Wednesday, March 19, 2014

IST and Chocolate Week

In February I headed to Cocle, a province in central Panama, for our in-service training. During the first week everyone from Group 73 was reunited as we went to sessions related to grant writing, youth development, gender and cultural issues, and dealing with domestic violence. The SAS program also had some time together to cover ag-related topics and take a few field trips to visit agencies and a pretty dang cool organic farm. Though the days were long and packed full of activities and information, it was great to see volunteers who are normally so far from me, and the information couldn't have come at a better time; I'm feeling much more inspired for my work in site!

Getting ready to drink some locally grown and processed cane-sugar juice

Cane sugar "honey" and the farmer who made it

Since we all work in such diverse projects, we split up for the second week of training so that we focus more on the topics that matter most to us. Lucky for me, that meant spending a week learning all about cocoa, complete with cooking experiments and a "Create your own chocolate bar" activity. Have I mentioned that I love the perks of my job?

 home-made chocolate chips

Carly, the volunteer I visited during Pre-Service Training last year, is actually the National Cocoa Coordinator and hosted the majority of Cocoa Week in her site in Bocas del Toro. Since there were only 6 volunteers in training and 2 volunteer trainers, week 2 was also that much more intimate and laid back, which was a welcome break.  Though I was anxious about staying with host families again, I got paired with a super nice family who remembered me from my last visit. Not only did they cook me awesome food and provide good company, but they even sent me home with a bag of homegrown veggies, chocolate, and coffee!

In the mornings we focused on the various agricultural aspects of cocoa- everything from grafting and pruning to harvesting and a-sexual propagation, and in the afternoons we spent more time on the processing side of things. Obviously this mandated cooking projects and plenty of taste testing. The best part is, that kind of stuff isn't just for fun. This coming week I'll be using one of my new chocolate recipes to teach women in my site how to bake (and sell) birthday cakes!

Visiting COCABO, the local Cocoa co-operative, and learning about bean quality

Apparently the week was going a little too well for me though, because 2 or 3 days in I got sick with parasite-type symptoms and had to go to the doctor to get it checked out. Though I certainly never want to be sick, there's some sort of an odd satisfaction you get from getting a diagnosis of something other than "Maybe you just ate something bad." At least that's certainly how I felt when I got to add a new notch to my internal parasite belt, this time with a pretty nasty Protozoa. Thankfully, a few days worth of pills and I'm all recovered... For now.

Overall, Cocoa Week was a big (and welcome) catch-up to many of the knowledge and skills I was lacking, and I'm looking forward to putting what I learned to use in my site. I now have a small but dedicated group of farmers that I'll be focusing a little more time and energy on, and we're planning to do farm inventories and an introduction to record keeping in the coming months. Seeing as though this will be completely new information and ideas to everyone, it sure looks like I have my work cut out for me!

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Massy Update

Hey everybody! I know you haven't heard from me before, but since my mom's constantly getting so many questions and comments about me, I figured I'd just go ahead and write for myself.

Things are going pretty good out here in the campo. Mom has had to go out of site a lot for work stuff lately, and I make sure she knows I'll miss her by crying as loud as I possibly can and refusing to stay behind. I really want to go too, but I'm not sure if she understands. To help show her, I always chew through whatever rope or leash she ties me to, and I've also learned how to jump over the downstairs area that I'm oh-so-rudely condemned to when she has to leave. You would've thought she would learn, but since none of that worked, I sneakily followed her all the way to her bus stop and then hid out with a family who lives up there.  She didn't find me for almost a week, and she was so excited to see me again that I think she just might take me along next time.

She also wants me to let you know that she does feed me, the good stuff too! Apparently I'm looking a little slim to those of you back home, but she made me promise to tell you that I do in fact eat a lot. I'm even learning tricks so that I get to eat more treats. When there aren't treats around though, I just don't see the point in doing them.

Like me, my mom also has plenty to eat and has started to exercise more to make up for all the rice our neighbors give her. I like to help by sitting on her tummy when she's doing sit-ups, biting her heels when she runs, and then circling around her feet when she's going too slow. You'd think that she would appreciate my efforts to encourage her, but it doesn't always seem that way.

Speaking of not appreciating my efforts, my mom broke the most awful news to me the other day. We're getting a cat. A cat! She said it's because I don't help get rid of the rats that sometimes wake us up at night, but what does she expect me to do? Eat them?! They're almost as big as me, and I'm sure they'd taste pretty nasty, so no thank you.

Other than that, things have been going pretty good out here. Mom and I go visit people a lot and everybody knows me now. I thought it was funny when people remembered my name and not hers, but it seems like now they all know us both. When we're not visiting, my favorite thing to do is chase the neighboring animals around. We have cows, pigs, and chickens, so that keeps me pretty busy. Sleeping is my other favorite thing. During the day I like to sleep in the sun, and at night I bark until mom lets me under the mosquito net to sleep with her, since I'm sure she'd get too cold without me.

I'm gonna go now though, I need to go bark at the person that's passing our house!!!