Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Whoops. That was my bad, how I left you all to think that I was spiraling downward into a world of depression and then failed to update for almost two months. I apologize profusely for that.

THE GOOD NEWS is that I am way back on my feet and much, much happier. My schedule has been amazingly full for the past couple of months, with HIV/AIDS charlas, vigils and seminars, trying to get MINSA to fund the latrine project (an ongoing struggle since January), hanging out with Jorge, regional meetings, and chilling in site, which honestly, is pretty awesome. There was a brief period where I thought that I was going to be moving into a new house that had TWO indoor bathrooms and solar paneling that allowed for 24/7 electricity, but that dream has fallen through. I have, however, managed to make it to the seventh season of the West Wing with the two hours of electricity I am permitted per night.

Two other exciting news events: we finally got some semblence of cell phone service. The public telephone in my site finally gave in around the same time that cell phone signal sprung up on a nearby hill. This is fine with me, as I wasn't so keen on making phone calls while surrounded by about twelve creepshow people who felt the need to gather at the payphone every night and stare at people making outgoing calls. Also, cell phone services allows me to call the United States 0and talk for as long as I want without someone inevitably showing up (whether it's at six am or eleven pm) to stare at me as if I'm committing some crime by talking to my mother for more than ten minutes. I swear to God, I hate public phones. So if you want to give me a call while I'm in site, and most likely have to leave a message, hit me up at 01150766066362, or when I'm out of site at 01150767357373.

The other exciting thing is this guy bought a finca, or a farm, in Quebrada Cali, and he happens to be a political figure whose job it is to sign contracts for projects like electricity. The electrical company presented him with a contract to put in electricity up to Loma Bonita, a community still about 20km away from us, but he's refusing to sign it unless they put in lights all the way to Quebrada Cali. That means that I MAY be looking at the possibility of refrigeration (WHICH MEANS YOGURT AND CHEESE AND MILK THAT ISN'T POWDER) in the near future, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

So besides dreaming about dairy products, I'll bet you're all wondering what is planned for the next couple of weeks. Well. This upcoming week we volunteers in the Darien are throwing a big camp for kids in our community to educate about HIV/AIDS, communication, Anatomy and Physiology, etc. etc. Our goal is that the kids will be able to go back to the communities and talk to their peers about these things, because let's face it, a fourteen year old Panamanian kid is probably going to go to his best friend when he's ready to have sex as opposed to coming to talk it out with the weird tall gringa who lives down the street.

Additionally, I'm going to be giving a charla on water purification methods in a couple of weeks, in hopes that my community members might be inspired to start boiling their water, or chlorinating their water, or really doing anything to their water to attempt to make it a little safer to drink.

The amazing, beautiful, hilarious SHANNON DIEGEL is also coming down on the fourth of August to make my life terrific for eight days, and I cannot wait. I have no idea what we are going to do, but it is going to be amazing, and I hope this all inspires you to buy plane tickets. $350 dollars round trip, Detroit to Panama City! www.spiritair.com. DO IT.

Speaking of Spirit Air, Jorge and I are officially the proud owners of airline tickets taking us to Detroit, Michigan on December 16th, and then back to Panama City on January 6th. We will also be in Chicago from December 27th to January 3rd. I expect there to be parties welcoming our arrival.

Finally, I am going to leave you with some pictures. Also, I realize these posts are pretty much just "What am I doing with my life right now" writings, which get monotonous and boring, so I am going to try to actually start writing reflections on Panama to put up here when I can. Look forward to my literary wisdom.

The hospital room!

The Canal!

Flying down a mountain road in the back up a pickup truck at 50mph!

Panamanian Chinese FOod! (Four meat soup. We could not identify even one of the meats.)


Jorge and I being fabulous AT the discoteca!

Sex Ed Charlas! (In Quebrada Cali, if you are 11 years old, you think that anyone -- man, woman, or child -- can get a period, and that you can absolutely NOT bathe during that time. We set them straight.)

My host-grandmother getting chased by a pig!

In the next update: philosophizing, introspection, and a tour of my rancho!

(if none of these photos work, either click on them or go to http://picasaweb.google.com/grammaticool. I am too lazy to fix them at the moment.)

Monday, June 9, 2008

So, I'll bet you're wondering where I've been. It's been a funny story actually, but this past month I had a veritable breakdown, or that is, the big one that all the little ones have led up to.

Let me preface this by saying that the Peace Corps slogan is "the toughest job you'll ever love." That is the world's biggest understatement. Peace Corps is the toughest job you'll ever possibly survive emotionally. It is a hard, hard thing, going from working from 4pm to 2am in a high stress situation, even if it is just serving pizzas and going home to your quiet apartment in Chicago and ordering Thai food in, to sitting in a hammock 14 hours a day, eating dehydrated foods and hardboiled eggs for every meal, stressing out about whether the water is potable and listening to dogs bark raucously every night. It got to the point that I was doing nothing but sitting in my hammock by day, calling my mom at about 10pm, and then crying myself to sleep every night. No one that I know can call that lifestyle healthy, even in the scheme of Peace Corps volunteering.

That said, last Tuesday I was diagnosed with "major depression." I don't know exactly how "major" it is, as anyone can vouch that I am not a normally depressed person, but following that I was hospitalized from Wednesday night to Monday afternoon (today!) so that they could moniter me as I started out on some medicine (Cymbalta, in case anyone is curious). Of course, I don't think I am a depressed person at all, and entirely chalk this whole experience up to situational stresses that have made me go insane. The biggest stress of all is my living situation. Luckily for me, my APCD (assistant program country director, or technically, my boss) is a very understanding man and is working with me to change my living situation to a site that is bigger, with more opportunities to have a job to go to every day, whether it is through the Ministry of Health or another private organization. I'm really excited about this, as some sites named as possibilities have been Chepo, Torti, Canita and Santa Fe, but my original request was denied to go to Meteti, as it is too far into the Darien.

So, friends and family, wish me luck as I possibly embark on a new chapter of my Peace Corps service, to define my second year. I don't want to terminate early as I am already this far in, and so hopefully this will make life MUCH easier for me, and help me be an effective volunteer as well.

My second update will come sometime tomorrow, and will include pictures. I love and miss you all!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Mom and Rob came to visit (Feb 29-March 9)

Here's Jorge, futiley trying to teach my mother how to dance.

A picture of a clown statue thing that Robert took. You'll have to ask him...it was in Colón.

Outside some restaurant on the Caribbean coast in Portabelo.

Clubbing at Guru. We took Sally clubbing.

All Volunteer Conference

Here's when Kelly and I demolished Crepes and Waffles.

Glamour Shots in the Hotel Room

Whitney, Lydia and Jen were under the impression that, because I wore black that day and they wore all white, they were "angels" and I was a "devil."

Here's Rob, wearing my newly purchased Jessica Simpson heels.

Mick directing Pete on how to convincingly act like a CED volunteer.

Group 60 Orange Team! I am on top of Mick´s shoulders.

I cannot salomar (which is a traditional yell that sounds like dogs barking). I ended up competing anyway. Here I am, walking away, embarrased and humbled, because I lost it for Group 60. Pete just kept on going.

Funny story: Upon teaching the verb "to want" in my English class, I asked the students what is it that Melissa wants (expecting the answer to be a car, or radio, since those are the only two nouns they should know). Jovanys's answer?

"Melissa wants...a man."

Monday, April 14, 2008

I'm alive. I PROMISE, I am alive, and I apologize. I know my original goal was to update this thing every couple of weeks, but let's face it. That was the United States and now I am in the reality of sweltering, rainy, lack-of-constant-electricity-or-internet-in-my-site Panama. So forgive me, all eight of you that are reading this (seven of which I am sure are reading this on the night shift at Foote Hospital, per my mother's recommendation).

I had originally written out this entire blog entry in site on my computer that my mother brought down to me. Unfortunately, as my amazing luck would have it, my computer doesn't work with the wireless in the Peace Corps office, which means that I will have to wait to add pictures to this blog. I PROMISE, though, that it will get done soon. I would add pictures today, except for my digital camera got stolen, along with my memory card. However, at the very least, the idiot thief who ripped me off of that and eighty bucks failed to see the value of my laptop which was sitting RIGHT NEXT TO MY CAMERA, and left it there. Thus, I am lucky enough to still have means through which I can watch the West Wing every night for two hours. I am one hell of a spoiled Peace Corps volunteer.

Right, so updates. My mom and Robert came down! All of you who haven't come to visit me, look to them as an example. They came down in the beginning of March, which was awesome, thought a bit stressful, as I am a horrible, horrible translator who would much rather just speak in Spanish in Panama than have to switch back and forth, and therefore forgot to translate and ended up paraphrasing a LOT. But we saw Colon, we took advantage of the all-inclusiveness of Decameron, my mother experienced Panamanian Traffic and Jorge's driving, and everyone made some comment or another aboutthe quantity of mosquitos in Quebrada Cali. I was also forced to open three huge suitcases full of Christmas, which was embarassing and humbling all at the same time, because Christmas with the Muterspaughs is generally an event wherein I receive way more than anyone should every give, either because my parents are ridiculously generous or because they're trying to buy my love. At any rate, after six months of living in pretty sparse conditions, I couldn't help but feel guiltier than usual. HOWEVER, out of my embarassment came some pretty amazing jeans. So.

What else. I acquired my second pet, a cat, whose name is "cat" or "gatito," depending on the mother tongue of the speaker. I was all about naming it Laertes, which I have been saving to use as a pet name, because Laertes was a hardass who got shit done while Hamlet screwed around with plays within plays and bitching about living in a nutshell and fucking up and killing Polonius and whatever else. Laertes just went at it. However, Panamanians can't really pronounce "Laertes," and most of the Americans to whom I reference the name have no clue what I'm talking about, so then I changed my mind to Iggy, short for Ignatius, after Ignatius Loyola, after whom my college was named. The reasoning for this is that Jesuits are sweet, the sweetest of all Catholics in fact, and I feel obliged to tell this to everyone I know. However, generally my announcing this fact manages to bring up religious debate, which I am always too exhausted for, so I decided against that too. In the end, I'll probably go with Laertes after all, because I own the cat and I can pronounce the name, and my community people don't even name their cats ANYWAY, so it shouldn't matter. We'll see.

Also, like I said, I got eighty bucks and my camera (a new, amazing, black Panasonic Lumix that I bought down here) stolen. So if anyone is feeling really generous, like "hey, that girl out there is trying to save the world and can't photographically document any of her efforts, and she must being going crazy because she actually STUDIED photography and thus understands the importance of things like reciprocity" kind of generous, feel free to donate one to me, or donate the money into my CP Federal Account (I mean, clearly I am not serious, but if one of you have a couple extra hundred bucks lying around, talk to Sally). Don't mail me shit though, because this joke of a mail service down here is withholding my packages or something, and I haven't received anything since December, meaning none of the boxes from Jolly, Kelly and Cory, or anyone else have arrived. I will probably be leading a small revolution in the coming months agains the El Dorado post office and at the very least, I plan on going down there later today to raise some hell.

What else. I've had a pretty awesome share of health problems this past month. First, I was suddenly struck down with either parasites or amoebas or God's wrath, and vomited up potato salad, which I can now never eat again. That same day I developed a cough. The parasite whatever went away along with seven pounds of water weight, but teh cought developed into BRONCHITIS, which I didn't think was possible in a country where the average temperature is 2394 degrees, but then I got a very informative "strains of bacteria" lecture for 10 or 12 people. I am still coughing up phlegm three weeks later, and had a 102 fever for a while, but no big thing. So THEN, I went to this nature camp with three kids from my site and tried to give myself a concussion by bashing my head against some mollusk-encrusted rock on a beach and managed to draw blood from my skull. So good times.

That said, I am not complaining too much. I have, unbelievably, fallen in love with Panama, so much that I was voted Most Likely to Never Leave Panama out of a group of 150 some odd volunteers in the country anyway. But I seriously love it. I love the women who wear their hair rollers out like they're a fashion accessory, and I love stores like Oca Loca and Titan and El Costo where I can refurbish my wardrobe for 25 bucks. I love listen to high school kids work on English homework and slaughter the phonics of my first language. I love guandu con coco, the Diablo Rojos and their proud lack of a muffler, and the differentiation of summer and winter by the amount of rainfall and nothing else. I love Samy y Sandra Sandoval and dancing tipico pega'o like a badass, and I love words like pega'o and quema'o and moja'o, the removal of any "s" sound from a word and other Panamanian pronounciation nuances. I love that everything in a forest is catagorized as a cat, bear, monkey or tiger (a sloth, for example, is called a "lazy bear,") despite whatever it actually is. I love Farmacia Arrocha and I love knowing when I am approaching Quebrada Cali by the increasing number of potholes on the Interamericana. I love Sedal shamppoo and shaking cockroaches out of my pillowcase and not screaming, and the feeling of being told that a governmental agency is funding one of my projects. I love love LOVE the Darien, the most amazing province ever. I love having a boyfriend who willingly sleeps in my unairconditioned, allergy inducing penca bat infested hut, and who calls every night just to tell me he misses me. I mean seriously. I bitch about electricity and cell phones and worms living in my water, but all of that is seriously, seriously outweighed by everything good that I constantly forget.

So there's that. There's my blog update. I apologize to everyone for the distinct lack of pictures, but when I find some functioning wireless, I will throw some up from my iPhoto library. And it'll be amazing. Just like sentence fragments.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


My friends in the United States, I apologize profusely for not updating this grand literary work that is my blog since January 17th. I have to explain that I have been the busiest person to live in a 300 person community in a third world country ever. "What in the world have you been doing, Melissa, when it takes you an hour to travel 30 kilometers, the equivalent of which is fifteen miles?" I'll tell you exactly what I've been doing, and in LIST FORMAT, as stolen from my good friend Deborah, whose blog you can view from the link on the right.

The First Health Gira: Santa Fe

For five days sometime in late January (I don't remember what days, but that doesn't matter anymore) I participated in a health gira in Santa Fe, Darien. What is a health gira? It's where a group of Christian missionaries come down to perform various medical routines that the people of Panama and especially of the Darien may or may not have the access to. As one of six or seven handy Peace Corps volunteers that live in the region, I was given the task of translating. So, for eight hours a day for the duration of five days, I stood in an operating room, holding the hands of the patients who were unsedated, save some vicodin and a topic anastethic, telling them to "don't move!", "look toward the light", "how many fingers is the doctor holding up," and translating various prayers. It was a really good experience, as I got to witness the opthomologists actually take out the cataract (or rather, the lens inside the patients' eyes which are fogged by the cataracts) and replace them with some sort of internal contact lens. It was really, really cool, I got some first hand experience in medicine, and I met some really great people, including my boyfriend (cue the collective gasp of readers around the globe), whom I will talk about later.

Checking out the eyeballs.

Get that cataract out!

Muchachas Guias training!

I participated in Muchachas Guias, or girl scout, training. I am now qualified to be a girl scout leader in Panama. There's not much more to comment on than that.

The Wounaan Congreso

The Wounaan are one of four indigenous groups in Panama who live in a Comarca, which is almost like a type of reservation. At the congreso, they did things like elect new leaders, hold traditional dance competitions, talk about ways to integrate their culture into the greater Panamanian community, and sell their traditional crafts. I got painted with a substance called Jagua, for the second time now, wore a paruma, which is like a wrap around skirt that almost every Wounaan woman wears, and sat through hours of meetings that I didn't understand a word of, because they were held in WOUNAAN. Go figure. Pictures.

That's Jagua. It lasts about two weeks. One of those is my foot.

I got canned heat in my heals tonight...

Another Health Gira!

Directly after the Wounaan Congreso, I headed to another Health Gira, this time in Platanilla, which is actually really close to where I live. This time there were no surgeries, and instead of being held in a Centro de Salud, which is ALMOST a hospital, it was held in a Subcentro de Salud, which is more like a gym with a room for pap smears off to one side, and a pharmacy on the other side. I translated a lot about urinary tract infections, high blood pressure (and accidentally scared the hell out of one woman, by telling her that if her blood pressure of 220/100 didn't go down soon, she would die, end of story...such bedside manner), and diabetes. I also got my pick of the pharmacy that the Church of Christ volunteers brought down, so now I am the proud owner of two boxes of Viactiv multivitamins, a bottle of Omega-7, and about ten bottles of Tylenol PM is liquid AND pill form.

And finally, here is my brief explanation as to who this guy is I am dating. His name's Jorge, he's a doctor, he's thirty, he's also studying for his MBA, and he lives in Panama City. The soap opera story of how we met is he's the Director of Medicine and Personnel of the Centro de Salud in Santa Fe, his mother was getting the Cataract Surgery done, I was holding her hand while she was on the operating table when he waltzed in with his lab coat, surgical mask and hat and began translating for me (because he speaks some English!!!). Don't be jealous of that ridiculously amazing story. Yes, I asked if he had children or a wife/girlfriend, and the answer was no to both questions. Here is a picture of him giving MMR shots in Platanilla.

He's also 6'2", which makes him about a foot taller than the average Panamanian man. Clearly, the most important aspect to this relationship.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

About a month ago, Panamá almost saw the end of Melissa Muterspaugh, as I had my regular nervous breakdown that accompanies major holidays, stressful news, or the sheer fact that I have to speak in Spanish daily while force feeding myself a pound or two of rice. Yes, I about came home. I didn't get around to packing my bags though, because a group of boys came to my rescue and now I feel like Wendy in Peter Pan.

My best friends are about ten boys, between the ages of 13 and 17 and as such, I'm sure my maturity level will have dropped significantly by the time I return to the United States. We climb giant hills together to retrieve oranges from my host father's finca, we walk a mile and a half to the deep river to play Chicken Fight, and I listen as they ask me how to swear in English (which I never teach them). I can't believe it, but these boys are my saving grace in site.

Accompanied by the fact that Vladimir, Luisito, José, Ñato, Sando, Landín, César and Tony have been keeping me on my toes, New Year's was also quite the spectacle to behold. Below are pictures, and I apologize about this post being short and lame in advance, but I only have a few minutes of internet time left.

Here's the obligatory kids-in-my-community picture.

My host mom Jovanys and sister Dalquiri making Tamales.

Tamale fixin's.

Pork leg.

The dolls we would eventually burn in the street for New Year's.

Here we go. César dragging it out to the street.

What my roof is made of. Fresh-cut Penca.

And finally...

The scorpion I found in the shower. No one believed me that it was a scorpion until I forced them to look for themselves, because apparently gringas can't distinguish scorpions from lizards. Such is Panama.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Wow, so it's been a month since I updated...I am sorry I have neglected you, my patient friends and family. A lot has happened this December. I'll give you the rundown, in list form:

1. Evey, that dog I had for a good month? Well, the past tense is the operative tense in this situation, as a pig sat on that poor dog. I am not kidding. A pig collapsed down on top of my dog and had not moved when I found her ten minutes later, despite Evey's poor, pathetic whimpering. So yeah, a pig killed my dog and we had a funeral. Here are pictures from that:

Her grave had a cross and everything, with her collar on it...it was cute, until the next day when her arm had inexplicably made it outside of her hole. So yeah, dead dog.

2. We started building my house. I'm not sure if the means of our cutting down the trees were exactly legal by Panamanian standards, but I am proud to say that despite that, I helped out and even got to use a chainsaw. More pictures!

That's my host dad, Orlando, kicking that tree's ass.

Vladimir on the left, helping out his dad Candelario. In my entire community, this family is my favorite besides my host family. I mean seriously awesome.

I mean, why wear the safety earmuff things when you can just shove leaves in your ears? This is my ten year old host brother, Orlandin.

Cesar, another son of Candelario and as such, another badass. He's hanging upside down from the truck, or Chiva.

3. We had Christmas!
It was wonderful, for being away from home and not in the presence of my family. Everytime we get together like this, I realize how close I've grown to the people here and how, after two years, it's going to be impossible to say goodbye. Eighteen of us spend Christmas in El Valle de Antón, Coclé, which is essentially a beautiful area that sits in this huge crater that was created five million years ago when a volcano erupted with such force that it blew the top off. It was sort of chilly, for Panama at least, and we in Group 60 are lucky to be graced with some pretty culinarily gifted people, so we actually had a dinner that didn't consist entirely of rice.

Homemade Eggnog that could very possibly give all eighteen of us salmonella due to its containing nine raw eggs!

East of the Canal Volunteers! Deborah, who lives in Chagras in Colón, Joanna from the Darién, myself, and Jake 6'8" who lives in Changras too. Three of my favorite people ever.

4. I am trying to get shit done. I am so excited because my community is excited about the prospect of the composting latrines we're gonna start doing. We had two meetings a week for three weeks, and every family was required to attend at least once a week, every week, to be eligible for a latrine. I couldn't believe it when, after three weeks, thirteen families remained eligible. They teach us during training to expect that it will be difficult in site to engage the community members in projects, so I am beyond lucky that my community is so proactive.

Also, I've gotten to do a lot of things like cut rice down for seven hours a day, learn to dance Tipico, introduce my host family to the Wonderful World of French Toast, learn to eat fire (no, I'm not kidding, I can stick a lit match in my mouth), have my crazy neighbors attack my hair with boxes of dye, and try to attempt to start learning Kuna. Good luck with that.
Also, it is worth noting that I am more tan than I have ever been in my life, and it's December. I can't handle that.

Okay, two hours on the internet is a little bit of an overkill. Happy Holidays!