Monday, May 2, 2011

Cerro Hoya and others

So I’m ready to get my Panama Verde group off the ground… but to be considered an official group nationally, we have to make a directiva, which is a board of committee or whatever its called, I’m losing my english. A president, treasurer, secretary, bla bla bla is what we need. I set up a cool meeting at the school with a game at the beginning and pictures I even brought cookies and punch! ….. 5 people showed up  Every one that told me they were going, didn’t show up. When things like this happen, its kind of a slap in the face. Not even my counterpart that helped me plan the whole meeting and was supposed to come and speak showed up. I know Panamanians don’t know how to use an agenda, I know they don’t have clocks in their house, but don’t tell someone you are definitely coming unless, well, you are DEFINITELY COMING. There weren’t enough people at the meeting to choose a directiva so I gave all the cookies away to those that did come and left some of the punch for the teachers. There was still a lot of punch left that couldn’t fit into the fridge and one of the mom’s that showed up was really worried about wasting the punch. We filled up some water bottles for her to take home even though she has no fridge to keep them cool. They are serious about wasting food and drink here, even though it was 50 cents of sugar powder in water. Watching her figure out how to take the rest of the punch home cheered me up. Sometimes they piss the HELL out of you, and sometimes they put a smile on your face. You just never know which is coming.

I went into the city and turned in all the entries for the children’s world painting competition. There were some really cool drawings – I’m proud of my kids. The chances of them winning are zip to zero (is that the saying?) but it was still fun for them. Next we’ll be doing a drawing competition just in the school. They will be drawing something about the conejo pintado (big endangered rodent here in Panama) conservation and the winner’s drawing will be painted on the conejo pintado cage facility we have down the road. The conejo project hasn’t painted it yet and I think it would be cool to include the kids in the design. After the winner is chosen, I would like my Panama Verde group (if it ever gets off the ground) to help paint it one day. Just ideas. Might never happen. The co-op is slow coming, the agency keeps saying they are coming for a meeting and then don’t show up. The group is losing faith, and quite frankly my faith left the building weeks ago. I’ll do what I can to keep it going but it’s ultimately up to the agency to get their shit together and stop messing around. Que va.

My boss is planning on coming to the closest community to me (about 2 hour hike away) to develop it for a new volunteer, yay!! The new volunteers are coming this month and will be on their way to their communities in July, so I might have someone that I can hang out with this year! But the same day he comes all the way out here, he is going to try and bring a projector and screen so I can show a cool movie outside to the community. I would like to show Fern Gully, but it depends on what I can get my hands on. A friend of mine that lives in a nearby beach town come down with her cousin that was visiting and another friend to hike to the National Park (Cerro Hoya) this past Monday. It was amazing! Beautiful scenery, but we walked FOREVER. A very grueling trip indeed. They don’t make their trails hiker friendly because they always travel by horse … so some of the trails were as steep as you can possible make a trail, and went on it seemed like miles. But we made it, camped out at a little cabin owned by one of the people that lives in my community, and explored Cerro Hoya mountain the next day. Two of the girls went to the very top, I decided against it because of how tired I was and the weather was about to get really bad. I will save that for another trip  Other than WAY too much walking up and down hills, it was an amazing experience, and got me really interested in the conservation situation going on out there. The parks are encroaching on the park and the campasinos still illegally poach animals out there that should be protected. I will be doing much more research into that for the next couple weeks! But can’t wait to return next year!

Pulgita is doing so much better. She has such a ferocious appetite now. She does still have a couple patches on her sides where no fur has grown, which the doctor says is some type of mange I think. The treatments for mange here scare the bejesus out of me, so she recommended I try a natural remedy first. She told me to put aloe vera straight from the plant on the spots once a day, and in a month they will start to clear up. I would much rather go about it this way, because its natural and free. We are also working on her little food aggression “problem” with other dogs. Every dog in the campo is extremely protective over its food because most of them are starving. I’ve seen them literally almost kill each other over a chicken leg. Well she has learned that behavior from them, even though she is the fat, spoiled rich kid in the neighborhood and definitely doesn’t need to freak out when another dog is close to her food bowl. So when the dog next door (Rambo) comes over, who will eat a plate of motor oil and rice if you gave it to him, I feed both of them at the same time in the same room. I’ve done this a couple times and she is so much better now. She just needed to know that she’s not going to starve if another dog eats close to her.

I was checking out the full moon last night with my telescope in my front lawn, and I spotted something that didn’t look like a star. I thought it could be mars, so I checked it out, and it was Saturn!! I have to say, seeing a planet as beautiful as Saturn by surprise like that took my breath away. I was so excited that I ran down to the center of my community and found the only family that was still awake. I showed them the moon and Saturn and they thought the whole things was really cool. I can only imagine what I looked like to them though … out of breath, with a dorky head lamp (which NO Panamanian uses) attempting to explain the planets all excited in broken spanish while fiddling around trying to put together a telescope. They use the same word as us to describe someone l like me, NERD, except pronounced a little differently. However, It was a really cool experience. One of the guys pointed out another object that didn’t shine like a star, and I think it was another planet but I’m not sure which one. It was really impressive though that someone with an untrained eye spotted something like that in a sky full of lights. I’m going to call him “Astronomer” from now on  I’ve downloaded a cool program that when connected to the internet shows me what celestial bodies I can see from my house every day. This will come in handy when the kids at school start learning about space!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Due for an update!

So it’s been awhile since I’ve written last. Guess that means I’ve been really busy huh? Or just super lazy. The latter is much more plausible.

Anyways, the Panama Verde Camp in Parque Nacional Amistad went swimmingly. I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to plan and in the end, my 5 kids that went had a ball. There were 30 kids that went in all from different Panama Verde groups, all (relatively) well-behaved and eager to participate in all the activities. Every day started with activities outside to get to know each other and build teamwork skills, usually really fun. After that we worked on the “Panama Verde Trail” that is located near the visitor center in the park. We built steps and repaired bridges which was harder than I expected in such a jungly environment; the boards rot really quickly making the bridges dangerous just after a couple years of use. In the afternoon we took nature walks around the park and went to the huge waterfalls to swim and hang out. The park is stunningly beautiful, but very cold! I almost died every night because I came unprepared, only 2 sheets and a blanket. It gets into the 40s there, which maybe doesn’t sound that bad to y’all, but that is way too cold to successfully maintain homeostasis for this body. At night we watched environmentally-based films and had discussions about Panama’s resources and conservation status. The last night we had a really funny talent show were the kids showed off their “tamborito” skills (traditional Panamanian song and dance) and the camp counselors did some hilarious skits. All in all, I’d say it was a definite success!! Cant wait to do it again next year!

Carnavales finally came – I was so excited to experience it. Carnavales is a huuuuuuge celebration in a lot of latin and south American countries, with the most popular in Brazil. The celebration ends on Ash Wednesday, so I guess the logic of it is to commit as many sins as you can and party your ass off before you have to give it all up for lent. There are huge parades with semi-truck size tanks of water throughout the main square just to hose people off all day because its so hot. The city closest to me and Panama’s most culture-rich area has the biggest party each year, so of course I had to partake. We had a group of about 10 volunteers that rented a house from a friend of mine in the community for pretty cheap considering we were a 5 minute walk away from downtown. To be quite honest, I think I’m getting too old for this type of party. It was just too much craziness for 4 days straight. Music blaring from every corner, you cant go anywhere without getting hosed down by a “culeco” (semi-truck tank of water) or kids running around with water guns, which believe me after 10 minutes in the panama summer sun/heat here can be extremely welcoming. People drinking waayy past their limit all day and all night, parades during the day and night with awesome fireworks, and to top it off, huge raves until 5am each morning. And all this craziness you could hear clearly from the house we were staying at. However, with all this temptation, I have to say, my house held it together and enjoyed the festivities responsibly. I am SO proud of my friends! Usually visiting groups leave the house destroyed, but people stayed after to help me clean up everything, a HUGE thanks to you guys! I think the only way I will go next year is if I have a visiting friend from the states that wants to partake in the craziness party they’ve ever seen, but I plan on staying a couple days on a local beach near my community to relax afterward, it’s a lot to take!

The school year has started and I’m planning with the teachers what I will be doing. For starters, there is the International Children’s Painting Competition on the Environment is organized every year by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Japan-based Foundation for Global Peace and Environment (FGPE). The rewards are generous, with $2,000 for the first prize (which is a RIDICULOUS amount of money for my people) and a paid trip for the winner and an adult to wherever their annual conference is held (Europe, Africa, etc) which has yet to be announced. The competition is for 6-14 year olds and the theme is “Life in the Forests.” So they will be painting whatever they want about the rainforest as long as it doesn’t have people or domestic animals in it. I’m getting my whole school of 80 students to participate and they are super syked about it. They cant stop talking about what it would feel like to ride in a plane (none of them have ever left Panama, let alone this area of the country). Even though their chances of winning are super slim considering 100 countries participate, it is a chance for them to do something new and exciting, to use their imaginations, which unfortunately is rare in their scholastic experience. In the least, I will put together all their artwork and make a book out of it for the school to have.
I will also start giving computer classes starting next week to 4th, 5th and 6th grade. They are all really excited about that too because after they have finished their exercises, I let them goof around with the games on the computer, which are actually really good mouse/keyboard practice. We’ll also be following the Eco-Calendar (Earth Day, World Oceans Day, etc.) this year and do cool activities like building a school garden, reforestation and all kinds of arts-and-crafts stuff. I’m exciting because there are 2 new teachers that replaced the 2 teachers last year, and they are really sweet and excited about teaching. We’ll see how everything goes!

Right now I’m in the city with a group of volunteers and we will be going to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institution on Barro Colorado Island in the canal. The island is 100% protected with all kinds of awesome wildlife, like monkeys and exotic birds. Its solely used for researchers and a refuge for the canal’s flora and fauna. Its really hard to get in so a big Kudos to Chris who set this all up! I’ve been once before with my study abroad group in college but I’d love to visit again now that I have more experience in the arae of research and am starting to develop some future master-thesis ideas. There are a couple people I will be meeting at STRI and staying in contact that have done conservation work in panama. We’ll also be celebrating Chris’s birthday at a nice restaurant (nice= $12 per meal) and going to the movie theatre!! I’m so excited – the only time I get to see movies in the theatre are when I go to the city, which is only a couple times a year. Not even sure what is showing right now, but don’t care!

I haven’t written about Pulgita in a while, but she was super sick for awhile so I finally took the really annoying trip the closest large city near me (3.5 hours with a dog in a carrying case in a super hot, crowded bus with people that don’t like dogs). It turns out she had Lymes disease, which she would have died in a month if I didn’t take her in when I did. Its taken several treatments at the clinic to finally clean it up, but she is doing SO much better! I’ve also got her spayed, which was kind of a fiasco because she bled a lot and had to have a blood transfusion. I know this sounds like thousands of dollars worth of vet-care, which it is in the states, but i’m friends with the vet and she gives me “friend prices,” which are incredibly cheap. She knows I’m a super poor volunteer so she cuts me some slack. Needless to say, we’ve finally got her in good condition, and its obvious because now she is just a ball of energy like a puppy should be. She was awesome at the vet – I was so proud. The doctor gave her shot after shot after shot and poked and prodded and the only thing she did was shake a lot because everything was so painful for her. Poor thing, but she is better and I shouldn’t need to drag her out of the community until September when she is due for her vaccinations! ¡Viva Pulgita!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Before I start typing about how lucky I am, here are some words from one of my favorite people in Panama, a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer, Jake.

"life is good.

now that i`m back, i`ve been developing projects with my community, like starting a library with all the amazing books many of you have graciously given, along with games and art stuff and magazines and glue (for the younger ones to eat) to slowly build a place where kids can go and hang out after school, do their homework or swing in a hammock and read about the far away adventures between the bindings of the mystical pages of Everyone Poops.

helping farmers harvest two ears in place of just one, cleanin` up the town like the ghostbusters do, building stoves, setting up classes, organizing camps, watching bad movies with my family, and trying to mix up eating the same old shit, like putting crackers on eggs and putting eggs on beans. both of which are wonderfully gross.

this is really the time i`m still learning. spanish, how to live in the jungle, with or without this or that, new things becoming important to me, new doors opening every day, emotions and inspiration diving up and down like the most dramatic teenage girl you could possibly imagine.

Ethan Steiner.

so, in these days, even 9 months in, (i know, because i`ve had my first child. i just had him 10 minutes ago. his name is, `too much whole grain bread when you`re used to eating rice.` it`s an indian name.) i am still waking up without a plan, and letting myself end up wherever the hell i may, learning more from people and simple things than i could ever possibly teach or maybe even express to anyone else. i cannot tell you more passionately enough how much this thing works. for making you into someone that you would wanna be. or could be. and you get it all from them.

this year is the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps. it is an important time for us, the few and proud just under 200,000 Volunteers who have served in 139 different countries around the world, to commemorate and celebrate the accomplishments we have made, in simply (not really) trying to make the world a better place, without lifting a single gun."

Love you Jake! Now, I'm sitting on a tropical beach waiting for the 90 Leatherback Sea Turtle eggs from my friend's nursery to hatch and make their first steps to the sea. We'll collect them in a bucket, bring them closer to the water, release them and make sure they at least make it to the sea. Then they will probably all be eaten by a big fish, but that does not take away from the magic. They are SO cute. And its such a struggle to get out of the sand they've been buried in for 3 months because its the first time they've actually used their muscles and breathed air in their lives. They are totally Neo emerging from the Matrix into the "land of the real." Go turtles!

Just wanted to share that totally awesome blog from my friend, and this totally awesome experience that I'm having. Miss you all and wish you were here :)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

My New Little Friend

Ok, before you bust out the box of tissues, this is not a cute story. In fact, this is yet another story of me complaining about the fauna here in Panama. I have a new little friend, correction: new MAN-EATING-SPIDER friend that has started to hang out on the rim of my latrine. And by man-eating-spider, I mean the largest tarantula I have ever seen in my entire life. Yes, even larger than the one in Home Alone, *man scream,* which by the way, was my favorite part of the movie. The first time my new little friend and I met at 3 am in the pitch black with a sorry excuse for a headlamp (thanks dad), he gave me the closest thing I've ever felt to a heart attack. I learned that he only comes out during the middle of the night when I'm the most disoriented and vulnerable and can swim through human feces like Michael Phelps in chlorine, which makes him something straight out of the X-Files. I knew that show was on to something … So anyway, after several nights of urinating behind the house at 2am I finally grew a pair and brought a death-stick into the latrine to … well I wasn't quite sure exactly how I was going to yield this death-stick … but the second it came close to Mikey, he took a beautifully executed swan dive 15ft into the stinky abyss, only to wait patiently with that evil, shit eating grin on his face (literally) until I naively thought it was safe enough to come back later and use the bathroom … and there he was, again. So tonight, after a So-Panamanian chain of events happened exactly halfway through me typing this very story, Mikey met his end. And this I will describe next because it is now 1am instead of 10pm when I started to write this story and it deserves to be told.


So in the middle of typing about how Mikey was quite possibly the scariest thing in my life right now, there was an explosion of water 5 ft outside my window and 2 horses ran away naying and doing their scared-horsey sounds… so I knew it had to be good. I run outside to see a geyser of water in the front yard from where, I have speculated, one of the horses tripped on the water hose and broke the cheap-plastic-tubing-panamanians-use-for-everything in half. As I'm watching the yard quickly fill up with water, I'm faced with the decision of whom to wake up, so I choose my neighbor Fula- my first host family right across the street. After feeling terrible from waking her and her husband up, we start walking into the yard so I can show her what happened and a huge dog fight breaks out in the jungle next to the house. Well with my aforementioned sorry excuse for a headlamp, I think its MY puppy, Pulgita, and I flip out and run over to stop it catching myself on the barbed wire fence my headlamp conveniently did not illuminate. However, I come out unscathed and find out that it wasn't Pulgita but a coyote pup, which piques my interest and I go on a jungle hunt, alone, to search and locate it. This proves futile and so I return to the matter at hand. Fula and I go to 4 houses total (and at this hour the ENTIRE community has been asleep for hours already) and have to wake up the families there. Finally the owner of the house where Jonathon (the previous volunteer) lived wakes up and agrees to help. In the middle of him repairing this geyser I nonchalantly tell him that I think there is this man-eating-spider that is dwelling in my latrine, can you please save me thank you. I walk away and he kills it with his machete and then parades around with it hanging off the end telling me that if it had bitten me (in the ass) I would have had to have been hospitalized (marinate on that one for a hot second). Gee thanks. Now that I know Mikey is gone, undoubtedly bestowing his three hundred million eggs nestled under my toilet lid, which are probably hatching this very moment, I can sleep soundly tonight, to the serene, gushing sounds of nature 5ft outside my window. Oh Panama.


On a lighter note! Here is some information about the previous weeks here in the beautiful country of Panama.


So we recently had an All Volunteers Conference (AVC) in a city close to my community (close = 3.5 hours). Every volunteer had to attend and it was at a really nice hotel with a bar and pool and the whole shebang. It was 3 days of meetings and conferences and opportunities to share your ideas or projects with other volunteers. Not to mention we had an opportunity to meet all the volunteers from other groups. There was a "prom" which was just an excuse to drink a lot and throw everyone in the pool with their nice clothes on. We also had "Campo Olympics" which was super fun and our group 65 (the newest) won the whole thing! The champions win the "golden machete" which I guess has been passed on from champions to champions. The day included a round of games from the backcountry of Panama. For example, there was "solomaring" which is a call and respond type yodel-esque song the men do here during a hard days work to raise spirits – a pair from each group was picked to perform the solomar the most accurately. There was also an orange peel contest where you had to peel an orange with a machete the prettiest (they take a lot of pride in how pretty they peel oranges here). In addition soccer, chicken fights in the pool and a food eating contest of bananas and sardines from a can (food staples in the campo). Overall I had a blast and can't wait to practice my solomaring because I come from the part of the country where it is used all the time, so I gotta represent group 65 next year.


In addition to AVC we went to the beach afterwards to "unwind." It is a world-renowned surfing beach so the swimming was a little scary but the hostel was filled with Israeli and Argentinan surfers and was a great opportunity to just kick back and relax. After the beach another volunteer, Mary, and I went to a community of a peace corps married couple who were helping put on an eco-fair in the school. We had stations to play games demonstrating how to re-use, reduce, recycle… which the first two are redundant here in the campo – all families here use very little because they can't buy a lot, and they naturally reuse everything that's humanly possible because they cant afford to buy a lot of new things, so the most pertinent is to teach about recycling because there aren't even garbage disposal systems here, let along programs to collect recycled items… so to raise awareness among youth is the first step. My station was to paint a jungle scene mural on one of the walls of the library … which was interesting because the first group of kids were kindergardners and it was more of a tornado of paint vomited all over the wall, so after all the groups were done and a lot of nasty looks from the teachers, we had to repaint a lot of it to make it look pretty, and it was very pretty. The group that put on the eco-fair was a woman named Ruth, she is a graduate from Princeton and she is doing research on spider monkeys here in my part of the country and part of her grant requires "environmental education" which was the eco-fair. I got her information because, of course, I am interested in research with primates and she is SO CLOSE to me. We'll see what becomes of that contact!


So after talking with some volunteers and assessing the community history and needs, I've decided to start up a Girl Scouts group (Muchachas Guias) here in my community. There has already been a group here with the second to last volunteer and there still remains a lot of interest from the parents and girls of the community. I attended a Parent/Teachers meeting (Padres de la Familia) and at the end I brought up the idea of a Muchachas Guias group again in the community, and right as I began talking this huge downpour of rain came (remember all the roofs here are tin) – meaning no one could hear anything I was yelling. The entire room of 40 parents were just staring at me completely lost, if there was no rain you would hear a chorus of crickets. Fortunately a woman that I've worked with got up and repeated what I said and all of a sudden all the parents were all excited and agreed that it would be a great idea. I'm starting to think of really cool activities to do with the girls and possible field trips, but I have to contact the head of the group here in Panama first to talk about how to establish an official group and also I will need to start writing grants to fund all the activities and field trips. Overall I'm very excited because I think a lot of women here lack self-esteem and the drive to be independent because of the "macho," male-dominated society. But I see a lot of strong, smart and curious girls in my community and I think this could be a really fun group to have!


And last but not least Pulgita is growing fast and chewing everything she can get her little mouth on. I call her my little exterminator man because she is a fierce cockroach/beetle hunter. I have applied her first dose of Frontline which seems to be working quite well so far, along with her first dose of de-worming medicine. Its super nice because here you don't need a prescription for anything to buy from a vet, so I can just restock whenever I want, not to mention its super cheap ($8 per does). She absolutely hates getting baths, I'm sure it sounds like am slaughtering puppies every day down the road. I have this special soap that does a pretty good job at killing the adult fleas and I went to look for it yesterday because I was going to bath her again but I couldn't find it anywhere… I know it fell off the sink outside a couple times before but it wasn't anywhere on the ground…. Hours later I was fixing Pulgitas bed (2 big sheets) and deep inside the sheets, neatly hidden with little puppy teeth marks was the bar of flea soap… I wonder who hid that there? Sounds familiar Mom (glasses + cheese isle)? This is foreshadowing of the next 8 months of my life I'm sure … but I've already taught her how to sit and come to her name in both English and Spanish so I feel like she is going to be a smart one ;)


Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Two life changing events have happened at site already. The first: whilst dressing myself the other morning, I got stung in the boob by a scorpion. Yes, a scorpion stung me in the BOOB. Let me preface this anecdote with the fact that if you know me, you know that I love all god’s creatures, I really do, but scorpions are one of the ONLY invertebrates that haunt my dreams - NEVER in my life will I ever want to come anywhere close enough to a scorpion for it to touch my skin. I would rather be bit by 354 non-venomous snakes than be stung ONCE by a scorpion… and this I’ve thought about a lot here in Panama knowing it was just a matter of time before this fear became a reality. I haven’t met one volunteer that hasn’t been stung at least once by a scorpion. The weirdest part of this story tho, other than the location of the sting, is that I was even THINKING about scorpions as I was getting dressed because my host sister had found one in her clothes the day before. I was thinking “hmm, I really should start checking my clothes before I put them on. It would be just spectacular to go these 2 years without – ouch – what the hell was that? Ouch, OUCH OUCH – MY BOOB IS ON FIRE” And I looked down to find that little p.o.s. ready to fight 5 inches from my face, perched on the piece of cloth right above the ball of fire that was now my boob. A little dramatic I know, let’s just say I momentarily became the world’s fastest contortionist as I ripped that sports bra off without letting it touch my face, arm or shoulders. Impossible? Definitely not. Then I pulled a Jess move and felt too bad to kill it, so I left the room as my host parents did. Sometimes I wonder? But nevertheless, this has been a fear of mine since childhood and if you are going to get stung by something that scares the shit out of you, what worse place than in the boob? So I guess I got that fear over with pretty quickly. And if you thought I took forever to get ready before, you should see me now … especially because of my 2nd life-changing-event:

This one isn’t so painful, just really f*ing gross. There really isn’t much explaining other than last night I reached into clothes drawer without looking (terrible decision #195 in the tropics) and grapped a GIANT cockroach instead of a pair of socks. Now I’m sure you are thinking “ew cockroaches, that sucks” but I want you to fully understand the size of this thing. Look at your hand … yeah. It’s literally that big. Its not even the same species as the ones we are used to. And yes, it flies. So the other volunteer at my site walks in my house as I’m ready to stab it with my machete sharpener, and I suffer another Jess moment and have him do the dirty work. And if that doesn’t give you the heeby-geebies, later that night as I was preparing my now very fragile psyche for bed in the bathroom, which is totally across the house from the kitchen, and I hear a scratching in the kitchen sink. The second I heard it, I knew, it’s another one. They are so big that they can’t even crawl out of sinks. *shudder*

But anyways, these two life-changing events that were really not so life-changing just made me realize I need to toughin up a little bit because this country is full of the creepy-crawlies. God bless you Panama and all your idiosyncrasies.

Loss of a fellow gringo:( and the entrance of Pulgita:)

So the other volunteer that had extended in my site has completed his service and left this weekend … we threw a big despedida (going away party) for him and good times were had by all. There was a tipico band that played, and they were really bad but almost endearingly bad. I learned how to dance “tipico suelto” which is just where there is an inner circle of dancers which have partners in an outer circle of dancers, and both circles go around to the music, partners switching from inside to outside circles. Sounds complicated but it is actually really easy and very boring considering each song is like 20 minutes long. After a couple songs another volunteer informed me that if you dance with the same guy more than once sometimes it means you want to go to bed with him, so to avoid any confusion (because I wasn’t sure exactly who I had danced with how many times) I just took a break from dancing for the rest of the night. Things like that a woman (and sometimes men too) really need to be aware of because a ton of gossip can be started without you even coming close to realizing what you did wrong. The gossip in this culture is out of control, and if too much gets spread about you and another community member, sometimes the mother’s will lose respect for you and choose not to let their kid hang out with you or be a member of your youth group (or w/e group you have)… we’ve had a lot of cultural training in the beginning of service so this doesn’t come as a surprise to me, but I still have to be on my best behavior. This is why I choose not to drink in my community, only on special occasions like Jonathon’s despedida, where I only had 1 beer.

I’ve moved into a temporary house by myself which is the “summer house” of the daughter of my first host mom. It’s a really cute little house, but they occasionally come on the weekends and spend about 3 months here in the summer when the kids are out of school (which is winter for us and is coming up soon), so unfortunately I will not be able to continue living here, even tho this would be considered a SUPER nice house for Peace Corps standards (it has an indoor shower!!!!! Doesn’t have an indoor toilet but most Panamanians don’t anyways). But I’m taking advantage of it while I start to repair the actual house I will be living in, definitely not as nice and very old … but I will make it look nice. And its got a really beautiful view of the mountains, already picked out a prime spot for my hammock.

So having more time to myself leaves more time to think about stuff, which is not always a good thing. So since Jonathon’s left I’ve thought a lot about what the next 2 years are going to be like, and it’s pretty scary. I feel that I got lucky with being able to have another volunteer in site to ease me into the role of a volunteer, but I also feel is has set me back because now I have to go through what all of my group members have already gotten over, the “oh shit, I am truly alone here and no one understands me” type realization. Don’t get me wrong, we all love our communities, but what we’ve signed up to do is not easy and it takes a lot of emotional control and mental reasoning. You are in a completely different culture that will right off the bat think you’re weird and not understand most of the things you do at first. When you try and explain yourself, you realize that you can barely speak the language and sometimes say something wrong and make yourself look even weirder. You don’t fully realize how nice it is to just be able to say what you want to say until you are in a place that doesn’t speak your language at all. That is why having a volunteer in site for my first 3 months has set me back in a way, because every couple of days when we hung out I could just say whatever I wanted as fast as I wanted and I knew he would understand every word, and when you are the only gringo in site that isn’t possible, and you end up building up all these thoughts that normally you would be able to tell someone, and its very healthy to tell someone … but you cant. One of the volunteers in my site years ago just couldn’t handle it and left a year early – and at first I didn’t really understand why because my community is so nice and hospitable, but now I have a house to myself I realize how easy it could be just to sit and listen to music or read all day long and not go visit the community. Specially that I’ve just started and don’t have a lot to do. But that is just the type of behavior that breeds unhappiness in the long run, and no matter how down you are feeling, or how lazy, the best thing to do is get off your ass and go visit people. It will always make you feel better.
But enough about the serious stuff … I finally got my puppy named Pulgita (little flea). And yes, she is covered in fleas which I feel really bad about but I have to wait another couple weeks to apply the flea/tick control medicine. So I’ve been bathing her every day in this special soap to kill them, but the water here is always freezing and its been pretty chilly and rainy the last couple weeks so every time I give her a bath she acts and sounds like I’m killing her so I feel really bad. For 20 minutes after the bath she just shivers and whines which makes me feel like a total douchebag but at the same time is has helped the fleas a little – so in a couple weeks I’ll be making a trip to the vet to pick up the new spray they have that supposedly works really well? We’ll see. Until then she’ll live up to her name well :)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

All Things Panamanian

I’m taking some of these out of our Peace Corps “newspaper” that the volunteers send out every couple months – but all of it pertains to the Panamanian PCV:

Gender Roles, Shmender Roles

These are some things I’ve noticed about being a woman here in Panama:
-I can wear clothes way too tight for me and wear shoes way too tall, as long as they are all color coordinated
-I can stand around and watch the men do all the work because it would be harmful for me to work up too much of a sweat (I’m going to admit this one is nice)
-I should drink beer out of a vasito (glass) with ice because drinking out of the bottle is too “masculine.” Sorry Panama, F that.
- Its weird that I know how to drive a standard transmission, or even how to drive a car for that matter.
-I shouldn’t ever go into a cantina or jardina (bars) alone or I will definitely earn myself the reputation of a prostitute
- I shouldn’t ever ride in the front seat of a taxi unless I want the driver to also think I have said reputation.

You know you are well integrated into Panamanian Society:

-when you own more pairs of machetes than you do shoes
-when it doesn’t matter what you’re eating, as long as you’re using a spoon (they NEVER use forks or knives, and will never understand why you would want to use anything else than a spoon – and they all their meat with their hands, no matter how messy)
-when you find yourself talking about the weather … by yourself … in spanish
-when you gritar (a type of call that all Panamanians know) in the shower. Or anytime alone for that matter.
-when you can drink a steaming hot cup of sugar with a side of coffee (they put a lot of sugar in their coffee) while sweating profusely after working all day in the sun, and enjoy it.
-Men: when you own a shirt with sequins/rhinestones on it. Women: when you own a shirt with a ridiculously racy English saying on it, only you actually DO know what it says.
- when you lend someone a nickel to get through the gate at Albrook (the bus terminal), you except it back
-when you listen to the lottery drawing regularly
-when you can pick your nose comfortable in front of an audience and not even think twice about it (this one is pretty nice too)
- when you’re dancing at a baile (dance) and you realize that the item poking you is a bottle of seco in his pocket (cheap ass, nasty vodka stuff that every man drinks)
-when you don’t even blink an eye as a giant cockroach runs out of your bookbag or think twice to check your rain boots for scorpions

... Just some observations :)