That is what I feel like. Why? Because it’s SOOOOOOOOOO HOT in Panama! Everywhere you go. Unless you’re in a Panama – David bus. In that case, you’re freezing and your fingers hurt from trying to send in your whereabouts to Peace Corps. #GoodVolunteer
Wow, haha. When I first started to write this blog in my notebook, the first sentence was: “Wowww! How is it even Febrero already?” HAHAHA hit and a miss. But finally, here I am, sending my apologies all over the globe to my fans aka readers. I’ve been getting lots of complaints about not having a posted a blog in a while, sooooo here we go!
Wowwwww! How is it even Marzo already? I guessss it makes sense since I was pretty busy with camps during Enero, and lots of traveling the following month. Well, right after I got back home from my trip to the US, and a couple of days in Panama City, I was visited by not one, but two beauties. Nicole & Kristen! We all participated in the Acting out Awareness camp, so a few days before the Tole camp started, we received a TOT (training of teachers) at Biga’s house in Tole. Although there would be two camps, one in Tole and one in Bocas del Toro, there was only 1 TOT, hence the SLEEPOVER!! Literally the day after the TOT, the Tole camp started, so I rounded up my kids and we traveled together to the dormitories where the camp would be taking place. The camp was a lot of things, but the word that most holistically represents that week would be: REWARDING. Wow, yes. It was so wonderful seeing my kids mingling and branching out from their comfort zones little by little. I’m going to break up the camp day by day, to not forget any important deets or special moments, which I assure you, there were a lot of. Kuin? Kuin
Day 1 (wed)
After arriving at the camp, there were a couple of ice breakers AKA DINAMICAS (a true Peace Corps speciality) ! Even though I took 8 kids to the camp, my group was split into 2 in order to present 2 different plays. This actually worked perfectly because the play that my group was assigned focused on safe sex, so I made sure the 4 oldest kids worked with me all week. The remaining kids worked on a play discussing the importance of self care and communication within a family. At the end of the day, the facilitators had a meeting, and by the end of it, I was pretty tired so I knocked out. The kids, however, were having a blast in the dorm rooms and stayed up chit chatting.
Day 2 (thurs)
The day started off early with some yoga led by Amber and Ben. The kids got to practice their plays a little more. We were visited by a nurse from the local Centro de Salud, and she spoke to the kids about the risks and possible diseases that can result from having unprotected sex. Then, the entire camp was split into 4 different groups, to work on secondary projects, Sean’s and my group was in charge of creating the backdrop for the plays, which would be presented Saturday night, day 4. The facilitators presented on a couple of topics, such as exploring and being proud of one’s culture. At this point in the camp, the kids were still a little shy, but I was able to pinpoint a handful of students starting to branch out and participate more.
Day 3 (fri)
Just as the day before, Friday morning started at 6 am with some good ol yoga. On this day, the kids were getting a lot more into character and they were given props and stage advice from the directors who wrote some of the plays the kids would be presenting. There was an impromptu water balloon fight, which the kids loved! The stage crew group finished the mural, and the students received another talk about the importance of protecting, covering and only drinking clean, treated water. In the afternoon, the program director decided it would be a great idea to take the kids out for a stroll of Tole. We would be able to practice our plays in front of an audience at the park, and also get some fresh air! The kids were especially excited when they learned about these plans because a lot of them were from different areas of the comarca and had never been to Tole. During our trip to the town, the students handed out cut outs and invited people to come watch them perform the following day. This was probably my favorite afternoon because it was so easy to see how much fun the kids were having. Not to say that they all have extremely difficult lives, but on this specific afternoon, they were carefree and had such a blast at the playground. They also practiced the hand washing song and dance, and did a wonderful job!
Day 4 (sat)
SHOW TIME! As the show got closer and closer, the kids were understandably more nervous. On this day, we practiced a couple more times and gave the kids a few hours in the afternoon to rest up and get ready for their show. Wow. The kids blew everyone away! I’m not just saying this because I worked with them all week long. The audience said it too. About 40-45 people attended, and the kids really delivered. It was hard to believe that a mere 3 days before, these same kids had been too shy to introduce themselves. They acted, sang, danced and best of all, looked happy on stage. After the show ended, each student received a certificate for having participated in the camp, and a small gift from a Panamanian non-profit that focuses on youth outreach.
Day 5 (sun)
On the last day of the camp, the students received a couple more presentations on how to be leaders within their communities. They also wrote thank you cards to all the donors who made the camp possible. Whoever you are, thank you!! YOU ROCK! Lastly, the bags were packed, the rooms were cleaned, and the goodbyes started. My group was one of the first ones to leave and my kids were extremely sad. The minute the busito got on the road, they asked if they would be able to attend again next year. How awesome is that?!
The minute I got home, I called for Toby and started to repack my backpack for the following camp in Cañazas, in the province of Veraguas. A couple of PCVs would be helping Kevin out at an English camp run by a Panamanian agency at his school. This camp was a lot more relaxed because it wasn’t an overnight camp, and the main facilitators were Panamanian university English students aspiring to be English teachers in a couple of years. The PCVs were more of an additional resource to the university students, but after such a chaotic and tiring week in Tole, un descansito was more than welcomed to be honest. During the week, we even got to do a little (but extremely challenging OMG) hike, and we got to swim at a beautiful waterfall.
After these two busy weeks, you would think the traveling was over for a bit, but nope. I visited Lucy and we traveled to Boquete for their annual Flower and Coffee festival. The main garden was filled with so many beautiful flowers, and the rest of Boquete was a big party. A few days later, I headed over to San Felix for my regional meeting. We received the usual updates, and yours truly volunteered and became the new GAD (gender and diversity) comarca representative. Aooowah! I’m really excited about being in GAD because this group focuses a lot on developing new sexual education and leadership charlas, such as the HE for SHE workshop I gave at my school last October. After the regional meeting, we headed over to Las Lajas for some fun at the beach, and this was doubled by the fact that my Chiriqui peeps also joined us en la playa.
Early February I headed to Panama City for the first GAD meeting of the year, and decided to set up a dentist appointment, since I would already be en la ciudad. I had this weird pain in my mouth, so of course I decided to check my pearly whites in the mirror. WARNING: THE FOLLOWING SENTENCE WILL NOT MAKE ANY LOGICAL SENSE. Well, I looked in the mirror and saw a HUGE gap between my back teeth, and I thought OMG did a tooth fall out and I didn’t notice it? OR DID I SWALLOW IT!? OMG OMG OMG. ———FALSE! It was actually just a wisdom tooth hehe. Not just, because the extraction still hurt, but at least I didn’t swallow a tooth, am I right? Luckily, I was able to get the tooth removed while I was in the city, because such procedures need to be approved by headquarters in D.C. However, I needed to go back a week later to get the stitches removed. Also, during my first trip to the city, I was able to see one of my favorite music groups ever, MANÁ! OMG, wowwwwwwww. They were amazing, even though my spot was far away #BrokePCVProblems
She loves you yeah yeah yeah ❤
When I was finally back in site for good, I got to spend Valentine’s Day with my love bug Toby. Since it was el día del amor y la amistad in Panama as well, Jamie, Piru and I made little cards to hand out to our neighbors. I also drew a big heart for Toby to wear, which he tore to pieces in a matter of seconds. No surprise there. The following day was Jamie’s mom (and Regina’s) birthday, so I was invited over for some amazing arroz con pollo and dulce con helado. YUM! This day was extra fun because I got to estrenar my new paruma skirt that Munda made for me. The material comes from the Darien, where it is worn by the girls and women from the Embera-Wouunan comarca. It will be awesome to already have this custom made skirt when I finally visit the Darien for their anniversary in October.
Two wonderful things happened mid February. First, Toby turned one! ❤ and two, I celebrated having lived in Panama for one year already. For Toby, I threw together a little birthday party filled with games, coloring, and cake. I even gift wrapped some little snacks that I brought him from the US. IT WAS A TOTAL SUCCESS BECAUSE MY KIDS LEARNED THE HAPPY BIRTHDAY SONG, aaaand I can therefore ask them to sing it at each other’s birthdays 🙂 WIN!!!
Now to the second part, celebrating one year in country. YUP! It’s being a whole year since I landed in Panama. How insane does that sound? I feel like I’ve gotten into a groove down here in Panama. I have an amazing support system, made up of a loving host family and really wonderful neighbors, as well as fellow PCVs. I also have so much loving coming in from all parts of the globe. I’m so excited to work more closely with my English counterparts this year. Two will be returning from Canada, and the other one from Texas, after having completed a 2 month English program, geared towards improving their teaching methodologies through Panama Bilingue. I would also like to create an acting club at my school, which could perform other AOA plays within our community to spread awareness about water sanitation, HIV/AIDS, and safe sex. I’ve got some other project ideas up my sleeve, but I’ll keep you all guessing. YAY FOR SCHOOL STARTING AGAIN!
Lastly, let’s talk about carnaval. Wohjeh, Panama goes hard. Luc and I visited Julia in Menchaca/Ocu, and then traveled together to Las Tablas. I don’t have many pictures from the trip because we were warned about thefts one too many times. But it was a blast! There were these things called culecos, large gas tanks that were instead filled with water and attached to hoses to wet everyone at the street party. At night it was a huge party, and I’m so excited to canavalear again next year!
That’s all for now peeps. I hope I’ve lived up to the hype of my blog *nervous laugh*
As an extra treat, I’m attaching a new vlog! Enjoy!
Feliz año nuevo!!! Seems like just yesterday I was enjoying some In-n-out with my family. Oh wait, I was! Yeah!! I’m finally back in Panama after spending a wonderful two weeks in good ol’ #murica!
When I say I had the best time ever, I mean:
While I’ll be talking about things I did at home, this post is honestly a thanks to my family and friends who made my trip home so special and memorable. From waiting for me at the airport with the cutest banner ever and gorgeous flowers (pictured below), to cooking my favorite soup in the world (#SopaDeRezForever) I could not have chosen a better way to spend my holidays! Some really good family friends, Andy and Jennifer, even put together a dinner for me during my first week, and it was so wonderful to be reunited with family again. My mom, grandma and aunts took turns cooking my favorite foods, and it was everything I could have asked for and more. Thanks again darlings! Besos! A special thanks to my mom for always going out of her way to make it feel like I was never even gone in the first place. I LOVE YOU MEL! ❤
We celebrated Christmas and New Years, and also celebrated my mom’s and sister’s birthdays. Wolfie and I went on a safari wine tour. I met up with my best friend for sushi, and got to catch up. I tried to renew my license, only to discover I had to retake the written test AND take a new picture on a less-than-flattering hair day, BUT I PASSED! Aly, Alex, Wolfie and I scored free tickets to my first football game all thanks to my madrina’s boss. I got to complain about cold weather. I missed Toby terribly and constantly texted my neighbors, asking for pictures of my little fur ball. Gracias Amanda! We payed a visit to the Endeavour space ship. Most importantly, however, I got to spend time with my loved ones after being away for 10 months.
Being able to go home during my Peace Corps service was a very important factor during my application process. Because my family is so tight knit, visiting home had been in the books for a while. Right after school let out, I was (pretty much) left with nothing else to do but pasear and read. I’m lucky to have so many welcoming neighbors in my community who invite me into their homes so often. I did, however, start feeling guilty that I wouldn’t be spending the holidays in my community because it would have been an entirely new, and out of my comfort zone experience for sure.
From what I’d been told, Christmas wasn’t as big of a deal, as New Years Eve. The kids told me that in Panama it’s tradition to set off fireworks all night. This wasn’t hard to believe because my parents had shared with me that the same thing went for El Salvador. That, and the fact that kids started buying fuegos artificiales since the end of November. My poor Toby got so scared when really big fireworks went off. While there was no going back on my trip back home (who even pays for flight insurance?), I still felt guilty because I thought that in going home, I would not be allowing myself to get the full Peace Corps Panama experience. While the guilt did not last the entire week before going home, or the entire two weeks I was home, it did cross my mind often.
Ultimately though, I know I made the right decision in visiting home. Being home was not only a nice vacay filled with warm showers and unlimited internet, but it was also a refresher. I was able to reassure my family that Panama is treating me well, medical concerns aside. I was able to share pictures and anecdotes about what it was like to live with a host family of 12, what my typical work day looks like, and potential months they could visit me (hint hint). Being home helped me remember the reasons and goals I had in mind before starting my Peace Corps service. Even if I got the occasional “Are you suuuure you wanna go back?” or “Just go get Toby and come back,” I know that my family, friends and boyfriend are still 100% supportive of my life in Panama, and for that I thank you all.
Now that I’m back in Panama, I’m so pumped to make the most of this year. Right now schools are on summer vacations until early March, since it’s summertime aka hottttttttttttt. I flew in and stayed in the city a couple of nights because I had some medical and dental appointments that I wanted to get out of the way, so I wouldn’t have to make the 6 hour trip back in a few weeks. The first event I will participate in this year is the AOA health, hygiene and sanitation camp that I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts. If you’d like more information or still have some Christmas money you’d like to put to good use, consider donating by clicking on the link below:
Well that’s all for now friends. I was able to catch up with some peeps in Panama City, which was a really nice welcome back, but I am more than ready to cuddle with my not so little Toby in just a few hours. Alsooooo, enjoy two new videos 🙂 #blessed to have had access to wifi at home!
Mes de la Patria!
Welcome to my House!
Final note, new year new post new blog design!
Enjoy and happy happy new year! Hope you’re all having a wonderful time so far.
Hiya friends! I know I know! There’s so many things to update you on. Lately I feel like I’ve been running out of juice, with the school year having ended, and the daily, scratch that, HOURLY rainstorms or tormentas. If I were to describe November in 5 words, I would use the following: rain, no school, parades, & rain. In fact, it’s raining as I type up this new blog post. How unexpected.
Let’s start where we last left off. Ah yes, my successful Halloween party. Well the following day my host kids came over and helped me take down the decorations, many of which they ended up keeping. Very slyly they asked if I would throw another little party next Halloween, and I responded, “Dios primero, porque no?” Something really cool that I forgot to mention last time was that Jamie and Lily were a big help with the decorations. We spent hourssss making bats and pumpkins of all shapes and sizes, during which I told them what Halloween is like at home.
Before diving into Panama’s Mes de la Partia, I should mention that the school band began practicing for the parades SINCE AUGUST. AUGUST! Every day at school, I would hear the kids playing instruments, while I organized/dusted the library books. Neighbors told me that in previous years the kids had to march during rain storms, and were soaked from beginning to end, orrrrr the sun was beating down on them, while sweat ran down their faces during the entire parade. I thought to myself, is there no medium? Poor kids, in addition to carrying around heavy instruments, and in the case of the girls, having to wear make-up, they had inconvenient weather to look forward to? Why not just cancel the parade to spare the kids? But then my neighbors enlightened me in telling me that the kids are very excited when they are chosen to participate in the parades, and that it’s something they look forward to all year long. Finally November 3rd arrived, and the weather was….(DUN DUN DUN) fine actually. There was a slight overcast so it was neither too rainy nor too sunny. It was, as always, very humid, so I made sure to pack my handy dandy green umbrella (which has finally reached its end). The day of the desfiles, I sported my very own, custom-made pollera blouse that was also painted with the traditional Ngäbe geometrical triangles. It was gifted to me by my host mom, just a few days before the parades started. I’m a little bummed I didn’t get many pictures wearing my pretty shirt, but I’ll be wearing it for future community events. The parade started in Cerro Sombrero and made its way down to the school, where the kids did a couple of presentations about the history of Panama, and it’s separation from Colombia.
There were a couple more parades in neighboring communities, and then I had visitors come over. Cherisse, Andrea and Bianca came to my site and we enjoyed lots of rain and cuddles with Toby and a neighboring pup. The pup was unfortunately run over a few weeks after, and it actually happened right in front of me, while coming back from pasearing. It was very sad, but in general no one was really affected or impacted by it. This is because dogs are very often hit by cars that are speeding down the carretera. Since the terrible event, I have started to take greater precautions with Toby. I’ve somewhat trained him since he was little, to run away from cars who are quickly approaching. I yell, “car” and he usually scoots out of the way. Eine sehr gut und schlaue hundlein, ich finde. Unfortunately, Toby has gotten some death threats recently because he barks at anyone who he isn’t familiar with, especially at night. Since then I’ve been training him with a leash which he absolutely loathes to be honest, but it’s been working! The main thing I’ve been trying to get him used to is being inside the porch before it gets darks, so roughy 6-6:30pm. Since moving into my own place, I have always gone into bed around 8, usually to watch movies, buuuuut the minute we go inside, Toby falls asleep. He then wakes up a 6am, which means I ALSO wake up at 6am. Yaaaaaaaay!
Panamanian Holidays in November
November 3rd – Separation from Colombia/ Independence Day
November 4th – Symbols’ Day
November 5th – Colon’s Day
November 10th – Uprising of Los Santos
November 28th – Independence from Spain
aaaaaaand in December…
December 8th – Mother’s Day
In addition to the multitude of holidays, Panama was also visited by Hurricane Otto. All PCVs were alerted to avoid travel and to stay in our sites if possible. Fortunately everything was fine in my site, even though it did get a bit boring being stuck inside the house for about 2 weeks. Right before the hurricane warnings arose, my host sister Juana and I traveled to Coclé for PML (Professional Management Leadership) (I think that’s what it stands for). PML was 3 days jam-packed with information about how counterparts can collaborate with volunteers for specific projects. The highlight of that week for me was hearing that my host sister has decided to go back to college and work towards her degree in IT. After PML, Lucy and I stayed at Vannessa’s beautiful house for a couple of nights and while we were too tired to cook the friends-giving meal we had planned, I still got a birthday cake so win! On my actual birthday my host family also surprised me with a dinner. My host kids came to my house around 5pm and as we approached their house, they started playing las mañanitas and when I finally got down to the house (remember that slippery hill), I danced with my host mom for a bit and then the kids sang me happy birthday and we enjoyed tonsssss of arroz con pollo. All of my host siblings surprised me with little presents, cards and candies and literally just melted my heart. As we were having dinner my host mom told me that even though it wasn’t the same as being with my own family in California, that I would always be welcomed in her house and that she would watch over me like a daughter. I felt so happy that night that I literally went to bed with a smile.
The more I write, the more I’m realizing how out of order everything is. Scheiße! Ok so, the independence day parade was on November 3rd. The following Monday night, I was up aaaaaalllll night with stomach pains again and a raging headache. I called the PCMO the following morning and she said I would have to go to the hospital in David immediately. That Tuesday, however, was the day of my final English class so before heading to Tole, I went to my host sisters and asked them to please tell my students I wouldn’t be able to make it for heath reasons. On the busito to Tole I ran into one of my students and asked him to tell everyone I wouldn’t be there for the two following Tuesdays. (The next Tuesday I would be at PML). Well apparently that student didn’t share the information with the rest of the class because, they showed up both Tuesdays and were angry that I wasn’t there. I reached out to the class right after PML and one student told me they had all agreed they weren’t going to continue wasting their time and that they didn’t like being treated like kids and lied to. Obviously I was disappointed that the class ended on such a bad note but it wasn’t my decision to get sick. I’m going to continue offering English classes next year, and hopefully some of the same students attend because they all had a lot of potential.
So yeaaaah, my stomach is currently just extremely sensitive to soon many things, including dairy products (tears). I’m on another treatment to control the acidic levels and prevent another gastric outbreak and it’s been an ok month so far. Yay for small victories! On a similar note, I had been experiencing some itchiness all over my body for about 2 months, so last week when I was in Panama City, I went to a lab and got a bunch of blood work done to find out what’s going on. Turns out I have allergic reaction to something but we don’t know what exactly so I will just have to take medicine for the remainder of my time in Panama to treat the allergy.
Oh my, this has felt like an eternal post but I’m almost reaching the end! PROMISE! 🙂
As inconvenient it was, Hurricane Otto fortunately cleared up in time for my Thanksgiving celebration! I invited a couple of kids to my house for a Thanksgiving day lunch. We had mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, and ham sandwiches. I have no pictures of the food because it was gone pretty quickly but I realized I made waaaay to much food, since half of the kids got full pretty soon. Oops. After the meal, we did a couple of arts and crafts, and I also read a story to the kids about the creation of Thanksgiving and how my family and I usually spend the day. It was a really fun day, and helped with the homesickness I felt that day. My favorite part of the day was hearing what all the kids are thankful for, which was mostly their families and their health.
Last week I traveled to Panama City to receive a TOT (training other trainers) in order to help facilitate tech week for the next group of volunteers arriving in February. I honestly got the coolest week because I’ll be hanging out with Jordan, Walker and Gabby when I’m not working. My main responsibility for tech week will be to explain to the trainees the university activity they will create. I’m also going to observe a handful of trainees when they co-teach with their counterparts for the week. The TOT was only 2 days, and then I spent the rest of the week at the labs and at the dentist. Jordan, Cherisse, Bianca, Andrea, Gabby and I went out a couple of nights and it was so much fun! We even got to see JLo in drag 🙂 This week I’ve just been hanging out at home, pasearing, reading, spending quality time with Toby before going home for the holidays! Too many feels! eeeeeeeee!
Last but not least, and especially because one of my favorite holidays just passed, I wanted to compile a list of all of the things I’m thankful for this year! By the time I’m able to upload this post I will have spent roughly 10 months in Panamá! How crazy is that?! So here goes, all the things I’m grateful for…. 🙂
I’m thankful for:
my host mom, Munda
each and everyone of my host siblings
my beautiful little Toby Woby woo
PCMOs because they are alwayssss there to listen to my medical needs – MVPs
my fellow TELLS volunteers – tell’emmmmmm
all the support that I’ve received from my loved ones
the truly-made-with-love hard drive Wolfie put together for me – love you bae
all the kids at my school who made me feel welcomed right away
further opportunities to contribute to my beautiful little community, Alto Caballero
This is going to be a shorter than usual post, but I really wanted to share a couple of vlogs and Halloween pictures from my little party on Sunday. La fiestesita went great! I invited about 12 children from my immediate neighborhood to my house for arts and crafts, games and candy. A handful got dressed up, and for the ones without costumes we quickly drew some whiskers and created some cat or bunny ears to fit the occasion. I made Toby’s and my own costume a few weeks ago, and since then Lily has been trying to guess what it was 🙂 I was a football player because #merica and Toby was an orange little football. The tape I put on him as part of his costume stayed on about as long as I expected aka 10 minutes. Good thing we got some pictures taken just in time!
The first activity we did was drawing. I found this really cool idea on Pinterest, where kids could trace either their hand or foot, to draw vampires and witches. What made the activity even more fun was that the kids would use paint for the entire figure, and then just color in extra details. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find paint before the party so we just used crayons. The kids chose the winner of the drawings by cheering for the pictures they liked, and I was really happy with their good sportsmanship when someone else won. Then we played “Stick the Spider on the Web,” and it was hilarious! Afterwards, we played Hallowingo Bingo, and I used that opportunity to teach the kids some English terms, such as haunted house, cauldron, and witch’s broom. You know, words they’re probably going to use on a daily basis year around. Hehe, I’m kidding. Lastly, I had the kids learn the trick or treat song, and as a little treat for you all I’m attaching the video of the kiddies singing. Enjoy!!
Lastly, I’m also including some pictures from my English class. I’ve had a consistent 10 students and we’ll be finishing up in a week. Yaaaaay English 🙂
Que pasa calabaza! Right now, I’m sitting on a sofa in my porch. I’m blasting ABBA, and occasionally breaking out in song. I also have a little guest over. His name is Juan Carlos and he is coloring a page from one of the books that my mom and Nani sent me in that oh-so-wonderful care package I recently blogged about. Juan is coloring a page so I can hang it up on what I call my “Wall of Love.” It’s a really big wall right behind my front door, and it is covered with letters, pictures and drawings colored by the kids. All these things together make me very happy, and are also comforting if I’m ever having a hard day.
La Maestra de los Libros
This is typically what the kids at school call me. I also get La dueña de Toby/Choby/Boby, Angie, or Teacher. Recently, the majority of my time has been spent at the library. If a couple of days pass without me opening up the library, kids come look for me in the school or even come to my house to tell me, “Y porque no fuiste a la escuela,” to which I respond, “Si fui a la escuela. Lo que pasa es que tu no me viste.” Bewildered, the kids scold me saying, “Apues como no pude ir a sacar un libro nuevo?!” They are the cutest, most dedicated and comical little investigators I have ever met. I can proudly say that everyday there is a new student who is more comfortable and excited to share what they read. Occasionally, there are also a handful of 3rd grade boys who help me organize all the books I put on display. When they see their classmates making a mess, they quickly address the problem and ask/kindly force the other kids to be more organized with the books. So that is what I’ve been most occupied with.
Panamaestra – ing
Two weeks ago, I started my first Community English Class! I got there 2 hours early to review the material/activities and to set up my charla paper on the board. My biggest concern was that no one would show up, or that if it rained too hard, the students wouldn’t be able to hear me (because of how loud the rain sounds when it hits the zinc roof). Additionally, I was worried I would talk too fast, or resort to explaining things in Spanish constantly. However, none of those problems occurred. The turnout was great, and the students were very engaged and excited to learn. There were 16 students the first day, and 14 the following week. One of the students pulled me aside and asked if I could give the class on Wednesdays because about 7 university extension students who wanted to participate in my class, had university classes on Tuesdays. I let the students from the first class decide if they would mind shifting the class to Wednesday. Many said Tuesday was better, so I will continue to teach the class on Tuesdays. I will offer the same English class again in November on Wednesdays from 1-3pm. This new time also works for a handful of first turno (7:30 am – 12:30 pm) school teachers who live in Tolé, and would like to take the English course right after they finish teaching their own classes. Win, win, win!
Let’s Talk Diversity 🙂
Last week I traveled to Panama City to participate in the Intercultural Competence Diversity and Inclusion (ICD&I) workshop held at the Peace Corps office. Ten volunteers were invited to attend the event, in order to help staff enhance their understanding about how to work with minority/underrepresented PCVs. We all applied and got an email a few weeks before the seminar. Three PC employees from DC/Oakland visited and led the event, and on Thursday we, the volunteers, were able to share our experiences as minorities serving abroad. I talked about being a first generation Salvadorian American woman, being Catholic in a predominantly Evangelical site, and about identifying as an ally for the LGBTQ community. An overlying theme during the group discussion was minority volunteers feeling undervalued in their communities because we don’t fit the physical criteria of the stereotypical American. I don’t know why it never occurred to me before this seminar, but I always just figured I was the only Latina volunteer who was constantly being asked, “Where are you from?” and once I responded, “From the United States,” asked once again, “But where are you reallyfrom?” Turns out I am completely not alone, and that the “Americanism” of other fellow PCVs has also been questioned. As a female volunteer, I talked about being subject to pestering cat-calls when I am in a larger city, and also about how I have to keep my guard up and never be around drinking in my site as a precaution. The event was super rewarding and I’m very glad that Peace Corps takes into consideration that every volunteer’s experience is unique, and that our service can be influenced by both internal and external identities.
This past week I had my second English class, and on Friday I led a HeforShe seminar for all the ninth graders at my school. HeforShe is a recent United Nations initiative, spearheaded by Emma Watson, to promote gender equality, and to explain how gender norms/expectations can limit a student’s success. For one of the activities we handed out note cards with characteristics/responsibilities, and the students were instructed to choose the gender that those characteristics went with. Some of the cards that students placed on me were: menstrual cramps, being loyal, caring about my appearance, and being promiscuous. Bennett, Walker, and Paul, the three other PCVs who helped me co-facilitate the seminar, and I, discussed with the students how, with the exception of biological characteristics, other attributes are often applicable to both genders. One ninth grade girl got the card “being professional,” and she came up to me and asked where she could hang that card if she thought it applied to both genders. How awesome is that?! We agreed that she could place that card in the table between the female and male PCVs, and when we got to her card, we had her explain why she chose not to assign the card to one single gender. The seminar honestly went off without a hitch, and at the end each student made their personal commitments as allies for gender equality.
A few days before the HeforShe event, my school celebrated its 27th anniversary. I got dressed up in my beautiful red nagua blouse that Munda recently made for me, along with my gorgeous chakira (traditional Ngäbe large beaded necklace) that I got outside Tolé when Wolfie was here. I stopped by my host mom’s house on the way to school, and headed out with Zareth and Abby. When we arrived, there was a soccer match going on. We bought some hojaldras for .25 cents each, and waited for the dancing to begin. I was especially excited for the baile típicoto start because Jamie would be dancing in the beeeeeautiful red pollera that Munda sewed for her. When the second soccer match ended, they instructed everyone to head to the area in front of the stage to watch the performances, along with the crowning of the reina or school queen. During this transition, I lost sight of Toby, and tried calling him so I could hold him while the students danced (so he wouldn’t interrupt the performance). I glanced up and saw some teachers trying to kick/shoo him away and it hurt my feelings so much. The teachers trying to hurt him aren’t teachers I have ever spoken to before, but I don’t think that excused their behavior because there are always dogs hanging out at the school, and Toby wasn’t doing anything particularly wrong, besides maybe being there. I tried to shrug it off and refocus my attention on the stage, when a huge black dog showed up and started walking towards Toby and attacking him. It was the most horrific thing I have ever seen or heard. Toby kept trying to run away, and cried so loudly, while I ran over to help him out. I tried kicking the dog, but he was enormous and really scary looking and he wouldn’t get off Toby. The entire thing lasted about a minute before the school director stepped in and scared the dog away. While everything was going on, and after I checked Toby to see if he was ok, I felt short of breath and on the verge of tears. There was a huge knot in my throat. Not only had I been unable to protect my little dog, but a lot of my neighbors had been present and no one tried to help me or even scream at the other dog.
I quickly grabbed Toby and headed home, with tears streaming down my face the minute I stepped outside the school. Zareth ran after me to give me my camera, which she had been taking pictures with before the fight started, but I told her to keep using it and to drop it off at my house later. I cried the entire ten minute walk home, and gave Toby a bath as soon as I could. I checked him for bites and found one on his right front leg. Toby looked really sad, and I felt inconsolable so I called my mom and explained everything that happened to her. I still can’t explain all the emotions I experienced on that day, but I just felt so let down. It was the first time I had truly felt lonely in my site. It was as if no one cared about my Toby or about how much he means to me. And that’s not even the worst part of it. I wish I could say that was the first time Toby had been attacked by that big dog but it wasn’t. On the day of my first English class, with about 10 minutes before class was scheduled to begin, the same dog walked into the classroom and started fighting with Toby. I freaked out, but luckily one of my students pulled the dog off and kicked him out of the classroom. I felt like I was having a panic attack because even after the fight, Toby wouldn’t calm down and I couldn’t breathe properly. After a few minutes passed, I thought I might have to cancel the session, but I was eventually able to pull myself together and give the 2 hour class.
Since the disaster at the school anniversary, I have decided to never take Toby to school again. That afternoon my landlord, Ceferino, came over to check on Toby. Since I moved into his daughter Esther’s house, he has grown very fond of Toby, and even gave Toby his own nickname, “Tobo.” Toby also really loves Ceferino and always listens whenever he hears “Tobo.” Anyways, he came over to check on Toby and I told him everything that happened. I started crying once again, as I confided in him that I believe the teachers who tried to kick Toby were doing so because they don’t like me. It’s a feeling I’ve had for a while, and haven’t been able to shake off since. Ceferino listened attentively and sympathized with me, because he has lost many dogs due to speeding in the only carretera in our village. He advised me to disregard people who might have ill feelings towards me, and to instead focus on all the good things/people in my life. Lastly, he invited me to attend his church whenever I’m feeling lonely or sad, but said I was under no obligation to attend. I thought that was a very nice gesture. His visit, along with a very loud visit from three of my wacky host siblings made me feel way better after such a terrible day. While I was still hurt, I was humbled at the reminder that there are definitely people in my site that care not only about me and my wellbeing, but also about Toby’s.
jökrä ta kuin / todo está bien
The year is quickly winding down, and I’ve been busier than ever. In November I will head back to Penonome for a week-long training for community counterparts, known as PML. I’m required to take someone from the community who shows leadership skills, and would benefit from receiving direct training or capacitaciones.I’ve decided to take one of my older host sisters, Juana, because she is really friendly, knowledgable about community needs, and portrays a strong leadership role both inside her household, as well as in the rest of our village. Before that happens, however, I’m hosting a small Halloween party for the kids in my neighborhood. We’re all going to dress up and play some Halloween games, and there will even be a competition for the most creative costume. Toby’s and my costumes totally have a chance of winning if I do say so myself 😉 Since this will be the first Thanksgiving I won’t spend with my family IN 22 YEARS, I might also do a little event for the kids then. The Halloween party has been especially fun to plan because I get to share with the kids how big of a deal this holiday is in the U.S. That will be the last thing I do in Octubrera. Octu-what-a? Yeah, so lately it has been raining every single day for hours, and apparently the rain’s just getting started. Sometimes the sky also turns yellow or pink, right before it gets pitch dark. Ceferino told me that this change in weather is referred to as Octubrera, because the change starts in October. I don’t, however, know how long Octubrera lasts.
In December I will travel back to Panama City to receive additional training. Isabel and Joel, my two bosses, asked if I could help co-facilitate the practicum/tech week for next year’s new TELLS volunteers. My answer was, of course, yes! It’s going to be super fun to meet the new group of PCVs, while also getting to work/hang out/party with Gabby, Jordan, and Walker for the week. Yaaaaay! Fun times ahead. Also, since I will be back in the city, I’m going to start my souvenir shopping so that I’m not running around like a headless chicken two weeks after that, when I go home for the holidays! More yays! While I am of course super excited to see family and friends so soon, I keep thinking I might struggle a bit when I return to Panama next year, just because right now I’m planning around my trip back to my home sweet home in good ol’ Murica. Also though, I started studying for the LSAT in order to take the exam in June next year, and the pressure of that exam is on my mind all the time. Not only will my score determine if I have to keep studying, but it will also determine what school offers/scholarships I’m likely to receive. No more yays. Overall though, I love how busy I am right now, and am so so excited for the next couple of months. Yays are back! Lastly, and something I’m super stoked about is a hygiene awareness camp going on in January when I get back to site. The camp is taking place in Tolé, and I’m taking 9 kids from Alto Caballero to participate. The camp took place in Alto Caballero last year, so 2 of the 9 kids I’m taking will act as youth facilitators, since they have already participated. The camp is called Acting Out Awareness (AOA), and the PCV who created the camp during her service has already COS’ed (closed her service), but she continues to work with playwrights in Chicago to write plays for the kids about hygiene and water sanitation. The kids will receive the plays during that week, and then return to their sites, and perform them for their schools. What’s really awesome is that the students will come from many different parts of Panama, so they will get to interact with other teenagers their age. YAYAYAYAYAYAYAY!
Finally, what in the world does the title of this post mean? Funny, funny story. In my site it’s very common for people to send their children to sell the crops that they grow, and then gather, or cosechar. Well one day I was preparing some veggies for dinner, when I heard a small voice coming from outside my porch. I walked outside and saw one of my students standing on the steps of my house. She was selling lemons and culantro (basically cilantro’s cousin). She asked if I wanted to buy any and I said maybe next time, because Elodia had gifted me 5 lemons the day before. The young girl asked me when I would want the products, and how much of each. I settled on buying 3 lemons and a small stack of culantro in two weeks time. Well the two weeks came and went, and the girl’s two sisters came to my house ready to sell me the things I’d ordered. They only brought the lemons, each at the price of .60 cents, but the problem was I only had a $10 bill. The girls told me they would go get change for me, and leave the lemons until they got back. This is where the funny part starts. The younger sister started to pull out bags of lemons from her chakara. I figured they were leaving all their lemons just to reassure me that they would return with the change. No, no, no. Boy was I wrong, wrong, wrong. Turns out when I placed an order for 3 lemons, they took it to mean 3 bags because I had already agreed on the price. Each bag had 6 lemons, totaling to 18 limones mios. It’s important to note that while I initially thought $1.80 was pricey for 3 lemons, apples in Tolé are .50 cents each so I didn’t really think much of it. And so, that is the story of how I ended up with 3 bags of lemons. I gave one bag to Munda, and another to Ceferino. He, along with the girls who sold me the lemons, suggested for me to make chicha with so many lemons, so maybe I will make some tonight to drink with my dinner.
Probably my favorite Panamanian word. In Spanish the word is actually oye, but I prefer when I hear Jaime saying woooooooooojeh. While oye means “hear,” people in my village use this phrase when they can’t believe something. For example, I had a woh-jeh moment myself this weekend when I found guayaba flavored jelly from Costa Rica in my handy dandy market store in Tolé. A few minutes later when I got home, I had a second woh-jeh moment when I realized that the loaf of bread I bought wasn’t put in my bag. Wohhhhjeh, niagare kuin (no good).
Where have you(r blogs) been all my li-i-i-i-i-i-fe?
Shortly after writing my last post about dreams and fears, I got super sick again. After showering one morning, my stomach started to feel uneasy so I decided to stay home. My younger host sister had been sick the night before so my host mom had taken her to the local clinic, and I was therefore home alone, with the exception of my other 12 year old host sister. I quickly went to my neighbor’s tienda to buy phone credit to call the PCMOs but they were sold out. I ended up buying a soup so my stomach wouldn’t be empty, but within 20 minutes I’d puked everything, and then some. I started getting a fever and Zareth suggested we borrow the neighbor’s phone to make a call. We eventually made it there, but before I could borrow a phone I ended up vomiting in my neighbor’s backyard. When I was finally able to call a PC doctor, they told me I had to go to the hospital in David immediately. I said I couldn’t because there was no way I could travel with so much pain. My stomach felt like it was on fire, and also very acidic. Then the PCMO suggested going to the pharmacy in Tolé and traveling to David either later or the following day. I agreed, and headed back home. Luckily my host mom and older host sister, Juana, were home by then and they helped me get into the hammock in the porch. I remember sweating like crazy, but Juana later told me my body was ice cold. I passed out for a while, and because the pain wouldn’t go away, my host mom prepared me a té de guanabana, which helps settle the stomach. However, Juana also called the paramedics because the local clinic was already closed by then. The paramedics showed up half an hour later, but by then the pain had subsided so we decided I didn’t need to travel to the nearest hospital in San Felix. They said I possibly had parasites, and that as soon as I felt better I should head to a hospital on my own to get checked out before it worsened.
I headed to David the next morning and had blood work done because the doctor was afraid I might have hepatitis. Luckily the results came back negative, so they once again gave me antibiotics to treat the gastritis, and now gastroenteritis. I spent the night in David, and headed back to site the following morning. I kid you not, within 10 minutes of being on the busito to get to my house, I started to feel nauseous and had to vomit the minute I got home. Honestly, I felt really scared and sad, so I once again contacted the PCMO, who told me that I would have to travel to Panama City the next day in order to see a specialist. The specialist diagnosed me with having a severe case of gastritis, resulting from the water I was drinking, and using to cook. I was placed on a three week treatment, and am happy to share that I have since not had any major stomach issues. Yay for science and medicine and PCMOs and caring neighbors! Throughout the entirety of those weeks the phrase, “it takes a village to raise a child” really resonated with me. Like a child who is constantly learning things about the world they live in, I am learning about how to care for myself in this new setting. I feel very thankful to be surrounded by people who are happy to continuously teach me so many new things, which are crucial to my wellbeing and happiness.
Gastritis pretty much took over my life for the month of July, but August and September were much more enjoyable. Shortly after returning from Panama City, I received the most amazing, award-winning, and beautiful care package ever. I am very, very lucky to have a mom who loves me enough to send me 4 lbs of red vines, among so many other things. Toby was equally as happy with his enormous bone. Thanks mom + family, you rock 🙂
In August, Isabel visited my site for my SECNA presentation. We spent the majority of the day at school, where I gave her a tour, and gave a presentation to my counterparts about my school & community analysis. I also provided a brindis of Cheeto Puffs and juice boxes 🙂 By that point I had already moved into my house, so we hung out here and enjoyed dried mangos and trail mix. Move in day was fun and sad, and then fun again. Zareth was especially sad I would be moving out, and a few tears were shed. After about 5 trips, and only with the help of about 8 people, was I finally moved into my new place. How to describe my house? Heavenly might be a step too far, but it sure is cozy and perfect to me. I have a really big yard, which is great for playing catch with Toby, and for sembrando vegetales y frutas. The house has a nice porch area, and it was semi/almost entirely furnished, which made moving in so much easier. The biggest purchase I made was the mini fridge, and I also recently had to replace the hose that connects the gas tank to the stove. I have a couple of PC cookbooks that were put together by previous volunteers, so I usually cook something from either of those. The books include everything from breakfasts, desserts, breads, main courses, to Panamanian dishes, and the ingredients are usually things I can get in Tolé. (More to come about Panamanian dishes later!)
Wolfie visited for two weeks, and it was such a blast! I met him in Panama City, and we traveled together to my site. Jaime showed him a bunch of songs to help him practice his Spanish, and artistic skills, and in general the kids just loved playing with him. A teacher from the school invited us to attend a school field trip to a museum in Nancito, where petroglyphic artifacts were discovered aging waaaay back. Petroglyphs are rocks with carved out designs on the surface. While he was here, he installed an antenna in my house that now allows me to have 3G IN MY HOUSE! Vielen dank, schatzi. You’re the best 🙂 We traveled a bit and ate a lot, and every part was awesome!
IT WAS A BUSY 2 WEEKS!
Towards the end of August all the volunteers from G78 traveled to the province of Cocle for IST, in-service training. During these 2 weeks we learned about how to collect, and report data relevant to our sectors, such as attendance and whether there is an improvement on the material we facilitated about, in seminars, clubs and camps. TELLS PCVs learned about starting up successful English classes, which I plan on starting in the following week/s. After IST ended, there was a week-long vacation to conclude the end of the second trimester of the school year.
Since my SECNA presentation took place early on (about a month before IST), I stopped observing English classes and instead focused on running the school library. At first I only had 10 kids coming in regularly to check out books, but now the average has grown to about 70, and one day over 100 books were checked out! (115 to be exact but who’s counting). Score! Initially it was also only 2nd and 3rd graders checking out books, and now I have student from K-7 looking for things to read! At the moment, students are only checking out books in Spanish but overtime I will start assigning them books in English. I have been keeping track of who checks out what books, and because the Spanish selection of books is smaller, I hope English books also appeal to the students.
How do you even run a library?
Before a student can check out a book, I usually check that they can at least read the title. This ensures the kids aren’t overwhelming themselves with books that might be above their reading level. Similarly, if a book seems too easy, I usually ask students to look for a book that will challenge them more. For shorter books, I ask the kids to read and return them the next day. I do this to make sure of the following things: 1, the kids are reading what they check out, 2, the books are being returned, and 3, so that other students also have the opportunity to check books out, since supply is so limited. For larger books, I usually allow them to be checked out for 1-2 weeks. These books are usually checked out by 5th-7th graders so I trust that they will be responsible with them. Finally, when students are returning a book, they need to tell me something they learned/their favorite part, in order to check out another book. At first, there were a handful of kids who were very shy to share anything, but I have since noticed that students are becoming more comfortable sharing their thoughts with me, and in front of their peers. I’m going to be starting a reading club soon, where different students will read books in front of their peers, to focus on public speaking skills.
This week all the comarca PCVs headed to San Felix for the last Regional Meeting of the year. There are 3 annual RMs, and the next one will be in late January. I got to meet the 10 new PCVs from G79, who are either WASH (water and sanitation) or SAS (sustainable agriculture). After the meeting, we headed to Las Lajas beach and enjoyed one of the prettiest sunsets I’ve ever seen. I headed to San Felix the day before RM for language reinforcement training in Ngäbere. It was so helpful and I also got to see my old Spanish teacher, Rolando. Kuin Deka (good day)!
Like I mentioned earlier, I plan on starting my English class very soon. I decided to offer an English conversational class for adults first, since I have seen the most interest from them. I am also planning on running a HEforSHE seminar in October at my school. I’m just waiting for approval from the school director. For that activity, I’ve invited Bennett, Paul, and Walker to help me co-facilitate. I’ll let you all know how it goes!
Lastly, I wanted to shout-out all the peeps who’ve visited me! You know who you are, and know the world will too! Lucy, Ian, Enid & Nicole. Come back whenever friends 🙂
Last, but not least, a new video! Click on the link below & enjoy 🙂
For quite some time now you’ve had a recurring dream. You see yourself living somewhere unknown, dwelling among complete strangers. More likely than not, you will have to learn a new language, or at the very least scratch your brain to recall something you learned in your foreign language classes from college. Even though you might feel disoriented throughout the dream, you are enticed by the beautiful landscapes and everlasting friendships you are sure to build in your new home. You are eager to contribute to the community’s growth, and are willing to overlook the omnipresent mosquitos or perhaps endless snowfall. In this new setting, you experience daily challenges. It could be the weather, the food, the people, even public transportation.
As the years go on and as this dream of your continues to develop, you become more determined in your ability and need to fulfill this dream. You take the steps to apply for a position that would send you overseas to God knows where. In the midst of your application process, your mind begins to wander and the dream expands. Your first thought is, “what continent will I be assigned?” It could be Africa, Asia, Europe or South America. “What will the weather be like? Will I miss the sunny and breezy welcoming afternoons of the California coast if I’m placed somewhere with snow, or will I come to dread hot and dry days, courtesy of the Sahara desert?” Food, medical concerns, homesickness, culture shock, isolation, limited means of communication. The list of concerns and fears is endless, and it mocks you, always tingling in the back of your mind.
You do your research to see what others have experienced, and you acknowledge that there is some merit to these fears. Still, you pursue the dream and do everything in your power to make yourself the perfect candidate. On the day of your interview (that you accidentally set for 4 a.m. instead of 7 a.m. because you forgot the headquarters are based in the east coast) you wake up, shower, and manage to find a professional shirt to match your workout pants, which will not be seen by the person interviewing you because it’a a video call and not an in-person entrevista. During the interview you exasperate any prior job experiences that could be related back to this fun, exciting, almost mystical, new job. When the interview is officially over, you ask questions like any good candidate, to show your genuine interest in the position. Most of your questions inquire about the future. “So what happens now? How much time should pass before I expect an answer? What if I am not content with the answers I receive? Can I reapply? Is there anything I can do in the meantime?” Finally you say your thank you for your times and have a great rest of the days and wait for the call to end, because you don’t want to hang up on the recruiter too soon.
At this stage your constant dream to comes a halt. You have now taken all the right steps and put yourself out there. You saw an opportunity and presented yourself to the best of your capabilities, but what if that’s not enough? What if you don’t make the cut. Because you are unsure of what to expect at this stage, your mind creates two reactions and continuously bounces between the two. You either do or you don’t. Maybe in the next couple of months you will start preparing to live in an entirely foreign country for two years, or maybe you will live at home with your parents for a bit longer. Not forever, just until you can find a stable job and save up a bit of cash. If not, then maybe you stay a bit longer to save on rent money. After all, the economy is tricky nowadays, who would blame you? Then starts a period of pre-consolation. Yeah, made it would be better to not get accepted to my dream job, because that way I can always eat In-N-Out burgers and have weekend get-aways to Vegas with the girls. Besides, how would working abroad ever help you back in the U.S.? How could it help you land a future job, or possibly get into grad school if the fields are unrelated? That is reaction one. Reaction two is getting the answer you have been hoping for from the moment you learned about this opportunity. You are certain you have what it takes if they would only give you the chance. You are convinced no other job could fuel the fire of such an adventure. As the days, weeks, and months tick tock, so do your nerves. You maybe eat one too many acai bowls to calm your nerves and distract your mind – again, who could blame you?
Finally it happens. Probably at the most unexpected time and place. Maybe you finally relaxed and aren’t stressing over the future. You might even be heading to the car after a quick workout at your local 24 Hour Fitness. You’re feeling sweaty, and feeling wonderful. You’re thinking, “hey, I could do this every morning,” but probably won’t. You just texted your mom that you’re on your way home, when you receive an email.
“Dear Angie, Congratulations! On behalf of the entire Peace Corps family, I’m delighted to invite you to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Panama. You’ve been selected to serve as a Secondary Ed. English Teacher, departing February 23, 2016. By accepting this invitation, you will join hundreds of thousands of Americans who have answered the call to service and made a difference in communities around the world.”
WOW! You experience a number of emotions in the first couple of minutes alone, and as you check your rearview mirror, you think you might see a tear rolling down your face. Or is it just sweat? Quien sabe. Regardless you are jumping for joy and calling mom as soon as you can. Your incandescent dream is finally within your reach, and now it’s time to research, pack, and celebrate because a crazy new adventure awaits you.
Through the excitement and first-time jitters of meeting the rest of the volunteer group, you are finally seated on a plane with Panama as its final destination. You peer over the window to see Miami’s beautiful skyline getting further and further away, and recognize a funny feeling sinking into you. This is not the first time you encounter this feeling. You experienced it a few weeks after accepting your invitation to serve in Panama, you felt it when you spent probably way too much money buying appropriate secondary school teacher clothes at Target, and you experienced it as you drove away from home for the last time in a long time. As the plane ascends further into the heavenly skies, you recognize exactly what you are feeling. It’s fear. You second-guess yourself and wonder if you even have what it takes to be a volunteer. You did your research and are already anxious about encountering this humidity bloggers speak of. Sure you’ve been away from home before but never for such a long time. Even when you were away, you had super reliable internet and could easily communicate with family and friends. Also, besides speaking the language, what do you really know about teaching English to Spanish speakers? In other words, what in the hell did you just get yourself into? You close your eyes and manage to enjoy the rest of the flight – momentarily putting your fears on hold.
Fast forward to the next four months, you are now established in your site and ready to get the ball rolling. Imagine having grown accustomed to living in the campo and being woken up by not one, but 5 roosters, all competing to be the loudest bird in the finca. Since you are still living with a host family comprised of a fluctuating number of host siblings, which as of recently has been a solid 6, you are very familiar with the morning chatter as the kids scramble to get ready for school. You check your phone and realize it’s only 6:30 in the morning – nice. You pet your Panamanian dog, grab your ziploc bag full on toiletries and towel, put on your shower shoes and head to the shower. You no longer expect running water every morning. Occasionally you make it all the way to the outdoor shower before realizing you forgot to grab the pink water gallon of water that your host mom so generously fills for you when the water comes. You carry the gallon back to the shower, pour the water into the bucket under the shower head, and start your bucket shower. After placing the now empty water gallon back in its place, you head back to your room, get dressed, take your vitamins and malaria medicine, and religiously apply sunblock and bug repellent to any exposed body parts, namely your arms and face, because after that dog bite you have learned your lesson. While you give your dog some food, you timidly wait for your breakfast. Sometimes it comes, sometimes it doesn’t. Regardless, you grab your umbrella and head for school. At school you greet staff, parents, and students as you head to your classroom where you will have your daily observations. You finally have a routine down, and are crushing it. Buenisimo!
There is nothing particularly terrible about your day, but at some point you become overwhelmed and clock out. It might be that students have been mispronouncing words for the last 40 minutes, or that the amount of side conversation do not allow for any learning to take place at all. Defeated, you trek back home, flustered, angered, and disappointed that yet another day went by without a positive outcome. That once familiar fear creeps back into your mind. You are distraught and question how it would even be possible to ignite a change within the English department. You’re uninvited friend, Fear, has once again made an appearance.
You are no longer concerned about humidity, piropos (cat calling), site placement, or mosquitos (although I am still deathly afraid of encountering my first snake). Your fears have now transgressed into your professional life, and your biggest fear becomes failure. As of now I would describe service as a beautiful, ripe, green, and juicy mango. With every new bite, I am finding something wonderful, resourceful, and enjoyable. Unfortunately, there are always a couple of gusanitos that sneak their way into the most delicious mango and ruin a good snack.
Let me clarify this a little further. I have now surveyed and interviewed my community members and have a pretty good idea of the projects I will dive into in the next couple of months. I have started advertising my plans and have received a lot of positive feedback. I have observed my English counterparts and have some great ideas for ways to make learning more interactive and comprehensive for the students. I have secured one hell of house down, and am already planning a cute little house warming fiestesita (spoiler: you are all invited). I have what I would consider pretty solid, achievable ideas, but I am afraid of their success. Will people attend? Will I do a good enough job of explaining the material? How will I track the students’ progress? What will be of the progress and clubs once my time in Panama comes to an end? As a PCV, my biggest priority is facilitating my community in developing sustainable resources that they can eventually facilitate on their own. I am struggling with this part of the job because I have not found someone in the community who I could co-organize and run my projects with. I know that I shouldn’t stress since its still early-ish in the game but when wifi and pre-dowloaded movies are limited, the mind wanders.
Coping with home/life/family/friend/california-sickness and progressing into adulthood
I previously shared how I consoled myself by listing all the wonderful things I would have access to if I didn’t get into Peace Corps. That was not meant to be braggy at all. Panamanian diet, and more specifically Comarcan diet is very generous on its rice portions, and sometimes I’m just craving a cheeseburger with animal style fries and banana peppers. Or King Taco! I looooove King Taco and Mexican food in general. What I REALLY miss is having Mexican food on my way to Vegas #takemeback #cyingemoji #hungryemoji #mexicanflagemoji. I’m lucky to never have experienced severe homesickness before but I do worry that things could change once I’m living on my own. I’m hoping to pasear even more when I am on my own to avoid feeling lonely.
While I applied to Peace Corps, I was surprised by the amount of negative feedback that I received. I was previously a pre-med aspirant, until I opened my first biology textbook in college and realized that was not the field for me. I was lucky enough to fall in love with sociology my sophomore year of college, and after a couple of criminal justice courses, discovered my passion for working towards just verdicts within the judicial system. Since then, the word has gotten out about me wanting to attend law school. It seems there was an incertitude as to why someone who is pre-law would do Peace Corps. Well here’s why. Because I wanted to. I am aware that planting community gardens doesn’t exactly equate to interning for the Public Defender’s Service (oh wait, I did that already), but I am wholeheartedly invested in helping my community reach its goals to the best of my abilities within the allotted time. I accept the doubts of these skeptics, and want to ensure my friends and family that they have no reason to worry about me. My service will be what I make of it, and to me the possibilities seem endless. I have always been blessed with a very strong support system, and through the years it has been the push that I needed. Even when I have feared rejection, I found comfort in knowing that I had an enormous amount of support just one phone call away. There will always be challenges and excuses, but I believe that we will always pursue the dreams that are closest to our hearts. For me, this dream and fear combined has been Peace Corps. Everyday is a new challenge, but as long as I can find one positive thing that happened, my personal challenges seem worth it. While it might not be much, for me it’s enough. I would encourage anyone considering PC, or any goal in general, to find their own support system, and to chase after their dreams head on. Si se puede.
Let’s get down to the bochinche: Angie, why have you been gone so long?
I know, I know. You all missed me, I’m amazing. I realize I say this every time, but things have been pretty busy on this side of the comarca. Closely after my last post, I got pretty sick and had to go to the hospital. Put down the popcorn because it’s not as exciting as it sounds. I must have eaten something bizarre the night before because the following morning I was nauseous, had all types of the runs, and felt like I might die from food poisoning (ok so I like to exaggerate. I have to create my own drama since I’ve watched every single movie in my computer already). After a very acidic vomiting session, I called the PCMO (med. officer) and after telling her my symptoms, she said it sounded like I might have food poisoning. Just to be sure, she sent me to the nearest hospital available for volunteers in the comarca/Chiriqui region, in good ol’ David. I’ll talk about what went down at the hospital, but first I want to discuss David. Wow, why do people undersell this place? Literally it has everything, including a place called 100% Mexican. Sure it’s not super touristy but who cares? They have a movie theater and a shopping center, and I was finally able to find Flaming Hot Cheetos for the 1st time since getting to Panama. snaps! I spent more money that one day in David than I spend an entire month in site, so I do see the danger but it’s nice to have that little treasure of a distraction.
Back to my health – before making it to the hospital I had to catch a 20 minute busito, wait 30 more minutes for the David bus, and then ride for 2 hours before making it to ese lugar. Once the doctor checked me out, she diagnosed me with a throat infection and gastritis, an inflammation of lining of my stomach. The doctor said this could have happened because of something random I ate, but was also common when people do no eat regularly, which brings me to my second point: food.
As of recently I learned that most people in the comarca can only afford to eat 2 meals per day, when possible they have dinner too, but that is not guaranteed. I have struggled a lot with food, or better, the lack of. In the weeks leading up to my doctor visit, I was very often having breakfast at 11 a.m., lunch at 5 p.m., and dinner at 9 p.m., or not at all. During this time I felt very frustrated and confused. I didn’t understand why my host family wouldn’t cook if there was definitely food in the house. I preferred to not check the time because I would only be concerned with knowing when we would eat next. In addition, to hunger and frustration, I experienced guilt. After the first couple of weeks, I was ashamed of expecting my host family to feed me with such frequency when there are so many people in the house. I tried to occupy myself with reading or watching movies, but wasn’t too successful. The issue worsened as time went on, so I contacted PC staff and they offered me some solutions. Eventually a program manager came to site and spoke with my host mom. She confirmed all the information I had previously given the staff, leading to my next topic: housing.
The program manager lightly suggested alternatives to my host mom for my eating schedule, discussing the importance of my health as I integrated into the culture. Eventually, I was offered to move into my own place earlier than planned. The project manager saw my new home, and said they would have to make an exception if the eating situation didn’t improve, so I am currently finalizing the improvements on my casita for it to get approved. Since the visit, things have been the same. Sometimes there are really big portions of food, and I feel like my stomach has finally gotten used to the eating schedule, but it’s still challenging on some days. As usual, I will keep you in the loop. On the plus side, I was able to see two beauts in David, who go by the names of Lucy and Kim. I ended up staying overnight in David because I was given really strong antibiotic and the PCMO wanted to make sure I could get back to site safely.
Now, tell us about school.
Sorry there isn’t much to tell! With my last post, school has just ended for the trimester. Well after the week of vacation, I observed for one week before all 3 of my counterparts went to Dolega for training for a program called Panama Bilinigue. In addition to attending seminars during the week of vacation, my 3 counterparts have been very involved in preparing for Panama Bilingue, a two month long program that sends Panamanian teachers to English speaking countries to learn new English teaching methodologies. The program is very vigorous and I’m very excited for them, but they would depart in either September or January, and I am worried that their leaving might delay the students’ progress in their English classes. Peace Corps’ agreement with the Panamanian department of education, MEDUCA, does not allow me to teach unless there is a teacher present, so I was unable to attend school for those two weeks. Instead, I paseared a lot and gave English lessons to my younger host sisters, Jaime and Zareth. Both girls are super fast learners and I can’t wait for them to participate in my English club soon 🙂
Ok, so if you weren’t busy with school, what were you doing?
I have been pretty busy lately working on my SECNA, school entry and community needs assessment. I’ve compiled information from informal interviews and class observations to specifically determine the needs of both the school and community. I have now outlined each project I will carry out and my plan of action for each goal. The report is due in a few weeks, and after that I will be able to reference it, as I put together my presentation that my boss will attend. Yikes! #nervouslaugh Just kidding! I feel prepared and I am excited to share my future projects with my boss and counterparts. I will invite my counterparts to co-lead the programs with me, and am hopeful they will also contribute great ideas.
Finalmente, I want to share some great, great news! Zareth is finally recovered! Turns out it was definitely her appendix. She got surgery during the week of vacation and has been recovering ever since. Today she went to school for the first time, but the teachers offered to send her homework with her brother so that she can fully recover before going back to school. Thanks to everyone for your prayers and positives thoughts. I think small gestures like that make a big difference and I am happy for things to be back to normal at the house.
Even with its highs and lows, this month has been insane. I finally got around to pasear and the community has been very inviting. So inviting that I even got an invitation to my first ever comarca safari-themed birthday party! I will be going back to David sometime before Saturday (the day of the party) to pick out a gift and also grab a package from the post office. While we’re on the topic, if anyone of you are dying to send me a little something, drop me a message and I’ll happily send you my información.
Since the teachers were gone for 2 weeks, they assigned a bunch of worksheets to their students. One day, I was in the front porch working on my SECNA report when a young girl approached me asking for help with her English homework. She was on her way to school, so we agreed to meet the following day, a Saturday to review the tarea. The next morning I woke up early and showered because I had planned to attend a soccer game in the neighboring community when I walked outside and saw the young girl again. She told me she walked 2 hours to get to the house, from her own home in Quebra Pita, waaaaay pa’lla. I was really impressed by her dedication to understand her homework assignment. She has a front row seat waiting for her during my English club lessons.
Some of my favorite lollipop moments have been shared with my host mom. Salustiana is hilarious! I’ve compiled a list of funny things she says, but I am sure this list will continue to grow in the next two years.
Silly Salustiana’s Sayings
-Choka los cinco (crash the five – actually means give me a high 5)
-Whatsapo (what she jokingly called What’sapp – its funny because sapo means frog)
-Me voy para Tolé a tomarme una pinta (I’m going to Tolé to drink a pint of beer – she says this every time she is going to town to buy groceries, and is usually accompanied by her 5 year old grandson)
-Esa está pipóna (she’s pregnant)
-Eso está pritty (that is pretty – actually means something is cool. I heard this a lot more in Panama City though)
-Amigo dame la mano (friend shake my hand – she says this to dogs and pigs on the road)
-If someone asks where she’s going, she responds “me voy a buscar un chico” (I’m going to look for a young fella)
-Wolfie is visiting in almost a month! – YAY
-My current go-to playlist includes a lot of John Legend
-Naguas! (na-goo-wahs) Amazing things. Very Pana. So Bright. I seriously love every single one of my naguas. They are all so different yet full of so much character. When I wear them they feel like baby gowns, not like a gown a baby would wear, but like a gown a pregnant woman would wear. So I guess pregnancy gown? Yo no se, but I do know that I love them. They go for $40 which seems like a lot until you see how much work actually goes into making them. The price goes down if you provide the supplies because then you are only charged for the labor, but it ends up costing the same because you need about 4 yards for a nagua, with each yard of material costs $1.25-$2.10, and then you need one yard for every additional color that you want the sleeves to be decorated with. So again, naguas are the businesssssssss.
****As a little treat, I’m including 3 vlogs straight outta the Comarca. Disfrutenlos!***
BLOG vs VLOG?
I love blogging. I really really (really) do. In college and basically all of my life, I have always struggled with the frightening “w” word. Wordy. I love talking and dragging out a story, and using as many commas as possibly acceptable, but I do also like to avoid run-on sentences. (Can’t you tell?) Anyways, with blogging it’s so much simpler. I can share the longest story ever told, and if I feel like I might lose the reader’s attention, I just throw in some pictures. Kind of like this:
Fun, right? RIGHT. However, these last couple of weeks I gave vlogging (video blogging) a go and I loved it! Maybe I just like to hear myself speak or I really like being able to show vivid visuals of my life here in Panama. Whatever it is, it’s great and addicting and I encourage everyone of you to make a vlog about one of your favorite hobbies. I made somewhat of an intro video about what it’s like to be in my site, and I also gave a tour of my house and host family. Think MTV Cribs minus the 200 ft. pool in the backyard. I hope you enjoy all three. I definitely see myself making more in the future. I haven’t decided if I will always share them on my blog or just share the link to my youtube account, but definitely be on the lookout.
Let’s just let that sink in for a minute. This Friday marked 100 days since arriving to this beauty of a country. It reminded me a lot of when I did the #100happydays challenge in college. The purpose was to take a picture every day, for 100 days of things that made me happy. If I had done it in Panama, there would have probably been a lot of platanos, cold water bottles, granola bars, and pictures of Toby.This week has made me reflect on a couple of things. For starters, these last three months have flown by. On the one hand, I realize it’s because Peace Corps kept us super busy with training, but still it’s impressive. Secondly, my overall experience so far has been great. I feel really happy with my site and with the people. Various community members have already shown interest in a community English club. The club would be for beginners and would focus primarily on parents, but I would also welcome university students in the area. (There is a university extension right up the road from my house, and they meet every Friday and Saturday, which meeeaannnss Sundays could potentially work for them). Lastly though, because these last 100 days have been so great, I am a little worried for the next 700. (PC service is roughly 800 days, give or take a few visits to the U.S.) Service is very often referred to as a rollercoaster, where you have both highs and lows. The first year in particular is a lot more difficult because of so many lifestyle changes. I guess it’s expected so I should just look at the glass half full for meow. Here’s to the next 100, woooooooo!CHUENDA : LA MUCHACHA CON EL SOMBRERO
Two really stupendous things happened recently. One, I got my Ngäbere name, and two, I found out what everyone in the community (who I haven’t met yet) has been calling me. There is a sweet lady, Martina, who lives on the other side of the road from our house. A few times during the week I visit her because she has a little tienda where I buy cold juice boxes and snacks. Martina and Salustiana are pretty good friends, so they always visit each other, and I have therefore gotten to know Martina very well. She was visiting one day when we started discussing Ngäbere names, and she told me that she and her mother had been discussing what mine should be. She suggested Chuenda, and asked if I would like that to be my name. I of course said yes, and that was that. And sooooo, Ti köw Chuenda aune ti ta kuin. Ti bie kwete kwi. (I am Chuenda, and I am good. I will eat chicken.) As you can tell, my Ngäbere is still very limited. This is probably because I haven’t practiced at all since getting to site. I’ve been reading most afternoons, and occasionally watching a movie or five. #FUNFACT When I let my host mom know I had been given a Ngäbere name, she responded, “ya te baptizáron” (they baptized you). They probably call this tradition a baptism because most people are given a Ngäbere name as newborns. Also, the life of my sombrero from Conway has come to an end, see for yourselves.SO LIKE, WHAT DO YOU EVEN DO?
These last couple of weeks I have been at school everyday. I am now familiar with most of the faculty, and I also gave a presentation to my counterparts about ways we can collaborate and help each other out. The majority of my time should be spent observing English classes, but my teachers were hesitant to have me in class because the trimester has quickly come to an end. Exams started last week, so teachers were reviewing for the most part. I finally convinced two teachers to let me observe. However, I didn’t do much observing. I practiced pronunciation with fifth and sixth graders by reading Little Red Riding Hood as a group, and they going over common mispronunciations. The kids were very sweet and my counterpart was very encouraging, which makes me super excited to co-teach in the future. When I am not observing classes, I am usually reviewing and downloading PC resources at the computer lab.I have been really adamant about always being at school so that I don’t miss any special announcements or events. Last week, for example, there was a large giveaway sponsored by the Panamanian government. The school director told me that about twice a year, resources are distributed to lower income regions of the country. At this giveaway, families received sacks of rice, cooking oil, cooking pots and pans, mattresses and even toys for the kids. There were popcorn and cotton candy machines, a clown, face painting, and kids’ singalong songs playing during the entire event. The school was also given a bus to transport students to school-related events in other communities. Lastly, there was a brindis of chicken with rice and beans, and chicha (fruit flavored water).Since the trimester has now come to an end, there will be no school next week, kind of like a spring break. While it will be nice to sleep in a little, I am not really sure what I will be up to. Being at school always gives me a place to be, and a place where I can talk to community members. The alternative to school and something that is very encouraged and expected from PCVs is to pasear. This means I should be exploring my community and proactively venturing out to meet my neighbors, like ALL of them. (Maybe not all, but at least 85%). This, however, is very daunting because it feels like I am self-inviting myself into different peoples’ homes. Luckily, my host mom is pretty popular so we always have visitors and I will most likely be visiting those individuals first.FAMILY MATTERS
Since my last post, things at the house have been pretty gloomy. The two oldest girls, Jamie (9) and Zareth (10), were sick for about 2 weeks. They were taken to the local clinic two times before being sent to the hospital in San Felix, and even then, the doctors could not diagnose them. Initially, my host mom thought maybe the water was contaminated. Since then, we have been boiling water and letting it cool down before drinking it. Still, the girls would not get better. Then my host mom thought that perhaps the two young girls had been cursed by someone in the community. She explained to me that people are always questioning how she can afford to feed 8 children. They are suspicious that she is has a lot of money, and these people then become upset when she cannot help someone out. Even though I have only lived with this family for a couple of weeks, I can vouch for them enough to say that they are very humble people, and even though they do not have much, they are always happy to share whatever food they have with others. She visited a wise elder that is highly respected in the community, and he confirmed her fear that the girls had been cursed by someone’s envy. In the next couple of days a very young medicine man came to the house to cleanse the evil spirits that had been bothering the girls. Despite these attempts, the girls continued to faint daily and showed no signs of getting better. Finally their moms came to the house and they were once again taken to the local clinic. Zareth’s mom was instructed to take her daughter straight to the hospital in the provincial capital, David.Jamie came home because even though they could not determine what was wrong with her, her situation was not as threatening as Zareth’s. Finally the doctors in David determined the issue was Zareth’s appendix and set a date to perform the surgery. Once the message reached home, and although the family was concerned about the little girl having to go through surgery, we were relieved to finally have an answer. Or so we thought. After reevaluating her medical exams, the doctors decided it wasn’t her appendix and to this date, we never knew what was wrong with Zareth. Jamie slowly regained her appetite and has returned to school, but Zareth still has pain in her upper abdomen area. She will probably go to the doctor soon, and I promise to keep you guys updated. Prayers would also be highly appreciated. This entire experience has been very worrisome and exasperating because we didn’t know how to help the girls, but I hope they both fully recover soon.WHO LET THE DOGS OUT
Seriously, who?! Last Monday while I was walking to school, I kept thinking about how crazy the dogs were in Santa Rita. The morning we moved out, my hands were filled with my luggage and water bucket. It is important to note that it was also 4:20AM, pitch dark, and I was walking alone. By week 9, I was used to barking dogs on my way to the bus, but that morning in specific at least 4 dogs were barking at me. Normally, I would have pretended to reach down and grab some rocks, and then make the motion that I was throwing them at the dogs, in order to shoo them away, but as I mentioned, my hands were full. Instead I said a quick prayer, kept walking, and never fully gave the dogs my back as I made my way to the bus. Fast forward to last Monday, I was about 4 minutes from school when 3 dogs ran out of their porch area and started running towards me. They were barking but I couldn’t really hear them because I had my headphones in, listening (as you might have guessed) to The 1975. While their barking certainly alarmed me, they looked super fluffy and harmless so I think I remember saying, “Whoa,” and then kept walking. Their cuteness definitely distracted me because before I knew it, the fluffiest of the three had walked around and managed to bite my left leg. Initially I felt a sting, and then the pain increased. I stumbled a little bit and managed to look in the direction of the owner’s house. There was a woman who started walking towards the dogs screaming at them, and there was another younger woman just watching. I started crying a little and made my way to a little bench in front of a tienda. Besides the pain of the bite, which was throbbing by that point, I was really hurt that no one came over to see if I was ok. I checked the bite and it wasn’t bleeding so I decided to go to school and deal with the bite later.
Once I got to school I emailed the PC Medical Office and they instructed me to use antibiotic from our medical kits twice a day. I was assured I didn’t need further medical attention because the bite wasn’t deep. I was standing for most of the day, working with 5th graders so the pain was pretty constant but not unbearable. When I finally made it home, I cleaned and treated the bite and felt better in no time. I’m still applying antibiotic daily because it would suck to get an infection, and so far it’s healing pretty well. I did, of course, learn my lesson: always make room in my pockets for some rocks.
At this time, I would like to shout out my mom for being the most hilarious person in the world. I told her what happened and she got worried right away. For a couple of weeks now we have been discussing a care package she’s sending me soon. Due to the dog bite incident, she informed me she would be sending a spray that I could use on dogs, which would also work for men “que se quieren pasar de vivos” (there isn’t a direct translation for this saying, but it refers to anyone who wants to take advantage of another). Mel, you are the best and most loving mom in the world. I love you and your thoughtful heart.
In addition to the dog bite, this week I got chiggers all over my back and hips. It a small bug that makes you itch all over all the time. The PCMOs (PC Medical Officer) once again instructed me to search my med kit for some hydrocortisone and benadryll. It’s now been almost a week and the chiggs are already clearing up, so let’s hope I don’t need to resort to that handy dandy med kit for a while, crocodile.
MI CASA ES SU CASA (I HOPE)
Grab the tissues, this is going to be a sad one. My little dream house that isn’t even mine yet is already being taken away from me. This is not set in stone, but neither are the chances of getting that house that I so eloquently described in my last post. I visited the owner of the house and let her know that in the next couple of days I would take her the list of PC requirements for the house to be approved. I also told her that I would provide the extra locks needed for the front door. I think she was surprised by my eagerness because her response was, “Oh, you’re still interested?” WHAT!? YES OF COURSE I’M INTERESTED! I NEED A PLACE TO CALL MY OWN, WHERE I CAN COOK CUP OF NOODLE SOUPS AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK….. Just kidding! I definitely did not tell her that. I let her know that, yes I was still interested if the house was still available. She hesitated for what felt like an eternity but was probably only a minute. She said she was fine with me moving in, but her daughter, the person that used to live in the house, was thinking about maybe moving back in. I told her I totally understood if her daughter wanted to keep the house, but to please let me know as soon as possible if the house would in fact be available for me. I then slowly walked about 20 steps home and hammocked while I considered other possible housing options. So that is unfortunately where I stand at the moment. That house was ideal because unlike the dorms, it would only be mine and the house also has a decent water source. I will keep you all in the know if this housing option changes at all.
Lastly, congratulations to these two geniuses! First, congrats to my cousin Alex on getting her Associates Degree! Way to go beautiful! ❤ I will try to make it to your next graduation, I promise 🙂 Second, to my talented boyfriend for getting his masters degree this week. I’m so proud of you Wolfie and I can’t wait to celebrate when you visit 🙂
Cheers ma peers ❤
UPDATE: Since writing this post, a couple of things have changed. ALL FOR THE BETTER! First I got my one month visit from the Comarca Regional Leader (RL) Adam. He came over last Monday to interview both Salustiana and I, but mostly to check in on me. We talked a lot about how school was going and how I was settling into the community and into my new home. We also discussed my potential home, and he suggested for us to walk over to the house so he could check it out too. (This was SUPER helpful because as RL he knows all the requirements for houses to be approved by Peace Corps.) We waited until 7pm to see the house because the owner wasn’t home, but it was completely worth it! The next door neighbor, who also owns the house I want, invited us into her home, and was very impressed with how well Adam masters Ngäbere. They also gave us some delicious eggs, veggies and patacones. Oh, and they offered me the house. YUP! I have to buy some extra locks for some windows but that’s about it. There was only one condition that I had to agree to before they would rent me the house for the next two years. The daughter of the house I want is having her quiceañera next December, and they wanted to rent out the house (from me) for the weekend to house their guests. That party is a whole year and a half away, so I had no problem agreeing to that. I even got invited to the party. Aooooah!
The next day I headed to San Felix where I stayed for three days. I met up with Courtney and Ian, the other 2 Comarca volunteers from G78, and enjoyed some delicious Thai chicken curry at the RL house. The next day Adam gave us a tour of the MEDUCA office, the Panamanian department of education that TELLS works closely with. We also visited other agencies that we could potentially collaborate with. One agency in particular was very interesting because they offer a number of different courses to people that want to learn something new. The courses included English, planting and growing different fruits and vegetables, learning how to cut and style hair, and also construction work. There is a minimum requirement of 15 people in order for a class to be given in any community, and they also have to attend classes for a specific number of hours per week, but I definitely think I could get people on board with at least one course. Finally, the next day we all attended the regional meeting (RM) for the Comarca. There were about 33 volunteers in total, and the meeting was super informative. All the other volunteers shared upcoming projects that others could participate in, and I even scored my 4th free nagua. I am on a rollllllllllll. That afternoon we went to the beach at Las Lajas, and I finally came home. I was very sad to hear that even though I’d left an entire bag of food for Toby, he hadn’t eaten at all. Salustiana described him as super gloomy and quiet. That being said, I will probably never leave site again.
Finally, the day Adam visited, I wore a nagua for the first time in my community and got a lot of positive comments. I got asked where it was made, and my neighbor also told me she really liked the pattern. Thanks Jody!
Sooooooo many things have happened this past week that I don’t even know where to begin. I could start by sharing some pictures of my precious little Toby, or I could explain the title of this post… sooo I guess I’ll be doing both 🙂
Raisin bran, a delicious, crunchy corn flake cereal that is accompanied by just the right amount of raisins. On Monday, I went into the local grocery store to buy a couple of things, among those, cereal. With our first host families, the agreement was that we would be provided breakfast, lunch and dinner, in exchange for a set amount of money weekly. For our new host families, it has been a little different. Since volunteers were assigned to different regions each with their own cost of living, we were given an estimate of how much to contribute to our new homes depending on the site. During my site visit, I spoke with Salustiana, my new host mom, and we decided I would be in charge of buying a portion of the groceries, and that I would also give her money to cover some expenses (i.e. electricity bill).
Come Monday, I took off. While my intentions were good, the results, not so much. I ventured into the first store I saw and immediately knew I wanted to buy cereal because I had already seen a box at the house. There were only two options, so I grabbed raisin bran since the kids at home already had regular corn flakes. I also bought some food and soap for Toby, a bowl, and bug spray for the house.
It wasn’t until I was on my way home that I came to a disappointing, not really surprising, and even comical realization: I am terrible at grocery shopping.
The only edible things I bought that day were cereal, milk, and cookies. When I got home I explained to my host mom that I didn’t plan ahead or prepare a shopping list. I promised to go back to the store on the weekend.
Still, that is not the reason I named this post “Raisin Bran.” Like I mentioned earlier, I had already seen a cereal box at the house so I didn’t think much of choosing a different flavor. However, for my new host siblings this was a complete game changer. On at least 10 different occasions, I was asked questions about the cereal box.
“Quien lo compró?”
“Es corn flakes verdad?”
“Para quien es?”
“Es solo para ti?”
“Te lo vas a comer con agua?”
“Es cereal para tu perrito?”
Once I answered all their questions and welcomed them to try some, they loved the flavor, especially the raisins, which they called dulcitos. Of course I want to share everything that I buy with my host family, but many times the kids seemed hesitant and even shy to eat any of my food. I let my host mom know that they could all help themselves to anything I brought to the house, but I don’t think it was enough to convince her or the kids. I’m not sure if I miscommunicated myself or if it is not culturally acceptable to grab things that others buy, so I think in the future I will just give my host mom more money so she can decide what’s needed at the house.
Last Thursday, May 5th, we finally swore in as official Peace Corps Volunteers. Our entire group is made up of 46 volunteers, half TELLS (teaching English, leadership, and life skills), half CEC (Community Environmental Conservation). That morning we headed to the office for one last time to wrap up training, headed back to the dorms for lunch, got dressed, and eventually made our way to the Panama Canal Museum in Casco Viejo. We had 4 guest speakers, including the country director of PC Panama.Two PCVs also gave speeches, one from TELLS and one from CEC. Pictured below is the beautiful Jessica who slayed her speech, as expected #Tell’em
During the ceremony we also presented ourselves to the audience and stated where we would be working. Finally, we took the oath to uphold our responsibilities as PCVs and got to celebrate with a very delicious and diverse brindis (When I’ve previously used this word in the U.S. it always meant toast. However, in Panama when someone says there will be a brindis it means there will be food or at least appetizers at the given event. More about brindis later.) After the ceremony we took our group picture, which will hang from the office walls in two years when we complete our service. I don’t think we get to see the picture until then so in two years someone please remind me to track down that picture. Gracias 🙂 We spent the rest of the night out celebrating in Casco Viejo and dancing under the beautiful Panamanian starry sky.
SO WHAT HAPPENS AFTER SWEAR IN?
The next day we packed and moved out of the dorms for the last time in a long time. We traveled back to Casco Viejo, where we stayed in a hostel for a night. The hostel’s location was super convenient, and we enjoyed some amaaaaazing food. There are no pictures because I ate my food too quickly.
We also went out dancing that night, and had a blast. Almost everyone in TELLS went to the same nightclub, and I was very happy to share my last night in the city with so many of the individuals who helped me throughout the last 10 weeks. I might have mentioned this in a previous post but those “10 intensive weeks of Pre-Service Training” are just that: INTENSIVE. You might think, “what’s so hard about sitting for a couple of hours everyday learning about teaching methodologies, theories, and soft skills?” And you’re right. It’s not that difficult IF:
1. You don’t mind the constant and increasing Panamanian humidity
2. You can successfully ignore the smell of burnt trash in the air that you don’t think you’ll ever get used to
3. You disregard the fact that you just finished your coffee, only to realize there was a fly inside the entire time (sorry Lucy)
4. You can confidently say that you have experienced no culture shock at all.
Culture shock is the feeling of unfamiliarity and discomfort as a result of being in a new place. Before studying abroad in Berlin, a global education counselor cautioned me about culture shock. He let me know it was totally normal and that it should be expected because it would be my first time in that part of the world. I might feel frustrated that I could not understand or communicate in German, or I might not enjoy the food (gross! what is a döner kebab?!). While the German language was definitely an obstacle for me, I felt much more confident about living in Panama, being a native Spanish speaker. I figured, “I’m Central American too, so I’m sure I will get along with my host family right away. There won’t be any miscommunication. I will integrate sooo easily into the Panamanian culture. There is nooo way I could experience culture shock this time, right?”
It took me about two days before I called my boyfriend and told him I didn’t think I could do this whole “Peace Corps” thing. When he asked why, I didn’t even know where to start. The heat! The stupid mosquitos that attacked me from dusk till dawn. The loud roosters that woke me up 3 hours before my alarm was meant to. And of course the piropos, young and old men in the streets yelling out things like “Hellooooo, beautiful womens.”
While I didn’t struggle much with adapting to Panamanian slang, there were definite moments during those first 10 weeks when I doubted I could make it to swear in. Chuuuuleta! (translates into darn in). Thankfully, however, I was surrounded by a great support system. My TELLS group offered me 21 people that I interacted with daily. We vented, laughed and danced zumba. We hiked, chit-chatted while we enjoyed duros at Lucy’s house, and occasionally took the wrong chiva back home. I’ll never know if I would have made it all the way to swear in had I been placed in a different group or in a different country or continent, but I do know that the experience would not have been nearly as enjoyable. Thanks again, friends! See you all in three months during IST, in-service training.
A SPECIAL THANK YOU, OR TWO
Finally on Saturday, we said our goodbyes. While I was a little sad to no longer see familiar faces on my way to tech training, I also felt very excited for all the successes awaiting my fellow volunteers. There was one person, however, that brought me to tears. We are currently about 3.5 hours away from each other and she was actually the first Peace Corps Trainee I ever met. She and I roomed together in Dallas, and then again in Panama, both the first and last time that we stayed at the dorms. In Santa Rita, she only lived a short walk from me, and very often we walked together to our Spanish class. She is someone that I admired early on, and that I am very happy to have met. I know for a fact she is reading this because I am hilarious and she can’t get enough of my sarcastic ways. Also, she is a fantastic friend. Have I mentioned how good of a friend she is? ENID! Thank you so much for always listening to my problems and concerns and annoyances. Thank you for sharing your experiences as a teacher with me, as well as your handy dandy fan. You have contributed to some of the best memories I have in Panama so far. I know you will be an amazing PCV, and I can’t wait to visit and learn about all the wonderful ideas you bring to Volcán. Kuin? Kuin 🙂 (Kuin means good in Ngäbere).
Lastly, a special thanks to my wonderful Wolfie. I talk to you the most, and therefore you have firsthand experience with so many of my frustrations as I attempt to integrate into my new life. You always offer me the best advice and I just want to remind you how wonderful you are, and in turn how lucky I am. Vielen dank, mein Schatz. Du bist die Beste. ❤
LIFE IN THE COMARCA: WEEK 1
Yes! Si! Joh!(Ngäbere) Ja!(German) Finalmente he llegado a mi sitio en la comarca Ngäbe-Buglé. I am now a resident of the truly beautiful and breathtaking Alto Caballero. I am not being bias at all. There are a couple of pictures below. Try to pick your favorite. I promise it will take a while.
I am now in my site for good, and could not be happier. Not only did I get a small yet accessible site, I am also living in an indigenous community where the population count is still unknown (I asked again today, and nothing). There is one main carretera (road), and there is one beautiful little primary/part-secondary school where I have been assigned to work. I have three counterparts, 3 Panamanian natives who I will observe and co-plan with. I have a new host mom, and six little host siblings that I will live with for the next three months. I HAVE A NICE LATRINE! (Thank you Joel and Isabel, you two are site-placement angels.) And last but not least, I have my precious little Toby who survived his first Panabus ride as we traveled to our new home. There are so many wonderful things going on for me, and yet not everything has been wonderful. Things have been onion-like.
I AM LIKE AN ONION
Not like a real onion that makes people cry (at least I hope this does not apply to me). More like an onion that has many many layers. As you peal an onion, you always expect there to be a new, better, fresher layer. But you never really know. Similarly I have been feeling very unsure lately. Everyday I wake up and know that I now have a place to call home, and a school where I can carry out my duties as a PCV. Everyday that I have gone to school has been a great one, but there have been downsides to my days as well. When I first got to site I had no signal whatsoever. I wasn’t able to call my mom on Mother’s Day, and it really bummed me out. I waited for the next day, and still nothing. Hopeful, I went on a run to a nearby town called Las Núbes (the clouds) where I had really good signal the first time I visited site. However, since that visit I switched networks because I was told +Movil (más Movil) worked better in this region. I ran for a while, but I kept checking my phone and inevitably tripping on rocks. I eventually sat on the steps of a Pentecostal church and bursted into tears. In that moment, and in those first days in general, I felt very alone and isolated. It had only been a few days since I had partied with my friends, and now I felt so forgotten. Even though it was my phone signal that didn’t work, to me it still seemed like the minute I arrived in the Comarca, the outside world was no longer a world I belonged to.
Thankfully since then my phone signal has been much more reliable. Turns out all I had to do was turn my phone off and on again, who knew? Initially, though, a math teacher at school asked how I was settling in, and I told him I was upset about not being able to communicate with my mom. He sympathized with me, and quickly got me connected to the school wifi, which had recently been fixed. In no time I was texting my mom, and letting her know I was alive and well. I felt very fortunate at that moment, and also very welcomed at my school. These next three months I will mainly focus on observing my counterparts, so it will be the perfect time to build community relationships both in and outside of school. These relationships will be key in the development of my secondary projects later on. Toby felt welcomed as well on the two days that I took him to school. I was hesitant and afraid that I would look unprofessional but I couldn’t stand to leave my crying puppy at home. However, he has since gotten used to his new home and now has no problem running around with other pups in the neighborhood. Dale Toby, dale.
There have of course been many other little instances when I was not ecstatic about my situation but I will not dwell on those moments. I am currently reading a book about self-control, meditation, and inner peace, and hope I can learn something new. The book is called Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book that Changes Lives by Dan Millman. This was a little gift from Meredith the first time I visited her house. Thanks again Mer 🙂
YELLOW PAGES ANYONE?
I know this has been a long post, but this is the victory lap. Hang in there, friends. I mention the yellow pages because in a few months I will finally be allowed and expected to move into my own place in Alto Caballero, so if any of you know about a place, let me know. Is it just me or do I get funnier with each post? Anyways, GREAT NEWS! I started asking around about housing the day I arrived for my site visit, and was offered a couple of places. Recently, I was still between two options, a dorm-type building and another quaint little white house up the road from my host family’s house, with an obvious preference for the latter. Today I checked it out and met the lady who I could potentially be renting from in a few months. Everything is set to go but there are some improvements they promised to make to the house before I could move in. Additionally, the house also has to be approved by Peace Corps, but I do have my fingers crossed. I took some pictures but I don’t want to jinx anything. I promise to update you guys in case anything changes or progresses. Wish me luck!
As I mentioned earlier brindis are a very common part of the Panamanian culture. Once my three months of observation are up, I will be giving a presentation at my school which my boss, Isabel, will be attending. I will also invite my counterparts, the school director, and potential community partners I have identified by that time. As a courtesy for attending my presentation, I will be providing some sort of brindis. Previous volunteers’ brindis have included both Panamanian and American staple appetizers. Anyone who knows me, knows that doughnuts are my weakness, and Panamanians love their coffee, so I figured why not do both? However, I’m not entirely sold on the idea so I’ve made a little poll where you can help me decide what to serve at my presentation. PLEASE feel free to give me new suggestions. I’m not super crafty in the kitchen though, so limited creativity is welcomed and very much appreciated.
If anyone stuck around for that long, I owe you a duro. Not sure if I explained these yet. Since it is so incredibly hot so often in Panama, people make different juices and then pour them into clear little bags and tie them, and place them in the freezer. Basically little popsicles minus the stick. They are called duros because duro means hard in Spanish. FUN FACT: In El Salvador they are called charamuscas, I do not know why or what it means but that’s what is it. In Santa Rita they sold for 25 cents, but here they’re only 15 cents. Score! So aaaaanyways, if anyone read this entire post I will buy you whatever flavor duro you want. You just have to come visit me in the comarca 🙂 fair trade I think. And just as a reminder, I can start having visitors after August 5th. (Wolf!!!!)
Thanks for reading, sweet family and friends. I know I only shouted out 2 peeps in this post, but there are honestly so many people that encourage and motivate me every single day. You know who you are and I love you and appreciate you so so so much.
As a thanks I’m including some songs that are complete bangers, which I think you all should listen to and enjoy as well!
Coldplay – Up in Flames
Radiohead – Nude
The 1975 – The Ballad of Me & my Brain
Above & Beyond – All Over the World
The Beatles – Paperback Writer
Marc Anthony – Vivir mi Vida
Adele – Best for Last
Hozier – From Eden
The 1975 – Me
One Direction – Girl Almighty
I now these songs aren’t brand new, but they are new to my iTunes, thanks to Courtney’s insane hard drive #ComarcaBaeHasMyBack. Also, Spotify isn’t available for free for more than two weeks when you’re abroad so I only listen to something different when I have wifi. That being said, if someone wants to gift me constant access to new music in the form of a Spotify account, I would not complain.
And last but not least, I am obviously a very new and unexperienced puppy mom. I don’t know everything about dogs but I definitely want to take proper care of my little one, so if there is anything you guys think I need to know, please send me a message or comment. For example, I didn’t know they couldn’t eat chocolate, so that was definitely Toby’s first and last time enjoying a Hostess snack. Thanks Vannessa for the info 🙂
Thanks everyone! Have a great week 🙂 Also, feel free to subscribe to my blog so that you’re notified when I post something new. I’m not always good about telling you guys when I’ve written a new biblical passage, not religion-wise but length-wise. Hasta la proxima semana, inguanas 🙂
p.s. I tried to share some videos that I posted on youtube but my theme doesn’t support videos unless I buy a plan on WordPress, which I will probably get myself as a birthday gift. Until then, I’m sorry if you’re redirected to a new tab in order to see the videos. But I do hope you enjoy them! If you do, I can definitely keep them coming. When I was still at home my sister and I talked about how it would be a fun idea for me to vlog (video blog) some parts of my service, so I’ll keep that in the back burner. Paz afuera/ peace out