Heart of Palms: My Peace Corps Years in Tranquilla
Heart of Palms: My Peace Corps Years in Tranquilla is the first memoir in the Peace Corps’ fifty year history to take place in the Republic of Panama. Heart of Palms offers a glimpse into the life of a subsistence farming community where dugout canoes are the transportation norm, witchcraft is a mainstay and army ants raid homes in the night.
When I first encountered Tranquilla in 1991, I swooned over the picturesque cluster of palm-thatched huts nestled on the shore of Lake Alajuela. The village glowed green with the first showers of the rainy season. A fringe of palm, hibiscus, and yuca surrounded the village center, the ever-encroaching scrub tamed by machete-wielding villagers. Walking door-to-door to introduce myself, I breathed in the soapy scent of wild cilantro crushed by my footsteps. For days I subsisted on the stringy sweetness of mangos.
Below the peaceful surface I soon discovered the strife of a people at odds with their government. Five years prior, Tranquilla’s residents found themselves living within the newly-declared boundaries of Chagres National Park, a three-hundred-thousand acre expanse of tropical forest. Governmental pressure to abandon the traditional practice of slash-and-burn agriculture intensified the farmers’ ongoing struggle to feed their families.
Heart of Palms is a tale of love, survival, and the complicated relationship between people and nature.
By: Meredith W. Cornett
University of Alabama Press