Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Little Moments

One of the things I love most about Peace Corps is the freedom you have with your work.  I set my own hours, plan my own projects, and follow things through to measure results and impact.  Some days are pretty typical to office work: I spend hours and hours preparing presentations or planning for a seminar.  Other days, I do the Hokey Pokey with a ton of kids, hand out cookies I made at midnight the night before, and hang out in my hammock reading my 3rd book that week. 

Before coming here, I fully expected my happiest and most productive days to be those of the former- doing typical “work.”  I thought that would make me happiest and that would be where my biggest potential impact would lie.  However, after a few months in my little village, I’m starting to see things from a different perspective.

I still have hopes and plans for improving the local way of performing agri-business functions.  Though I’m no longer na├»ve enough to believe that I could completely change the community, I have several smaller goals: helping producers understand basic business functions, taking inventory of their farms, starting to use registers, and potentially even working with value added products (chocolate bars instead of raw beans). 

Making a difference in the way locals handle business practices is certainly important, but I’ve begun to ask myself if there are other equally, if not even more important, ways to make a difference. 

In addition to my primary project (agribusiness development) I also get to work with secondary projects of my choosing: education, youth and gender development, nutrition, etc.- essentially anything other than agribusiness.  As is common with many volunteers, secondary projects have quickly begun to be a large and important part of my work here.  There are the official secondary projects: teaching English in schools and leading gender and development seminars, but then there are also the non-official activities: days I spend playing with kids, helping with art projects or teaching songs and dances to draw shy kids out of their shells. 

As a professional, I feel incredibly happy and fulfilled when I teach excel to a local entrepreneur or when a women’s group asks for my help in marketing their products.  As a person, however, I cannot imagine feeling more fulfilled than when a kid runs up to me to show off the better grades he or she is earning, or when a group of kids starts calling me Aunt to show me that I am a part of their family. 

So, it seems like there are two stories to be told: That which is on my resume, and that which you’ll only hear from listening to the little moments. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Biking on Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro

Looking for a fun, cheap, activity on Isla Colon? Rent some bikes and explore for the day! A plethora of rentals are scattered around Bocas Town and you'll have the choice of renting per hour or per day. Prices range greatly, but the best deal we found was $5/day or $7/24 hours (located at a small unnamed booth in the fork in the road around the corner from the fire station.) 

Though the island is a decent size, the limited number of roads makes it easy to navigate.  You have three basic options for biking on Isla Colon. Ranging from easiest to most difficult they are:

Cruise the roads of Bocas town. You can spend as short or as long as you want circling the busiest part of the island, but watch out for all of the vendors and pedestrians in the street. 

Heading north from town you'll pass some neat little eateries (and Bocas Brewery!) on the beach road. You'll eventually come to a marked fork in the road where you'll have two options. 

Head to Playa Bluff. This mostly flat road will end shortly before playa bluff, but thanks to 4-wheel drive traffic, the sand on the beach is packed tight enough to still be a decent ride. Stop at Paki Point for lunch and lounging- it's one of my favorite chill out spots on the island. 

Take the longer trip to the beaches of Boca del Drago. This 15km route definitely requires some leg muscles to get over the fairly constant hills, so if you're in the hunt for a bigger challenge, give it a go!

No matter what route you choose, I'm sure you'll have a great time biking on Isla Colon!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

My Most Beautiful Day in Bocas

Though I normally shop around first, I was sold after talking to the people over at Olas tours (located just around the corner from the police station).  With no time to waste, we jumped on the boat that was just getting ready to leave and headed out to Dolphin Bay, Coral Key, and Zapatillas Island.  The thing I most loved about this tour was that each stop was beautifully different from the others, and our guide, Willy, was happy to adjust the stop times to meet our group´s preferences.  

After leaving around 11:30, we boated through perfectly still, mangrove surrounded waters to reach our first destination- Dolphin Bay.  According to Willy, you have an 80% chance of seeing dolphins on any given day, as this bay is home to a pod year round.  The dolphins are free to roam out into the open ocean, but seem to prefer this secure bay which abounds with jellyfish- one of their favorite foods.

After leaving Dolphin Bay, we grabbed at our cameras once again to capture the insanely beautiful waters surrounding Cayo Coral. To make the most of our time, we ordered lunch at the local restaurant and then headed off to snorkle while it was being prepared. 

 Though the food wasn´t anything to write home about (next time I´ll pack a sandwhich and some fresh fruit), the views made up for it.  And did I mention there were Maccaws?  

The next and final destination was Isla Zapatillas (aka one of the most gorgeous islands in Bocas.)  The aquamarine water and complete lack of development in this national park made it the perfect place to lay back and nap while listening to the gentle waves hit the beach.  

A perfect ending to a perfect day?  I think so.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Trading Sparkles for Chacos and Celebrating 2014

While I have always loved spending New Years Eve getting dressed up  and taking tons of photos with friends while playing Dick Clark's TV special, this year may take the cake for my favorite so far.

There weren't fancy outfits (or makeup for that matter), but there was plenty of rice, friendship, and locally grown coffee.  To my surprise, there was even fireworks and a *tiny* glass of wine!

Although my dad and I had originally planned to spend NYE on Bocas Island, absolutely everything was booked, and we decided to celebrate the coming of 2014 with my small village on the mainland.  Though I certainly love the island, I have to say, I'm glad things turned out the way they did.

We ventured out to town that morning to pick up fireworks and food, but were surprised to see that every. single. bus. was full by the time it got to my stop.  Three and a half hours and a few headaches later, we finally finished what is normally a 15 minute trip.  Stocked up, we returned to my little village to start preparations for the evening.

A small group of villagers who live near the center of town took charge, and together we prepared coffee and cookies, soup, rice, and a small cake (That last one was my contribution).  The one family who owns a solar panel put a movie on their laptop and over 20 men, women, and children eagerly gathered around to watch a Spanish subtitled movie while waiting for the clock to strike 12.

Instead of the usual countdown at midnight, the party host gave a small speech and then we shot off several fireworks and burned a stuffed scarecrow.  Burning these "dolls" of the old year symbolizes letting go of the past and any bad memories associated with it.  If only I had gotten a before picture!