“I can see a world, beautiful and strange. Can you see it too?”
If you haven’t heard this song from the musical dogfight I recommend looking it up and then getting obsessed with the entire soundtrack. The past few weeks have been filled with opportunities, surprises, and a lot of positivity in general. This may be a longer post so try and stick it out with me.
First off, I visited Andrea out in her site! It’s a pretty little slice of Coclé and she took me up to the mirador so we could see El Valle de Anton. It was a cloudy day but we stood at the top of the mirador for a while just watching the clouds roll over the mountains. Plus the clouds made it pretty fresca out which was a nice change from the general heat of Panama. I also met her host family and the family of some of the kids in her school. She lives over some lomas (hills) and I definitely got my workout in climbing them. I’ve grown way too accustomed to La Pintada which is very flat
I’ve started doing some more stuff within the TELLS program too. I participated in a multigrado seminar with some fellow volunteers. Multigrado schools are schools that have multiple grades in one classroom-picture the old one room schoolhouse situation. They usually only have one or two teachers and those teachers teach all of the subjects. Unfortunately many of those teachers don’t know English. We had these seminars to improve their English skills and give them some tools that they could use in their classroom to teach English to their students. I also participated in a program called “Elige tú vida” or “choose your life” at Cherisse’s school. The whole seminar is done in Spanish and I’m pleased to say I didn’t really struggle with presenting in Spanish for 5 hours. We worked with a group of 8th graders and taught them about goal setting, future planning, and safe sex. We even got all of them to do a practice putting condoms on each other’s fingers without laughing! One thing did shock me about this seminar. We had a jar for anonymous questions so that the students could ask about things they wanted to know but didn’t want to say. We got about a dozen questions and all but one were variations on “what is sex? What is oral/anal/vaginal sex?” It shocked me to see how little they knew but it made me very glad that we were doing the seminar. Teen pregnancy is a problem in Panama and we’re hoping to help lower the teen pregnancy rate with programs like this. The students in our group were impressive. They were all respectful of one another and they all really wanted to learn about what we were teaching them. Now Cherisse keeps getting bombarded at school to do more Elige’s!
Our elige group
I’ve started my community English class and it’s going pretty well so far! I have a small group of 5 adults and I’m really glad to say they seem to be making progress. We meet once a week and the course will end in October. So far we’ve worked on introductions and greetings, numbers, feelings, and the verb “to-be” in the present tense. This week we’ll be working on family vocabulary and possessives. Our last class is going to be on Halloween so I’m trying to get everyone to dress up in some form of costume. Halloween really isn’t celebrated here but it’s my favorite holiday and I don’t want to miss out! My counterpart for my English course is a 12 year old boy named Isaac (pronounced E-sahk) who has an incredibly high English level. He’s really cool and so easy to work with. His passion for English is astounding-I hope he’s able to put it to use in the future.
The English crew
As usual there have been a lot of celebrations in my community. A few weeks ago we had one and unfortunately I can’t remember what we were celebrating for the life of me! But there were a lot of dance performances and they even brought out all of the girls that had been crowned reina in the past few years. Not only that but they brought out the woman who was first crowned reina for the celebration back in the 80’s! After watching a bunch of dance performances they had a small parade through the streets with music, dancing, fireworks, and a bunch of kids on a float.
A few weeks later we had a celebration for a saint who protects the animals (I don’t remember his name). I could’ve taken my kittens to get blessed at the church but I was a little anxious about taking them somewhere where there would be a lot of dogs. Instead I went to an event they were holding in the casa comunal. People brought their pets and showed them off-some did tricks but most just sat around and looked cute. Isaac brought his dog muñeca and had her do a series of tricks that were all very good! One of them involved her putting her paws on his hips and walking like they were in a conga line!
Isaac and Muñeca the magnificent
Finally we had the sombrero pinta’o festival! This is the biggest celebration that my community does-its what we’re famous for. It starts on the 14th of October and goes through the 19th so it’s actually still going on. It’s set up like a giant carnival. There are rides, booths selling food, and game booths with cheap prizes. There’s even a betting wheel in the evening.
Artisans come from all over to sell their wares and there’s a long stretch of people selling their sombreros. You could find sombreros as cheap as $10 and others that were upwards of $90. You could possibly even find more expensive ones-I wasn’t asking if the price wasn’t posted. I didn’t buy myself a sombrero but I did do a little Christmas/birthday shopping for family back home. People were selling tembleques and other things too. If my ears weren’t so sensitive I definitly would have gotten myself a pair of mini-sombrero earrings.
Some of the most colorful sombreros I’ve seen!
Women wear tembleques in their hair when they wear the traditional pollera
On the first day of the festival some volunteers came out and we wandered around the festival having a good time. They played games that I didn’t want to spend money on and we all rode some of the rides that were there. I’m pretty sure we had more fun on the bumper cars than any of the kids there!
This marble game was a favorite among the volunteers
On Sunday I participated in the carreta-it’s basically a parade where people decorate cars and make floats and go down the main street. My amazing host family got me a pollera and I danced on a float that they made with a bunch of girls. After the carreta was over I got down and danced pollera with a bunch of people. It reminded me of a jam circle! I would be dancing and one guy would come up and dance with me for a minute or so. After that another guy would step in and that guy would step out. By the end of it I was exhausted. Another group of volunteers came out Sunday but, because I had so much to do with putting on the pollera and tembleques (a woman came out to dress me and put the tembleques in) and then actually being in the parade, I didn’t really get to hang out with them for too long.
Me and my host family! Sans my younger brother
After all the tembleques were put in
I had the most amazing time being a part of this festival. I’m constantly amazed by how quickly my community and family accepted me with so much love and open arms. This opportunity really made me feel like a part of the community. Up on the float I constantly heard screams of “teacher!”and “Gabby!”and when I turned there was a student or community member waving and smiling from ear to ear seeing me in full pollera. This is one of the experiences that I’m never going to forget. I’ll leave you with some other lyrics from the song. They’re all about meeting each opportunity that life hands you-something I’m trying to do in my time here.
“See a world, beautiful and strange, spinning off somewhere, saying meet me there!
Look, look, how fast it runs away, saying follow close, and reach for me, see that you’ve got so much more to be before it’s over”