Thursday, September 4, 2008

What else.....

So shortly after I began work on my house, I snapped this picture of the river early one of the mornings.  In the summer (here, which came and past already), the river and lake filled up, and in the mornings the men prepare the boats for tourists and the women clean the fish in the river.  On these days I would sit down in our community port to talk with the old guys and look at the lake of glass.


Here are some pictures of the men carrying gasoline and the motors.  They carry the motors daily, and the lower the river, the longer and harder the trip.



We had a few meetings where we were put up in a place near the beach.  These are beaches on the Pacific side.  DSCF1934


Early on morning at the beginning of march, I found a little surprise in my towel.  Sometime in the night a scorpion decided to bed himself in my towel.  He stung me in the thumb as I grabbed it.  Since I was using some special language in English, the whole house was wondering what happened.  I pulled my towel out and the scorpion started running across the floor.  My host dad ended it with my water bottle.  That day my arm hurt up to my mid-forearm and my thumb and part of my hand were swollen.  The next day my thumb hurt and my hand was numb.  After a couple days it returned to normal with a little blister.  This would be the same thumb I tried to cut off a couple weeks later with my machete.


Here is a picture of a cockroach that had chewed his way into my bread, but was too hungry to chew the whole a little bit larger and was stuck.


After I got back from the states (everything up till now was written a while ago), I had machete accident.  I won't repeat myself on that.  One day some tourists came to the community and landed 2 helicopters there.  My community is very welcoming, so when the first one started coming in, the people all ran out to greet them and play music.  Before long, the people were running from the dusty wind kicked up by the helicopters.  Here are a couple pics.



Our community meetings, which usually last long into the night, are always very open with the men and women and sometimes even myself talking to the group.  I snapped a picture but it's hard to know what its really like until you sit in on one.


While my dad was here, we visited the Mira Flores Locks on the Panama Canal. 



The following are a few pictures my dad took while he was at my place.  The first one are my main tools I used to build my house.


The next one was me clearing the trail for him to pass.  I did let my dad carry the little machete, but under the condition that it stay in the sheath.


Here was some grilled cheese I made for us in the evening.


And a butterfly at the waterfall that my dad caught in this picture:


What a bad-ass




Those were pictures of when my dad and I went on a short hike around the forest and followed our community's water line.  I had to show him that even though we didn't come across any snakes or spiders or anything, the jungle still plays very dirty.  Overall, it was a great trip and I loved having may dad here. He was a little weaker than I expected, but I tried to fight off the beautiful weather and minimal bugs we encountered.  I'm kidding, but I enjoy having visitors, and now he has an idea of some of the things I talk about on the phone.  (hint, hint. VISIT!)  He was also able to meet my host family, the people that have been raising me this past year.



Monday, June 2, 2008


Well, sorry about not writing for a while.  A lot has been going on.  I'll go back a ways and overlap some stories and pictures, but hopefully you get the idea of what I've been doing on my house. I'm also writing this at my house and can't see my posts from months ago.  In the beginning of February, I started to build my house.  I just grabbed my machete and started clearing the spot where I wanted to build and the community said 'oh, he wants a house'.  On valentines day we went upstream to cut the main columns for my house.  Here are a couple of pictures of the guys that came to help me.  The first picture you can see the scaffolding we made using the available trees and vines for rope to steady the tree while they cut on the slope of the hill. This picture also gives you a good sense of the slope.


Here is a picture of the second tree we cut for the main columns.  Both the trees we cut these two days we dead, but one was still standing so we dropped it.  When it started to break, it sounded like a gun firing and when it finally fell, the whole ground shook.



Here is a picture of my lot.  I had dug the four main holes and cleared the top of the hill.  You can see some of the main columns on the left side, the rest were still waiting for me to carry them up the hill.  While we were carrying one, I slipped and fell in the mud and the column fell on my back and cut me. It hurt so we quit for the day.  It was a huge pole that probably weighed more than a couple hundred pounds.


This is the path I cleared down to the river.  You can see some of the posts we carried to where it isn't quite as steep.  The river has since dried up, but there were lots of hungry fish that visited me there.  We could have cleaned up and had supper everyday if we had a fishing line, but instead we through spears at them and, of course, caught nothing but had fun trying.  Also, in the bottom picture, that is the post that dropped on my back.




So now for the actual house.  We first set the main columns and started from there on the roof.  For the roof, we had to go upstream again to find all of the poles, and believe me there is a lot.  I then had to strip all the bark off of all the poles, which is now probably my least favorite job.  This took about a week.DSCF1968


I went home in March and got to see my family.  I think my mom and my cat Frank were the most excited to see me. It was really nice to see everyone, but I was excited to get back to work on my house.  About 2 days after I came back I had my first (and hopefully my last) serious machete accident.  I was filing the blade to sharpen it and my hand slipped and the machete cut down into my right thumb, through the fingernail and almost down to the knuckle.  The blood rushed out like an faucet and I decided immediately that I was going to go to the hospital.  This was Easter Saturday, so the closest hospital was deep in the city, but it is a really nice place.  The shots and stitches hurt more than the cut, but I still have both halves of my thumb growing together and I still have feeling in it.  Here are a series of pictures of my thumb over the past two months.  And of course during those two months work didn't stop, but I kept my thumb covered and clean and have since taken on a new technique to sharpen my machetes. 




This is were I got the most help on my house. The roof.  The palm leaves are from the Wagura palm.  Here are my buddies helping me.  We threw up the entire roof in only 2 or three hours, but that doesn't include all of the prep time like hauling the palm leaves (about 900 in bundles of 15-25) and cutting Jida palm for the hatching.  Here are a couple of pictures of us making the roof.





Here is a view of my house from down the trail to the river.  At that time we only had finished the roof.


After we finished the roof it was time to work on the floor.  The floors in my community are made out of a type of palm called Jida.  It is very strong, but flexible and heavy. It also splinters when it is new which has caused my feet to very upset with the new floor.  In the past, the Embera people used this palm for spears and harpoons for spear fishing.  Also they would use it to make arrows to hunt.  It is similar to bamboo in the sense that it can hold an amazingly sharp point and is often dangerous.  After carrying the incredibly heavy trunks of the palms, we had to picar them, which means chopping on them with an axe while rotating them and then splitting one side to open it and take out the spongy inside to lay them flat.  My host dad's brother and I finish all 20 in one day.  I still had time to peel more poles to the dismay of my hands. 



After cutting more poles, carrying them, and peeling them, we threw up the floor in an afternoon.  That night since I had a floor and a roof, that's where I stayed. 



The pole leading up to the peak is what they used to climb up and down to finish weaving the peak.  Also we had used it so support the roof poles from the inside while we were working.  On the 12th of April, I moved into my first house, and I had literally built it.  Here is a picture off of the side of my house.  It is the trail I cleared down to the river when the river was higher.


When my dad came to visit me mid-April, this was basically the same house he saw.  For security purposes, I am required to have a closed room that can lock.  This set other work back some, but we got up early one morning and set off upstream to cut bamboo for the walls.  Twelve men came with me to cut straight trunks of bamboo, 8 of three arm lengths (about 15 feet), and 20 of 2 arm lengths (about 10 feet).  I did not know the bark of the bamboo stuck to your skin and itched.  Needless to say, I had a very long, sweaty, and itchy day of work ahead of me.  Here are some guys splitting the bamboo with axes and machetes. The other pictures are of the guys starting on the floor.  We were building an addition off of one of the sides of the main floor that I would later close off into a room.  As you can see in the other pictures, My house was completely open(without walls) before the room.  The open houses are traditional Embera design, and usually the houses stay fairly cool during the hot days.




Here we are tying poles together to burn a huge termite nest that was hanging close to my house.  I have lots of termites and ants close to my house, and they bite.  The next picture is of the nest burning.  Burrrrrrn........



Here we started on the roof.


And as the sun was setting we were just finishing up the roof.  There were a few of us that were there all day since early in the morning to cut the bamboo.  Now my house looks like it has a mullet.


A couple days later a couple of us men got together to put up the back walls of the room.  Here is a picture of the room to date with my bamboo walls.  We still need to put on the front wall and door along with a stack of other projects I still need to do to the house.



There is my water line I put in in the background of the previous picture.  It's about 7 and a half feet tall and the rocks for the floor I carried from way down by the river.  One of the projects I'll be doing is placing a wall around a couple sides.  Also I want to run a faucet in my house.  It's not traditional here but it would be a big time saver.  So that's the story of my house so far.  It's been a ton of work, but it feels good to finally be in my house.  This entry was getting kind of long with the pictures so I'll be writing a second one on what else has been going on here in the past 3 months.  I'll post one last picture of a hike I went on with a buddy from the community yesterday.  We went way upstream this smaller river I live by.  Its not real big so no one travels up it in boat, especially this time of year.  This picture isn't of the river, but this whole area is full of water for part of the year.