change, peace corps

Look at where you are. Look at where you started

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

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Two years in Panama is drawing to a close sooner than I realized it would. Friends of mine are wrapping up their final projects in their communities, some have moved back in with host families, and everyone’s WhatsApp status is a despedida (going away party). In just a few short weeks almost everyone that came to this country with me will be leaving it and heading back to friends, family, and wherever they used to call home. I will be extending my service a year and will be continuing working with Peace Corps as the “Teaching English Coordinator.” No despedida for me for another 14 months or so. Why stay? Professional reasons: I want to explore my strengths and weaknesses in a leadership role, I want to continue improving my Spanish, I want to have another year of experience under my belt to make me a competitive applicant for jobs in the future. Personal reasons: I’m not quite ready to leave Panama, I’m not sure what sort of career I’m heading towards and I hope one more year of more job-specific work gives me the opportunity to figure that out. As most PCV’s will tell you, service doesn’t really seem to click into place until your second year. Then you’re left feeling like you have too little time to accomplish everything you dreamed you would. I’ve accomplished such a small portion of what I imagined yet at the same time I’ve done so much more than I thought I would. So how do you measure 2 years of service? In my case it looks something like this:

2 Cats adopted

1 national camp hosted

48 youth increased capacity in frisbee and leadership skills

4 English courses hosted

~25 people increased proficiency in English language usage

1 TESOL conference attended

At least 5 Teacher seminars that I can remember hosted

Well over 50 English Teachers demonstrated increased understanding of teaching methodologies

2 English Course curriculum’s developed

Countless plates of arroz con pollo eaten

1 time being the reina in the festival del sombrero pinta’o

1 hike up cerro orari

1 new family gained

Countless friends made

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Reina for sombrero pinat’o my first year

The past few months have been some of the most challenging for me so far. There’s a lot of doubt about whether extending is the right choice for me. It’s hard to see the friends I’ve made moving on with their lives and heading off to grad school and career’s knowing that I’ll be staying in the same house, in the same community, doing some of the same things. I’ve had people very close to me leave Panama for various personal reasons. As always, things here are in flux. As old friends leave, new ones are coming in. I was lucky to host the new TELLS group in my community for their practicum week and when they left I felt both exhausted and rejuvenated. Not only do I have a lot to offer them, but they have a lot to offer me. In my Peace Corps application, I had to write out my “why.” Why was I applying to this organization? Why did I want to go abroad for 27 months to a country I had never been to? Why did I want to spend 2 years of my life bumbling through Spanish and humidity and weeks of rain followed by weeks of no rain? Naively, I wrote that I wanted to create a positive impact on the world. I had some basic teaching knowledge and a go-getter attitude that I expected to get me far. And then, somewhat less naively, I wrote that I wanted to learn from the experience. I wrote that I expected to get more from it than I gave. That has been proven true again and again. The opportunities afforded me by the people in my community and by my fellow volunteers have been one of the largest parts of my service. I’ve walked in parades because community members have seen me and gestured for me to come participate with them, I’ve danced pollera because my host family wanted me to see what it was like to be the reina on a float during the biggest celebration my community hosts, I’ve gone out to the indigenous parts of Panama and talked to women about sexual health, the list goes on and on. I’m excited and anxious to start my final year here; to see what opportunities come my way and in what ways I change and grow. And my despedida will be amazing when it’s time for it.

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No More Wasted Time

The past month has been a little bit of a whirlwind for me. There have been days where I’ve been busy from the minute I get up until I get to bed (okay that’s a bit of an exaggeration-but they were very filled days I promise you!) and days where I couldn’t find the motivation to do anything productive and ended up playing a lot of computer games. I started really working on English with Linda. We work for about a half hour each day and each day I try to think of a way to make the class more fun. 

family vocabulary

body parts and family practice

playing memory

My regional leader Chelsea came for my one month visit. Basically it’s a way for them to check in and she how we’re doing and help us address any problems that we’re having. She came on a Friday and my school was having a big Father’s Day celebration. All of the students’ fathers were invited to come to school to participate in games, eat food, and receive gifts. I was pretty proud to see all of the English teachers I work with really shine in the “dinamicas” portion of the event. Dinamicas are games that you get people to play to build up their energy and get them to dejar la pena (stop being shy).

The “king” of the event

In the few weeks after that not much was going on in my life. I spent some time working on my Community Analysis project for peace corps and hanging out with people in the community. Oranges came into season so Linda and I went to hunt some down and basically just spent some time relaxing. A few exciting things did happen though. My host great- grandmother told me that when I move into my place she’ll let me adopt one of the kittens she has! My heart is set on a little gray boy cat. Even more exciting-my friend Cherish asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding!! I’m so excited to be a part of her big day and I’ve already sent my vacation request to the office. 

I got offered extra language training from peace corps and it was intense but so helpful. For a week straight I went to school from 8-1:30 and came home for what started off as 2 hours of language training and increased to 3 and then 4 hours. It gave me a chance to work on the grammar that I’ve been struggling with. I also got a chance to go to a birthday party and show off my balloon animal making skills (I can make a dog and a sword) much to the enjoyment of a bunch of children. My community also celebrated “San Juan.” Children rode around on “palitos” and we paraded around the streets, people danced, and I hung out with some of my 3rd graders. 

Linda’s school did another performance-this time at the public library. She did a solo dance performance and sang with a group of other girls. La Pintada has also instated a new location for “bailes” or “dances.” My host mom took Linda and I there and it was certainly interesting. At first no one was there so we decided to go wait in the park where we amused ourselves by acting out random improv scenes. My host mom stole the show when Linda challenged her to act out giving birth in the park. 

shakespeare in the park

This month was pretty tough on me. I’d bbeen feeling pretty stressed out from a lot of things and decided to really take time to focus on my health and wellbeing. I worked out a lot, started meditating, and started writing more. I threw myself into things I was really passionate about(I’m working on a pads/tampons initiative

that I’ll hopefully talk more about in the future). Finally I started really working on my report and making some plans for community English courses. I pretty much listened to the entire “If/then” soundtrack on repeat multiple times. So I’m taking a page from Idina Menzel’s book and saying “No more wasted time, no more standing still, I once would dream of building cities and now I think I will.”

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Photo Friday! 

The teachers lounge


So I thought I’d give everyone a peek at my school! This is where I spend a decent portion of my week working with pre-k through 6th grade! I have 3 counterpart teachers here and we’re just starting the second trimester. Here in Panama the school year is February-December so I won’t be getting my summer break for a little bit. Kids love to run around on the green during recreo in the middle of the day and there’s tipico practice in the teachers lounge on Wednesdays! 

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I am not a stranger to the rain

Winter here lasts from June to December and with it comes rain in the form of sometimes biblical downpours. A song from “Children of Eden” seemed only appropriate to title this post because not only did I feel a bit like Noah-I also participated in a ton of religious events since my last post. But back to the sky water. How bad can the rain really be you ask? Well, let me show you.


That’s the creek that usually runs behind my house. Notice how not angry it is? That all changed when the water nation attacked…


Here’s a list of a few things I saw float down the newly formed river while I sat watching it from my hammock:

  • Several two liter soda bottles and styrofoam cups
  • A bamboo stalk about a meter long
  • A branch that was bigger than my arm
  • A tree trunk the size of my torso

Amazingly we didn’t lose power during the storm. We have been losing power a lot lately though. The other night I showered by candlelight. Luckily my little solar lamp is pretty useful(thanks dad!).

So May was the “Month of the Virgin” here in Panama and I’ve never attended so many religious events in my entire life. My community is pretty Catholic but we do have an evangelical/possibly baptist (it’s a little unclear) church and a jehovas witness temple tucked in too.

The Catholic church is definitely the largest 

I try to go to church whenever I’m invited because it gets me out in the community. We celebrated May in a lot of ways here. Students at my school brought flowers almost daily to place on the statuette of the Virgin Mary that we have in the courtyard. I also attended my first rosario! Its basically a rosary event where the read about Mary and the mysteries of the rosary which I didn’t even know were a thing. If we do these in the US I was unaware of them.

“And we’ll never be royals…”

I attended on the last day of the event and got to see Mary get crowned. The whole shebang ended with brindis(snacks) and an invitation to attend the big rosary party that the family was throwing the next day! Parties here mean you get lots of great food so naturally I told them I’d be there.

The party ended up being a 3 hour mass in the rain. Luckily I managed to snag a seat below the tent they had set up. They had a band playing music and even brought in a priest from Panama City to speak. It was an interesting event and it ended with carry out boxes filled with arroz con pollo, tamales, potato salad, cupcakes, and candy.

Blessing the altar


After all of these ceremonies I got a bit of a break. I headed out to penonome for my regional meeting and school break started! I had a lot of free time to fill and I did that by pasearing, playing computer games, and taking long walks with Linda.

My host mom’s 5 year old granddaughter came and spent vacation week with us. I don’t have any younger siblings (that twin life) so living with a kid was interesting. She had so much energy! We watched “Guardians of the Galaxy” together and I’m pretty sure the only words she got were “I am Groot” which prompted her to turn to me and say “Yo soy Groot” which was admittedly, pretty cute. She also did some yoga with me ans me Linda

Double fisting art supplies

On Sunday during vacations two of my community members in site invited me to go play Ultimate Frisbee in Penonome. It was probably the hottest day that week but it was so much fun! There were four teams playing for the semi-finals and I actually got to join one of them to play a game. They are all a lot better at Ultimate than I am. I credit that to their having played together so often and my only having played some pick up games with friends in college. Who knows, maybe I’ll get a light up frisbee and convince some kids to play out on the soccer field one night when the sun isn’t trying to make me a tomato. It was a lot of fun and I’m probably going to try to go at least once a month. The best part about it is most of the players are right around my age and I’ve been seriously lacking in the whole “friends in my community” department. Hopefully that changes in the next few months!

On the last day of vacation Linda and I were going to go to church but she decided that it would be better to just go for a long walk. After celebrating all month I was glad for the recess. We wandered past the cemetery that’s on the outskirts of town and just headed down this road for a while. Linda was highly disappointed that she didn’t see any snakes. We did however, see a ton of butterflies, a handful of caterpillars, a super cute puppy, a dead lizard, and a teeny tiny toad! I swear he was about the size of a penny. The walk was good but very hot. Luckily we found a house that sold duro’s and I got one for each of us. It was so hot that I didn’t even care that it was grape flavored.

 

We saved his life and got him off the road

OH! And last but not least, I GOT A HOUSE!!!! I’ll be moving in August and I’m super excited! It faces out onto the soccer field and my favorite mountain so I’ll have a great view in the mornings. Plus I hear its a great house for carnavalito in February because the floats pass right in front of it. For me it’ll be my first time living alone and I’m feeling both excited and anxious. Luckily my host family is amazing and has told me that I can come there to do laundry, eat, or even sleep if I want! I’ll definitely be taking them up on the first two

 

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The sombrero pinta’o museum in my site may be little but it’s worth a visit! There’s an artisan there every day making the sombreros so you can get a first hand look at what the process is like.  Sombreros are made by weaving around the wooden form you can see in the picture above. And, the sombreros and headbands (and all of the other amazing things they make with this natural fiber) are available for purchase if you want to take a little of Panama home with you!

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Photo Friday! 

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¡Vídeo viernes!

For those reading this who may not speak Spanish that translates to video Friday which just didn’t have the right ring to it. Below is a video (And a photo) from the “Notas de Valores” at my host sisters school!  

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​The shouting you hear in the back of the video with the girl singing is pretty traditional here. I’m about 90% sure it’s called “Saloma” but only about 70% sure I’m spelling that right. In the bottom photo are all of the girls in the running for “reina” or “queen.” The queen is chosen at random-each of the girls is given a balloon to pop and one of them has a paper on it saying “reina.” The girl in red (she represented the valor or “value” of love) won! I wanted to throw my host sisters dance video up as well but alas the internet won’t allow that. I promise you-it was awesome! 

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Photo Friday! 

Hey all! I’m going to start something new (and slightly less musical-sorry!) on the blog. Every Friday I’m going to be uploading a photo or photos to give you a peek into peace corps life, Panama life, and, in more general terms, my life! I take so many photos of my site but I don’t want to overwhelm you in each post so keep an eye out for these each Friday! 


So turns out there’s a cigar factory in my town! I got a little tour of it and it’s a pretty cool place. Of course it has an artisan table of all of the other things that people make by hand in la pintada like sombreros, purses, and terra-cotta wall decor. The whole place smells of tobacco which is a very different smell than that of regular cigarettes. Unfortunately the factor is usuall closed up by 2 so you have to head over early in the day to get a tour! 

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