Monday, October 30, 2006
Amman Airwaves #2
points the way
The North American Delegation
One of the reasons I am excited about this AMARC conference is the great North American Delegation that will be in attendance this year. These are some of the finest, hardest-working, dedicated practioners of community radio on this, or any other, continent!
Meet the North American AMARC delegates!
We've got a very interesting and diverse group coming to represent North
America. Here are our amazing delegates in no particular order:
Andrew Stelzer and Jackson Allers will represent Free Speech Radio News, the only daily half-hour progressive radio newscast in the US. Andrew has taught numerous training workshops in places like Bolivia, Mexico, and post-Katrina New Orleans. Jackson served as the Chief of Radio for the United Nations mission in Kosovo, and in July and August of this year he reported extensively on the Israeli military offensive in Lebanon. He is based in Beirut.
Norman Stockwell, representing WORT-FM, has worked with community radioaround the world, and has worked on solidarity projects in El Salvador, Mexico, Cuba, Nicaragua, Colombia, and China (among others).
Pete Tridish, co-founder of Prometheus Radio Project, has worked for years to improve community radio in the US, battling the FCC and building countless low-power FM stations. Pete has lead radio trainings in numerous countries, including Guatemala, Venezuela, Nepal and Tanzania!
Ahlam Mutahseb is an associate professor of media and communication studies at California State University, San Bernadino. Ahlam also works with Alternate Focus TV, which attempts to provide a more balanced narrative of the Middle East.
Debbi Winsten has 17 years experience empowering citizen voices in the United States, Asia and Africa. She collaborates with diverse cultures on community radio and outreach using participatory, literacy optional tools or sustainable development. Debbi helped Liberians mobilize 25 community radio stations before the 2005 elections, and recently established local broadcasts in Cameroon's North West Province.
Laura Newman is a graduate student at the University of Ohio-Athens, currently studying communication for development practice and theory, with a focus on community media (specifically radio). She has volunteered at WORT-FM and WOUB, and will travel to South Africa this summer to research the effects of radio there.
Sheila Katzman works with the Women's International News Gathering Service (WINGS), [recently uncerimoniously dumped from KOOP Radio jre] and FemVue Radio. The former produces radio programs by and about women around the world, and the latter works as a Peace radio consultancy, training community broadcasters in Africa. Programs run>internationally, and deal with countless women and gender issues (including human rights, and sexual reproductive health), political and>social issues, and efforts to improve access to community radio.
Eduardo DeLanderos-Tierre works with KBOO in Portland, Oregon, broadcasting bilingually to the surrounding community. He has corresponded and worked with radio activists across the world, and hosts a weekly, art-focused show.
Elizabeth DiNovella has volunteered with WORT-FM in Wisconsin for the past 10 years, and works as the Culture Editor for the Progressive Magazine. She also produces Progressive Radio, which airs on 30 stations weekly.
Mansoor Sabbagh is a cofounder and codirector of Global Voices for Justice. The organization produces and broadcasts radio programs for community and public radio across the US, shedding light on important social, political, cultural, historical, and educational issues.
Kristin Shamas is a doctoral student at the University of Oklahoma. She also works extensively with OURMedia, an emerging global network attempting to facilitate a dialogue between academics, activists, practitioners and policy experts around citizens' media initiatives.
Dov Hirsch will represent KGNU, a pioneer in community radio, broadcasting out of Boulder, Colorado. In his capacity as an Adult Mentor in the Youth Radio Program, Dov trains local adolescents and teens in all aspects of radio journalism, from writing to audio editing, to field recording. Mr. Hirsch has a Masters degree in Media Studies, conducting research on how democracy occurs through media.
Former Chief of UnitedNations Peacekeeping Radio in sub-sahara Africa and Chief of Public Information for the UN Peace Mission in Sierra Leone. Prior to that, I was a producer/host at WBAI/Pacifica Radio.
Frieda Werden is the co-founder and current producer of the syndicated program WINGS: Women's International News Gathering Service, which has been an AMARC member since 1986 and showcases productions by women from many countries. She also works as Spoken Word Coordinator for CJSF-FM, the campus-community radio station at Simon Fraser University. Originally from the US, she immigrated to Canada in 2002. She serves as Vice President of AMARC from North America. At age 59, she has been active in community radio for 33 years.
Kate Coyer is a long-time radio producer and media activist. She recently completed her PhD and is currently a post doctoral research fellow with the Project for Global Communication Study at the Annenberg School, University of Pennsylvania where she is looking at community broadcasting in Central and Eastern Europe. She also volunteers with Prometheus to help people make their own radio programs and build their own community radio stations.
Danila Apasov works with the Prometheus Radio Project, and is taking care of logistics for the conference. She is very busy.
And last but not least, Jim Ellinger is widely known for his years of community media work, including most recently "What It Feels Like to Be Run Over By the FEMA PR Machine;" the battle to provide radio services to the thousands of Katrina evacuees in the Houston Astrodome. He has previously served as PR Director of Austin Community Television, Communications Director of the Austin Music Network, Membership/PR Director of Wheatsville Food Co-op, Founder of KOOP Radio, [even tho' they now deny it! jre] Producer/Host of "Austin Airwaves" and radio columnist for the Austin Chronicle.
Since 9/11, [and since being screwed over by koop jre] Ellinger has focused his efforts outside of North America. He has visited more than 75 cities in 25 countries on various media gigs. He has produced radio theatre in Mozambique for the benefit on non-literate farmers, done radio surveys in the jungle of the Darien Gap of Panama and froze his butt off in Siberia helping a local radio/TV group. He assisted Petri and Co. in putting an LPFM on the air on the roof of the Yak & Yeti Hotel in Katmandu for AMARC8. This will be Ellinger's 8th AMARC conference, making him arguably the longest-running AMARC member.
Following AMARC, Ellinger and his partner "The World's Most Dangerous Blonde," will be traveling through much of the Middle East, looking for co-ops, no doubt...
Amman Airwaves #1...
Hello Again Friends!
Welcome to Jim Ellinger and the
"World's Most Dangerous Blonde"
Amman Airwaves and
The Middle East!
راديوي لأجل شعوب, لأج (Radio for People, Not for Profit)
Most of you fall into the general categories of:
Family and friends from Austin, Houston, the Bay area
and California, Columbia and St Louis, Missouri,
Radio folks and community/indy media practitioners,
PCVs, NGO workers, ex-pats and internationalistas...
with a few good Campers, co-opers and bamboo nuts
thrown in for good measure!
About 2/3rds of you all have been on our previous travelblog
lists, including most recently PanaRadio; my radio adventures
with Betina from Argentina in the wilds of Panama, and,
"What It Feels Like to be Run Over by the FEMA PR
Machine," the battle to provide radio services to thousands
of Katrina evacuees in the Houston Astrodome, and,
"Escape from America," our annual Run for the Border
This travelblog looks to be just as, oooh, interesting...
Our friend Artie will be passing along our blogs, photos and
reports, posting them here, and sending you the link.
If we have the wrong Eddress, or are sending you more than one
copy, or you want to receive emails at a different Eddress, or you
simply do not wish to receive our postings, kindly let Artie know
and he will take care of you. Thanks Artie!
Caution! Pottymouth Ahead!
If you don't want to read the F Word, or the MF word, or hear
the current administration described in graphically unflattering
terms, or if you are a bit squeamish about detailed descriptions
of the real world outside North America...then this might not
be the blog for you!
Some past travelblogs have included:
the fine art of la mordida/baksheesh, 79 kilos of coke, lonely
phonecalls from the jungle, being bitten, elephant dung, scary
toxic stuff, 17 below zero weather reports, street hustlers/cons,
unfriendly cops, friendly cops, overly-friendly cops, stuff
blowing up, roads that just suddenly end, putting up radio
stations, MF FEMA officials...and of course, border crossings...
There will be some serious border crossing and traveling going
on this trip, possibly including any of the following:
Crossing the Green Line seperating Greek from Turkish Cyprus,
Israeli/Palestinian checkpoints crossing the infamous Wall,
Getting into "still hip after all those bombs," Beirut and
Lebanon, via Scary Syria,
Traveling up through Asian Turkey to EU wannabe Turkey,
ending up in no-Instanbul-shit.
Maybe a daytrip to Iraq?
Plus Petra and all the historic sites in Amman and Jordan!
jim ellinger and the WMDB
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
PanaRadio #11 LET GO!!!
OH BOY! FIREWORKS!!! or
“Let go! LET GO!!
LET GO BEFORE IT EXPLODES!!!
Fun with large, homemade fireworks in the middle of the Pan-American Pothole.
‘Nother Damn Disclaimer:
No one was hurt during this episode. Well, okay, not permanently or seriously. (But my ears are still ringing hours later.) This story is not a call to action to purchase, even at rock bottom bargain prices, possess, or use fireworks, legal or not. Remember: Fireworks don’t kill people, they make them hard of hearing.
Now, if you are among the large number of family and friends on this PanaRadio list who have been to our wonderful home in often wonderful Austin, Texas for our many parties, know that frequently fireworks are a part of the party.
And if you have been to any of our parties, you know Rule #1 regarding fireworks. Say it to yourself first. Right! “Nothing makes any noise.” Fireworks are strictly illegal to possess within the Austin City Limits (the municipality, not the best music program on PBS.) A $210 fine, I believe, and for good reason. I recall a nice cedar-shaked condo somewhere in town burned to the ground a coupla’ years back ‘cause of a single, solitary errant bottle rocket.
Noisy fireworks also tend to spook the neighbors’ dog causing it to take a dump on the divan, scare the WWII vet up the street, and prompt calls to 911. Fireworks that make no noise, done in the proximity of your house for a few minutes amidst a party, are usually tolerated. We’re talking sparklers, morning glories, fountains and Roman Catholic Candles. Another reason to invite the neighbors to your parties.
But tonight, here at the fabulous Felicidad, the most structurally solid hotel in the entire city, with cold and cold running water, no bed bugs, honest maids, excellent Panamanian coffee, and no TVs, credit cards or phones, fireworks there are going to be...
There is a big music event in the hotel courtyard tonight, which is quite out of the ordinary for a Wednesday night in dusty Meteti. Nenito Vargas and the Plumas Negras, a great band, is headlining. Cover is two dollars. Two! Plus you have to rent your own beer, chair, and table.
Earlier in the day, the crews were setting up the stage, PA, stacks of plastic chairs, beer booth, etc. Kinda’ reminded me of home.
There is a guy shooting off these rockets that I had seen, and heard, around the area before. They are clearly homemade. They stand about four feet tall, with a stick made out of reed, or some pretty strong but light-weight stick. The head of the rocket is all cardboard, kraft paper and white cotton string. Now I have seen these things take off, reach maybe 200 feet in about seconds and explode with three loud reports. You can hear them for miles, even inside buildings with the AC on. So these guys are shooting these things off, and I ask, "Hey!, where can I get some fun?"
They point to right across the street to a local construction materials store. I race across the Pan-American Pothole and come back grinning with a dozen.
The rockets, bundled together in a dozen are a buck each, but I end up being charged $14. Gringo prices you understand. Again, we are so from “not here,” we stand out a mile away. Betina from Argentina is dressing very modestly today, an actual blouse, and a bra. Everybody, I mean everybody, in town knows us. There are maybe 10-12 outsiders here.
I ask Betina from Argentina to take my picture holding the rockets. I go out into the middle of the road, now crowded with double parked trucks, taxis, and an honest to goodness tour bus! and prepare to set off the first rocket. “Hold it ABOVE where you light it,” offers a local. Oh. I light the rocket, and with an impressive WHOOSH!! it races skyward with a trail of golden sparks and that sweet smell of black powder. (I love the smell of gunpowder in the morning. It smells like…victory.) After it has climbed a good coupla’ hundred feet it explodes, once! twice!!, three times!!! “Yee HAW!” I say in exuberant English, “Gimme’ 'nother!”
I ask if any of the other folks want to try one out. No takers. I tell Betina from Argentina that she should try it once, just for the experience. “Okay, uh, no. No…” I ask a local resident, who responds dryly, “Get away from me…”
But Alan, a biologist from Colorado, who is here working to develop an eco-tourism circuit in the Darien, says he’ll try one.
I explain that it’s pretty simple, just hold the stick above where you light it, balancing the stick straight up on the ground, and the rocket will take off by itself. No muss, no fuss.
I mean, what could happen?
(Funny, I can hear some of my friends saying “Oh Christ!” right now…and I am having trouble just hearing the click of the keyboard.)
Alan's wife looks on with a good wife worried look.
He lights the short fuse. The rocket begins to burn. A tail of sparks is bouncing off the ground. He doesn’t let go. “Let go!” I yell. Still he holds it.
“ALAN!! Let Go!!!” Finally, “LET GO!!!”
He tosses the rocket down a few feet from his feet, and it EXPLODES in a cloud of smoke, dust and gravel. LOUD! The crowd of girls standing by the phone booth scream and scatter. The doormen jump out into the middle of the road. A taxi screeches to a dusty halt. (No wait, that happens here all the time…) The crowd is yelling, laughing hysterically, falling all over themselves.
At least I SEE them doing that. Yes, they all appear to be laughing and yelling. But I don’t actually hear them. What I hear, and feel, is a painful, piercing ringing in my ears. “Jesus Fucking Christ!” I hear from inside my skull.
“That was FUCKING LOUD!"
Everybody is saying “What? Yeah! What? It WAS loud! Yeah, that WAS loud!"
Four hours later, now back in my room in the Fabulous Falicidad, my left ear still hurts. Alan has sustained a small second degree burn on the tip of his thumb. Later I ask him.
“Alan, why didn’t you let go?”
“I thought it would take off on its own.”
“It would if you let go.”
“I guess I misunderstood you instructions, you said, ‘just hold it upright and it would take off.’”
“Yes, that’s what I said.”
“Well, I thought it going to take off by itself.”
“Yes if you just let go…”
I kept the last three rockets for tomorrow. They’re right here next to my bed.
I mean...what could happen?
Meteti, Panama 4/23/05
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Texas Weeklies Praise KAMP Radio Efforts
[3 great stories from The Austin Chronicle (7/29/05), The Houston Press (7/15/05) and The San Antonio Current (9/15/05)]
Katrina Aftermath Radio: A Brief, Dysfunctional Life
By Wells Dunbar The Austin Chronicle
Jim Ellinger (in cap, holding bottle) stands in front of a giant message board in the Astrodome, showing the critical need for communications among Katrina evacuees, a need that Ellinger and others had hoped to meet with an ill-fated low-power radio station. (Photos courtesy of Houston Independent Media Center)
"The first radio license I got from the FCC, for KOOP radio, took 11 years," said Austin Airwaves activist (and former Austin Chronicle writer) Jim Ellinger, whose interest in community media extends back to KOOP's founding. "The next three licenses took two hours over the Labor Day weekend." The atypical speed with which the feds moved on those three was in response to the proposal of a low-power FM radio station for the benefit of Hurricane Katrina evacuees in the Houston Astrodome, a short-term station with which Ellinger and Houston activists sought to disseminate "rudimentary, life-saving information." Thanks to professional legal assistance, the FCC moved quickly in granting the licenses for radio broadcast inside the Astrodome. "The FCC doesn't do anything in two hours," Ellinger said. "It's unheard of."
Too bad the licenses were never put to use.
Things seemed to be going smoothly at first. Due to a call for LPFM transmission at Cindy Sheehan's Camp Casey – which was ultimately decided against because of licensing problems – all the equipment Ellinger needed was already assembled. Sony promised thousands of personal radios, while the Pacifica Radio network program Democracy Now! made possibly the biggest dollar-store purchase in it's history, buying thousands of the tiny receivers. It wasn't long, however, before "political hacks from Harris County" began to interfere. Despite FCC approval and support from the governor's office and members of the Houston City Council, county officials made it their mission to tune out the LPFM station, Ellinger said.
Not that there wasn't a need for greater communication. Once thousands of evacuees began flooding into the Astrodome, it became apparent information was as valuable as shelter. Allies from Houston Pacifica station KPFT-FM and the Houston Independent Media Center, in interviewing evacuees, discovered that basic services and benefits were a mystery to most. "They don't know how to get a new Social Security card," said Ellinger. "'What do I do if I have a warrant in Louisiana? Can my kids get into school without shots or IDs? Can I drive my car without a license?'" FEMA and the Joint Information Center, a multi-agency task force overseeing evacuee services, communicated with the dome's new residents via the arena's PA system and a newsletter.
"That worked for some things," said Ellinger, "but it wouldn't work if, say, you had to have a five-minute interview with the head of the school district."
Out of talks between Ellinger and media activists like Houston Independent Media Center's Tish Stringer and KPFT's Renee Feltz, came the proposal of an LPFM Astrodome broadcast. He appointed himself "guy-on-the-ground" to run day-to-day operations and made his nonprofit group, Austin Airwaves, Inc., the station applicant.
The subsequent wrangling with the newly minted masters of disaster overseeing Astrodome services would've been a hilarious window into bungling bureaucracy, if not for the troubles that could've been prevented. Pandemic confusion over the availability of FEMA debit cards, which nearly resulted in a riot, is the sort of sad instance Ellinger hoped the broadcast could avert. However, claiming public safety concerns, Harris Co. officials said radio would do more harm than good.
"'You have 25,000 radios to give these people? … You have to have one for everybody, otherwise they'll steal them from each other,'" Ellinger recalled the fortuitously named Rita Obey, a "midlevel Harris Co. PR flak," saying. "They're virtually worthless," Ellinger said. "The batteries are worth more."
"We had 27,000 residents," Obey told the Chronicle. "He called me and said he could get 10,000 radios. We can't do that; how could we determine who would get the radios and who wouldn't?" Obey admitted she "didn't see the practicality" for LPFM but nonetheless took the request "up through unified command." Ellinger said Obey, an African-American, then "brought up the gangsta rap thing": fear that the ghetto braggadocio of urban laureates would agitate evacuees into an animalistic frenzy of violence. "It was very difficult not to react to that… There's some pretty strong racist overtones there," Ellinger said. Obey denies confronting Ellinger with the spectre of 50 Cent. "No. I did ask him if they would be able to access other stations," trying to ascertain the viability of Ellinger's project, she said. Despite FCC licensing, the station application was ultimately rejected Sept. 7 by the Joint Information Center. Ellinger returned the next day to reapply, flanked by two attorneys from the ACLU, requesting "one table, and a wire," Despite his pared-down request, four hours later, the application was again denied sans explanation. As Ellinger left Houston defeated, however, the FCC issued a new, fourth license to Houston IMC to broadcast out of the press section of the Astrodome parking lot. The parking lot, apparently, is under the more sympathetic jurisdiction of the city, while Harris Co. controls the buildings. "This is so petty, it's unbelievable. But they couldn't block us from the parking lot," said Ellinger, who by that time was back in Austin.
Katrina Aftermath Media Project radio, KAMP 95.3 (official call sign KH5X-IM), began its mighty six-watt broadcast Sept. 13, from a shiny, half-size Airstream trailer filled with Houston IMC's audio gear. The bare-bones studio – a miniature tower, LPFM transmitter, mixer, microphones, and not much more – provided information to evacuees, and let them tell their own stories. "Real quickly," said Ellinger of the human drama on display, "it gets kinda heavy." Or rather, it did: On the 17th, JIC asked that all those stationed in the parking area where KH5X-IM sat (mainly other media vans) move to a different lot. With the Astrodome's population steadily dwindling, the station decided to clear out a couple days early, rather than break down, move, and set up again to serve far fewer evacuees. Ellinger was clearly upset that a bureaucratic crapshoot kept 95.3 off the air when it could have been of most assistance.
"I did not have Republican credentials," Ellinger said of his brush with the Harris Co. arm of Bush's security corps. "The very idea of allowing these scruffy poor people from Louisiana to speak to themselves, for themselves, unabated and uncensored, was not a part of the FEMA PR plan."
City, County officials silence a proposed radio station inside Dome
By Todd Spivak The Houston Press
Jim Ellinger, head of Austin Airwaves Inc., distributes free transistor radios outside the Astrodome.
James Ellinger scuttles to a parked van, lifts another heavy cardboard box nearly half his size and hauls it through the Astrodome parking lot. The 52-year-old Austin native takes temporary refuge from the heat under a tree and pauses to draw a breath.
Re-energized, he snaps to his feet and takes on the role of mad carnival barker.
"Free radios! Get your free radios!" he shouts in a radio voice. "Come on, people! What about 'free' and 'radio' don't you understand? We got 10,000 radios here to give away! Get your free radio! Come get your free radio!"
A throng of people quickly encircle him to snatch their very own shiny piece of cheap plastic on this Friday afternoon. Some are willing to hang around and listen. Between barks, Ellinger launches into a harried, convoluted assault on the Harris County Republican Party. He rages on in rapid-fire staccato, saying something about the Federal Communications Commission, an information blackout and evil Republican power brokers. Audience members mostly look on in perplexed fashion, thank him for the gift and shove off.
A typical hippie Austinite blathering on, you might think. Except Ellinger actually has a story to tell.
Ellinger is a veteran of noncommercial television and radio stations. His résumé includes a short stint in 2003 with Houston MediaSource, the local public-access station now embroiled in controversy. But he's best known as founder of Austin Airwaves Inc., which he says began as a newspaper column then morphed into a radio and TV show, and three years ago was incorporated as a nonprofit community radio group.
Over Labor Day weekend, Ellinger's Austin Airwaves led an effort to build a temporary 30-watt radio station inside the Astrodome that would broadcast to the thousands of people holed up there and inside the adjacent Reliant Center. The benefits of such a venture, he says, are obvious. Since the Eighth Wonder of the World was resurrected as a homeless shelter, emergency officials have largely disseminated information to evacuees through use of cluttered, makeshift bulletin boards and a paging system that draws complaints as often being unintelligible.
A radio station, as Ellinger and community-radio activists at the Houston Independent Media Center imagined it, would help reunite family members and link evacuees to jobs, schools and health care. It would be a place to announce urgent information and clear up some of the misinformation that has added to people's frustrations.
For instance, last Thursday thousands of evacuees from across the city descended on Reliant Center to obtain FEMA-issued debit cards. But the cards were not distributed until the next day. Then, a day after that, the debit card program was discontinued altogether. In a frenzied atmosphere where new decisions and protocols are announced daily, a live radio broadcast could prove essential.
"It's a tool that for some reason they haven't thought of," Ellinger says. "It's not rocket science; it's a tiny radio box and a bunch of tiny radios."
And he nearly pulled it off.
The FCC took less than 24 hours to approve Ellinger's application to install three low-power FM radio transmitters inside the Dome and Reliant Center. This is extraordinary, since the FCC often takes as long as three years to grant such a license, according to Hannah Sassaman, an organizer for Philadelphia-based Prometheus Radio Project, which helped facilitate the effort.
"It's extremely unusual under normal circumstances, but this is an emergency situation," Sassaman explains. "Communication is something that the displaced residents are asking for almost as much as food and water."
But city and county officials overseeing the emergency management command system nixed the effort late last Wednesday afternoon. That decision was made by Robert Royall Jr., assistant fire commissioner for Harris County, according to Gloria Roemer, a spokeswoman for Harris County Judge Robert Eckels.
Roemer, who declined to arrange an interview with Royall, insists there's no need for a radio station inside the Dome because "there's been no problems getting information to evacuees." She says that Ellinger made unreasonable demands that included a large office, several computers and printers, Internet access, phone lines and unlimited access to the Dome.
"If we gave one radio station access, we'd have to give them all access," Roemer reasons.
Ellinger denies having made those requests. He says he needs only a "small quiet space" to set up a 40-watt transmitter, a plug-in cassette, a microphone, headphones and an antenna, all of which he would provide. Roemer faults Ellinger for not getting the county's thumbs-up before approaching the FCC and says it's important that people know who's in charge at the Dome.
"The FCC does not influence the operations of our emergency management system," she says. Ellinger "put all the wheels in motion with no approval from us. Now he's going bonkers over this. He started a national campaign to bad-mouth us."
What she means by this comment is unclear, since the effort to bring radio into the Astrodome has received scant attention, apart from tiny mentions in the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and a handful of blogs.
And it seems that Ellinger isn't quite the lone ranger that Roemer describes.
Asked about launching a radio station in the Dome, Houston mayoral spokesman Frank Michel says, "We would support that; getting better communication out to these people is very important."
The effort even received the written endorsement of at least one elected official. Councilwoman Ada Edwards wrote that she is "in full support of the efforts of Mr. Ellinger in setting up a radio service for the victims of Hurricane Katrina" and hopes "that this service will be able to be extended to other areas where the residents of New Orleans have found shelter."
According to Sassaman, technology activists are now working to complete another engineering study that would enable them to broadcast from outside the Dome. They would again have to win FCC approval before moving forward.
"We're not dead yet," she says.
But Ellinger is less hopeful. As he sees it, bureaucratic bungling will continue to keep people in the Dome from receiving crucial information.
Just before he learned that he would have to scrap his plans, Ellinger says, a Harris County official told him that he also would have to provide the 10,000 transistor radios for evacuees. As a result, the only people to benefit from Ellinger's efforts are those who got the little radios he passed out on Friday.
They, and the lucky owner of the dollar store where Ellinger bought them.
Radio Free Astrodome
By Elaine Wool The San Antonio Current
Prometheus Radio Project and Houston's KPFT/Pacifica Radio believe that Low Power FM is just the tool for a community in need.
Prometheus Radio, the low-power FM advocacy organization named for the Greek Titan who gave fire to man in defiance of Olympian bureaucracy, has found a human face that could broaden support for and understanding of of indy media and micro radio. LPFM service was introduced five years ago, and while the FCC has issued more than 600 licenses to non-governmental and community organizations, it remains largely under the radar and on the fringes.
But the FCC, Zeus' present-day stand-in, understands its potential for humankind. On September 10, the FCC approved a frequency for the Houston Astrodome's media parking lot, where Prometheus and Houston's Pacifica Radio station, KPFT, plan to operate a radio station until all evacuees in the dome are relocated. The 6-watt KAMP 95.3, for Katrina Aftermath Media Project, can broadcast news and public-information programming in a 1-2-mile radius, with an emphasis on helping evacuees find missing family members.
A temporary Low Power FM radio station, KAMP 95.3, is broadcasting news and public information to the dwindling number of Katrina evacuees still living in the Houston Astrodome. (Photo by Indymedia.org)
The temporary station is operating out of a rented Airstream trailer using equipment donated by the Houston Indy Media project and KPFT. An all-volunteer staff mans the facility around the clock, and dome residents can pick up the frequency on radios that Prometheus volunteers distributed last week. Community-media activists from around the state have been involved in the project, including Austin KO.OP radio founder Jim Ellinger and former KO.OP engineer Jerry Chamkis. KPFT News Director Renée Feltz said that volunteers in Houston and Dallas are recording public-service announcements with evacuees in their cities that can be broadcast through and exchanged with KAMP.
Feltz says that KAMP can provide crucial information to evacuees, including how to navigate bureaucratic hurdles, rumor control, and a sense of connection with their uprooted former lives. "Almost everyone you ask says they want to hear about what's going on back home," said Feltz in interviews at KPFT's offices September 10 and by phone September 12. KAMP also will offer some musical programming "if people want us to," Feltz added.
Strangely enough, fears about music programming may be one reason that Houston officials blocked Prometheus' first requests to operate inside the dome despite the FCC's quick action and the reported support of Governor Rick Perry's office. Feltz said JIC Public Information Officer Rita Obey told her that the JIC, which turned down Prometheus twice, was concerned about "incendiary gangster rap," but Obey said in a telephone interview that she does not remember that conversation.
JIC Incident Commander R.W. Royal Jr, who authorized the denials, could not be reached for comment. Feltz said neither Royal nor any other JIC staff met with Prometheus to discuss their plans in detail. "I think the communication was so poor that they never understood what programming we sought to provide," said Feltz.
While KAMP's primary goal is to provide public-service information to the evacuees, radio is a powerful venue for survivors to tell their stories. KPFT has aired firsthand accounts since evacuees first began arriving in Texas, some of which starkly contrast with official reports. Feltz recalled an interview she recorded with a group of children who had been without food or clean water for seven days after the hurricane hit. "That was a really different story than what we were hearing from Mayor Nagin, who said, We have all the resources we need, people are getting rescued, it's just a matter of agreeing to leave," said Feltz. She added that KPFT has received significant listener response to their coverage. "I can say that every time I get on the radio to do an update, the survivors call, especially if we're talking about New Orleans."
But even as KPFT's Katrina audience is growing, the population that can participate in and benefit from KAMP is dwindling. The delay caused by the JIC's denial drained some of the enthusiasm of the media volunteers and donors who jumped on board the project as soon as it was announced, and every day there are fewer evacuees left in the dome. On September 7, the day Royal denied Prometheus' request, volunteer Jacob Appelbaum posted his frustration on the Houston Indy Media website. "I told [the evacuees] that I was with a group helping to bring emergency radio information to them. Broadcast from right inside the dome. Those people were overjoyed to hear that they would get a radio station ... It breaks my heart."
"Just like everyone else in the city, people were asking, What can I do" said Feltz. "Here we had an opportunity to reach out with people that wanted to do something with media." Prometheus had a tentative agreement with Sony to distribute 10,000 walkman radios, but when the JIC rejected the original applications, volunteers distributed between 700 and 1,000 inexpensive receivers instead. Some frustrated volunteers wanted to set up a pirate station, but Prometheus has a working relationship with the FCC that has brought significant gains for LPFM. "We felt like we had this relatively positive working relationship with the FCC and we didn't want to step on anyone's toes for the next time around," said Feltz.
By Monday, September 12, when KAMP was setting up in preparation for going live Tuesday morning, the dome's population had shrunk to 1,400 residents from a high of 17,500 on September 4, the day the FCC approved Prometheus' original application. Feltz said that the station will likely operate for about a week because Houston officials plan to relocate all evacuees from the Reliant Park complex, which includes the Astrodome, by September 18. KAMP may go off the air at that point, but Feltz said the activists have discussed transferring the license to one of the area groups that is working closely with the relocated evacuees, such as Shape Community Center or the Shrine of the Black Madonna. Any such transfer would have to be approved by the FCC.
In the meantime, KAMP will be broadcasting at 95.3 to any listeners in the Astrodome area and uploading missing-persons PSAs to the Houston Indy Media website (houston.indymedia.org) or a linked site. "This is an opportunity to see micro radio as a tool relevant to people's lives," said Feltz. "This isn't a radio station that's being set up to prove a point, or for people that already have access to the internet. It's something that could provide an essential service."
PanaRadio #9 Jungle Heat and Dreams of Snow...
My great radio partner, Betina from Argentina and I decide to tag along with one of the local Padres as he makes his parish rounds. You have to tag along a lot down here: buses, trucks, taxis, 4x4s, 4x8s, patrol boats, logging trucks, even stolen logging trucks carrying, uh, stolen trees.
This is the first time we have headed south deeper into the depths of the Darien Gap. We are still well outside the lawless frontier area, and even still north of Yaviza, the fabled "end of the road.' As I have said earlier, this section of the Pan-American Pothole is for shit. But, surprise! It gets worse. Parts of the road no longer have potholes...because parts of the road are no longer there. Just gone. Space. Absence of matter. We assume the Padre knows the road well.
We arrive in a small village. A place with about a dozen houses, one rickety store, one partially constructed Catholic church, a dozen outhouses, chicken coops, pig pens and horse stalls. The local cowboys, and these guys were definitely born to ride, are practicing their ridin' and ropin' on about a dozen yearling calves. Pretty easy pickings as the young steer is kicked out of a chute and the cowboy, looking as much like the Marlboro Man (pre-emphysema) as he can, races after the little heifer, lassos him, and then brakes hard before crashing into the far fence. All in all, pretty good, clean wholesome fun. Well, unless you're the cow. One poor little fella, so scared I thought his big brown cow eyes were going to pop out of his head, actually broke through one of the loose boards of the crude fence making the arena. Making a break for it, the little doggie races for his life across the church lawn...right towards me! I flail my arms to try and get him to turn back. No way. In hot pursuit are three of the local gauchos, bearing down on me at full throttle. Now, just what is the maximum speed of a horse? 20 mph? 25? I decided it was time to get some religion, and dive into the church. The Three Amigos roar by like the Bronx InterBorough Express.
A while later, I wander around the back of the church to see how Betina is doing with our radio surveys. As part of our assignment, we had developed a comprehensive survey of radio listenership in the Darien. "Do you listen to the radio? AM, FM or both? What stations?" The survey, the first of its kind, has been providing some useful information for our radio client, Voz Sin Fronteras.
However, as I walk up, I see that she is slumped in a plastic chair, looking flushed, surrounded by a gaggle of local women, who are making a fuss over her.
"Hola Betina. Que paso, chica?"
"Um, I think I passed out. I guess I did..."
"Damn girl, you okay?"
Taking her wrist I tell her that her pulse is weak. [Like I could tell the difference between a weak pulse and a Ford Ranger going through the side of a building...]
"What happened? Did you fall over, like a board, or collapse like a sack of potatoes?"
"Uh, I don't know..."
"Did you wake up on the ground?"
"Oh, uh, yeah I guess so...," she says a little embarrassed.
Now I know this is a good thing. If you are embarrassed, your ego is still intact, and you are probably not in shock or in too serious shape. I know this because I live with the WMDB. [You're not supposed to be laughing at this.]
Well, Betina is a real trooper. Like she had a choice. It's several hours in the Padre's pick up, and two more Catholic Masses, before I can get her back to her air-conditioned room at La Falicidad, our home for the length of the radio assignment.
I reward myself with not one, but two, Orange Crushes. You can get Crushed down here for just two bits, and like the locals, I can now down an entire bottle in about ten seconds flat. I've seen guys drink a bottle before the gal behind the counter can make change.
So like a good ACDI/VOCA consultant, I decide I better call it in. I hoof it down the Inter-American Pothole a ways to the local Cable & Wireless phone booth (owned by the British telecom giant) and to my surprise find that it works. Up the Queen! After a number of attempts to provide my damn PEEN Number, as prompted by the ‘bush-two-for-Anglish’ recording, I am connected with the country office of A/V in Panama City. But of course, it's after hours, and, surprisingly, no answering machine.
After a little back and forth, I decide to call the A/V Emergency Hotline number in our nation's capital, Bethesda, Maryland. The phone is answered before the second ring by an efficient sounding woman by the name of Faith. Perfect! Cuz' I NEED a little Faith right about now! I explain that this is more of a courtesy call than an emergency one, just to put the word up the line. No reason to call the parents of Betina in Argentina. No MedicVac, por favor. I explain that we will take tomorrow off, see if this backwater 'burg has a doctor, and no big deal...just a courtesy call.
I end the call with a little Texas Friendly banter, "By the way, Faith, where did you say you were speaking from? Bethesda? What's the weather like there? Is it Spring there yet?
"Oh no, we still have a little snow on the ground..."
"I beg your pardon?!" stammers Faith.
[Did I say that out loud...?!]
"NO, uh, sorry, um, really, but you said...snow."
"It's pretty hot down there, huh?"
Snow! That wonderful crunching sound when your foot breaks through the layer on top, the little white tornadoes whipping around the corners of buildings, mighty tree limbs hanging down with the weight of...snow!!
Sorry Faith...I owe ya' a cold one.
jim Meteti, the Darien Gap
PanaRadio #8 Bloody Night at the Big Cock House
April 5, 2005 La Palma The Darien Gap remote Panama
Bloody Night at the Big Cock House
We have made friends with a RTVE Canale Once film crew from Panama City, who are shooting news and documentary footage here in The Darien. A jovial mob of six folks traveling together almost gypsy-style in a van, packed to the gunwales with luggage, tripods, boxes of tapes and two battered but functioning Sony Beta cams. I had forgotten how damn heavy those things are.
My radio partner, Betina from Argentina, had been spotted by the four guys in their TV van earlier in the week and we ended up having dinner. The guys couldn't believe their luck to find such an Argentinean/Italian beauty who dresses so, uh, modern, in such a remote place. They are nice to me too! Dinner and beers were on them. Since then we have crossed paths a number of times. Remember, Meteti is very small, everybody knows everybody, and the very few outsiders stand out. We are always made to feel welcome, ("Buenas!") because the locales are grateful for any help they can get here. This is as close to the end of the road as most folks ever get. No touristas aqui!
I learned today that there are at least 800 Columbian refugees in the Darien. They are referred to as "Temporarily Displaced Persons." They cannot work, at least not legally, and there are damn few jobs in the Darien. "Como como?" I ask. The UN High Commission on Refugees feeds them, I am surprised to hear. Blue Hats, here? in the Darien? We shall see. Many folks in Panama look down on Columbians and blame them for a lot of crime and other problems. There is no crime in Meteti, I am told.
It's the weekend and as Meteti is not known as a big party town, we eagerly accept an offer to join the film crew on a trip to La Palma. It turns out to be quite an adventure.
We all cram into the van and head...in the wrong direction. I am very comfortable in going along for the ride, so I say nothing, until we turn into the well-fortified local army/police station. "What are we doing here?" I ask. "How else were you expecting to get to La Palma? Besides we're staying at La Policia's White House! But the girls have to sleep in the jail!" I suspect my leg is being yanked, being the only yanqui here, but this is the real plan. The women do seem put out about the prospect of spending the night, even as honored guests, in the local pokey.
We present ourselves at the front desk. The place is bustling with young soldiers doing soldier-like stuff. Lotsa' sideway glances to our beautiful, friendly chicas. We are led to El Jefe's office, and lo and behold! It’s Major Machete! The Major has that "you should be doing exactly as I should not have to even tell to you," look down pat. But he is also a pretty personable fellow and we hit it off. I love shooting the shit with cops. One thing leads to another, and I end up agreeing to be the official photographer for some Police/Community event in Santa Fe next week. "Jim Ellinger, Official Police Photographer," should look good on the resume. I suspect that will be a good story too, and I will certainly have plenty of photos! Having gotten the ‘pat on the back and the walk all the way to the van’ by the Major, I am officially "a friendly."
We double back and head to the end of another crappy road until we reach a rickety dock. Think Mexican bus stop...on a river. We unload our gear into the steel river boat, The Arruaca, Police Unit #436. The launch is bare bones; no seats, luggage stacked at your feet, all weapons pointed to the deck.
Life vests are optional, but I put mine on. Job One, ya' know. (Job Two: Don't Come Back Without the Damn Story...) We roar past everything in sight and head out from the dense mangroves of the Magnilla River into the bay of the Pacific Ocean. The usual half hour ride takes just under 15 minutes with these hotdogs.
While a part of the mainland, La Palma is very island-like: It is virtually impossible to get there except by boat. Most of the residents are poor and black. The shacks lean over the ocean, where the night before's trash is swept. Everybody knows everybody else. Dogs sleep in the middle of the only street. It's the weekend so there are a number of events in town. Atlas Beer has brought in some pretty girls, and pretty boys, to shill their swill. But the big event is at the Big Cock House.
If the sight of poor animals being tortured to death, just for a few drunken laughs, bragging rights and maybe chicken feed, offends you, DO NOT read any further.
Needless to say, my presence at this, perfectly legal, public, commercially-sponsored, event is not an endorsement of animal cruelty, specifically cock fighting. It is a nasty, ugly, vicious form of entertainment. Not entirely unlike the Congressional Redistricting battle in the Texas Legislature last year.
The enormous bouncer gives us the nod, and we climb up to the top tier of a crudely-constructed arena. No one seems to give a shit about being filmed. The seats around the arena are filled by guys and a few women, mostly drunk, all very loud, and SCREAMING at their bird to KILL THAT SUMBITCH!! The two roosters, with tiny razors strapped to their legs eye each other warily and circle each other like seasoned boxers. With a flurry of feathers, they attack each other to the delight of the crowd. It lasts quite a while, and several times when I thought it was over, with the winning bird walking back and forth over the prone carcass of his opponent, the other bird would leap to its feet and fight on a while longer.
Toward the end it gets even harder to watch. Finally, the clock and some obscure rules I don't know end the fight. It's pretty gruesome.
The loser, near death, ripped to pieces with feathers and flesh hanging off his carcass, is carried away by his despondent owner. The winner, somewhat better, but still bleeding badly, seems hysterical with pride. A cock on the walk. The winner's owner is trailed by his supporters, no doubt hoping to get a free beer from his winnings, which I wager were about $50. Lining the walls of the bar are the next fights' contenders...or next night's dinner. They are colorful, good looking birds seemingly enjoying their high regard.
We eat chicken and rice for dinner. Cost: two bucks. We end up all sleeping in the Casa Blanca, a huge, vacant mansion on the end of a torn up runway behind the police station. The mattresses are hard but the air conditioning is a luxury.
jim Casa Blanca La Palma
PanaRadio #6 79 Kilos of Blow...
March 21, 2005 PanaRadio Numbero Seis
Only Users Lose Drugs! 79 keys of Pure Columbian Coke!!!
Location: I had to agree to not to disclose the location. Surprise.
Circumstances: Big ass bust, local cops wanna' make damn sure they get some credit this time.
How Jim fits in: I can just hear you saying...
"How in the flippin' flyin' fuck did Jim come across 79 kilos of coke?!"
Well I had to agree to not tell. I wasn't even supposed to be in the room, you understand.
Here goes... ;)
Big Legal Fucking Disclaimer...
The attached photo does not constitute an endorsement of the international drug industry, specifically, but not limited to, the Cali, Medellin and/or any other Columbian drug cartels. Nor does in constitute a call to action to inhale, ingest or imbibe any product, legal or not. Don't do illegal drugs.
Stay out of the drawer!
Earlier in the day we had been at the Big Cock House, but that's another, beery, bleery, bloody, story. We are so-ooo obviously from "not here" with our cameras, women and clean clothes. Yet another local slides up next to me and says...something? My Spanish still sucks. I blow him off and keep on truckin'. He puts his hand on my shoulder and pulls up his shirt a little. A .38 revolver. Lovely. He pulls his shirt up a little further and I see his badge. Oh, well, that makes it all better, si?
"Uh guys! I think this nice man wants to talk to YOU..."
Just a matter of the local authorities trying to get some positive press for their diligent on-going efforts to keep low cost, high quality drugs off the campuses of America. We are directed to the local cop shop where El Jefé explains that there was a big, BEEG, drug bust here, at this place, the other night, and would we be interested in shooting some footage? "Si, Senor!" I give him his very own Austin Airwaves refer mag.
We're at this place and Betina from Argentina takes me aside and says that Panama City film crew we have been hanging with, has asked that we stay put and not go upstairs. Like I'm gonna' miss this photo op?! No friggin' way! We wait a moment and follow at a discreet distance and slip in the door. The tension is already high enough that nobody says anything. Betina from Argentina gives the boys a nervous smile. "We're cool," I whisper. The tripod is popped open, the Betacam white-balanced, and from behind a curtained corner in this filthy storage room, the two narcocops struggle to pull out four sugar sacks, each packed with paper and plastic-wrapped kilo bricks of first degree felony fun.
Have you ever seen 79 kilo bricks of pure cocaine? Well, of course not!(Well, if you have, sure as shit don't tell me!) I know I've never seen so much coca, or any amount of drogas, in my life.
Let's see, 79 kilos equals roughly 175 pounds, with 16 ounces per pound...how many grams in an ounce? I have no idea what even a gram of blow costs nowadays. Damn, why didn't I bring a copy of High Times? Plus this shit is puro! Am I looking at a million bucks here? The room is crowded with stacks of broken rifles, old police and military gear, canabalized radios, and other cop clutter. The note on the door reads, "No Admittance, Authorized Personnel Only!" which provides about as much security as the lock on the creaky wooden door, which I note is partially taped in place.
I shoot two pictures, one of which is attached. The film footage is to be shown on national Panamanian TV next week, so don't tell anybody you saw it here first.
Stay tuned, jim
right fucking here...
PanaRadio #5 Major Machete and the Ambush That Never Was...
Major Machete and the Ambush That Never Was…
The new Arch Bishop of The Darien, His Eminence Pedro Hernandez is scheduled to arrive to take up residence here in Meteti. You gotta’ wonder who he cheesed off in Vat City to pull this gig… This is a very big deal for sleepy little Meteti, which, like most of Latin America, is nearly 90% Catholic. The Big C.
And of course, my client Voz Sin Fronteras is Catholic Radio. 20% of the air time is religious or church business. The other 80% of the programming is great.
The Arch B will be hosting Mass in the station’s outdoor basketball court, now swept clean by scores of Good Catholics, and decorated with laurels, palm fronds and colorful welcome signs. A thousand plus folks are expected maňana! The entire population of Meteti is only maybe 1500 folks, not including about 800 Columbia refugees that they keep hidden away somewhere...
But first we have to go get His Eminence. Or, more accurately, be a part of the welcoming committee and traveling entourage. We pile into the VSF Toyota pickup truck. The station’s Program Director, known affectionately by her friends as Tweety Bird, is behind the wheel talking excitedly into the 2 meter Motorola squawkie-talkie.
The wide space in the road known as Agua Frio Uno is only maybe twenty-five clicks away, but the road is just awful, maybe the second worst I have ever seen in my travels. (The worst would likely be in the middle section of mine-strewn Mozambique, which literally was washed into the Indian Ocean in a devastating flood in 2000.) This is part of the fabled Trans-American Highway, known here as the Inter-Americana.
Even the potholes have potholes.
We arrive at said wide space to find a hundred or so children, priests, nuns, truck drivers, rosary-twiddling grannies, and some of Panama’s finest defenders of “Dios y Nacion.” Panama does not actually have an army. Panama was literally created, literally, by the USofA (sugg’d read: “The Path Between the Seas,” an excellent history of the building of the Panama Canal.) So the Police outside Panama City do double duty. I’ll refer to them as MPs from here on. They dress and look and act like soldiers. I have a generally positive feeling about them, but I have only been on the ground a few days.
There’s a couple of MPs on Suzuki dirt bikes, real hot-doggers, straddling their Vietnam-era M16s across the gas tanks. There is the official “Policia Nacional” transport bus. You can just make out the words “Muncie Indiana School District” on the side. Hoosier Pride!!
Eventually his Eminence’s Entourage arrives, a caravan of about a dozen cars, pickups and minivans. Out pops the Big B, all of five feet two inches, and he wades into the excited crowd, shaking hands, patting kids’ heads, and waving his hand over plastic gallon jugs of water. None are turned into wine as far as I can see.
I am in full photog mode, having agreed to provide plenty of pix to the station. I take pics of the nuns, the kids, these guys shooting off big, loud homemade rockets, the Welcome to Darien signs, the flags, and, discreetly the MP. While most of the contingent of a dozen or so MPs have side arms or M16s, one fellow, clearly el jefé, stripes on the sleeve, has a pretty good armory strapped his torso. I don’t know if the six extra ammo pouches contain extra rounds or Chicklets, but what catches my eye is the three foot long machete strapped to his back! This guy is pretty serious looking, six foot plus, even his face is muscular. He da’ man, no doubt about it. I dub him Major Machete.
So we’re bouncing along the “Highway” racing to get his Eminence’s ass to Meteti. Leading the Entourage is the ‘Someday I'm-a Gonna’ Be Da’ Pope Mobile’, then Major Machete and his serious soldiers, then us. Every few minutes, the Big B’s truck pulls over as he is greeted by little villages of the Embarra. The Embarra, one of the seven remaining original peoples of the Isthmus are largely Catholic and have turned out in throngs. The road is lined with hand made signs and laurels of colored balloons and palm fronds. It’s always fun to witness the most exciting event in a kid’s life. Good Catholics!
The Embarra kids, with beaded necklaces, brilliant skirts and enormous smiles, are just gorgeous. Right outta’ a travel brochure. More hand shaking, head patting and water waving.
So on we go; the closer we get to Meteti the worse the road. We slow to stop again. More kids?
The road, the entire width of the highway, is blocked by an enormous gas tanker truck!
!INFLAMABLE! !NO FUMAR DE MENOS 50 METERS!!! is crudely stenciled on the side of the tank. The damn N is printed backwards.
The entire entourage slows to a stop. I look around. While of most of the roadside land along the road has been re-deforested, slashed, burned and cleared for farming, this particular stretch has a steep hill on either side, thick with jungle. I catch the eye of the MP standing in the back of Major Machete’s truck clutching the roll bar with one arm, his rifle with the other. He’s doing the 360 scan thing too. I look around and say to the folks in the truck, in English, “You know, this would be a great place for an ambush…”
“Como? George Bush!?”
With a flick of his arm the MP in the back of the truck flips out the metal stock of his M16. All the truck doors open and legs stick out.
Time starts to slow down a little.
I hate it when that happens.
I unbuckle my seat belt and unlock the door. There’s this lo-ooong pause. I don’t see anything in the dense jungle foliage…like you could see a meter off the road anyway.
Suddenly Major Machete leaps from the truck, looking seven feet tall now with the machete sticking above the back of his head, and strides towards the cab of the still motionless tanker truck. From the backseat of the truck, the only plain clothed MP struggles to get out. He had been the one standing behind the Bishop most of the time, doing the Secret Service thing. This fellow, who surely never met a plate of chicken enchiladas he didn’t like, was obviously caught unawares, and struggled to pull his pants up while at the same time shoving an unholstered pistol in the crack of his ample ass. He tries to catch up with Major Machete who was now making meter long strides toward the truck. The two motorcycles MPs roar up in a flanking action. I’ll bet these guys all played football in Cop College.
Nobody else in our truck seems aware of what is going on. Nothing IS actually going on. But, here we sit on this road, surrounded by jungle, maybe just a hundred clicks north of Yaviza…the literal end of the road. After Yaviza there are no roads, and even less law. What the Darien Gap does have a surplus of is narco-traffickers, out-of-work kidnappers, the world’s deadliest snake, an even deadlier frog, malaria, yellow fever, the damn dengue, and five types of wild cats. Oh yeah, and they also got FARC.
Stay or go? I decide to sit, though not too tight.
I don’t know what Major Machete said to the truck driver, or even if he had to say anything at all. But in just a moment, the driver found it and ground it into first reverse, and with an enormous plume of blue gray diesel smoke, the tanker lurched backward into a small roadside mercado. The tanker plows into a stack of blue “Pide Pepsi” plastic containers full of glass bottles waiting to be returned, shattering them all.
Off we go!
Welcome to Meteti Arch Bishop Hernandez!!
jim ellinger maybe 20 minutes from that wide space up the road
PanaRadio #4 Bitten on Neck by Ocelot!
Greeting from tiny, steamy, remote Meteti, Panama!
While hanging out with Betina from Argentina, outside Senor Mohhamed Ali's mercado in Meteti, I was attacked and bitten on the neck and ear by an ocelot! As the attached photo shows, no blood got on my stylish KPFT-Pacifica Radio T-shirt. (Support Pacifica Radio in Houston!!) The cat, an orphan rescured from poachers, seems happy enough hanging with regular house cats in the store. The Pan-American Super Duper Highway, a dust cloud of a continuous pothole crosses in front of the store, here in the second to last stop before the end of the road, Yaviza. No road, or gringos, after that. I did find the two gringamericano Peace Corp Volunteers (PCVs) here, living in 'relative' comfort just past the last police checkpoint in a 60 dollar a month pink house.
Radio Voz Sin Fronteras is very nice, 12 years old, and listened to by everyone here. It helps that it is pretty much the only station you can easily get!Manana we drive or boat, not sure, to a place called Aqua Frio Numero Uno...not to be confused with Aqua Frio Numero Dos. A coupla' new local friends are a little concerned for our safety, especially the young PCVers, just outside town. They are only protected, I believe, by a beagle-mix puppy and their good kharma.
The internet, like continuous power, is not a sure thing here, and probably non-existent in the next place. I'm fine. Shit, I'm cool! jim ellinger