peace corps

A tourist trap worth seeing

There are some touristy parts of Panama that I avoid. The canal never really interested me much though I’ve been twice now. But there is a hidden gem in Panama City that had gotten rave reviews so I had to check it out. That hidden gem is the BioMuseo!img_2863.jpg

The BioMuseo, or Bio-Museum, was architecturally designed by Frank Gehry who is known for his innovative and often grandiose designs. It is all about the biodiversity of Panama; el Puente del mundo (the bridge of the world). If you’re ever in Panama I highly recommend coughing up the $18 non-resident price (or $10 if you’re a resident aka a PCV) and visiting the museum. From albrook mall it’s just a $4 taxi! Okay, now that we’re through the actual costs, what is there to see? When you enter the museum, you’re greeted by exhibits explaining what biodiversity is and denoting species that have been discovered in Panama. Then there’s a wall of all the species that exist in Panama. The ones in red are in danger of extinction while the ones in black have already gone extinct. The plaques in gray are the things that contribute to species extinction. The biggest threat? Humans.IMG_2870 (2)

From there you move into a movie theater where screens cover the walls, ceiling, and even floor! Here you’ll watch a short film about the biodiversity of Panama and, if you’re lucky, there will be a school group there so you can hear the guide explaining things and watch kids flap their arms like birds when cued. After the film, you step out into rocks and fossils! This was by far one of my favorite parts because I really enjoy geology AND I solved a mystery that’s been bugging me for a while! Backstory: wayyyyy back in the beginning of my service I hiked out to some petroglyphs near my site (you can read the blog post about them here) and I was really confused by this carving of what appeared to be an elephant. Now flash forward to me wandering around looking at fossils and pre-historic animals of Panama. Suddenly, I see it! Cuvier’s Mastodon—a giant species that was related to elephants and lived in the Americas until roughly 11,000 years ago. The carving must not have been an elephant, but a mastodon! Which also means that those petroglyphs are crazy old.

From there you learn about animals that roamed Panama and then move forward into learning about the history of Panama—the people and cultures that pre-date us and helped to form what we have here today. But I don’t want to spoil it all for you; you’ve got to see it for yourself! And if you come after December of 2019 you’ll be able to check out a new exhibit—the aquarium!

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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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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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Meri

As of 2013 there were 3.864 million people living in Panama. Indigenous people make up about 5% of the population. Despite Panama’s small size it has a wide variety of indigenous groups and all of them have their own language and culture. While you can find, indigenous people living in any part of Panama there are higher concentrations of indigenous groups in the various comarca’s.  My friend Nicole works with indigenous Ngöbe/Ngäbe women in her community. She wrote the following poem while at a biodiversity seminar with her counterpart. She looked around at her counterpart and all of the other Ngöbe women there and was impressed by how they had all stepped out of their comfort zone to attend the seminar. Not only that but they all made eye-contact with one another—something that’s not super common in that culture. Nicole wrote the poem below about her experience:

Meri

I see you over there.

You, yes you.

But this isn’t about me.

Yes, this is about you.

You, with the curious eyes.

The curiously floating eyes.

Have you met her?

Curiosity, she’s a character?

She’s a part of your spirit.

I met her.

Actually, I met her in you.

But this isn’t about me.

Yes, this is about you.

You, with the strength of your own arms

The strength of 1,000 arms.

Have you kissed her?

Strength, she is so damn seductive.

She is a part of what you do.

I kissed her.

Actually, I kissed her in you.

But this isn’t about me.

Yes, this is about you.

You, with the persistence of 2 feet

Those 2, persistent feet.

Have you become one with her?

Persistence, she is your deep satisfaction.

She is a part of how you love.

I became one with her.

Actually, I became one with her through you.

But this isn’t about me.

Yes, oh meri, yes.

This is indeed about you.

You are the fire

The raging, enveloping fire.

That knows not its own burn.

But I hope you see

I hope you see I see

(Even though it’s not about me)

I see you over there.

Maybe I can’t really see

Maybe I can only feel.

I can only feel your fire.

Your fire, fire that burns me

So even if, despite the fact

This is not about me.

I will sit in your flames.

Because I met her, kissed her

And I became one with her

All in your flames.

All in your raging enveloping fire

I’ll sit here until you know

Until you fully understand

How incredibly powerful you burn.

I’ll stay right here

Because it is your fire

It is your flames

It is her

That awakens my own

(So I guess this is about us.)

Nicole(right) and one of the Ngöbe women in her site wearing Nagwa’s; the traditional dress


 

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Photo Friday! 

Sam came to visit! 

In addition to our sloth search, beach trip, and Panama City adventures, we went to Panama Viejo! Sam got the true experience of riding a diablo rojo there. Panama Viejo is the old Panama City-Henry Morgan attacked it and burned it to the ground leaving ruins that you can explore to this day! 

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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.

christmas-treechristmas

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!

at-the-canalme-and-sam

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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That Would be Enough

 We all have expectations of people. People here expect me to be friendly, to teach them English, to be a little different from them. I expect people to be respectful and try their best. I just came back from a Peace Corps training event called PML (project management and leadership) in which we all invited someone from our community to accompany us. It was a four day training at the same eco-lodge where we had our last one. My counterpart never showed up. I had invited her, I watched her write it on her calendar, I checked in with her two days before the event, and she still never came. Not only that but she didn’t even contact me. I was the only one there without a counterpart but luckily, I work with an amazing group of people. Both my fellow Pcv’s and their counterparts worked with me to be sure that I didn’t feel left out. During an activity where we “llenar tanques” (fill tanks) by saying nice things about each other, Bennett’s counterpart Abdel asked if he could go up with me too. It was the sweetest thing. So some people exceed your expectations and others fail to meet them. And that’s okay-we move on. 

The green group!

Chilling with Abelardo (Paul’s counterpart) and Benita

We had a “noche cultural” or “cultural night” during the training where people could show off their talents. I sang, some volunteers did Acro-yoga, some counterparts and volunteers did traditional dances, and I was even asked to participate and sing tambor with my fellow coclesanas and their counterparts! 

Dancing tambor

If you saw my photo Friday you know that my friends visited so I won’t dwell on that topic any longer. I finished my 5 week English course (our last day was Halloween!) and had 3 women graduate and receive certificates! I hope they learned a lot and are able to put it to use. We’re planning for a part two in February and they want to have it twice a week! Not only that but they want to work more on conversations so one day each week will be completely conversation based. I’m really excited to continue working with them and I love all of the amazing ideas they brought to the table.

I encouraged people to dress up but I was the only one

 

All of us volunteers got a chance to get together and have our own mini-Halloween celebration as well! I’m glad I was able to put together some kind of costume because it’s my favorite holiday and I’m sad we don’t celebrate it here. 

Jinkies Rosie!


As always, there are tons of parades in Panama. We celebrated founders day in La pintada and then in the first week of November we celebrated quite a few independence days and flag day! Krista and Jake were here to see those and they were impressed by the marching bands. Marching band is super popular in Panama-it’s considered a big sense of pride for the school if they have one. And I learned that parades really do go on rain or shine as evidenced by the photo of a bunch of boys doing push-ups in the rain

Last but not least we celebrated students’ day! Kids dress up like teachers and they even “teach” class for the first few hours of the day! Then all of the teachers get together to put on a series of skits in front of the entire school. I may be biased but I think my English teachers miming was the funniest. 

All the “teachers”

So how did I come to choose this song for this month? To me this song is all about our expectations and what we want from people. I have a lot of expectations all the time and I’m coming to terms with the fact that they won’t always be met. I’m learning to set less expectations and to be gentler with myself and others. I’m communicating more and expressing my feelings and allowing myself to be a little vulnerable. It’s not an easy feat. 

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