"And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the 
least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me' " (Matthew 25:40)

Journal 3/26/08

St Francis Nat'l Park Foundation
The Mission
Ripon Mission
Christian Medical Missions

Ian Stepleton's Journal Entries

The following is an excerpt of a journal kept by Ian Stepleton on his travels to Wacuco, Panama, where Ripon native Father Wally Kasuboski works. It aims to offer a different perspective: what are the sights, sounds and smells of a world thousands of miles from Ripon?

Day 4: March 9, 10 a.m., Father Wally’s compound:
Today I truly feel like I am in Panama. This morning, I went to church in Wacuco. Then, I “chased” cattle down the road for photographs.

And I’m writing this from a grass hut. What could be more “Panama?” As I sit here, I listen to a cornucopia of wildlife. Brush rattles somewhere behind me, while roosters call and birds sing. This morning was mass. To get there, we strolled down the highway in the early-morning light, with stars still shining above. Wacuco-ans, too, seemed to appear on the road from nowhere, strolling in from the ranches.

Ninety-percent of the service was in Spanish. And, not being a Spanish speaker (Spanglish, maybe), I frankly didn’t understand much of what was said, although I would catch bits and pieces. Father Wally, though, was gracious enough to translate portions of the service.

For a few moments this morning, Wacuco and Ripon finally became sister cities. Last fall, Ripon’s Common Council had declared Wacuco a sister city, but it wasn’t until this morning that we delivered a framed copy of the resolution.
But as Ald. Bill Boesch handed over the proclamation to Father Wally (who, by the way, is as close to an “official” as Wacuco has), I turned around to look at the couple-dozen locals sitting in the tiny church. I think what I saw was a mixture of pride and appreciation playing on their faces. They seemed to be thinking, here were these strange-looking people coming to town, and they’re looking to align with us?

Afterward, I had a chance to speak with a few of the people, with Ripon College professor Brian Smith translating for me.
“He hasn’t abandoned us,” they said of Father Wally. From what I’ve seen, I don’t think he ever will.

Later on Day 4: 11:45 a.m.:
Now I can say I’ve been in the jungle. We just returned from a walk, on which we hiked to the foothills. The flatland is logged, but the hills still have some native vegetation. Its amazing how the air changes once you get to the old-growth jungle. One moment, the harsh Panamanian sun bakes your skin. The next moment, you’re into this dense, green wilderness, and the air temperature instantly drops.

Everything here is extreme. We saw the most vibrant-blue butterfly, huge lines of leaf-cutter ants, and leaves the size of people. The jungle trees, too, are massive. They must stand hundreds of feet tall. It’s the dry season, “winter,” this time of year, so the trees are dormant. This makes them look even bigger — no leaves — but also eerie in their skeletal look.
I continue to be amazed at the relative lack of insects! You hear stories of the building of the Panama Canal, and the horrid mosquitoes. Yet I’ve seen literally one mosquito so far this trip, almost no flies, and little else.
But, I bet its worse during the rainy season. One thing I still hope to find, though: A monkey. We’ll see ...

Later on Day 4: 9:04 p.m.:
Monkey-watch continues ...
This afternoon, we met the Embera Indians (as well as the Kuna, for that matter). Very interesting ...We got to see native dance (one called “The Flower,” another called “The Snake” ... I joked later with Rollie Alger that we should have requested one for rain, given this heat!). We also watched as they demonstrated traditional basket weaving, body art and more.

That was at the Embera village; across the street (oddly enough) were the Kunas, who — unlike the Embera who arrived in the 1970s — have been here for generations. They’re very protective of their culture, so we had to watch from afar. Standing on a bridge, we saw far down all the Kunas working off long canoes in the river. It was like a page from National Geographic. Amazing.

By the way, have I mentioned the heat? You can sweat sitting, even at night. No kidding.

Day 5: March 10, 5:45 p.m.:
Not too much to report today; spent most of the day working at the Sisters’ home. Made lots of progress: roof is done, and electrical is nearly complete. Working here makes you appreciate things we take for granted in America, such as safety. You won’t find it on the roads.

Everyone drives on their side of the road. As Peter Kasuboski has been joking, the question is, which half of the road will they take: the left, right or middle half?

This is partly due to the awful shape of the Pan-American Highway, where potholes are everywhere. Everyone swerves to miss them, and every vehicle goes a different speed depending on how reliable the ride is. So, you have cars reeling from side to side, with near-misses common. Yet, I’ve yet to see a collision! As Peter also has been joking all week, “They must have ESPN.”

As I write this, I’m sitting on a balcony overlooking a bit of jungle, a pond with a small (and lazy!) alligator, and some of Father Wally’s land and compound. It’s hard to imagine saying goodbye to this beauty, but soon I must.
One thing I won’t miss, though: cold showers.

Journal entries will continue in next week’s Commonwealth.

Last modified: June 18, 2013