante, talks to cab drivers in the area and using a description from the tourists, they figure out who it is.  They try to flag him down, he won´t stop.  That took all day.  That night he wrote up a statement and estimated the value of everything lost.  $1,275!!!!! Saturday, Ben goes to the DIJ (roughly the department of justice) to actually file a report ¨denouncing¨ what happened.  They take him to Almirante yet again and to the house of the cab driver.  He wasn´t allowed inside, but the guy was apparently very defensive and no one saw anything.  Then they were supposed to go to the office of the cooperative that runs the bus company to file the complaint so we can get some amount of compensation and they were closed, and wouldn´t be open until Monday.  Everything, EVERYTHING takes so much time here. 

Ben couldn´t stay because of the leadership seminar he´s now at, so he left saying he´d come back again to file the report with the company.  So, the bag is gone, and in it - the camera, back up hard drive, the backpack itself, all of his Ngobe clothes made for him, other nice clothes, shoes, toiletries, medications, well, just about everything of value that we own now.  What a blow.  And it´s gone.

We´ve come to terms with it more now, but after giving up so many material posessions and comforts just to be here and do this, it´s hard to lose pretty much the only things of value that we did have.  So, now we´re at Saturday.

I´d been in our community agonizing over this issue waiting for phone updates.  Saturday I came down to attend the going away party of our former regional leader.  But when I arrived in San Felix, I decided that I really just needed to see Ben, and the heat was killing me, so I jumped on a bus to David.  About an hour after I arrived, the diarrhea started.  To set the stage, a week earlier, I came to David and went to the clinic for 6 months of recurring symptoms of diarrhea, and was diagnosed with giardia.  I got my medications and left.  So, diarrhea again, story of my life.  Never have I had so much diarrhea in my life as in this year and a half, hell, never have I had so much as I have the last 4 days.  It came on fast and violent. 

By the time Ben arrived in David that night, it had quickly escalated into nearly constant, extremely painful diarrhea, and I lost my appetite.  We went to bed and I didn´t sleep because I was up probably over 50 times with the diarrhea.  At some point in the middle of the night, I noticed the blood.  LOTS of blood in the diarrhea (how many times will I say diarrhea?)  It wasn´t getting any better.  I felt faint, had a raging fever, still had the pain, if not more, and couldn´t face sitting on a bus for 5 hours in the morning to go to our seminar (you´re not allowed to poop in the toilets on the buses in Panama).  I woke Ben up by saying I was going to the hospital.  I got there at 8am to be told that the doctor would arrive at 930am.  I dozed off a couple times and finally was in, and almost immediately admitted into the hospital.

I waited some more, got my first IV, and then got the poop and pee cups- what a relief, I was going to explode.  They ran those tests as well as blood tests and came back with the exciting results.  Giardia (not gone), a bacterial infection AND amoebas!  I´m such an overachiever.  All three of those alone give people wicked diarrhea.  Monday they seemed to get ready to discharge me until I said I still had diarrhea.  Then the main doctor came and said that because of where I live, and how bad I really was, I needed to stay until everything was dead, that meant at least 2 more days there.  Yesterday, at about 1am, the nurse came to give me new meds (I think they loved waking me up) and she blew threw the vein my IV was in on my left hand.  Time to try a new vein, new hand.  First try she blows my vein.  So, the third attempt goes in on the side of my right hand.  My hands are messed up now.  Typing this pretty much sucks.

But, I was discharged today after four days of laying around watching American TV channels and receiving about 10 gallons of medicines through my IV.  I feel MUCH better (aside from the hands), and I have a mountain of medications to take over the next week. 

So, it´s been a full week.  Not a good week.  But we rise up and continue on!  Earlier this week, we both discussed that this was probably a much better time in our service to experience these setbacks, rather than earlier.  I´m looking forward to seeing Ben sometime soon (everything this week made even harder by not seeing each other but for one night) and we know that we´ve probably got something good coming our way soon!  Things can be replaced, and my health is restored!