February 24, 1998

Two days shy of the total eclipse of the sun as the moon prepares to pass between the sun and the earth. Here I am in the far reaches of Panama, in a town called La Palma in the region of the world known as the Darien. Far reaches in Panama is nothing like the far reaches of Cameroun, for example Lac Lobeke where Jeff and I were a year and a half ago. There, traveling to Lac Lobeke in the southeast corner took three days: an overnight train where the Muslims sharing our sleeping quarters shouted their prayers from their berths below for a quarter of the night while I poured sweat in the midst of a severe fever, one and a half days of people absolutely crammed into a bush taxi (while an unfortunate goat strapped to the top of the truck had more room to herself but bleated like death was upon her as we trammeled through every deep rut in the very harsh red dirt road), and one day riding between the cab and three entire trees which were strapped to the bed of the logging truck. Hitching was never like this is the US. We had to share the area with a dead spider monkey and three duiker antelopes stuffed into tubs and tires.

In this part of West Africa, logging truck drivers are the main conduit for illegal bush meat to travel to the cities. Another perk to an all-around great profession...

Anyway, that was then and this is now. Here, we traveled only 7 hours to arrive into a small village in the tropical forest: 6 hours on road and one hour by boat. The road, a continuation of the Pan-American highway which stretches from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego has one break in it. About 30 miles of the break is here in the Darien of Panama and the other 20-30 miles of absent road are in the connecting Choco region of Colombia. In the mid ë80s more of the road was added leading from east of Panama City to Yaviza, probably built initially as a loggin road.  This part of the Pan-American Highway beginning from the Bayano Dam (built by the infamous Yogoslavian dam builders...they are famous for their dams aren't they?) is only hardened dirt and gravel.  It is hard now because summer is here, which means it is just as hot as the rest of the year (Being about 4 degrees above the equator) but without rain.  Actually, the seasons are really just divided into two: dry season (January to April) and wet season (May through December).  (Some would divide it more like good waves for surfing and unbelievable waves for surfing...)  Way down the road past this only somewhat functional Bayano River Dam is a town of displaced Kuna and Embera Indians.  On one side of the road live the Embera and across the river and across the road live the Kuna.

Not too far past this town where we stocked up on some melted chocolate (Reeses Pieces now come with a chocolate cookie in the bottom of the cup just in case you haven't heard) we ran into a pile of Embera kids coming down the road.  With them were four large iguanas which they had caught.  In order to carry the still living iguanas, the kids had pulled out the iguanaís toenails from their sockets and tied their feet together behind their backs (the iguanasí, not the kidsí) using the extended toenails and connective tissue.

They then carried these large lizards like fancy purses down the road to their small village. Doing their fair share for a good dinner.

In this part of Panama, it is kid heaven. They are always running around in unsupervised packs, playing with trash, chasing iguanas, diving into the water together. I keep thinking of people I know living in the civilized "first" world who are too frightened to let their kids play outside alone even in their own yards. Here, it is a whole different "third" world. La Palma has just one long main street, accented by houses which are stacked one next to and behind the other climbing up the hill above the brackish water of the enormous bay.

Because it is "summer," school is out and so are the kids. They help haul water up in five gallon buckets from the main street to their houses on the hill, wash clothes, slaughter pigs, gut the fish. The different sorts of social relations and the interactions of these social structures with capital and types of exchange and market economies is, of course, one of the primary subjects of my work here. Visiting a town where the children both take on many responsibilities early on both for chores and for themselves strikes me in a very direct way.

In the dry season, and especially this yearís dry season which is expected to extend well past May (during the last two El Ninos in the mid 70s and the mid 80s, 1/3 of the boats destined for the canal were not able to pass through due to low water and high "muck" content {resulting from severe deforestation in the canal watershed - but weíll come back to that soapbox point later...} and were sent around Cape Horn as in the pre-canal days) they only turn the water on in the town for about 1/2 an hour every three or four days. This is often around 5:30 in the morning, according to Julia, the woman we are staying with here. She often wakes from the first shake of the pipes as the water stars to move through. The people who live along the main street below have it more often than Julia. It must first fill up the tanks there and if there is enough pressure, the water then makes it up the hill.

Having only a 35 gallon water tank and a variety of pots and pans to fill with water when there is some, we have been "water lite." A new form of dieting - it is a diet of resource consumption. Three of us tend to use only 1/3 of the tank a day. Roughly 5 gallons per person per day. This is compared to the 110 gallons which Jeff and I combined usually consume in Berkeley per day using a low flow toilet and a low flow shower head and the dishes being done only when the dogs just canít lick anything else off the plate. In La Palma, Jeffrey, Julia and I take baths by dishing a few gourdfuls of water into a large plastic tub. The trick is to get your hair wet and soaped up and use the same water to rinse the hair. Then throw that water into another plastic tub which is trying to collect the five gallons which will be needed to pour into the bowl of the toilet to flush it once sometime during the day. (Thatís another whole story not to be shared with the weak at heart.) Then I add hair conditioner (some luxuries I just canít give up) take another gourd full of clean water and use that to soap up and rinse my body, and the next round of hair rinsing. That goes into the flush-tub and one final gourd full of water for the squeaky clean factor. Doing all this without breathing in, (due to sharing the bathing space with the toilet space) is the real challenge for all of this.

It is often the kids who haul water up for their families living up the hill. We are fortunate because Julie (who is working on a project here in the Darien and who is letting us sleep in her bed for the past week while we revel here in Carnival parades and wait for the eclipse) is neighbors with the richest people in town and they have a pump. This allows them to bring water up the hill in a hose whenever there is still water in the cisterns down below. One knows they are wealthy because she keeps a flower garden, an obvious signal that they have water enough to care for their large white impatiens. Her husband was apparently the bank manager in town for some years. La Palma is very unusual because it has the only bank in the whole Darien region and the only lottery. Therefore, there is a large police presence here. Particularly given the recent presidential visit and the trouble with guerrillas from Colombia moving closer and closer to La Palma.

President Balladares came here the other day. He is referred to by all in the country as "Toro", the bull. He travels everywhere by silent helicopter known as the "torocoptero". We actually missed his speech, an extremely unusually event in this tiny town, because we kept listening for the copter to arrive. We did manage, after noticing everyone coming down the road from the area where he gave his speech, to catch him mounting the torocoptero, after Toro had carefully taken the long way around to reach the helicopter so as not to have to face all the Embera Indians who had gathered to ask him about getting rights to the land where they live. When Toro saw the two gringas (white) woman (Jeff had given up on seeing him and gone back to the house to sleep which is our favorite past time here in the 95 degree, forever-good-hair-days humidity of the tropics) standing amongst all the black and brown faces, he waved vociferously.

He probably thought we were "somebody." Even though as a grad student I donít actually fit that classification here in Panama, I got a good photograph of him leaning way out of the torocoptero waving and smiling at us. PL1 - 5 Even the well-equipped soldier (there are soldiers and guns everywhere in this one street town) lost his head for a second and smiled. This photo will be useful as Jeffrey thinks that Toro and Clinton are one and the same person. We need my up close and personal picture to check out the truth of this suspicion.

PL1 - 6


The guerrillas are quite another story. Julie (and the police, the Panamanian media etc.) suppose that with money being kept in this town, it makes a logical spot for the bad guys to come. The bad guys are actually two groups which fall into good guy, bad guy in their own context. Their are the (good?/bad?) FARC guerrillas, usually referred to in the news as Marxist. Whatever that means these days. They are anti-Colombian government. Whatever that means these days. They are very active in the Choco region of Colombia and sometimes come in Panama to hide out or take often (good?/bad?) white, North American {imperialist gringo??} hostages. Or just kill them off right away to lessen the capitalist plague venturing south from North America. Then there are the (good?/bad?) para-militaries who represent the government or themselves (the two are certainly NOT one and the same in this version of democracy) and who are also coming into the Darien and killing Colombians which they believe are guerrilla sympathizers hiding out. There are rumors circulating that these Colombian paramilitaries are actually funded by the U.S. government via the government of Colombia. Although this would certainly not be a new version of American actions in Latin America, there is no confirmation that this is true. The assumption behind the idea of Americans backing the paramilitaries is that in the face of having to pull out all American military presence in the strategic country of Panama, which holds the strategic canal of the same name, the U.S. government is helping to hype up the problems along the border of the two countries. This, of course, is quite a twist, were it to be true, as it was the U.S. who assisted (and perhaps inspired) Panama to successfully succeed from Colombia in 1903 in the first place. Since the U.S. had circumvented the government of Colombia in signing a treaty which allowed them to build a canal in region of Colombia now recognized as Panama, the U.S. government was interested in severing the region from (good?/bad?) Colombia.

The current problem for Panama is the U.S. invasion of Panama on December 19th/20th 1989, affectionately known by the friends of President Bush as "Operation Just Cause." Merry Christmas Noriega. I appreciate the move from naming wars such banal things as World War I /II, the Korean War or Vietnam War. Now, thanks to Jorge Bush we have two wars which have immediate movie potential - Operation Just Cause and Operation Desert Storm. Get those trees dressed in yellow... Anyway, the invasion which was sported as the only way to flush the (good?/bad?) Noriega from his (U.S. built) nest killing somewhere between 200 to 2000 of the cityís poor who thought they could just go ahead and have Christmas while the US was trying to get rid of the drug and arms running Noriega. While the part of the U.S. army was blasting rock and roll music day and night at the Catholic Churchís building where Noriega had gotten amnesty, another group was quickly removing all large weaponry from the government of Panama, effectively leaving them defensive since this rather flashy invasion, complete with U.S.-dug mass graves for the Panamanians killed. I should mention as part of this diatribe that every person that we ask gives a fully varying history of the invasion - and this in itself should be both noted and considered as an intrinsic to the kind of war it was.

All this to say that some people believe, (including a reporter for the Economist who wrote this up in a January ë98 issue) that the U.S. is supporting the Colombian para-militariesí actions in Panama in order to increase the desire for the defenseless Panamanians to request continued American military presence for security. Whether or not this is the case, the U.S. has just signed an agreement with Venezuela, Brazil and Panama to cooperate on an anti-drug commission knows as C.M.A. (Centro Multilateral Anti-Drogas). It is to be (surprise!) based in Panama and allows the U.S. to keep a number of military bases here open. There is also as a side perk, rather like the bushmeat exportation of the Camerounian lumber-truck drivers, which allows the U.S. to obviate their problem of having to clean up their ammunition ranges. As part of the contract, they will keep these mostly abandoned sites which have great quantities of live ammo buried in the ground and lying around. Even though children are sometimes injured when they find these exploding pieces of ammo, the cost for clean-up of sites used over nearly one hundred years is massive. Rather like the amount of money now needed to take care of the environmental issues of deforestation in the canal zone which have also been left untended since the U.S. paid to build the canal here.

Wasn't I talking about kids being safe in their non-yards/streets here? Sorry. We managed to get to La Palma just in time for Carnival.

Carnival is the five days before Ash Wednesday when Lent (no chocolate or beer) begins. It is the very reason we are here. After returning to Panama from Philadelphia (where I got out of doing the dishes SEVERAL times at my Momís house on account of the floating ACL ligament in my right knee. Hahahaha, brothers and sisters...), I discovered that not only the week of Carnival, but also the week before Carnival, everyone just ditches work and begins to drink heavily so as to be in a better mood for the daily "mojado" (wet) part of carnival.

For the first time in 6 years the kids are rushing down the streets of La Palma banging on drums and pots and pans, singing wildly, following their bathing suit clad "reina" (queen). She is preceded by a red flag-waver. The kids follow and gleefully throw water on all the adults and even more happily on we three sole gringos/as.

squealing as he chases them around with water. Why they squeal is a mystery as they regularly bath in the bay here in town where a section of cement dips down to the water at both high and low tide. I might mention that there is no sewage system here nor place to throw garbage. So it all goes into this bay which reveals endless plastics huddled together on the "beaches" when the tide is low. Other forms of waste are also readily evident. Needless to say, this is not the swimming oasis for tourists to enjoy, but works great for the kids in their mojado phase of the carnival day.

Let me try to give a more complete picture of Carnival here. There is actually a "suburb in La Palma. Around the other side of the hill are built more houses which donít have the advantage of the breeze coming over the water. But, they do have the advantage of not being near town and therefore the 3 bars. There is no noise ordinance here which means that literally all night long music pours at an incomprehensible volume from all three bars. As in the five days here I have come to know all the songs, I assume that they run tag-team music CDs from bar to bar. They must have just three CDs and when one bar is done, they run it to the next, while the third is running their tape to the first. Juliaís neighbors were shocked to hear that in the U.S. you can call the police on a neighbor having a loud party. Loud, distorted music is a huge part of daily life here in La Palma. I wonder if sitting in a silent room might be more frightening than "Aliens" to most who live here.

There are the La Palma Heights which are quieter and then the main part of La Palma where Jeff and I are staying with Julie. According to the ice-cream store owner (who I have gotten to know better than anyone else (adult) in town) the people in the town have events all year long to raise money for carnival. This money goes to a band who march with their drums and horns behind the down-town reina every night and then play music in one of the bars all night. Perhaps they also rotate from bar to bar like the tapes. Given my state of gimpiness, which hasnít exempted me from the mojada attacks, I have yet to get into a bar for post-reina-parade dancing and so I canít verify this in person. The money collected by the people in town also goes to fireworks set off every night during the reina battles and to the outfits that the reina wears. And this downtown reina has obviously been looking at catalogues other than Tweeds and J. Crew.

The first night (Friday) was pretty low key. The kids (this means from about ages 3 or maybe 4 on to 16) all mobbed together and marched down the street doing their pot-banging and singing about their desires to obtain candy and wondering in verse who will give it to them. We three gringos were all in a tiny little restaurant eating the usual rice, beans, sugar fried plantains and chicken with a big glass of chicha (whatever the sugar water and fruit juice flavor of the day is). The kids saw us and started cramming through the door and window making up verses about us gringos, or as they sang in one verse, "the people without color." The shop/restaurant owner saved us by grabbing gumballs and throwing them onto the cement street in front so that they all mashed out the door again. Night one, carnival. Starring 25 roaming screaming kids and the people without color.

Now, I have to add to all this a prominent and constant attention-getting factor, and that is my bionic black brace which holds my ligament-lacking right knee in place. Not only am I white in a town of only Afro-Panamanians (who represent a history of slaves escaped from the West Indies and Colombia), and very dark-skinned Embera, not only am I missing all semblance of brightly-colored skirts (my color code down here is about to change from mostly black with some deep blues and maroons mixed in to bright green, red and pink in skirt wear), BUT I am sporting this brace.

The first two days no one noticed I had a face and even after five days when I came out today in jeans which covered my brace, I swear that no one knew who I was. After a few days, the kids, being honest and straightforward as children often are and adults forget to be in their mature, cultured years, began to ask about the brace.

The first one stopped me on my ascent up some stairs which lead to a hill path where you can cross over to an Embera village just down the shoreline. She asked what the brace was for. I explained about the bones not being connected anymore etc. This wasnít enough and she asked that I remove the brace. That took several minutes but I did it because she asked. Still not sure about the whole thing, she was a post-Enlightenment soul and wanted proof that it was true. This five year old girl commanded me. "Walk" Well, the experiment stopped there and I had to disappoint her not being able to walk without the brace on this hill. Since then, when the kids ask about it, or just do the usual shocked stare (one kid even screamed and knocked his younger sister into a pile of trash in an effort to escape "the brace" ), Jeff has begun to answer for me informing the young questioner that I am half woman and half machine. They usually back up a step or two, or just hang their jaws open in immobilizing fear.

Needless to say, this is not helping me become a natural part of the landscape here. But, even better is that now when the kids see Jeff or Julia, they immediately look at their legs to see if they are also wearing braces. We have become the bionic people without color.

(Oh, man, we just got the vista in the office window here. Two teenage guys stripped the shorts off an eight year old just for our viewing pleasure. The young guy ran to the edge of the window. When he heard Julie and I laughing, he just stuck his little penis into view from the side and then ran off. More perks from Carnival. I have been putting off going up to the house for lunch as the mojada scene is very serious out there today as all stops come loose for the last day of Carnival, Fat Tuesday.)

So, back to the Reina issues. There are two reinas around here. One is from up-and around the corner suburbs and the other from our part of town. The suburb reina is tall and thin and has been on the not-so-brilliant side of reina-dom. Our reina has been wearing killer outfits for each parade. They parade twice a day: at noon at which time they are garbed in a different bathing suit each day for the mojada part.

Then around 9 or 9:30 pm, the real parades start. Our reina starts at one end of town and parades down it. As I said, the flag bearer is in the front. Behind him or her (itís been a different person for each parade) is the reina. People from the town all line the streets, and at night are very dressed up This doesnít mean that you canít wear curlers. Curlers can be found on someone at anytime of the day or night and are normal street wear. And today, every woman on the street is adorned in curlers. I imagine that tonight will be the great unveiling of all hair.

In further dress code understanding, men going without a shirt is not allowed After Jeff was soaked with water earlier by the mala leches (bad kids) today he took off his shirt. An female police officer carrying some heavy weaponry yelled at him right away to put his shirt on. Thereís a definite sense of proper behavior here. For instance, there are no drugs in this town that I know of. (Although the police warned Julia when she first arrived in La Palma a year ago that she should trust no one in town. Everyone in the Darien is apparently somehow connected to drug runners.) It is not ok to drink alcohol on the street and I have seen men being escorted to the police station by three rifle-bearing soldiers/policemen. The wearing pants by woman only happens at night and shorts are always unusual on woman. But all the kids in town swimming in poo is ok. Go figure. Mr. Hainkey goes to La Palma.

The first night our reina wore a skin tight dress of glittering gold and black which cost hundreds of dollars (according to our ice-cream connection), and glittering high heels. Here scarf was like a train which fluttered out to both sides and was often fondled by the kids. The next night she wore a traditional white pollera dress, a regular in the Panamanian limelight of folkloric proportions. (And who said I donít know anything about folklore?...) This is accompanied by both her tierra and this stuff that in traditional wear wraps just around the bottom two thirds of the head which looks like snowflakes, a kind of Panamanian weather wish-list perhaps. Then last night she wore a Las-Vegas showgirl look-alike outfit. (Julie reading over my shoulder castigates me for calling it a Las Vegas showgirl outfit, which are tacky even in Las Vegas, whereas the carnival outfit is appropriately flashy. Whatever...thereís perspective for you.) Anyway, it was made all of peacock feathers - her headdress and her dress/bathingsuit/LAS VEGAS SHOWGIRL LOOK.. Who knows what tonight will be like. Every day has been a different bathing suit, some with little skirts, some with hats.

OK, but the cool part of the reina event is that the two reinas are having a sort of war (if Jorge Bush were here heíd give it a cool name like Operation Best Reina). Each night they both parade up and down the street. The uptown reina comes with her own crowd, usually not too impressive, even though I like to cheer for the under-dog reina when possible. Our reina does her dancing with waving and kissing addendums in well lighted sections of the road (always wherever we are standing as she has a habit of stopping for us people without color). As she walks by, all the people standing on the side of the road to watch her fall into the crowd to dance behind her. Julia and I have been also joining in. There is always a lot of staring at my brace, as usual. But now when either Jeffrey or Julia are with me, they also look at their legs. I am sure that the idea is that these kids imagine that all people without color are part machine. This always makes me flash to Ralph Bakshiís old animated film, "Wizards" in which one brother who represents the earthen people fights with the bad brother who represents technology (always inspiring his troops by showing clips of Naziís marching and Hitler giving speeches). Modernity and its discontents versus the simple folk and all their many waterguns.

If I carry a camera during the night time reina parade, then everyone wants me to take their picture in the crowd. I even have some portraits of men with their (fighting) cocks which they begged me to take.

Here, the men attach extra stiletto-style razors onto the feet of the cocks for the fights so that they really get things bloody. Normally I am into animal rights, but I make exceptions for roosters which have prevented any sleep which the dawn silencing of bar music might allow. Last night, the bars and the roosters were going off together from 3 am on. Thereís nothing much to do but laugh at a time like that and imagine that it is better than bus traffic at home in Berkeley. But, if the town is minus a few more roosters after this afternoonís cock fights, I canít imagine I will break out the black.

Last night things got very intense with the two reinas. Ours has the brass band while the suburb reina only has some little kids with old trashy drums. But she didnít give up, even though her outfit paled in comparison to the exotic peacock outfit. The suburb reina. Came back not twice, but three times.

The second time, they met right in the middle of town. Our reina had stopped when she saw the skinny reina coming and our crowd fanned out all across the one-car wide town.

(There are, by the way, at least 2 buses and three cars in town. What for, given that the street canít be more than a quarter mile long, I donít know. One of the buses was ordered by the venerable H.L. {pronounced "achey eley"} Haydee Milanes de Ley. Jeff and I call her "heidee ho" in honor of Mr. Hainkey, for all you "South Park" fans. She has built a "miradora" {lookout point} around the point from town for all the tourists. I havenít met anyone whoís been there, but then these people are not tourists. They are locals. There are no tourists {except for Jeff and media-macina chica here}. So, nice going Heidee Ho.)

Our crowd stood there until the up-town reina was 10 feet away from her, the up-town flag bearer doing invasion-like swinging of the flag. They stood there facing off for a minute. One other thing is that each reina or each part of town has their won reina song. Like the uptown folks sing things like "our reina is prettier, lives up on the hill and is therefore more decent." Our group is so large that I canít understand a word of what they are saying, but if they havenít been mentioning the peacock feathers and the gold lame scarf they are really wasting some good fodder.

The up-town flag waver began to advance into our crowd doing the ninja flag waving thing and managed to get enough of the down-town crowd to move out of the way so that the skinny reina in a white dress trimmed in thick silver chistmas tree tinsel (as was her straw Appalacian-hillbilly or Panamanian countryside hat) got past the peacock reina and her crowd, which was much larger and louder. They must have met again several times as I saw the white tinsel reina go by on the street below while siesta-ing on the porch of Juliaís house high above the madding crowd. Drunk men kept trying to pull me out of the parade. I thought maybe my brace and I were drawing attention away from the crowd. After another icecream cone, we retired to read novels and more reports on "development" in the Darien.

Tonight is the last big night and the men have been drunk, the woman have been curlered and the kids wet and showing off their little penises all day. We are getting ready for our trip tomorrow to Playa Muerto, about a 4-5 hour boat ride from here. Most travel in this area, if there is any travel at all is done by ponga, thing long boats made of hallowed out trees. We took one the other day to a town about an hour and a half from here, down the coast a bit and then up a river. We had the Cacsique with us, the "traditional" (as of the early ë70s) leaders of the Embera Indians. Their organization is very confusing and is just the reason they are having such tough times with the government and with development groups, unlike their neighbors the Kuna. The Embera are "traditionally" (they have only arrived in Panama along with the Wounan Indians from the Choco area of Colombia, hence their mistaken identity as "Choco", only since the late 1800s) not organized in communities but used to live only in individual houses dispersed throughout the forest, usually a long a rivers edge.

Map of this area of the Darien

Here, they have organized into groups within the two Embera Indian Reserves known as "comarcas". Those Embera living outside the Comarcas are also trying to live in groups and be recognized as "tierra collectiva" (collective earth). So far, this term means something only to them, as the land they live on is considered by the government to belong to the government. In order to possess land, the land must be worked, which means the trees must be cleared. Then one must pay for the land, which is usually priced high. The only people who are able to do this are the "colonos" (colonizers) from Western Panama who come in droves to do slash and burn agriculture. When the earth becomes useless for growing foods after one to three years, they use the land for cattle, who make the earth unable to regenerate trees by compacting the earth and changing the chemical structure. This has been the problem which pervades in the Panama Canal watershed. This is also why on the drive down here, there was no forest in sight on both sides of the road. If there is a road, there are colonos. If there are colonos, the Embera, Wounan and Kuna are all displaced as the colonos clear, burn and purchase the lands. Not that it is really this simple.

We visited Mogue the day after arriving in La Palma. The Cacsique had come to talk to Toro (Clinton in latino drag) about Tierras Colectivas. He was missing a big Seminario in Mogue, his home village, in order to come here. We took him back the next day. When he arrived at 8:30 am everyone was mad that he had missed the last day of the Congresso where they were talking about their bad situation with land rights. The Cacsique immediately blamed it on Julia, who seems to be a convenient scapegoat for both the Panamanian chief of her project from the government environmental organization, INRENARE, and the Embera leadership. But you have to read my dissertation to get that story. Anyway, the village was beautiful (Jeff even got a shower which they have built by piping in water from rivers running in the hills behind Mogue down through PVC piping. Here, the only good indian is a clean indian, cleaner than us with our five gallons of water a day, I might add.)

Without being gringa romantic about it, I have to say that I have never seen a better looking group of people than the Embera. As Julia says, each time she goes to a village she thinks she has just seen the most beautiful woman ever. And then the next village she goes to, she finds an even more beautiful woman. The kids there are also running around, doing plenty of work as soon as they can walk, climbing trees where they have black spider monkeys tied until they are old enough and fat enough to eat, checking out my toe rings and caring for anyone younger. The houses are built on stilts and have very little in the open sided and under the thatched tops. A fire in one corner, sometimes a table and chair (at least in the Cacsiques house). Mogue is an artesinal town and so various woman wanted to sell us baskets, animal figures carved from cocobolo wood, and necklaces made of beads and small hammered pieces of silver. A man in town pulls silver out of some of the rocks in the river, then hammers them into small drops or other shapes. Very beautiful.

The other boat that had come from Juliaís research project didnít know that we were there. Thinking that he was just picking up Sergio, an Embera man who works as a boat driver for the project and had to drop off a boat he had borrowed when Juliaís boat had cracked on his trip home one night, he left. Indians donít have to be respected by the black-Panamanians. There we were in Mogue with sculpted buffo frogs in our bags with no way to get home. The river water level was dropping quickly as the tide was going out. We talked someone into giving us a ride reluctantly. We had to hop in and out of the boat as we made our way down river, which was quite a feat with my brace and in a respectful skirt.

As we head tomorrow to Playa Muerto to where there is a large Embera village on a supposedly beautiful beach along the Pacific Ocean, we will pass Mogue. We are hoping to make our pin camera and see a total eclipse of the sun, whose shadow will pass Playa Muerto somewhere just after noon for close to 4 minutes. We hear that birds return to their nests and then burst into song again as the sun starts to brighten again, as if it were a new day. We travel with another gringo who works down the beach in the Embera part of La Palma. He is building a 91 foot sailing yacht out of tropical hard woods for an conservation-oriented entrepreneur who lives in Westport Connecticut. But thatís another story too.

I havenít even gone back to our first few weeks here living along the canal or our adventures in Panama City. But thereís time. At least here in the tropics, thereís more than enough time for everything.

March 3, 1998

Just have to add a bit about our trip to Playa Muerto for the eclipse. First, the name. I had assumed that the name was based on the totally hair-raising experience of trying to navigate through all the half-submerged volcanic rocks and violently crashing waves to cross from the ocean onto the beach or into a small stream which runs into the ocean. Fortunately for us, even though our self-professed experienced boat captain from La Palma began to turn lighter shades of black when he saw the rocks, there were several Embera men who swam from the beach out to the boat. Both jumped on the boat, one grabbed the control of the engine and while we all held our breath and the sides of the boat with white knuckles, led us straight to the river in one brief moment when the waves paused to where another group of constantly arriving men, women and children helped us push the boat up the river.

There were four of us: Jeff, Julia, myself and Vance. Vance comes from the small Embera part of La Palma, over the hill and down the beach. He is a gringo and from Long Island, or Ohio or something. Anyway, he and several gringos and Embera and Afro-Panamanians are building an incredible 93 foot sailing yacht on the beach - Pajaro Jai II (the first sunk on a coral reef off Jamaica.) The owner, some guy named Jim who lives in Westport, Ct. and Maine, is working with the Embera living in Mogue to develop small scale skills for sustainable use of the incredibly beautiful (and endangered) hardwoods here. He has one guy teaching them how to make garden benches a la Smith and Hawkin and all sorts of stuff. And they are also producing some other crafts - carving tagua nuts (an art suggested by a botonist from the Smithsonian I believe in the last 10 years) into images of animals and insects, carving cocobolo into animals and abjects and working silver found in the river near where they live. This guy Jim is importing these benches and oter small arts and crafts to the U.S. to a store he has openned in Maine, specifically built to seel the arts of the Embera. Anyway, thatís another - to read in the dissertation thing. But, it does raise some great issues about how conservation work gets done. As well as the effectiveness of large scale money coming through usually six or seven governmental and non-governmental organizations to reach (or not, as is most often the case when all the cars are bought, helicopters rented and consultants reports done) a small rural village. And the effectiveness of individuals with money working with the communities directly. Like this guy Jim. AND, what a COOL boat they are building. Vance, who is in charge of the boat building, came along with us to Playa Muerto.

Anyway, back to the name of the beach. It turns out the fully-better-than-Disney ride onto the beach is not the cause for the name. Rather, it comes from an old curandero who lived there and claimed that it took him years and years and years to limpiar (Clean) the area. This was not cleaning it of snakes and misquitoes and disease, but of evil spirits. The beach was apparently infamous for the evil spirits which dwelt there. So says the primo anthropologist for Panama, one Stanley Heckadon-Moreno.

Playa Muerto is inhabited by basically two families, but the houses stretch way up the beach and over a hill to another beach. There is a kind of center of town. There is a large enough population of maybe 100 people. The days there are spent in the village with the woman, who wear brightly colored skirts (I was once again the color-outcast) and not much else (except for an occasional bra or t-shirt when the gringos show up), pounding rice. To do this one or two stand on sides of this very beautiful elevated wooden cistern/mortar. It looks something like a free-standing sink or a big marble holy water holder. Then they use these double-sided large wooden pestles, and use either end to pound the rice which is in the mortar. Each (if there are two women) take strokes. These action results in the husk of the rice coming off. The woman then take 1/2 gourds pour rice from the gourds back into the basin over and over thus sifting through it, the husks being carried off by the wind.

When most of the rice is husked, one woman will put large amounts in a flat woven plate and toss it over and over so that more of the husks are carried off. It is very hard work and goes on all through the day. Often there are other men and women who stand or walk by and thus appears to be a sort of "chat" center. (I actually was sort-of complimented by some women when I tried out the rice pounding. They noted that since I wasnít wearing a bra, my breasts bounced just like theirs did. I took that as a kind of rice-huskers club thing...)

There is a lot of time spent making food. We brought some food but had only planned to spend a day but stayed for two instead. Therefore our host family shared some of their food and we shared all the extra oil and coffee and whatnot (cans of gross tuna...) we had brought with us. This led to a breakfast of cold fish heads and boiled plantains. I have eaten spicy termites, elephant liver and caterpillar larvae, but nothing equals the unappetizing nature of boiled plantains. One recipe I wonít be bringing home. We also stripped and ate sugar cane (yummy) and ajaldos. Ajaldos are really just the usual fry bread, but the usual fry bread is actually quite delicious and all the more so when boiled plantains are the option. There are also coconuts everywhere, and even though the local store had only two bottles of Clorox and two bags of salt on the shelf , they did have a refrigerator (powered for a fraction of the day by a generator) which always had cold pipa (coconut) for us to drink.

Now that I have brought up the refrigerator and the generator and store which are in this small community (purportedly the only Embera community on the ocean) in the middle of no where between other small colono towns (La Palma and Jaque), one might wonder, where do that plata ($$) come from? Well, I certainly wondered, being on a trail of "following the money" (in terms of my dissertation work). Julia suggests that they are connected, like almost everyone around the Darien, to the drug running $$. There is a supposed processing plant in the mountains (which lay beautifully across the back of Playa Muerto) and that they might use Playa Muerto as one of the places that receives and then sends out some of the drugs going through this area. There is also a very chichi fishing lodge a few hours down the coast (Tropic Star Lodge for anyone who wants to fish with Arnold the Terminator) where some of the guys in the village work. Anyway, plata like this doesnít grow in rice paddies. This drug connection will unfortunately prevent me from being able to have Playa Muerto as one of my fieldsites.

The first night we were there, the folks in town were getting ready for a visit from ANCON, the one-time biggest in-country conservation group. Now plagued with huge problems derived from the meglomaniacal leader Jaun Carlos Navarro, they are not in much favor in country or out. Nonetheless, they maintain a presence especially here in the Darien where they recently bought land on which live many of the Embera in the Tierras Colectivas (once again, read the diss.). Julia and I had run into some of the Gringos from this ANCON tour group, who had trekked across the Darien ("Sure, we met guerrillas. No big deal. Theyíre not into kidnapping and killing people anymore." During the same period of time, guerrillas looted and raped {women and children style} their way through a town on the other side of the Darien where this group had been trekking. Makes you wonder to whom ANCON is connected???) Apparently ANCON had told them they were coming with some tourists and could they get painted and dressed up for the occasion? The Embera living here jumped right on it.

Out came the ginipa tree fruit, which is squeezed into a bowl. Fire ash and water are added to what appears to be a clear liquid. They ash helps the draw-er see where the stain is going, but it is only some hours later that the deep black/blue of the fruit becomes apparent. We wandered into houses where woman were painting each other and the kids in preparation for the next day. Inside the house, I got to spend some time looking around. The houses are elevated a half a house, more or less. Underneath is where the chickens and dogs live, along with the hammocks for the especially hot hours of the day. The houses are open-sided with a roof of palms and floors of either rolled out palm bark or wide planked wood. Julia says that wide planked wood also indicate the wealth of the town. These planks are cut by chain saw (and Iíd pay big bucks to put them on the floor of my new kitchen if it ever gets built...)

There were, as usual, kids everywhere, lying on the very wide and (for me) very hard planked floors. When kids were ready to go to sleep, they found some material to lie on . Down they went, lying there, pulling shirts or towels or whatever was around over them and off to sleep. This was how all the kids from age one on went to sleep. Other kids laid in each others arms, laughing and rolling over each other. The older three boys had small cubicle sections just wide enough for two people to sleep. Everyone just sat around playing together or watching the woman paint each other. I was still feeling out of place, like one big fat eye or something that night and so declined to be painted. It seemed strange to get painted when I had no idea what it meant. On the other hand, Julia tells me that she has been in villages where people painted themselves for the arrival of tourists or for a big Congresso and mentioned how they hadnít done so in quite a long time. One begins to notice that ìtraditionsí are often recouped in light of what seem to be ìauthenticity-constructedî events, such as the show of indigenousness for tourists. At the same time, Julia said that the same people had said that they enjoyed doing it and ought to begin to reincorporate it into more local activities. Iíll be able to say more on this after some months, I hope.

I was very struck by the closeness in which everyone lived. Having your own space or time to yourself seems not be a high priority here, or exist as a concept at all. On the other hand, there is a definite sense of each person taking care of themselves first and foremost. I stood by when a mother handed her four year old daughter a machete and told her to bring it to another house across the village and off she went. When a puppy died by the house we were staying in, the older woman, wife to the old loin-cloth wearer, kicked it around a bit with her foot to see if it was alive or not. No one threw it away, but it had been carried off by some other animal within a few hours. These dependence or involvement and corresponding independence or individual responsibilities are something which I hope to better understand. As someone who rails against the mainstream of American psychology and the isolation of people in primarily competitive rather than cooperative societies like the U.S. having the opportunity to see how others configure relationships and senses of selves and others is fascinating. It also made me think very much about Nancy Scheper-Hughes book,"Death Without Weeping." In this book she investigates the "naturalness" of motherly love and notices that in a particular Brazilian shanty town, it is only the tiny babies who exhibit the most chutspah who get the attention. Mothers seem reticent to get attached to their children until they ahve made it through the first several years. When disease and death are much more a part of every day life, the kind of emtions that go with ìrelationshipsî between mother and daughter, other family members or within a community are also evry different. Then you add the feed and eat relationships that are maintained with animals and the picture, although closee and more intimate is some ways varies extensively from what I am more familiar with in the United States. These kinds of relationships and the change brought on by access to monetary resources and goods are also a part of my work here.

OK, back to down town Playa Muerto...Outside, by the other tiny store in town (where we bought a few packets of coffee and a couple of eggs) the teenage boys in town were playing "Wheel of Fortune." They had made a somewhat off-center rounded wheel of wood with numbers painted on it. A young boy held up some kid of reed from underneath which marked the number where the wheel stops while the other boys bet bottlecaps and spun the wheel. One boy seemed to be running the whole operation, heckling everyone and making jokes about their bets. At one point we heard him call out, "Milles y milles de indigenous han ganado.." (Thousands and thousands of indigenous people have won...) I know what Vanna can do when her contract runs out. Or better, what that boy can do when her contract runs out.

Well, the next day, after the fish heads and plantains, all sorts of things started happening. The eclipse was to begin around 11:30 or so. Just before, a helicopter arrived and out jumped several Panamanians armed with sound recorders and huge video recorders. It was Panama Cityís Channel 2 come to film the tourists, the Embera and ANCON.



Then the tourists arrived, being shuttled from their boats which anchored off shore by smaller boats way down the beach. Everyone gathered together under a huge palapa which had been built especially for a Congresso that happened here last December, at which there was a Cacsique coup.(R.T.D.-read the diss.). All the camera people were running around doing important stuff (you Hollywood types know what thatís about - "My God, this is a Michelle Shocked video - Get out of the way...."), all the gringos sitting like ducks in a row, all the Embera painted up and many of the young girls wearing crowns of red hibiscus flowers (take note all planning brides...). One womanís back was painted with a political message about the Tierras Colectivas. The town-chief (diregente) and a couple of the old guys were also painted. Or just wore the traditional red folded loin-cloth and had large hunks of bark gathered in their pierced ears. (The oldest man shared his house with us while there. He had about six or seven red loin-cloths hanging in a row. That made up the extent of his wardrobe with an odd sock and couple of undersized t-shirts.) And us, sort of more integrated because Julia has been there before, and sort of not because Jeff, Vance and I were also new gringos. And the one lone armed policeman brought in by Channel 2 to protect them form the rush of drug traffickers that might descend from the mountains at any moment...Then out came the orange mylar eclipse glasses.

That was it - Embera everywhere holding these things up looking as a huge dark object moved into the light of the sun. The moon came square across the sun and the light faded, becoming like a reflection of the color of their body stain, a kind of thin dark blue air. And gringo, cameraman, Embera and police alike were all looking skyward and smiling at how strange the color of each of us had become.

And then when the moon began to move to the other side, it was over. All the ANCON gringos moved up into one house where they ate chicken and drank coke and then fled Playa Muerto to return back to their offshore boats. Jeff showed the woman we stayed with how to scramble eggs with some onions and cheese and rice (thereís never a meal without rice...) and off we went to swim in the ocean and attack small kids in their canoe in the river like we were white cocodrillos (crocodiles) and collect stunning rocks on the beach. That night we sat and talked for most of the evening with the family whoíse floor we were sleeping on. Just chatting as the stars came out with a sliver of the moon.

The next morning at 5:30 am we were already too late leaving. We had to bring logs (or the Embera helping us did, again arriving one by one as they heard we needed help), to roll our boat across towards the sea as the river had already dropped too far with the tide for us to motor out. After big waves (our hands, not the ocean) we headed back to La Palma in a beautiful four hour ride in the ponga with the 48 horse power motor. (48?) I had a huge fat lip (move over Michelle Pfeifer) from serious sunburn which I tried to hide beneath my tongue. We saw porpoises and sharks swimming by and all sorts of birds coming and going as we passed over their fishing frenzies. Back in La Palma, the neighborsí nasty dog, Idi Amin, was waiting to growl at us and the kids ran up to dance with us as we had each night during the reina parades of Carnival, singing "Quiero chorizo."

Such is the story of our 2 day planned trip which became a 12 day unplanned trip to the Darien. On the way out of Metati (the town where from where one comes and goes by boat to La Palma), we stopped at the Catholic Radio station, Voz de la Darien. As so many people here do not have phones (even international conservation orgs and governmental offices here loaded with other gear canít scare up a phone line) a lot of communication happens by radio. People leave messages for one another saying that their mother is sick in Panama City. Come right away. All sorts of things. Jeff and I payed our $2.00 to have a message read four times throughout the day. In Spanish it read:

For Julia Velasquez en La Palma:

We are in Panama City. We have been able to find two of the four outfits you need to be the reina next year. We are missing the gold shoes, the tierra and the chorizo. Send plata ($$).

Your worker bees,

Jeff and Elizabeth