Moving too fast

These posts seem to get later and later the busier I get! One more month has basically lapped me on the race track and I’m trying to catch up. In just barely more than 1 week my frisbee camp will be starting and I couldn’t be more excited/nervous/stressed. First I want to take a moment to thank everyone who made a contribution to my grant. We received the full amount ($2,087.40 but who’s counting?) and because of that we can bring 48 kids from all over Panama together to learn about leadership, sexual health, and of course, Ultimate Frisbee. I quite literally could not have made that happen without support from all of you.

angelSo what did I do for the month of May? I went home! For 11 days! As always, going home is a magical experience that never seems to last long enough. Two of my best friends got married while I was home and I was honored to be a bridesmaid. Never in my life have I met two people so in love and it was a true joy to witness them read their vows to one another and be the beautiful amazing people they are. I was asked by the brides to give a speech at the wedding and I hope that they liked it! The reception was fantastic, filled with dancing, vegetarian food, and instax cameras flashing all over the place. I think one of my favorite moments of the night was then “The Time Warp” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show played and everyone made a FULL COMMITMENT by collapsing onto the floor at the end of the evening.  18582294_10209690623731458_1577306562575694276_n

The work never stops though! While at home I went to my old high school and talked to the Teacher Academy students about what it’s like to teach abroad. They were all bright and energetic and asked a lot of really great questions! Hopefully one or two of them are considering teaching abroad in the future whether they do it with Peace Corps or another agency. I managed to make it all the way from my house in the US to my house in Panama in one day with a combined total of 14 hours of travel including a car, a plane, a taxi, and a bus! Needless to say I spent hours cuddling the kittens once I got back and just finished completely unpacking yesterday. Ever since then my life has been camp planning, letter writing (technically part of the camp planning), buying hundreds of pounds of food (also for the camp), and watching Gilmore Girls (for my sanity). The new 3rd year extension TELLS coordinator came to my site to do my one year visit and basically just check in with me. During her visit she also bought a sombrero! Maybe I should direct her to my other post on how to wear it? Finally, I was able to help another volunteer throw together a seminar on customer service skills for a group of university students! They all did amazingly well and I have no doubt they’ll excel in their field. We gave them 5 important customer service skills and had them present about them in groups. Some chose to do skits, some did drawings, all were fantastic. To show them some different customer service skills we used the following scene from The Office: 

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If you want to watch the scene do it here

So that’s my life right now! Lots of camp things going on but they’ll be over and worth it soon. Stay tuned to hear all about how it goes!

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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!

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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!

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True Vaquero style

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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. 

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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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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 ❤

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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.

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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!

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I speak 6 Languages

Do you find verb conjugations thrilling? Does the idea of practicing pronunciation make you quake with joy? Are you slightly obsessed with the smell of dry-erase markers? No? Well maybe this post isn’t for you. But if you answered YES to any of the above questions (or you’re just wondering what I’m on about) then please; read on!

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Playing a game

My second English Course has started! We’re really getting into things and while I’m busy and overwhelmed I’m feeling very proud of my students for their dedication and perseverance. Our last class was very grammar-filled and it’s difficult to make that fun. If you have any suggestions feel free to send them my way. When working with this group I remember many of the reasons I wanted to become a teacher and, while that’s no longer a long term career goal, it’s nice to be in a teaching environment. When it comes to language learning things can get pretty tricky. Here are a few of the things second language learners struggle with:

  • Pronunciación
  • Pellín
  • Conjugación
  • Gramar rules

For Spanish speakers who are learning English pronunciation and spelling are difficult–and for somewhat similar reasons. In Spanish things are predominantly pronounced and written the same way. Unfortunately that isn’t the case with English. Students especially struggle with pronouncing /th/ as in third (they often use a hard t sound), /f/ when it follows another “f” as in fifteen (often replacing the second f with an /s/ sound), and /s/ when it is at the beginning of a word and followed by a hard consonant as in study (usually adding en /e/ sound before the s). Why is this so difficult for Spanish language speakers? Why can’t they just listen to the way we pronounce it and copy us? Basically why aren’t they Marcy in the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (the namesake for this post)? Well, many of these sounds don’t exist in the same way in Spanish. Entonces, the way that ELL (English Language Learners) hears them is different. They make it make sense to them in the only way they can–by spanishifying it.

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Conjugation and grammar are difficult. It doesn’t help that some of the rules we follow in English are the exact opposite in Spanish. In English the adjective precedes the thing it describes but in Spanish it follows it. So “the fat cat” becomes “el gato gordo.” It wouldn’t be surprising to hear an ELL say “the cat fat” because they’re following grammatical rules they’re accustomed to. The important thing is to recognize what it is students don’t understand so you can help explain it to them. What’s a good way to do that? Games!!! Games get students up and moving, they get them talking and competing, and they help students teach each other. Some of my proudest teaching moments are when my students correct each other’s grammar or model proper pronunciation for their peers.

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The perils of lesson-prep

Welcome G80! The new group of TELLS and CEC arrived to country on March 1st and I am organizing their practicum week. My life has been filled with visiting schools, finding host families, delivering letters, and basically caminando por todos los lados every week to get things together. It’s been a lot but I’ve got a great support system helping me out (thanks Corina!). School started March 3rd so I’ve had a lot on my plate with that as well. I’ll be splitting my time between the high school and elementary this year and I’m really excited to start working with some older students in a setting I’m more familiar with. My elementary school just started with the Panama Bilingue program and there are lots of changes on the horizon. Panama Bilingue is a government funded program that sends English teachers abroad for 2 months to really practice their English and learn some new teaching strategies. Schools that participate in the program are moving towards bilingual education–my school is increasing the hours of English students have each week and we have two new teachers bringing our grand English Teacher Total to 4! One of the new teachers will also be teaching science but she’ll be teaching it in English. I’m excited to see how the program plays out! This year promises to be busier than last and it’s going to present me with some new challenges. I plan to face those head on (much like the fearless girl that’s currently in front of the Wall Street bull) and grow from each of them. I’m really feeling settled in my community and confident in my abilities here in Panama–I’m better at expressing what I can and cannot do for people and I’m taking time to be more mindful of myself and my well-being. As the saying goes, an empty lamp gives off no light (someone definitely said that and it only makes sense if you think of oil lamps). You have to take care of yourself before you can help others. And that’s what I’m doing.

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Taken from my front porch

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