Harvest Season {Month 4 – October 2017}

Harvest Season {Month 4 – October 2017}

I thought it was the end; this wasn’t how I wanted things to be. 

It was the dead of the night when I was stirring in my hammock, and I felt a rush of a burning sensation in my throat, rising to my nose, and foam bubbling out of my mouth. My eyes shot open immediately, awakened by the searing pain. My instincts told me to excise the fluids, but there was a thick mucus blocking my nasal passageways. I couldn’t exhale, and my body wouldn’t let me inhale either. I was trying with all my power to cough, but it was as if my lungs gave out on me.

I was running out of time, out of oxygen; panic set in and I started flailing my limbs every to move and get out of my hammock. I had moved too close to the edge too quickly, lost my balance, and slammed into the ground face-first. I whimpered as tears streamed down my face, soaking into the earth, wondering if these were my final moments. Finally, some of the foam and stomach acid drained out of my nose and mouth and I was able to manage a cough. I attempted to vomit all of the contents in my throat, then at last took a sweet breath of fresh air. I had survived.

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My first full month in site had its ups and downs trying to integrate and getting used to being so isolated from other Peace Corps Volunteers. Luckily the harvest season was upon us and I was able to immerse myself in agricultural work; harvesting rice, pilaring rice, clearing the monte, and planting beans for the next harvest, to name a few activities.

The Ngobe women are some of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. Not only do they tend to all the house work and care for the children, but they also work in the fields, side-by-side with the men. During work days, we harvest rice by using a special tool to cut the stalks for 10 hours straight. We get small five minute breaks every few hours to drink chicha de maiz, a sour-tasting fermented corn juice.

The next step is pilaring rice, which usually takes place after work days in the long, dark hours of the night until 1 AM, using only the light from a dim torch to help see. Before pilaring the rice, the grain needs to be prepared and separated from the stalk by either sifting with feet or using half a coconut shell. Pilaring, or plundering the rice grains, takes place in a large wooden hourglass shaped bowl and the grains are pounded with a giant log to open the shells. Pilaring rice is the ultimate bicep and tricep workout, and after about 20 plunders, I’m completely worn out and my arms feel like jelly but the Ngobe women can pilar rice for hours on end.

Since my previous volunteer was still in-site and finishing his projects, he hosted an Ultimate Frisbee without Borders tournament at the school with the kids. I was able to meet another volunteer, who has become a really good friend of mine, and experience another Peace Corps program, which was refreshing for me to see since all I had been doing in the community was harvesting crops and other agriculture. We also had our first regional meeting, along with agency days to meet various organizations we’ll be working with these next two years, but unfortunately I was hit hard by a plethora of sicknesses all at once – fever, diarrhea, infected bug bites all over my legs, and gastrointestinal issues – so I was sent to Panama City to see specialists.

Check out next month’s post to find out more on my medical condition and read more about my activities in site, Overcoming Sickness {Month 5 – November 2017} and Latino versus Ngöbe Food!

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