100 Days in Panama

IMG_9708Let’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.IMG_9303IMG_9603IMG_9653This 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!IMG_9361IMG_9283IMG_9404IMG_9574IMG_9458CHUENDA : 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.IMG_9784IMG_9547IMG_9478IMG_9459IMG_9510IMG_9482IMG_9476SO 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.IMG_9505IMG_9507IMG_9504IMG_9301I 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).IMG_9548IMG_9551IMG_9555IMG_9556Since 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.IMG_9422IMG_9389IMG_9760IMG_9752FAMILY 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.IMG_9792IMG_9321IMG_9806IMG_9834Jamie 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.IMG_9343IMG_9616.jpgWHO 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.
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 🙂
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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!