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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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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.

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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!

artisan

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.

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Say “yes” to visiting the playa salada

 

Best,

Someone Old

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Christmas Is My Favorite Time of Year

While this song from “Catch me if you Can” doesn’t really match my christmas mood I needed a Christmas song that wasn’t “White Christmas” to title this post. I’m going to be spending my first Christmas away from home this year and I get the feeling that it’s going to be a little more difficult than Thanksgiving was. I’m hoping my host family invites me to do something with them (as I’m sure they will). Lights have been glittering from rooftops in my little Panamanian town and in the city they’re going all out with decorations. While I’m a little sad to celebrate so far from home I’m also excited to experience Christmas in another culture.

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The school year is officially over in Panama so I’m going to have  a lot of free time on my hands in the upcoming months! I just attended a two-day TOT (training of trainers)  in Panama City to prepare us for the new TELLS group that will be coming in in February. I’ll be planning and organizing everything for their tech-week. You might remember my post from several months back about my tech-week but if you don’t–fear not! The new trainees will come to Penonome for a week, live with host families, and work in schools. This gives them the opportunity to really put into practice some of the co-teaching and co-planning skills they’ve acquired throughout training.

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The whole TOT TELLS Crew

The first day of the TOT was my birthday! I’m 23 years old and still amaze people in my community because I’m so young, have a degree, and I’m living away from home. Here it seems to take a little longer for youth to get through college despite the programs being 4 year programs. I think a large factor in that is that here in Panama people start families pretty early. Many people are going to school, working, and taking care of a family at home. It’s a pretty hefty workload! I don’t have any pictures from my birthday but I assure you it was a good time. Plus, my friend Sam came in on the 7th!

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We did a lot of cool things while she was here! Sam also had a lot of opportunities to practice her Spanish–she’s definitely better than I am with the grammar. One of the coolest things about Panama City is that on “ladies night” it’s apparently possible to drink for free if you’re a lady which is pretty sexist but also great for my bank account. We found a bar that had free champagne for Panamanian mother’s day (Dec 8th if you were wondering) and relaxed. We also spent some time exploring the city. We saw the canal and Panama Viejo. Keep your eyes peeled for a Panama Viejo-filled photo friday this week!

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And finally, I’ll leave you with a story and a warning. We all know I love cats. I basically want to be the Snow White of stray cats. Panama City really fuels this desire because a lot of the strays are very friendly. So Sam and I passed by some ruins and saw four stray cats. I know these cats–I’ve petted them before. Naturally we stopped to pet them. As we’re getting ready to walk away  Sam gets shit on by a bird! I tell her that it’s good luck and we go off in search of napkins. Flash forward to later that night. We got dinner and drinks with a friend of mine and were walking around looking for a place to get coffee and we happened to pass by the ruins again. I stopped to pet the cats of course and, right as we’re leaving I got shit on by a bird! Sam and I had a good laugh about it and my friend told me it was good luck which made us laugh even harder. Tl;dr If you pet street cats birds might shit on you.

street-cats

“When you’re a jet you’re a jet all the way”

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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! 

Today’s photo Friday is an appreciation post for the thing that can cheer me up (most of the time). Valentine and Luna! Peace corps pets can definitely be a challenge-I’ve had to find people to take care of them while I’m away, I paid to get them spayed and neutered, Valentine managed to get out of the house the other day, the lost goes on. But it can also be really great-I get a ton of kitten cuddles all the time, it’s fun seeing them run around the house, they even kill tarantulas! 

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Photo Friday! 

A teacher that I know invited me to come to the playa salad0, aka the salt beach, with her and a friend. Playa salado really isn’t a swimming beach because of the major tidal changes that happen there. When the tide goes far out tidal pools are formed and you can find hermit crabs and fish in the pools. Unfortunately, because the tidal changes happen so quickly, some animals get beached. We saw two sting rays beached under a bunch of mangrove trees while we were visiting. 

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I Got Life

“I got life, mother

I got laughs, sister

I got freedom, brother

I got good times, man

I got crazy ways, daughter

I got million-dollar charm, cousin

I got headaches and toothaches

And bad times too

Like you”

This is how one of my favorite songs from the musical “Hair” begins. Throughout high school and early college “Hair” was my favorite musical. I loved the counter-culture themes and I pretty much dreamed of being a hippie when I grew up (Mission accomplished courtesy of JFK). This song is also a great metaphor for Peace Corps service. I got a great piece of advice from one of my fellow volunteers when we were chatting about volunteers going home early. He said “this is pretty much the only time in your life where, if things get hard, you can just get a ticket home. You’re going to have bad days here but you would have bad days at home too.” Luckily, for me right now, my good days tend to outnumber the bad. 

As usual a lot has happened over the past month! We just welcomed 8 new volunteers to Coclé and I’m excited to get to know them all. We had a big folclórico event at my school that I featured in a photo Friday post. I also went to training for two weeks. 

Us coclesanas handing out certificates

Training was overall pretty good. During our first week we were with CEC and then we split during week two so that we could focus on more technical skills. Week one consisted of a lot of refresher information on things like safety and security and medical. In the evenings we had movie nights, played capture the flag, and played man hunt. I felt like I got to really connect with some volunteers that I hadn’t connected with before. I also got to know the girls in my province a little bit more. We learned that we’ll be getting a new Coclesana too! A girl from our group is moving to Coclé so it’ll be cool to have someone else to collaborate with too. 

After our seminar at the university

During week one we worked with the people in our province to modify a seminar. On Monday in week two we gave a seminar to university students that were studying English. Our session was on making professional PowerPoint presentations which focuses on the “life skills” part of the TELLS (teaching English, leadership, and life skills for those who forget) program. In week two we did something similar-we worked within our provincial groups to plan our own seminar that we would then give to university professors. To make the group sizes more manageable though they took Vanessa from our group and put her in a “power-combo” group with two other volunteers. The rest of us coclesanas designed a seminar entitled “dynamic activities to promote creativity in the classroom.” It went really well! We plan on expanding it into a longer seminar and presenting it to teachers. It’s hard to tackle the question “what is creativity?” in a one hour seminar but based on the activities that we had the teachers create in small groups I think they got it. One of the activities was super impressive and something I plan on using in the future. The group drew a duck and asked the “class” to give them words to talk about the duck (it has feathers, it says cua-cua etc.). After that the class developed a story using those key vocab words. What a great activity! 

After training Bennett came to hang out with me in la pintada! Luckily we had my grind David. He picked us up in penonome with all of our crap and drove us back to my house. We helped him to edit what is basically his senior thesis for university. He had two 40 page documents on English phonetics and pronunciation and grammar. It was really helpful for me to read his paper on phonetics because he addressed a lot of the issues that Spanish speakers face when learning English. He also drove us to and from the grocery store later which was so amazing and super nice! I’m hoping that he and I get the opportunity to hang out more. 

Kittens post-op

Bennett went with me to get my kittens fixed and I’m so glad she did! I felt so bad seeing them after the surgery. They were both so tired from the anesthesia and Valentine threw up a few times. After we got home they just wanted to sit on my lap and sleep despite the fact that I made them a soft bed. The cats weren’t the only ones to get surgery during the week though! 

I purchased an airmattress off a friend and I got a pump that I was told would work to inflate the air mattress from a store in penonome. It didn’t. It didn’t have the correct nozzle. So, in a moment of ingenuity I realized that a Coke bottle could probably fit around the nozzle. I figured that if we cut a hole in the bottom of the Coke bottle we could attach the pump to that and it would work. So I started on the bottle with my leatherman. The knife slipped once and Bennett told me “be careful-you’re scaring me with that.” My immediate reply was “oh I’m fine!” The universe’s immediate reply was to prove me wrong. The knife slipped and I had to get stitches. I get them taken out Tuesday! 

showing us the dried tobbacco

Cigar mold

The week wasn’t all stitches and minor surgery though! We also checked out some of the cool spots in my site. We did a tour of the one-room cigar factory and visited the petroglyphs! The cigar factory is really cool and I learned more than the last time I was there. The cigars are made from 100% tobacco. They’re even wrapped in tobbacco! Now maybe this isn’t surprising to some people but I was amazed. Dried tobbacco also feels surprisingly soft-almost like leather. I expected it to feel like paper and when I told the owner of the factory that she laughed at me. 

I have so many pictures of the petroglyphs so I’ll feature them in this weeks photo Friday. I’ll leave you all with this amazing laughing shot that our guide got because he kept making jokes while taking our picture. I’ll also leave you with the closing lines of the song: 

“And I’m going to spread it around the world, mother

I’m going to spread it around the world, sister

I’m going to spread it around the world, my brother

So everybody knows what I got”

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