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