THE STORY ABOUT HOW I ENDED UP WITH THREE BAGS OF LEMONS.

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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.

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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.

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my little helpers 🙂

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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!

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when you’re prepping for an English class, and your landlady shows up with sancocho

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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 really from?” 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.

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HeforShe!! 

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.

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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 típico to 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.

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Munda hard at work on Jamie’s pollera

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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.

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the crowning of the reina, the 7th girl in line won
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look at that precious little smile

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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.

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Hojaldras are life, and Toby knows it
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Alvaro and his matching globo

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.

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And I thought I would have to buy Halloween decorations
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You can’t have a rainbow without a little rain

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!

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Tobs always finds the cutest places to fall asleep
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Jamie sporting her little blue bow earrings I got her for her birthday in September

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Toby and his son, Buddy/Tarzan/Varela
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fulfilling my grandma duties

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.

Bueno pues, hasta la proxima 🙂

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look at how this little angel falls asleep

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