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The Great Banana Railroad

If you live in the USA you’ve probably eaten a Chiquita banana before. Did you ever wonder where that banana came from? How it got to live in your local supermarket and then move to your kitchen counter? I’m here to tell you all about it. I got a chance to travel to the province of bocas del toro for a vacation. Bocas is on the border of Costa Rica and it’s very different from the part of Panama that I live in. It rains frequently (even in the dry season) and because of that  everything is very green. It’s also home to massive banana farms–some of which are independently run but many of which are owned by Chiquita.

These farms stretch as far as the human eye can see and you can bet people aren’t hefting bananas on their backs to take them to the Chiquita plant for processing. Instead they travel down what my friend Bennett and I fondly call “the great banana railroad.” The GBR is basically a long conveyer system that carries the bananas from one location to another. It’s sort of like a ski lift. There’s one point where it connects to cross the road and Bennett informs me that she’s had to wait for bananas to cross the street before her bus was allowed to pass. I unfortunately saw no bananas on the move but I did get to check out the tracks! 

This is where the bananas would cross the road


After they travel down the track the bananas are deposited in the Chiquita plant where they go through processing. I’m not quite sure what happens there as we could only look from the outside but it seems that the bananas take a bath. 

After a relaxing dip they’re strung up to dry and then packed into boxes and sent off to the hungry people of the world! Banana farming is the main source of income for people living out in that area. Most bananeros (banana farmers) live in bocas during the week and travel home to visit family on weekends and holidays. Many of the men from Bennett’s community work on the surrounding banana farms. While Bennett and I were strolling through the banana trees we noticed that one had fallen and taken its bushel of bananas down with it. We tried to lift it to absolutely no avail. That bushel had to weigh at least 40 pounds! So props to all the bananeros that probably hoist those things on the reg. And thanks for all the fruit! 

The heaviest bananas

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Jet Set

This month has been filled with travel and it isn’t over yet! As I write this I’m sitting on a bus heading towards the Comarca Nägbe Bugle region of Panama to help a friend with a youth leadership seminar called “elige tu vida” or “choose your life.” We’ll be teaching youth about goal setting, self confidence, and sexual health. This past week I led teacher seminars! I had Andrea, Bianca, and Cherisse helping me out with them. The seminars were all about the SIOP lesson planning model that English teachers here in Panama are required to use. It’s a new format for them so naturally they had a lot of questions. It’s a little complicated because SIOP was originally designed for bilingual schools. That means it was designed for teachers who teach other subjects in the target language students are learning. 

There are a few schools this year that are starting with a new bilingual program. For grades 1-3 there is a teacher that teaches science in English. Next year they’ll be adding math into the mix as well! By the end of the 3 day seminar all of the teachers that participated wrote a lesson plan for a week of classes. They’ll be using that lesson in their classrooms. 

Presenting a hands on activity

The week before that I actually gave myself a break and took a vacation to bocas! It was amazing. Bocas is absolutely stunning and I’m already planning a return trip. I also got to visit two of my friends’ communities and see how their lives are different from mine. My friend Nicole lives in a wooden house on stilts and it’s actually pretty gorgeous. 

Some pigs were romping through Nicole’s yard

And finally, the first week of this month! I organized and hosted Practicum Week for the incoming TELLS group. They came to penonome for a week, lived with host families, and worked in schools. I really got to know the new group and I’m throughly impressed by their motivation and professionalism. We also welcomed in 7 new Coclé volunteers that will officially be sworn in next month! And in a few short weeks I’ll be home again to celebrate my friends’ wedding! By anyways, I’ve gotta change buses so I’ll leave you all with that. Chao for now! 

While staying with Bennett her neighbor wanted to bring me a “surprise.” This kitten was super sweet

A little note: I’ve been working on a grant for a few months now and we’re just $340 short of our goal. Please consider donating! All of the money will go towards funding a youth frisbee and leadership camp. The link is Here. Thanks ❤

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Meri

As of 2013 there were 3.864 million people living in Panama. Indigenous people make up about 5% of the population. Despite Panama’s small size it has a wide variety of indigenous groups and all of them have their own language and culture. While you can find, indigenous people living in any part of Panama there are higher concentrations of indigenous groups in the various comarca’s.  My friend Nicole works with indigenous Ngöbe/Ngäbe women in her community. She wrote the following poem while at a biodiversity seminar with her counterpart. She looked around at her counterpart and all of the other Ngöbe women there and was impressed by how they had all stepped out of their comfort zone to attend the seminar. Not only that but they all made eye-contact with one another—something that’s not super common in that culture. Nicole wrote the poem below about her experience:

Meri

I see you over there.

You, yes you.

But this isn’t about me.

Yes, this is about you.

You, with the curious eyes.

The curiously floating eyes.

Have you met her?

Curiosity, she’s a character?

She’s a part of your spirit.

I met her.

Actually, I met her in you.

But this isn’t about me.

Yes, this is about you.

You, with the strength of your own arms

The strength of 1,000 arms.

Have you kissed her?

Strength, she is so damn seductive.

She is a part of what you do.

I kissed her.

Actually, I kissed her in you.

But this isn’t about me.

Yes, this is about you.

You, with the persistence of 2 feet

Those 2, persistent feet.

Have you become one with her?

Persistence, she is your deep satisfaction.

She is a part of how you love.

I became one with her.

Actually, I became one with her through you.

But this isn’t about me.

Yes, oh meri, yes.

This is indeed about you.

You are the fire

The raging, enveloping fire.

That knows not its own burn.

But I hope you see

I hope you see I see

(Even though it’s not about me)

I see you over there.

Maybe I can’t really see

Maybe I can only feel.

I can only feel your fire.

Your fire, fire that burns me

So even if, despite the fact

This is not about me.

I will sit in your flames.

Because I met her, kissed her

And I became one with her

All in your flames.

All in your raging enveloping fire

I’ll sit here until you know

Until you fully understand

How incredibly powerful you burn.

I’ll stay right here

Because it is your fire

It is your flames

It is her

That awakens my own

(So I guess this is about us.)

Nicole(right) and one of the Ngöbe women in her site wearing Nagwa’s; the traditional dress


 

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