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How to say hello

Every culture in the world has a traditional way of greeting each other. This tends to vary across social groups and often even across ages. For example, a group of teenagers in the USA will probably say “hey” or “what’s up” rather than the more formal “hello.” But if I were listening in on one of my grandmother’s conversations with a friend of hers I’d be far more likely to hear her say “hi.” I wouldn’t go into a job interview and say “hey, how’s it going?”  but  I would say “hello, how are you?” The way we use language is important to us. It shows our relationships between one another. So here’s 5 ways to say “hello” here in Panama.

1) Hola– Tried and true–This literally translates to “hello” and can be used in formal and informal settings. 

2) Buenas– This is a shortened version of “buenas noches/buenos días” but it is always used with an -as ending no matter what time of day it is. It’s my favorite greeting and I say it to everybody. 

3- ¿Que tal?– How’s it going? A solid informal greeting used among friends and acquaintances. 

4- ¿Que sopa?– This is a slang-ified version of “que paso” which means “what’s up?” You hear this more among younger generations and it’s informal. Don’t use it in a professional setting

5- Ow!– This is more of a sound than a word. It’s just a way to acknowledge someone and shout “hey!” Again, totally informal

See? Learning Spanish isn’t so hard. And don’t worry, if you get confused, a smile goes a long way. 

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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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From Field to Fumes: How Cigars are Made

If you’ve been following this blog from the beginning you’re well aware that there is a cigar factory in my community. Factory may be a little overzealous a word though; I’ve only ever seen one person working despite the many workstations. After my many visits, I finally decided to ask Miriam, the owner, a little more about the process of cigar making. It’s a fairly simple process to make the Joya de Panama (jewel of Panama) cigars—and the whole process takes place right here in the country.

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Miriam showing off the cigars (photo cred to Mollie)

Step 1: Tobacco is shipped from San Diego, Chiriquí to La Pintada, Coclé

Step 2: The tobacco leaves are dried (this can take up to 2 months!)

Step 3: The tobacco that will be used to fill the cigars is ground down

Step 4: The loose tobacco is hand-rolled in a tobacco leaf and sealed

Step 5: The newly formed cigar is put into a metal frame to cut the ends

Step 6: 10 cigars at a time are placed into molds which are pressed down

Step 7: Cigars are packaged and ready to be sold!

Seeing Julián make cigars was awesome. He works so quickly and so precisely! He told me he can usually make about 300 cigars in a day which absolutely blows my mind since each one is completely hand made. Miriam taught him the process—she’s been in this business her entire life and now just manages everything. From start to finish the process takes about 7 months. Most of that time seems to be transit and waiting for leaves to dry out. Smoking isn’t very popular in Panama—most people are often surprised to learn that there is a cigar factory in my community. For Miriam, it’s a source of pride. She knows that she does it well and that’s what matters to her. For me, it’s an opportunity to learn about something I never would have sought out on my own. While I don’t intend to start smoking any time soon I do appreciate the art that goes into the process. So, if you ever want to light one up and support a sustainable business—come on down to Panama! ¡Nos esperamos!

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I speak 6 Languages

Do you find verb conjugations thrilling? Does the idea of practicing pronunciation make you quake with joy? Are you slightly obsessed with the smell of dry-erase markers? No? Well maybe this post isn’t for you. But if you answered YES to any of the above questions (or you’re just wondering what I’m on about) then please; read on!

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Playing a game

My second English Course has started! We’re really getting into things and while I’m busy and overwhelmed I’m feeling very proud of my students for their dedication and perseverance. Our last class was very grammar-filled and it’s difficult to make that fun. If you have any suggestions feel free to send them my way. When working with this group I remember many of the reasons I wanted to become a teacher and, while that’s no longer a long term career goal, it’s nice to be in a teaching environment. When it comes to language learning things can get pretty tricky. Here are a few of the things second language learners struggle with:

  • Pronunciación
  • Pellín
  • Conjugación
  • Gramar rules

For Spanish speakers who are learning English pronunciation and spelling are difficult–and for somewhat similar reasons. In Spanish things are predominantly pronounced and written the same way. Unfortunately that isn’t the case with English. Students especially struggle with pronouncing /th/ as in third (they often use a hard t sound), /f/ when it follows another “f” as in fifteen (often replacing the second f with an /s/ sound), and /s/ when it is at the beginning of a word and followed by a hard consonant as in study (usually adding en /e/ sound before the s). Why is this so difficult for Spanish language speakers? Why can’t they just listen to the way we pronounce it and copy us? Basically why aren’t they Marcy in the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (the namesake for this post)? Well, many of these sounds don’t exist in the same way in Spanish. Entonces, the way that ELL (English Language Learners) hears them is different. They make it make sense to them in the only way they can–by spanishifying it.

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Conjugation and grammar are difficult. It doesn’t help that some of the rules we follow in English are the exact opposite in Spanish. In English the adjective precedes the thing it describes but in Spanish it follows it. So “the fat cat” becomes “el gato gordo.” It wouldn’t be surprising to hear an ELL say “the cat fat” because they’re following grammatical rules they’re accustomed to. The important thing is to recognize what it is students don’t understand so you can help explain it to them. What’s a good way to do that? Games!!! Games get students up and moving, they get them talking and competing, and they help students teach each other. Some of my proudest teaching moments are when my students correct each other’s grammar or model proper pronunciation for their peers.

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The perils of lesson-prep

Welcome G80! The new group of TELLS and CEC arrived to country on March 1st and I am organizing their practicum week. My life has been filled with visiting schools, finding host families, delivering letters, and basically caminando por todos los lados every week to get things together. It’s been a lot but I’ve got a great support system helping me out (thanks Corina!). School started March 3rd so I’ve had a lot on my plate with that as well. I’ll be splitting my time between the high school and elementary this year and I’m really excited to start working with some older students in a setting I’m more familiar with. My elementary school just started with the Panama Bilingue program and there are lots of changes on the horizon. Panama Bilingue is a government funded program that sends English teachers abroad for 2 months to really practice their English and learn some new teaching strategies. Schools that participate in the program are moving towards bilingual education–my school is increasing the hours of English students have each week and we have two new teachers bringing our grand English Teacher Total to 4! One of the new teachers will also be teaching science but she’ll be teaching it in English. I’m excited to see how the program plays out! This year promises to be busier than last and it’s going to present me with some new challenges. I plan to face those head on (much like the fearless girl that’s currently in front of the Wall Street bull) and grow from each of them. I’m really feeling settled in my community and confident in my abilities here in Panama–I’m better at expressing what I can and cannot do for people and I’m taking time to be more mindful of myself and my well-being. As the saying goes, an empty lamp gives off no light (someone definitely said that and it only makes sense if you think of oil lamps). You have to take care of yourself before you can help others. And that’s what I’m doing.

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Taken from my front porch

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BIG NEWS

Hello ladies, gentleman, and those who fall somewhere else on the spectrum!

A quick update on some blog changes. I’m doing away with photo Friday—not all my photos warrant stories and I’m taking less of them. Instead I will be blogging every 2 weeks about varying cultural themes. I’ll be starting that March 26th! I am going to continue my monthly musical-titled post to keep friends and family abreast of what I’m doing and just in general how my life is but expect that to be a little shorter than in the past. If there are any topics you want to hear about or questions you have about Panama—feel free to reach out. Many friends who have visited me are filled with questions about Panama and normally I can only answer a handful of them. This change in format will help me to dig a little deeper and learn a little more. I hope you’re as excited as I am for what’s to come! My regular mid-month update will be out Friday so keep your eyes peeled. Until then, thanks as always for your support! Besos xoxo

-Gabby

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