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.