Talking Hats

Do you consider yourself an intelligent person? Do you think you’re friendly and warm? Well, you better make sure your hat is saying the same thing!


If you thought you could just throw a hat on your head and go about your day then you’ve got a lot to learn. Here in Panama, the way you wear your sombrero can say a lot about you. There are many ways to interpret what people are saying with their headgear and it can vary in each community. In La Pintada you can use your hat to show off who you are without saying a word. Before we move any further let’s make sure we all know what a sombrero looks like. 14462959_10207744586961755_3823597551907269574_n

All of the things those kids have on their heads are sombreros! They come in a lot of different patterns and sizes. They don’t all look the same but they’re made in similar ways and all of the same basic form. So, how should you wear your sombrero??

  • Front brim down and low on your forehead-This means you’re a person that keeps a lot of secrets. Maybe you’re a spy? Maybe you’re a professional party planner that deals only in surprise parties? The world may never know.
  • Back brim up– You’re a very smart and professional person! You probably have an important job that requires fancy clothes to accompany your many degrees.
  • Front brim up but low on your forehead– You’re ready to fight. Any time. Anywhere. People that wear their hats like this are aggressive!
  • Front brim up but sitting normally on your forehead– Not to be confused with the aforementioned style, this means that you’re a hard worker! You’ve gotta keep the sweat out of your eyes somehow with all the labor you put in on the daily.
  • Front brim and back brim up-This means that you’re a successful person! Successful in what, you may ask? Well, sadly, I don’t know. Maybe you’re really good at gardening or you’re a teacher whose students always turn in their work on time!
  • Side brims up-You’re a vaquero who works out in the campo. You  can probably lasso a bull in your sleep and I for one and impressed.
  • Normally, with no brims down or up-Okay so I know I said you can’t just throw your hat on and go but if you do it means that you’re a friendly person. You probably don’t have time to style your hat because you’re heading off to that surprise party for your friend’s birthday!
  • The entire hat is hanging off the side of your head– You’re drunk friend! Time to put down the seco and grab a taxi home.

Grab your sombreros and wear them in whatever way suits you best!


True Vaquero style


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. 


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 ❤


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.


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!


Dear Someone New

This post is part of Blogging Abroad’s 2017 New Years Blog Challenge, week four: Change and Hope.


Dear Someone New,

Welcome to La Pintada, Panama! By now you’re through training and you’re getting ready to ship off, bags in hand, to the wonderful community where you will spend your next two years living, laughing, working, crying, and, if you’re anything like either of us volunteers who have preceded you, adopting cats. I know Peace Corps gives you a few sheets of paper telling you about La Pintada but I’m sure you’re wondering what its really like. Let me tell you.


People here are friendly so you should say buenas to pretty much everyone you meet. It helps form your presence in the community and people appreciate it. The infoplaza in the municipio has air conditioning and free internet access—do you know how amazing that is?? Not to mention all the other cool things that the community hosts. Visit the sombrero pinta’o museum and check out how they’re made. Go to one of the many artisan markets and check out all the things people make. If you’re into soccer there are games every weekend!


Find time for you—people may not understand right away but it’s important to have you-time. Take a day to cook your favorite meal, cuddle the cats you adopted (you did adopt cats, right?), clean your house, read a book, watch a movie—anything that makes you happy! Don’t fall into the personal time trap though. If things have been bad lately try getting out in the community. Visit someone you like to talk to, go buy a coke at the mini super, go to the infoplaza to watch buzzfeed videos—basically do anything that gets you out of the house for a little bit and gets you saying hi to people. You’ll be amazed at how little things like that can boost your energy and motivation levels.

The last piece of advice I’ll give you is this—be patient and say “yes.” If you don’t understand something, ask about it! If you still don’t understand just give it some time. You’ll be amazed how many things become clear after a month or so. Be patient with yourself too. If your Spanish isn’t where you want it to be try not to worry. Talk to people, keep practicing; you’ll get there! And say “yes” to things! Go to the baile at least once even if you hate dancing. Accept an invitation to bake cookies at your friend’s house. Basically, be Jim Carrey in “Yes Man” (A seriously underrated movie in my opinion). Know that you’re not alone in this crazy thing we call Peace Corps service and reach out to your community and to other volunteers. But most of all enjoy your time here because its short and its beautiful and nothing will ever compare to it.


Say “yes” to visiting the playa salada



Someone Old


Becoming a Panamanian Professional in 5 Easy Steps

This post is part of Blogging Abroad’s 2017 New Years Blog Challenge, week three: Cultural Differences

Picture, if you will, the following scenario: You’re a young woman going to work in a Panamanian elementary school for the first time. Within the first week you’ve been asked by  two different teachers why you don’t like makeup.  Flash forward: You’re working with a group of fellow PCV’s giving a seminar for a university class. The seminar began at 2 and it’s now almost 4—no one has showed up.


My first day in my community. So young. So naive

Does this all seem a little strange to you? Trust me, I get it. But let’s see what happens a little further down the road; now you’re that same young woman but today you’re wearing heels and the reddest lipstick you own. You’ve never gotten so many compliments from the teachers at your school! You head to the second meeting of your community English class and only one person shows up 10 minutes late. Success!

Being a professional in Panama can seem a little confusing at first but you can manage it if you’re open and honest with the people around you and with yourself. To get started try this handy guide:

  1. Go heavy on the makeup (if you’re a lady). Blue eyeshadow is completely professional as long as it matches your clothes. By wearing more makeup you show that you put time and effort into your appearance which is really appreciated in the workplace. I’ve still kept my brown eyeshadows but I’ve stepped up my lipstick game.
  2. Along with number one—dress up. Heels for women, ties for men. Keep your hair looking nice (sorry boys but no long hair allowed) and shower every morning before going to work. Effort is everything!
  3. If you expect people to meet at a certain time tell them in person and keep following up via text. It’s not unusual for people to show up late for meetings here but it’s important to be flexible and understanding when it happens.
  4. Email isn’t very popular here so most things are presented through formal letters. If you want to ask for something or even just introduce yourself to the school principle you want to type, print, sign, and take in a letter. It’s professional and courteous. Plus something about a letter makes the whole thing feel more personal—you get the added interaction of handing it to another human being!
  5. Form a personal relationship with your co-workers. If you want someone to work with you then you need to ask them about their life and their family. Interpersonal relationships form strong teams and make everyone feel more invested in each other’s success!

Do you see a pattern here? Panama is all about connecting with people and making your best effort. It’s about putting people first and working together to reach your goals. And hey, a little lipstick never hurt anyone.14519791_10207743909624822_4282602908173899711_n




Everything you thought you knew about Panama is wrong (sort of)

This post is part of Blogging Abroad’s 2017 New Years Blog Challenge, week two: The Danger of a Single Story.

“The single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” -Chimamanda Adiche


Photo Courtesy of Ted.com-Check out her Ted Talk on this topic here

Before moving to Panamá I knew next to nothing about it. I was aware that they had the Canal and that they spoke Spanish. This didn’t stop me from having stereotypes of course—I made a lot of assumptions about what Panamanian people would be like and what my life would be like. You may recall the last post for this challenge where I imagined my mud-hut and latrine? We’re working along those lines here. Because Panamá is a largely Catholic country I expected to encounter a lot of closed-mindedness. I also assumed that the women in Panamá were going to be mostly stay-at-home moms. I figured they would be having children early and would be generally quieter than their male counterparts. Not only that but I imagined the men being mostly labor workers that spent most of their time away from their house.

As the amazing Chimamanda Adiche points out—these stories are not necessarily wrong. I’ve met stay at home moms that are married with children at 22. There is a mine near my community where many men work for 15-20 days at a time before getting 5 days off to come home. But then there are people like my 16-year-old host sister Linda who both amazes and surprises me every day of my life. She was so open to my presence and to trying new things. For the three months, I lived with my host family she and I did yoga together. She also learned the lyrics to “Satisfied” from the “Hamilton: An American Musical” soundtrack(and still knows them!). Linda is so far from closed-minded—she’s extremely curious about the world and other cultures. Her favorite music is K-pop and she talks about how she has friends who identify within the LGBT community. Oh, and quiet? She gives me a run for my money in the loudness department. Anyone who has met me knows that that’s really saying something.Linda is a great sport and agreed to do an interview with me for the blog! You can read it below (in both English and Spanish!). The simplicity and profoundness of her statements really touched me—I hope they do the same for you.


Linda and I take a lot of selfies

What is your dream?

I have a lot of dreams but right now, because I’m young, my biggest dream is to go to a University and know the world.

Why do you want to do that?

Because I have wishes, I have desires, and I believe in myself, if I want it I can achieve it.

Are there any challenges that you believe are specific to Panamanian women?

Yes. The largest challenge for Panamanian women is discrimination. In second place, there’s the projection of how people view Panamanian women. In third place, one of the most important is the challenge to think for yourself that desire is power.

Have you encountered any of these challenges?

Yes. The biggest challenge that I’ve faced is discrimination against women; many people think that women don’t have the same abilities and the guts to do the things that other people do—to have strength in yourself.

What was one of the most influential events in your life?

The most important event in my life so far was when I first met the famous Panamanian artist Olga Sinclair. She inspired me to achieve my dreams and taught me that as women we are individuals, we are original, and if we fall we get back up because the sky isn’t the limit—the limit is what we place on ourselves.



A painting by Olga Sinclair courtesy of artnet.com. Check out her foundation here!

¿Qué es tu sueño?

Tengo muchos sueños, pero como joven que soy ahorita mi mayor sueño es entrar en Universidad y conocer el mundo.

¿Por qué quieres hacer esto?

Porque tengo anhelos, tengo deseos, y creo en mí, que si quiero y puedo lo puedo lograr.

¿Hay unos desafíos que tú crees son específica a mujeres panameña?

Si. Los desafíos más importantes para las mujeres panameñas en primer lugar está la discriminación. En Segundo lugar, está la proyección como ve las personas a las mujeres panameñas. En tercer lugar, uno de los más importantes desafíos es el reto al pensamiento de una misma de querer es poder

¿Ud. ha enfrentado a estos desafíos?

Si. El desafío más importante que yo he experimentado es la discriminación de una mujer, muchas personas piensan que como ser mujer no tengo la misma habilidad y las agallas para ser los que dé más hacen. Para poder manifestarse uno mismo

¿Que fue uno de los eventos más influyente en su vida?

El evento más importante hasta ahora en mi vida fue conocer a la pintura muy reconocida en Panamá llamada Olga Sinclair. Ella me inspire lograr mis sueños a poder que somos mujeres somos únicas, somos originales, y que, si nos caemos, nos levantamos porque el cielo no es el límite. El límite es que nosotros ponemos.