This blog is a space to share my experiences during my Peace Corps service. It is also a space to share my art, and to question everything from female agency to fried hotdogs. I hope you enjoy :)

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Joys of Semana de Campasinos

I am lucky enough to serve in the Azuero. It is Hotbed of culture.  We are always having pageants, tipico dances, Pollera( traditional dress) shows, and my other cultural activities. Once a year my town has a huge festival celebrating the founding of our beloved town. The town transforms from a calm village to a vibrant party town. The village soccer field transforms into a Campo multiplex of entertainment. We have a bull ring, where rodeo shows are held. Wooden planks are bought in to create a dance floor for a disco/taborito hall. There are even make shift restaurants ( fondas) selling Panamanian dishes.  A buzz settles over the entire community as people ready themselves for the festivities. Under bare bulbs and moonlight costumes are being sewn, dances are being practiced, and allot of Seco and Ron Abuelo are being drunken.

                The days of celebration starts Friday night with Tamborito. Tamborito involves both call and response singing and dancing in a circle. A choir of women stands in a cluster while men drum at their sides. A circle is formed with community members. Everyone is either clapping or singing. Then a brave woman jumps into the center of the circle. Her head held high and hands at her side. She dances unaffected in a series of circles as campasino men jump and cry around her. A man jumps in the circle and dips around the coolness of the dancing woman. There is an icy hot sense of sexuality in this dance yet it is not vulgar. Children and grandparents join into the dancing. After some trepidation, I too jump into the circle. At first I close my eyes trying hoping my footing is fitting into the complex precision and singing around me. Then I loosen up and lose myself in a flurry of claps, spins, and dips. Cheers and Salimars fill my ears at the men at the party jockey and mock fight to partner with me and then just like that I retreat into the waiting embraces of the village women. They all laugh and say I dance better than them. I’m pretty sure this is a lie but I did my best to mimic their footwork. We dance and sing well into  the night and early morning. There is something so transcendent about tamborito. The African influence is obvious to me and there is such a power when people join together in a circle and create. Throughout the night there are many moments of fleeting perfection. I’ve tried to capture some of the magic through video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onywUQKZjW0

Today was the first full day of celebration. Semana de Campasinos was in all its glory. There were Bull rides and rodeos. Cowboys and some brave men from my village jumped at and taunted bulls while men tried to ride them. The whole town was enamored with the show of classic Machismo. Machismo and manhood are very important to my community. Men competed with each other all day to see whom could be the most brave, drink the most alcohol, and dance with the most ladies. Men serenaded me with songs pledging their undying love for me ( a near stranger) and then serenaded other women in the crowds. They jockeyed for the chance to buy the ladies sodas and treats from the fonda. They paid for all the entrance fees for women wanting to dance in the discoteque. It was really interesting to see what constitutes a “Good man” in my culture vs. what makes a man a “Good man” in the states but that is a whole other post. For today, I enjoyed being doted on and spent the night and early morning dancing to Tipico, Salsa, and regaton music.

My Tio and I in our Campo wear

                Today was THE day. Sunday was the day when everyone showed up and showed out. There were traditional costumes, floats, a band, a party van blaring music, and lots of happy people. I dressed up as a Congo woman complete with head dress. That day there was to be a huge parade complete with floats at 3pm. Yet I saw or heard no talk off float preparation. I had no idea how my community was going to pull this off. 3pm came and went with no floats yet at 4pm I heard the band start up and oxen pulling a large float. It was intricately decorated with symbols of life in the campo. Antique water jars, drums and flowers filled the platform. In the middle was my friend in a glorious Pollera with beautiful beads in her hair. It was breathtaking. This show of creativity and innovation was repeated multiple times while my community and I followed the floats laughing and dancing. 

                The most incredible part of the day was how the creators acted. There were no meltdowns no screaming and everyone was cool and calm. They created their art and presented without pretention and seemingly without anxiety which I was in awe of and inspired by. I hope that the photos and videos below flesh out the picture of the Semana de Campasino experience.

Seco break

Traditional Pollera
My whole town was ready to party
A great float
One of my favorite floats
Taking in the festivites
Lil man in his Campasino wear

A father cross dressing for the day. His wife exclaimed, "El es un Gay"

Much love,

It's been a long time I shouldn't have left you..

I missed you all. I know I know, I left you high and dry for almost a year! Allot has changed in that year. Everything from adventure, to depression, to falling in love, and even death. It's been really overwhelming trying to figure out how to catalog all the stories I have floating in my head. However, it's time to jump right in. Future post will not be chronologically correct yet they will be full of truth and wonder.  I am back and look forward to sharing my Peace Corps journey once again. There will be at least 2 stories per week with fresh content every weekend.

Much Love,

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Friday, June 15, 2012

The fountain of knowledge: A day with my favorite elder.

           The house is situated on a dirt and gravel path, tucked away from the solidly middle class concrete dwellings of other parts of town. You know you are at Valaria’s house when you come to the worn wooden gate that beckons you. I feel like I am transported back to a distant age every time I walk through those gates and follow down a dusty path that leads to an equally dusty house made of Earth. The house is brown and looks like it has been in this very spot since the beginning of time. I know she is home when I see wisps of silver coated hair  by a chicken coop.  She strides up to me like she is walking on water and not on hot harden earth with no shoes.  Elder Valaria greets me this day with a large plastic bowl in hand and tells me to sit on one of her chairs as she finishes what she needs to do.  She disappears down a path behind her kitchen and I busy myself by looking at the cracks in her earth house. There are many and the cracks, roots, and packed earth remind me of her skin: rugged, worn, natural, and beautiful. She returns with a bowl full of Plantains that at 93 years old she has harvested herself. She greets me with a large toothless smile and a warm hug. Our visits are special to both of us. We have passed numerous afternoons together on her worn, old benches. We talk of family and the past mostly.  I spend most of these days mining for gems that are her beautiful stories. She tells me of being a child laborer in her village in the 1920’s. She tells me of her grandchildren. Many times she closes her dark eyes and wistfully tilts her head as she recants her past triumphs and sorrows alike. I am struck by her strength. Valari is often working or walking around town. Her tiny brown frame swallowed by brightly colored house dresses. She can lug water, work in her garden, care for her animals, council her great grandson on the finer points of auto mechanic engineering at an age where many American elders are in homes sitting and waiting to die.  Death has been very busy in my town lately with 2 deaths in a week, one being my host aunt who was teaching me Tamborito.  Both of the women who have died have been women and both have been between 32 years old and 63 years old. All woman were far younger then Valarie. I do not know how much more time I have with her so I cherish our time together. I have decided to take some portraits of her during our last visit.  


Monday, June 11, 2012

Photos of the day: Mother and son, Flower, Sky Blue, The doll

Here are some original shots:

A Time to work

The majority of this blog is spent examining interactions, exploring eternal struggles, and art but I also want you guys to know that I WORK! Lol
            The past month has been full of activities. I had a regional meeting with 30 other PCVs in my region. We learned and shared new project idea, conducted elections, and networked. I have also recommitted myself to the school going in 3 times a day. This is in addition to pasearing, working on my house, my community analysis, and being sick lol.
            Peace Corps has a way of sneaking up on you and revving up.
You go through days where you feel you are not doing enough and the BAM! There are 50 things that need to be completed in a week. This can be very stressful but I am learning to pace myself.

Happy Black people Day! ( Etnia Negra Celebra)

I walked into school not expecting much. Maybe I would co-teach an English lesson or do a dinamica with the students. When I walked into the doorway I was not prepared for what greeted me.  “Felicidades! Tempe Felicidades!”, the children sang out. La Directora Rochelle, stood up and presented the students to me, She said, “Today is a celebration of Blackness and Meastra Tempest is Black.let us all honor her on this special day”.  I was spellbound as hoards of children came up to give me a hug, kiss, and felicidadas para mi etina negra. You may wonder why on earth any would be celebrate Blackness in school…I did. Lol  I was used to “Black History Month” but it usually about learning a Langston Hughes poem, a story about MLK, and maybe a play. It is never personal and it is about History.  This celebration was about honoring people of African Decent presently and personally and I was very touched.
            I was asked after being honored to present a lesson on “Blackness”…Which was quiet a challenge to do on the fly to a room full of children of various ages. I sat down and had the children sit in a circle around me. I taught them about some Ancient African Civilizations such as Kush, Kemet, and Timbuktu. I taught them that many of those people were stolen and  put on boats to become slaves. From there I taught them about the African diaspora and the different places African slaves went to. Some came to the United States, while others went to Brazil, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and even Panama!  The kids were spellbound. I gave a very short lesson of racism and the fight for civil rights in the U.S. culminating with the presidency of Barack Obama. All the children liked the U.S. President. After all that talking I asked the children if they had any Black people in their family. A very funny thing happened. The black children would not raise their hands but a nice number of the whiter skinned children did. Many of the Morenos in the circle did not want to self identify as Black.  Which is something we can work on. After all this heavy talk it was time to have some fun! I broke out my computer and speakers and set up an exploration of “Black sound”. I played everything from Fela Kuti(The kids favorite), to Usher to Beyonce. The most touching moment came when I played freedom songs popular during the Civil Rights-Vietnam Era, most notably Curtis Mayfield. These children knew no English but his words touched the kids in a deep way. The children swayed and held hands when his song “Keep on pushin” played.  I also gave dance lessons and taught the kids how to step. An Indingenous boy who has been pretty closed off to me thus far, opened up. He loved dancing with his hips and singing with a soul infliction. He would look at me, raise his hand in the air and sing along to the music like this “ oh ohhhh ohh ho ho yheaa”. It was great!  We had an amazing day full of culture and the teachers were proud that I did all that without lesson plans lol I can’t wait to do more cultural activities in my town.
            The day before my host Mom called me into her bedroom to watch the T.V. She pointed to the television and there I saw a see of faces, mostly black but some really light people as well. All were in African inspired garb and were parading down the street. “It is the celebration of Black ethnicity this month. Everybody in the City and Colon has big celebrations”. She told me this at the end of the month..  I thought that I had totally missed out on the celebrations only to be honored in school the very next day. As stated elsewhere in this blog, Panama has a sizable Black population. The strains of African culture can be found in the music, hairstyles, and to a lesser extent food of all Panamanians. During Etina Negra celebrations, people hold African themed bailes and parades. The people of all complexions put on crowns, head wraps, and other clothes associated with Pan African culture. I witnessed a popular daytime talk show have its host dress in African garb and dance to a steel band. There was one host who was a Black woman and the other host gave her hugs and thanks. It was such a strange but beautiful experience to witness other groups honoring a minority group. I would hope that they do the same for the Indigenous and Asian populations here as well.
            Below is some footage of Etina Negra celebrations and a song by popular Afro Panamanian Aloe Blacc from California. I am editing footage of my children in dancing/singing action so look out for that as well.

Awkward Moment of the day: The Directora of the school gave a beautiful speech in honor of Etnia Negra by professing the natural athletic abilities of Black people. "Everybody is worth something and special. All of us. It does not matter if you are Black, White, Chino, or Indigenous. Black people are very special to Panama. They do so well in all the sports and help us win the big games! In the U.S.A. Guess who won a gold medal for the country? A Black person! That is why racism should end".. She said her speech without a trace of irony and was so sweet and earnest I couldn't take the least bit offense.