Who Says You Can’t Go Home Again?

Catalyst Log 2-14-13

Who Says You Can’t Go Home Again?

Dear Friends and Family,

We finally made the break from the East Lemons after being there since Peg and Vic left.  I had been feeling a little strange about revisiting a village that we had spent a week anchored by in 2005.  We had gotten to know a few of the villagers and really liked being a small part of the life there but would we be disappointed going back?  People were so friendly, perhaps overly so at times with the kids always rowing around our boat and checking us out.  But we enjoyed it.  I was a little afraid to come back and see changes.  One man we met who spoke English from working in the Canal Zone had been old and we didn’t know if he would be still alive!  Well, we went in to town with his picture from 2005 and were led to him.


He looks great at 78.  We were so glad to see him again and looking so well.  We are in the picture with him and also another boater that came in with us.


He hasn’t changed very much.  We took a picture with his wife.


We asked about his Grandson, Santiago, and were told that he is now 19.   We have a picture of him in our dinghy going to a near by smaller island where we were delivering pictures we had made of the residents.

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Whenever we would come back to town after taking pictures, he would appear and help us find the houses to make the deliveries.  It turns out that he has done quite well.  He is 19 and already in his second year of medical school in Cuba.  He has 4 more years to go.  I would guess that since he is so young, they handle the educational situation a little differently there.  Alberto showed us some news accounts of awards he had won.  We think the awards may be for public speaking.  He went to high school in Panama City and has a scholarship for the training in Cuba.


Though we may have some disagreements with the politics of Cuba, they are recognized to have some of the best medical people in the Caribbean.  The government is building a home for him in his village out of cement so that is pretty big time!  The two room house is already mostly built and he has 4 years to go before he returns!?  He plans to come back and be a doctor in the islands.   Another grandchild is in University to become a teacher.    What a prosperous family!  When you think of the economic and educational background they come from it is really something.  I guess the cream rises to the top and will find a way!

On one of his visits to the boat in 2005, Santiago brought his sister.  Here are the two of them from that time

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and then here is a picture of her today.


You can see that she is not dressed traditionally and could easily fit in with any American teen group.  School will be starting soon and I would guess she will be heading to Panama City for school, but I forgot to ask.

We met Santiago’s mother with his youngest sister who is age three.  The Mom dressed her in a little Mola dress.  Note that the design of the dress is one of three women and a baby and it depicts Moses in the rushes.  This island is visited yearly by a missionary and it seems to be having an impact.


We had also been looking for another man that we met.  We had his picture as well.

Gerti San Blas 3 104

He actually found us because he came to tell us that each of the boats owed $7 for a 30 day permit to anchor by the island.  That is not uncommon around the villages so we were expecting that.  He saw me holding the picture and asked to see it.  I then recognized him.  He had been wearing sun glasses.

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When we met him before, he was trying to learn English.  He still is, but is doing somewhat better.  His only son at the time had asthma and he was trying to get medical care for him.  You can see in the original picture how thin the baby was and we had been concerned that maybe they had even lost him.  Now Justino has three children.


The oldest boy now looks healthy and happy.  Justino, now, is hustling to do work for boaters.  Unfortunately, not that many boaters come so far out of the way here and he doesn’t have a boat big enough to make the trip to where they do come.

Along with Justino on this Island is his brother-in-law who also came out to the boat looking to take us on a tour of the river and a jungle hike.  His name is Bredio and he also speaks some English.  We also went to visit his family.


What is unusual about his family is that their youngest, a daughter, is an albino.  This is not an uncommon occurrence here where the population, has trouble traveling far distances to court others and the size of over all population, causes inbreeding.  There are problems of course because the albino are very sun sensitive, both in the eyes and more easily sun burned.  There is no problem though in raising them in the society.  There is no prejudice against them.  In fact, many grow up to be part of the spiritual and healing class as they are considered more blessed.

We had seen an albino boy near this village in 2005.  We have a picture of him by the side of the boat.

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We were visited on the boat by an albino man who wanted to sell us molas.  He looked too old to be the boy we had seen in 2005 but with the way the sun ages people and the effects it might have on his body, we were wondering if it was the same boy.


We tried asking and showing him the picture from before but it was unclear.  His English was more limited to words used to tell us price of molas.  His lips were very peeling and Rob, who has sun sensitivity in his lips, really noticed and gave him a new very good lip balm.  We also gave him a small tube of sun screen that we had brought just for this purpose.  In addition, I bought 3 more molas!  The prices are better here but I think I have gone crazy.  I also bought one from Justinos wife and a small mola blouse with two sides when we were visiting the island of Gerti.  I have things in mind for most of them but I just couldn’t resist.  I think I am in trouble!!!!  I already have a big supply at home.

In addition to renewing old acquaintances and making new friends, we were told that there would be a Checha ceremony here about the 19th of the month.  We had been wanting to go to one but this would be great as we know people here who would lead us through it.   Thankfully, the anchorage here makes getting in and out of town easier than most populated islands.

The Chicha ceremony will include two girls.   The people in the village have already started to make the Chicha drink.  It is made from pressed sugar cane and we saw a press on one of the islands.  It is basically two branches.  One is supported  off the ground and one is on the top.  You put the cane between and someone stands on the long end to force the two branches together to press the cane.


You can see the pressed cane on the ground.  The cane sugar is mixed with coffee and set in jugs to ferment.


The date of the ceremony is determined by when the drink is fermented properly.  There is a special large enclosed house built just for these parties.  There is another large communal kitchen built for making and serving the food for the community festivals on the island.  The drink creates a lot of intoxication for those drinking it.  I guess that once the drinking starts, the cooking hut is open all the time so that people can soak up the alcohol with food.  The party runs 24/7!  I want to taste the drink but don’t plan on being part of the drunkenness.  According to their tradition, you want to drink a lot so that the spirits can come to you in this less restricted state of mind.

Another thing they do is to get long balsa branches stripped and split in half.  These branches are put inside the Chicha hut on the wall horizontally.  They will be painted with animals on them to bring spiritual blessings.  Here is a picture of the wood ready for painting when the time comes.


It makes me think of the totem poles done in Alaska.  I know the process is different but the idea is similar.

I will write more about the ceremony when the time comes but pictures are forbidden at that time.  The people here are sensitive about getting their picture taken and especially during a ceremony, it is not wanted.

One last event worth noting.  We revisited Justino to take him some pictures.  As we were in the village, a man we had seen carving out a dug out canoe earlier in the day


came to Justino and asked him to see if we could help him.  He had an as yet unused tool but it had a blade that was too long for his comfort.  He asked if we had a way of cutting off about 2 inches off the blade.  Rob thought he could do it but said he might not be able to sharpen it.  The man said he could do that himself!  We took it back to the boat and Rob was able to use a cutting wheel and got the job done in short order.


Justino came over to take the tool back to the man.  It is nice to be able to do things that we can for these people.  Can you imagine trying to get a job done and not having the proper tools?  It is not only the money, which is a big factor, but also availability!  As you go about your day, think about how easy your life is.  You need something for dinner?  Go to the grocery store or go to a restaurant.  Want to do laundry, throw it in the machine and go on with other things.  Want to talk to your family or friends, get on the phone or e-mail.  Want to do chores, pull out the right tool.  Want to read a book?  Turn on a light.  All of these take a different way of thinking for the people who live here.  Life can be a struggle.  At the same time, some things are much easier or not an issue at all.

We are thinking of spending more time here before our company on March 14 and then heading to another island in the less traveled areas of Kuna Yala.  While we enjoy the beauty of the islands closer to the reef and the company of the boaters that spend time there, we are most interested in learning about the local culture.  We hope to share some of what we discover with you.  It may be that we won’t get good e-mail communication once we head east so it may not be photo but just words.  We will see.  Also, our blog master will be out of town from the 23rd to March 1st so no logs published then.  You can anticipate a big flow of information at the beginning of March!

My dear husband remembered that today was Valentines Day.  It didn’t register with me.  No valentines, heart shaped box of chocolates or dinner out but what better way to celebrate with your sweetheart than to spend our days enjoying our lives together.

Hope you have a chance to connect to those who you hold dear in your hearts.  We are connecting to you!

Valentine wishes!

Sue and Rob,

Gerti, Kuna Yala

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