525,000 moments so dear
How do you measure, measure a year?
February 24th, 2016 I touched down in Panama for the first time. It’s true what they say about Peace Corps: “The days are long but the weeks are short.” As I officially pass my one year mark in country I want to take the time to reflect back on some of the moments that have helped to shape both me and my service.
I’ve tried keeping a journal while here in Panama and I’m a bit penosa (shy/ashamed) to admit that I haven’t been quite as dedicated as I had hoped to the cause. It’s hard to remember specific moments because over time things weave into one another and while that probably makes for a great blanket it’s a shit tapestry (we’re gonna pretend that metaphor makes sense). First I want to look alllllll the way back at training and the time I spent living in a community with other volunteers. A truly formative moment for me was getting gripe (the flu). It started one evening when I felt cold-I was actually freezing. That doesn’t really happen in Panama. I told my host mom Mabel that I was cold and asked if I could use another blanket for my bed. She promptly (and appropriately) freaked out and put her hand to my forehead. Needless to say I was burning up. I took a pill and went to sleep.
Not too surprisingly, I woke up the next morning feeling like a plague victim. Unfortunately, I didn’t have data on my phone so I took myself to language class and talked to the LCF’s about my general feeling of death until someone procured a phone for me to call the PCMO’s. At this point I was in tears for no reason(the reason was actually because I was super sick and it’s stressful to be sick and speak another language and not have your mom) and other volunteers had convened realizing that I was sick. Vickie’s (one of the LCF’s) husband ended up driving me to Chorrera to the clinic and, amazingly, he spoke English. Not only was he able to help me calm down but he was also able to help me communicate everything I needed to at the desk in the clinic. I also had volunteers texting me that day asking if I was feeling better and just generally being amazing people. This experience helped me to just trust in other people and ask for help when I need it. Trust me-here in peace corps asking for help is a skill you need to learn quickly.
Eventually we all got through training and were sent off to our new communities to live and work! This is where one of my next formative moments happened. My host family in La Pintada has been truly amazing (It almost feels strange to refer to them as a host family at this point because they feel like my real family). During the sombrero pinta’o festival my host family and all of my barriada (neighborhood) made a giant float to participate in one of the many parades. While that was happening my host sister started teaching me to dance pollera-suspicious? Yes, very.
About 6 days before the festival was supposed to start my host family finally let loose the secret; I was going to be on the float! Not only that but I was going to be the reina(queen)! To me this was a huge deal. I felt so honored that I was being involved in something so culturally significant and I really felt like I was a part of the community. I got to wear a beautiful pollera and we even made it through the parade before it started raining (the float behind ours was not so lucky). It was one of the most surreal experiences I’ve had so far.
The last moment is a more recent one.i just finished up my children’s English course and on the last day I wanted to see if the niños had really learned something. We had worked on the alphabet, numbers, and the phrase “how are you” with the response “I am happy/sad/angry.” It was a short course only totalling up to four hours but it was fun and English-filled. I never spoke to the kids in Spanish but instead used big gestures and movements to communicate my meaning.
We played bingo and by just watching the kids fill up their boards I could tell they had learned a little. After playing some more games I gathered everyone in a circle to close out the course. I asked each kid individually “how are you” and every single one of them replied “I am happy!” And while that may not seem too big it was for me. They responded without my prompting, without my writings the sentences on the board, and without me having to repeat myself. I call that a major teacher-win!
There have been a lot of ups and downs this year but I’m happy to say that the ups have been pretty high and the downs have been pretty shallow. So today, 365 days after arriving to Panama, I’m glad to have experienced each moment that has made up my service. I’m extremely thankful to live in a community that has been such a good fit for me. I’m grateful for my kittens, friends from home who have visited, and my newfound love of coffee. And I’m grateful for each and every one of you who reads this blog-who supports me wether or not you know me. So thank you; here’s to another year!