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Journey to the Past

Sometimes in life it’s good to just go out on a whim and say “Yes!” to things. That’s how I managed to go from singing at a karaoke bar to seeing REAL HUMAN SKELETONS all in the span of about 10 or less hours. Did I catch your attention?


El Caño is an archaeological site in Aguadulce; a town in Coclé. In 1973 the land had been purchased and it was to be turned into a sugar cane field. However, when they started tilling they found pottery and other remnants of civilizations past. Namely; tombs. What they had thought were naturally formed hills were actually man-made graves to entomb important people in society. What did some of these important people do? Some were hunters—we can tell this from the necklaces they were wearing when they were buried. The ones that were buried in boxes were shamans, artists, and doctors. When these people died their bodies were placed on a table to decompose. While they decomposed birds would eat the body. This was thought to purify the body before burial—in fact they wouldn’t bury a body at all! They would bury the skeleton.


Don’t worry—It gets even more interesting. These people believed in reincarnation so when the chief died they killed his entire posse along with him. That means family, servants, even pets! They would all be buried alongside him so that he could take them with him to his next life. Now if you’re wondering how a seemingly monarchal system functioned if all the heirs were killed, I’m with you. Luckily, ancient society had a solution for this. The chief would have many wives and the first that gave birth to a son was called the Espaver. She wore short skirts and covered the visible parts of her body in gold. The son that she gave birth to was the only one not killed alongside the family and would take over the role of chief.


Parts of El Caño are still being unearthed. They discovered the tomb of a king that stretches 500 acres! What we know is that the bodies discovered here are of an indigenous pre-Columbian people that were highly spiritual and had many rituals for taking care of their dead. They believed in reincarnation and cleansing bodies before burial. And, were it not for someone looking to plant some sugar cane, we might never have discovered them.

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Astonishing

on the crest

There are a lot of similarities between Peace Corps service and mountain climbing. Here are just a few of them:

  • There are easy paths and difficult ones
  • It’s way better to have a team with you
  • There are lots of bugs involved
  • It’s probably helpful to have a machete

I’m the small brown speck in the picture above. You can’t see my face but at this point in the hike I was debating if I really had to go all the way to the top crest of this mountain. From below it looked crazy steep and it definitely seemed like there would be some mild rock climbing involved. I was tired and pretty gross and some people had already decided to hang back so it would’ve been so easy to not do it. I decided to go up just a little further and see what it looked like up close. The rocks that had to be climbed ended up being a lot bigger than they had looked from my brown-speck-spot; easier to imagine as stairs that required both your hands and feet. So rock by rock I made my way up to the 670 meters that the mountain Orarí  stands at and once I got to the top I shouted into the valley below because I couldn’t believe I had done it!

la pintada

I can see my house from here! 

Orarí wasn’t the only mountain I overcame this month. I also saw the culmination of over 6 months worth of work in my Ultimate Frisbee and Leadership Camp! With a grant amount of just over $2,000, 48 amazing youth from all over Panama, around 15 different facilitators, and the overwhelming support of my high school, we were able to create an experience that I know I will never forget. Kids that had never played frisbee before were throwing discs like it was second nature and everyone was having fun. Throughout the course of the week I saw indigenous girls that barely spoke to anyone they didn’t know starting to cheer on their teammates and help people with their throws. Boys who were used to the highly competitive nature of soccer started congratulating their opponents on games well-played. Friendships were made, culture was shared, and we learned about how the skills that Ultimate Frisbee teaches us can apply to our daily lives by using socio-dramas to demonstrate things like, supporting one another, pivoting and thinking before making decisions, and always remembering the spirit of the game. Since the camp ended I keep hearing from volunteers about frisbee clubs that are now forming in their communities and I’ve started to see a group slowly form here as well. Not only that but Dionara, the winner of the spirit award, went back to her family in the indigenous Comarca Nägbe-Bugle and taught her mom to throw a frisbee!

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Spirit Circle post-game

After the camp I had about a week to relax before heading to the city for my Mid-service training. My entire group was together for the first time since last year! MST is basically a lot of medical appointments and a little bit of training. I’m happy (and surprised) to report that I have no cavities! In our two days of training we were given lots of time to reflect on our service so far. Looking back, I’ve done quite a bit! I’ve had two adult English courses, one kid’s English course, and a national camp in my community. I’ve gone to medical gira’s, youth leadership and sexual health seminars, and youth camp’s in my friends’ communities. I’ve given TESOL presentations in Panama City and led teacher seminars in my local capital. As time goes by it’s easy to forget all of those things and feel like I’ve done nothing so I was glad to sit back and ruminate a little on how far I’ve come. We were also given the opportunity to start thinking about our future’s. Will we be going to graduate school or looking for jobs? Will we be trying to extend our service in Panama? Or, will we maybe decide to ship off for Peace Corps Response in another country? Maybe we won’t do any of that and we’ll take some time to travel. There are a lot of options on the horizon.

G78 MST

all of G78 TELLS celebrated Bianca’s birthday

So after my frisbee camp and MST I think Jo’s song “Astonishing” from Little Women is very fitting. As she sings:

Here I go
And there’s no turning back
My great adventure has begun
I may be small
But I’ve got giant plans
To shine as brightly as the sun
I will blaze until I find my time and place
I will be fearless,
Surrendering modesty and grace
I will not disappear without a trace
So, as I sat at the top of Orarí, the mountain I have called mine since day 1, I thought about all of the days that brought me there. They weren’t all easy and often it was really hard to see my progress—Mountains have a funny way of making you forget how far you’ve climbed right until you reach the top. So, ultimately, I’m glad I climbed all the way up to that peak and shouted out into the sky. Peace Corps may not be easy, but its sure as hell worth it.IMG_3270IMG_3287

 

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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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Seasons of love 

525,600 minutes

525,000 moments so dear

525,600 minutes

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. 

Getting ready to fly to dallas for staging

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. 

Mabel’s son, me, and Mabel

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. 

The other amazing TELLS volunteers

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.

She teaches me so much


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. 

With my host fam before getting up on the float

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. 

Everyone loves a good bingo review!

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!

A few kids from my class

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! 

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Photo Friday! 

I’m lucky to have the opportunity to work with such a wide range of age groups here in Panama. I started my kids English course and, later that day, I gave a speech at the university of Panama on “How literature makes you a better global citizen.” And, in true Peace corps fashion, everything went awry. My computer couldn’t connect to the projector; no problem, let’s use Yuliana’s  computer. Hers won’t play my video in PowerPoint. Okay, will it play it outside of PowerPoint? It will! We’re ready to go! Andddd then the power went out. But you can’t let little things like that stop you when you have have a presentation to give! I looked up the transcript of the video I wanted to show and gave my presentation in the dark. At the end, right as Yuliana handed me a certificate for my presentation, the power came back on. I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there so if you find it let me know! 

You can’t tell but the power is out in this photo

University students listening to my presentation

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My first Thanksgiving away from home

Thanksgiving, turkey day, mashed potato day, día de acción de gracias; these are all of the names I heard for the holiday that we Americans celebrate on he fourth Thursday in November. For the past several years I’ve celebrated thanksgiving with friends and family, often preceding the actual day with a “friendsgiving” at someone’s apartment. I’ve never spent a thanksgiving away from my family before and I’ve certainly never spent one out of the country. Luckily I have an amazing group of friends here in Panama and we all got together to celebrate. Some highlights include:

  • Eating stovetop stuffing that tasted just like home
  • Eating pumpkin pie with whipped cream
  • Eating caramel apples and pretending it was fall 
  • When the hammock Erin and Dillon were in fell and showered us all with styrofoam

That last one took us all by surprise but luckily we had a good laugh and no one got hurt. Plus the styrofoam created a nice white thanksgiving-guess we’ll have to replicate it for Christmas! 


I didn’t know how I would feel today but I can honestly say that I wasn’t sad. I didn’t miss home any more than usual and I got to spend time with a group of people that I’ve really grown to care about. Not only that but I got to stuff my face and show off my mashed potato and gravy making abilities (all made from scratch)! So I’m thankful for my Peace corps family, I’m thankful to be in Panama, I’m thankful for my real family, and I’m thankful for American food. 

I sat on a gas tank for dinner

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Photo Friday! 

So throughout the past week we had the sombrero pinta’o festival! The last day of the festival was the 19th-founders day! La pintada was founded October 19th, 1848. We ended the festival in a traditional way-a parade with marching bands and dancing! My elementary school participated as did several schools and organizations from surrounding regions.​​​​

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