Morrison Mast | Journal Entry: 02/26/2014

Journal Entry: 02/26/2014

March 13, 2014  •  2 Comments

This week I'm posting a long-winded, detailed journal entry to give readers and idea of a typical day in Armila.  This was my day on Wednesday, February 26th.  

Amanda I woke up at 4:00 AM to go monitor the eastern portion of the leatherback turtle nesting beach.  We met up with one of our local partners who has been involved with the local Sea Turtle Commission since its inception.  We wake up early to monitor this stretch because once the town starts to wake up, it becomes the place where the community deposits its waste, everything from plastic to tin cans to the various embodiments of yesterday’s food.  No turtle tracks on this side of the river today. 

We split our monitoring schedule in half today because it was announced last night that a local girl had had her first period.  This is a celebrated coming-of-age milestone in the life of a Guna girl, and I went out at 5:30 AM with the other men of the town that morning to gather “urua,” yard-long leaves from a species from the Helaconiaceae family that will be used to create a special room in the house of the girl where she will be interned for the duration of the event. The whole town supports the girl’s family in this ritual and in return the family provide all who come carrying stacks of leaves with a breakfast of “madun,” a sweet, Guna drink made of mashed up plantains.

After breakfast I finished the rest of the day’s sea turtle monitoring work while training a friend and local conservationist in the SWOT Minimum Data Standards Protocol that's being implemented on this beach (see my last blog post for more details).  At 7:07 AM we found one track near the town of a leatherback turtle who came ashore and apparently laid eggs, as opposed to briefly entering-and-exiting (false crawl) as sometimes occurs when a female turtle isn’t quite satisfied with the situation on the beach.  On the 3-mile walk back from the end of the beach, I had a long conversation about the underground economy of the region, which has changed drastically since guerrilla groups are no longer present.

On returning to the mouth of the Armila river at 9:30AM, the first thing that met my gaze was a large construction site at which were working diligently two friends.  Since our friends in Armila were kind enough to offer us free lodging for the duration of our stay, Amanda and I invested part of our previously budgeted rent in the construction of a community-run guest house in which the town can receive tourists, government employees, and other visitors who are passing by or staying for a few months.  I stayed with Felix and Demetrio and used a generator-powered skill saw to straighten out the edges of some of 2x6’s which had just been brought down from the forest in a dugout canoe.

From the construction site I returned to my cabin at the east edge of town.  It’s considered “the boonies”, but it no more than a two-minute walk from the center of town.  I filtered some river water and took a ten-minute nap in my hammock to the sound of crashing waves and hummingbirds. At 10:45 AM put on my rubber boots to go work on an aquaculture project that Amanda and I, along with the financial support of nearly 50 generous friends, family members, and strangers had made possible through a crowd-funding campaign a year ago.  This week the Sea Turtle Comission of Armila has agreed to support the local soccer team (reigning regional champions) in return for their manpower and support in this project.  The men involved in the Tilapia Work Group, sponsored by ARAP, are pictured below at the site of the tank.

At noon I went to my Guna mother’s house to eat a lunch of rice, fried plantains, rice and lentils with Amanda before going to the local convenience store and retiring to our hammocks for the swelteringly unproductive period of 12:30 – 2:00 PM, during which nothing, no matter how much initiative you may think you have, can be accomplished outside the shelter of shade. 

At 2:30 PM, after tending to my cassava crop behind the cabin, I walked across the soccer field to the border patrol barracks to introduce myself to the new presiding lieutenant and to invite the soldiers to participate in some of the town’s work tomorrow.  The Panamanian border patrol are decked out with what looks like US-issue uniforms and gear, and as I walked in two soldiers were firing their glocks (with forest green slides) at a paper target stapled to a palm tree.  I introduced myself and talked about Amanda’s and my work, and he agreed to have a few men come lend a hand with our work the next day.

From the barracks I went into the center of town to catch up with some friends, then went to the river to see the day’s progress on the house.  While I was there, I stripped down and jumped in to cool off a bit, surrounded by naked 4-year olds doing backflips off a log, and watched the old medicine men paddle their canoes into shore after a day of harvesting herbs in the mountain.

After reminding a couple of town committee chairs to organize a meeting tomorrow, I cut down a couple of coconuts, picked some wild basil, and went back to have dinner in the cabin with Amanda. Our friend Demetrio called me over on the way back and offered us a pineapple from his farm, which we would devour after dinner.  Always, during our our post-dinner food-comas, we sit in the hammocks and read aloud from the kindle (best gift I’ve ever received, thanks Judy) until the sun sets and we can no longer make out the words. 

You would think that after waking up at 4:00 AM to go fishing or harvesting your plantains, every person in the town would eat dinner and pass out.  Instead, everyone in the community is required to dress up and gather in “the big house” on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for “namagge” or “singing,” where the Sahilas (learned elders and leaders of the community) swing in their hammocks sing fables, legends, and stories from the ancient Guna tradition.

Sometimes these sessions go on until 10:00 or 11:00, especially on Tuesdays and Thursdays when the community debates on local issues; luckily for Amanda and me, the singing concluded at around 8:15 PM tonight.  The novelty of two white people speaking in their congress obviously hasn’t worn off, since all the women looked up from sewing their molas and the men woke up from their naps to watch us explain in broken dulegaya (the Guna language) that we couldn’t teach English lessons last night because the solar panel system that powers the school’s lights wasn’t working (this caused a stir of grumbles among the townspeople, since yesterday’s debate was a heated blame-game to decide whose fault it was that a group of people had plugged in a freezer to the school’s newly installed solar-power system and blown a fuse the week before school was supposed to start).

After a collective chuckle and some pity-applause for the poorly-spoken “mergis,” (Americans) Amanda and I shuffled back to our cabin with a thinning crowd of Gunas, all of them commenting “gabe di gala” – I should be in bed…           




Sarah McNicholas(non-registered)
The work you guys are doing sounds so rewarding. I would be most excited to see a leatherback lay her eggs and relax amongst the hummingbirds. Thank you for sharing on FB!
great day. i can picture every step of it. best to all in Armila, and I can't wait to hear your speech in Guna.
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