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Brian Crum '08

Christmas in the Jungle, or rather a lack there of….

Yesterday was Christmas. I wouldn’t have known it was Xmas unless I looked at a calendar or called home. On Christmas Eve I climbed into bed after a day of cutting down wood in the jungle for my house only to have my host family in the room above me turn on their tiny TV (the screen is probably 3 inches by 3 inches) and watch some Xmas movie in Spanish. I’m not sure what movie it was, but all the voice acting was dubbed in Spanish. Although the dialogue was in Spanish, all the Xmas songs were still in English. So here I am lying in bed in the middle of the Panamanian jungle, mildly depressed because I’m not with my family in the snowy climate I’m used to for Xmas eve being forced to listen to the song “White Christmas,” an expression that has absolutely no meaning to Panamanians. I sat there praying that it would start raining as hard as possible to drown out the noise of the TV…sadly, the rain waited till Xmas morning.

On Xmas morning I woke up at 530AM Panamanian time (530CST) to get dressed and prepared to go cut more wood for my house. Merry Christmas! This picture is of me on Xmas morning. I’m holding my wonderful snowman and getting ready to put on my mud-crusted dirty pants and rubber boots. I don’t really know why I have on two different colored socks; they were both clean and close that’s the best explanation I have. Depending on how smoothly the cutting went, we were slated to finish cutting the 2105 ft of wood necessary for constructing my house, but I’ll talk a little more about that in a second. All right, so I wake up to get ready to leave to work by 6 only to be greeted by rain. Panamanians aren’t ever on time in the absence of rain. When it rains, they are even less punctual. So I climbed back in bed to listen to the rain while I waited for my host father to wake up so I could find out when and if we were still going to cut wood. The rain slows down and he wakes up around 7. I climbed out of bed, made the daily trip to our composting latrine, put on the dirty sawdust-covered clothing I’ve been wearing for the past 3 days, took my drug cocktail (malaria pill, vitamins, anti-inflammatory I twisted my other ankle last Sun in a soccer game so now I have two bogus ankles), brushed my teeth, readied the gas and oil for the chainsaw, and headed to my neighbor’s house for breakfast. Anytime you have a workday in my community, the person who is getting help with work is expected to provide breakfast and lunch for all the workers. Most Panamanians run on rice, sugar, and green bananas; therefore, buying food for the day isn’t that big of a deal.

So we venture to my neighbor Cornelio’s house where his wife has prepared the food for us. Breakfast was a few fried eggs, rice, green bananas, and coffee flavored sugar water. Not the usually Xmas breakfast of biscuits and gravy that I know and love, but hey I did get two eggs. After breakfast we made the 30-minute hike to the huge tree we cut down 2 days prior. This tree was roughly 3.5 feet in diameter. I put my hat on top of my machete in front of the tree to trying and give a little scale.

Anyway, after our hike we started cutting down wood. We cut about 5 boards and then the chain on the saw broke. Luckily, we had an extra chain. So the guy cutting the wood, his name is Benicio, puts on the new blade and we get back to work for about another hour before the saw just stops working. Also, during the morning, we were periodically drenched with rain. Lunchtime was approaching, and Cornelio’s two sons had all ready been sent out to bring us our lunch, so we packed up our stuff and sat around waiting for them to show up with our lunch. The picture below was our lunch on one of the days we worked. It was boiled green bananas, rice, beans, and tuna served to us in big green leaves.

After lunch, we returned home to talk about working on Saturday to finish cutting the wood. I needed to go to Changuinola to get more money and food to finish working on the wood. So after hammering out the details of working this Saturday to finish, I backed up a bag and grabbed a bus to Changuinola to get supplies.

Not really your traditional North American Xmas. Although it was a new experience, it was definitely a Xmas experience I wouldn’t like to repeat. It was my first Christmas away from home and my family. Every year I know others go through Xmas without their family, but being my favorite holiday, being away from my family was rough. I was actually dreading calling home at first because I knew my mom was going to answer the phone with a “Merry Christmas.” When I did call, she did she did exactly that; it brought a tear to my eye. To all my family, I love and miss all of you! Thanks for being so supportive. I will be home for the holidays next year!

Anyway, a quick summary of the housing project. I’m building my house in the center of town. We are cutting roughly 2105 feet of wood for the house. The house will be 16ft by 16ft with 2 rooms (8ftx8ft) and a porch(16ftx8ft). The kitchen will be on one end of the porch. We have cut down wood in 3 separate locations, all of which are between a 25-35 minute hike from building site. After we finish cutting the wood tomorrow, Saturday, I will begin playing a big work day of roughly 20-30 people to haul all the wood to the building site. It’ll be interesting to see how this unfolds. Some of the lumber locations are crazy difficult locations to hike to without having to carry a large quantity of lumber. Plus, there is no way to get a horse into these places to haul wood either. So it should be interesting. For more pictures of cutting down trees, check out my photos. I’m also going to try to load a video of one of the trees being chopped down. As of now, my house is slated to be finished by the end of Jan or beginning of Feb. My fingers are crossed.

En la lucha,

Brian “Koguira Noin”