The Good, the Bugs, and the Ugly

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Hola queridos amigos y familia! Espero que el mes de Abril los encuentre a todos con buena salud y alegría.
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So much has happened since returning from my volunteer visit. On Monday we went to the office as usual, and the rest of the week was spent in our language classes and tech training. We didn’t have any classes on Friday because of Good Friday, so we went to the river in the afternoon and also spent Saturday in the city. A couple of us went to a mall with a Forever 21 AND Starbucks, and it was very wonderful and exciting and felt a lot like home. In training and in talking to other volunteers, we have discussed the importance of self care, and the inevitable roller coaster the next 2 years will be. Keeping that in mind, I hope to find a similar place near or in my site where I can take a breather when the going gets rough.
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I think it is also important to note that I finally caved into the heat and bought a fan porqué está demaciado caliente en Panamá! Ayala la vida! ( <- another Panamanian dicho that means oh my gosh.)
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The Good
On Sunday we traveled to the province of Coclé, and met our new and temporary host families for tech week. Lucy and I stayed with Margarita and her son Elian, and I can honestly say that I have never felt more welcomed or more at home than I did during that week. It wasn’t that the house had amenities like an indoor shower or wifi (which it did). It was more about how both Margarita and our abuelita constantly asked questions rooted by a genuine interest. Besides being offered enormous amounts of delicious food, i.e. lasagna, it was so sweet how they referred to us as family despite only staying with them for a week. The mornings were spent at our assigned schools, in the afternoon we had tech training at a university, and the evenings were typically spent either paseando Penonomé or having guests over. During the short week that we were there, we attended a birthday celebration, drove up a cerro to get a starlit view on the area, and enjoyed endless cups of tea while sharing what both Panamanian and American life is like.
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I was assigned to a secondary school about a 20 minute chiva ride from Margarita’s house. The secondary school was composed of 7th-12th grade, and I spent the entire week working with 10th graders. On the first day, I, along with 3 other trainees, introduced ourselves to the school as licenciados during the acto civico, which is a school-wide meeting held on Mondays to make important announcements. I had the pleasure of working with Osiris, a wonderful english professor at the school. The first couple of days were spent observing both the professor and the students. Osiris spoke english the entire time, and the students were very respectful and participatory. On Wednesday, we attempted to put our lesson plan into practice and I helped students construct sentences using frequency adverbs. Thursday was very similar, and Friday was an exam day so there wasn’t much learning to observe, but I did learn about how Osiris structures her exams which was cool.
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I think my favorite part of the week was working with students one on one, and checking their understanding of the lesson. There was one student in particular that was very talkative with his friends but was hesitant to even look my way. I asked if he was able to complete the activity on the board, and he said no, murmuring that he didn’t fully understand. I asked him what part in particular he didn’t understand, and before long we were able to successfully work through an example. More than anything, I loved seeing the satisfaction on the student’s face once he completed the example. Speaking from experience, I can definitely empathize with people learning a new language. I remember constantly struggling as I attempted to learn German, which often times led to discouragement. It’s because of this same reason that I was happy to be a part of that class at that specific moment, because instead of rejecting my help, the student attempted to better his understanding, ultimately succeeding. While I realize this will not be that student’s greatest achievement in learning english, I do believe it is a step in the right direction.
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On Wednesday two wonderful things happened. One, it was Wolfie’s birthday and thanks to the wifi, we were able to Skype for the first time in about a month. Being the evil-genius of a girlfriend that I am, I was able to surprise him with some presents that I hid in his room back in January. I also caught his reaction on video for those of you interested in watching *insert crickets* He also met Margarita, abuelita, Elian, and Lucy. Once again, happy birthday honey bee. Ich liebe dich so sehr 🙂
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The second cool thing that happened on Wednesday was that we visited the University of Panama and got to work with students currently working towards degrees in english. The two-hour event was filled with cultural exchange and conversational activities that encouraged students to practice the language, as well as ask questions either about english, Peace Corps or American norms/lifestyles. It was really exciting to experience a college setting, and also to interact with so many people my age. Even if my final site is not located near a university, I would really like to work with college students in the future.
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Thursday was another busy day because we had school in the morning, a break for lunch, a short session to reflect on the day/week so far, and then we got on a short bus ride to La Pintada to play ultimate frisbee. Despite the ridiculous humidity that day, we played and learned a lot about the benefits of running Ultimate Without Boards camps as PCVs. The point of the game is to teach children early on about gender equality and good sportsmanship by placing a bigger focus on team building and positive reinforcement. I’m excited to collaborate with other PCVs and schedule ultimate camps once I’m in site. After the game, we headed back home, changed and enjoyed a group dinner at a local restaurant. However, instead of eating at the group restaurant, a couple of us stopped at a…..WAIT FOR IT…PUPUSERIA! The place was owned by two Salvadoreans from San Salvador, and the food and atmosphere were both so heartwarming to me.
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The Bugs
They are everywhere. They are inevitable. And, unfortunately for me, they are some of my biggest fans. For the sake of not worrying my mom any more than she already does, I will only say that the bites aren’t so bad. It’s mostly mosquitos and ants, so not super enjoyable but also manageable. I’ve been pretty good about applying repellant almost religiously and using a mosquito net but it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference. If there was ever a superlative for Most Likely to Get Bitten by an Insect, I’m confident in my ability to win that rewarding title. Back in my Santa Rita home however, there have been an array of critters that I am not the biggest fan of including but not limited to: frogs, smaller and definitely poisonous frogs, mosquitos, ants that bite, bats, at least one mouse. If you’re reading this mom, which I know you are, because I will text you as soon as I upload this post, I’m sorry. I promise I am well and avoiding these creepy crawlies as much as possible.
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The Ugly
Because every rose has its thorn, I have to mention one downside to the week. It was honestly one of the most exhausting weeks of my life because just when I thought I had a minute to rest, there was somewhere I had to be and something I had to do. There was a lot of learning going on, and its too bad I don’t like coffee because I could definitely have benefitted from an extra energy boost. But it doesn’t seem like being tired is too bad of a punishment for a week filled with exciting new experiences and memories from Penonomé. Entonces, no pasa nada empanada.
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En Resumen
As you can all tell, by this lengthy post, this past week was as busy as one can imagine. Fortunately for me, there was waaaaaay more good than bad, and I was extremely satisfied with the end results. Friday afternoon we came back to Santa Rita and I hung out with Imar a lot. Imar is this precious little angel of a baby that Mima takes care of during the week that I am not so secretly obsessed with. Not long after, I headed to bed and dozed off within minutes.
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For the first time since training started, we got a free overnight so most of TELLS along with CEC, the other half of G78 reserved some cabanas on the beach. It was basically an ongoing party that did not end until we stepped off the sand Sunday afternoon. There was a beautiful sunset, cool and refreshing water, little jellyfish who didn’t sting as bad as I expected, and lots of good laughs. For anyone who plans on visiting (you know who you are, or at least I do), you can definitely expect to visit Playa Santa Clara.
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The beach was super relaxing and most importantly super distracting from the fact that this coming Friday we finally get our site placements in Panama!!!!!!! I assume I will be placed in a comarca but I don’t know which one so I am trying not to dwell too much on the fact that in less than 96 hours I will find out where I will be living for the next 2 years of my life. Not dwelling, can you tell? Anyways, by this point my brain has started to spiral just thinking about all of the possibilities so I will end it there, and update you all by the weekend.
Que sea lo que Dios quiera.
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