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Leaky Ceiling

It’s true! As rainy season rages (hopefully to a halt soon) on my bedroom ceiling continues its incessant drip-drip-drip into the bucket in my room. In a way, the leaky ceiling is one of the few constants in an ever-changing ebb and flow of work, socialization, and just general existence. October and November flew by like some crazed jet planes on a high-speed chase. Let’s have a little recap of what happened:

October

  • The annual sombrero pinta’o festival
  • PML Workshop
  • Ecuador

November

  • So many patronales
  • Pool day with the friends
  • Two separate thanksgiving celebrations
  • Ya girl ran a 5k!

This year I had no plans to walk in the carretera for sombrero pinta’o so naturally I ended up walking in the carretera. As always, the celebration was an exciting time! This year it was a bigger party and I even ended up going to the discoteca with some PCV’s, embassy folk, and Panamanians from my community. We threw down and danced until about 1 am.  I was also invited to participate in a 2-day Project Management and Leadership workshop because the office is hoping to improve the current training program. Odiris, one of my best friends from my community, went with me. We learned a lot together and are hoping to implement a 3-day leadership seminar in La Pintada in January.

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At the end of October, I took a well-deserved break and went to visit Aliza who was living in Ecuador! It was an incredible trip and I was pretty much going non-stop until day 5 of my trip when my body basically shut down on me. I think it was miffed that I fit in so much fun in such a short time. But, I saw the middle of the world, I did a walking tour of Quito, I went up to the tower of the basilica, and I took some cable cars up to the top of a dormant volcano. I also at a lot of chocolate, drank a lot of coffee, and ate roughly 8,000 berries. I’ll definitely be going back to Ecuador in the future—gotta see Galapagos one day!

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November is the mes of festivales patrias—there are 2 independence days, flag day, Colón day, and el primer grito de independencia. Try saying those 3 times fast. I stayed in my house for a lot of them this year however I did make time to go walk in the parade with my school on November 4th. It was lovely and we somehow managed to not get rained on!

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Then, a little later that month Odiris invited me to go out to the pool with her and her family. It was so nice to just float around and hang out with people without worrying about work or school. Plus, Odiris has the cutest nieces and we had a great time splashing around with them.

Thanksgiving this year meant two celebrations—one with friends and one with the ministry of education. Both were nice in their own ways. I made apple galette for our volunteer thanksgiving on the 18th and it was a huge hit. Plus, the ever-incredible Gina set up a scavenger hunt for all of us which was a fun way to start the afternoon. The food was great, the company was better, and at the end of the night we went to a casino where I sang karaoke! Thanksgiving with MEDUCA was nice because we had to do 0 prep work and got fed an amazing meal of pork with pineapple, endless fruit, and the best bollos de coco I’ve ever had.

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And, finally, I ran a 5k! I’ve been preparing for a few months but hadn’t even ran more than 1.76 miles until Friday (where I ran 2.52). I was feeling apprehensive about the run—3.1 miles is a lot and I am by no means a runner. We had a group of over 20 volunteers and Peace Corps staff running on behalf of Cody Oser, a volunteer who we unfortunately lost a few months ago. The energy at the marathon was high and we had some great support from the office on getting us to our relay spots for the 5k’s. Gina was the MVP again and, after running her 5k, she ran mine with me. I’m not sure I could’ve finished it without her—the route was all hills and sun which I had not prepared for. I finished in about 37 minutes which isn’t too far off from my usual time running in site. Afterwards I felt pretty good, but my right knee swelled up to about the size of a grapefruit, so I took some ibuprofen, got an ace wrap, and went to meet Katie at Starbucks. To cap race day off all of us went out for sushi afterwards where Ben, Francie, and I split an actual boatful of sushi.  I’ve never felt so glad to see raw fish in my entire life.

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And now I’m off to a friend’s site for 7 days to give some English charlas at the school and give some swing dance lessons! It’ll be a nice break because there’s no signal in their site, so I can kick back, ice my knee, and enjoy the cellphone-less life for a bit. Plus, my parents will be here in 31 days! I can’t wait to show them all around the country I now call home.

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Photo Friday!

Hey friends!

 Sorry I missed last Friday—hopefully it won’t happen again. Being a blogger is hard work! But I’m not gonna pile the excuses on (lack of internet, lack of planning, life etc.). Instead I’m going to tell you all about Carnaval. If you’ve ever been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans I imagine Carnaval would be a familiar scene for you. The idea behind it is that you get all the partying you need to out of your system before Lent starts—and there’s a lot of partying to get out. I celebrated close to home which was nice and convenient. Unfortunately, I didn’t take my phone for a lot of it because they have “mojaderas” aka giant tanks of water that people stand on top of and shoot water at the crowd. I didn’t really want to test my life proof case.

One of the mojadera trucks

After the actual Carnaval had passed my community celebrated Carnavalito where I was much less cautious with my phone and took a million pictures. I also got roped into dancing Samba in a parade—I’m sure you can find videos on youtube. It was so much fun! Something about being able to really celebrate in my community made it feel a lot more personal (ad it helped that I could go back to my house and relax). Carnaval is such a large cultural event here and people go all out for it. The floats are massive and the reinas are beautiful. It’s an incredible display of culture and creativity that I’m lucky to have experienced.

The crowning of the new queen

When you’re suddenly in a parade

Aftermath of the floats

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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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Before it’s Over

“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.

Derpy bear

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”

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Step one 

“I may be facing the impossible, I may be chasing after miracles, and there may be the steepest mountain to overcome, but this is step one” 

For anyone who has seen “Kinky Boots” this song should be pretty familiar. 

I’ve almost hit 6 months in country! Counting down till August 24th when I can celebrate ~officially~. This is what the first 6 months of being in peace corps looks like:

  • First 10 weeks: training. 8 hours a day 5 days a week. Lots of mandated trips on Saturdays.
  • Head to your site!
  • Spend 3 months observing and preparing your school and community analysis to present to your school, community, counterparts, and boss. 

Basically I’ve been doing a lot of classroom observation but now that period is over and I can start doing things in the class with my counterpart teachers! 

Since I last posted an update on my life some things have happened. Some of those things were great! Others-not so much. Let’s start with the less positive. My computer stopped charging. Fingers crossed that it’s just the charger because my amazing parents are sending me a new one. If it’s the battery then it looks like I’ll be buying a new computer. If that’s the case I’ve lost a ton of my photos from Panama because I was backing all my phone pictures up there. Moving on to good things! I moved into my new house! 

This was not the place I was planning to live in originally but it’s a better size and closer to my host family. Unfortunately it only has a latrine right now but I’ve been told that they’ll be putting a toilet inside as soon as they get a septic tank! I’m looking forward to that day. I also have a ton of fruit growing in my backyard! There are plantain trees, orange trees, pineapple plants, a tomato plant, and a palm tree that I’m hoping gives me coconuts. I’ll hopefully be starting a garden out back too. ​

​On Thursday I presented my school and community needs analysis to my counterparts, my boss, and a representative from the ministry of education who was nice enough to take time out of her crazy schedule to come see it. It went pretty well! The whole thing was in Spanish and I think people are pretty on board with all of my project ideas which is exciting. As my boss pointed out I’ll have to be careful not to wear myself too thin. 

We’ve had a couple of celebrations in the school lately too. All of the students decorated the school for a competition by an organization called FANLYC. They work with the families of children with leukemia and other cancers. Unfortunately I don’t have any digital photos of the event-my mom sent me a care package that included my instax camera and my students were OBSSESSED. They absolutely loved seeing the pictures develop and I heard many cries of “teacher saca un foto de yo!” throughout  the day. 

like christmas in july!

We also celebrated a local baseball team winning some competition in the US! I’ve tried to find info about or photos of the game online but haven’t had any luck. The team paraded through the streets on a firetruck and the school band played music for them. In Panama marching bands are incredibly popular and it’s kind of rare for an elementary school to have a band so my school is very proud of it. The kids got out of school for a few hours to see all of the parade! ​

I got to spend a few days in Panama City to get some cavities filled and while I was there my computer decided it didn’t want to work anymore. Fingers crossed that it’s the charger because my parents are sending me a new one (thanks mom and dad!). Now I get to spend some time adjusting to living on my own for the first time-something that surprises a lot of people here. It’s very unusual for anyone in Panama to live alone and it’s especially strange for a young woman to be doing it. I think I’m doing all right though. I made and hung my own curtain so I think I’m adulting fairly well.  Last but certainly not least; I adopted kittens(sorry mom and dad!).They still need names so I’m open to suggestions. The one with more black fur is a girl and the other is a boy! 

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