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Well, two years have come and gone. I can hardly believe it.

 

These past two years have certainly been some of the most challenging and rewarding, but certainly very formative. I am not the same person that I was when I left the States on May 1st, 2012.

 

Some of my favorite moments have been more or less mundane activities. Going fishing or to a farm. Playing with kids. Playing ultimate (obviously). Doing laundry. Cutting the grass. I suppose that’s because going fishing was really spear fishing river crawfish, doing laundry was beating clothes with a wooden paddle and I trimmed my lawn with a machete, not a lawn mower.

 

I’ve had a fair share of adventure as well. Like getting stung by a sting ray and getting infected with flesh-eating bacteria. Cramming myself and two 12-year olds on a bus that was already beyond-full and forcing them to sits on the laps of random adults so we could get to camp on time. Explaining to children what a “pool” was and that, no, you can not bring soap or shampoo in the pool to bathe. Explaining what a shower is. Explaining how to use hot water in a shower.

 

I’ve had a really difficult time trying to sum up the last two years into just a few sentences. Because the projects, the work, adventures and proud moments, they were all an important part of the last two years, but they aren’t the heart of the last two years. What I’ve learned is that everything we do and work for, all our seemingly large problems and achievements are actually trivial. What is important, is the relationships you have and forster and the way you treat other people.

 

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

– Maya Angelou

Today marks the 30th Wedding Anniversary of my lovely parents so in honor of that, this post is about some of the important lessons they taught me and how they have helped me in Panama.

 

  1. Three Phases of Healing

For those of you that don’t know, my dad is a podiatrist, or a foot/ankle doctor. Before I could spell my own name he taught me to memorize the 3 phases of healing. Vasoconstriction, Inflammatory Stage, Remodeling Stage. And so in English, that means – 1. Stop the bleeding. 2. Send in relief/support 3. Remodel and rebuild. I will never forget that first lesson.

 

For all of those bug bites that got infected (and there were many), the time that the sting ray got my ankle, and all of the other physical injuries my body suffered, I always reminded myself that my body was equipped with ways of healing the wounds. Though antibiotics were nice occasionally.  But more than just physical healing, I think of this process often when problems arise, as they inevitably do.

 

  1. Patience is a Virtue

This is a lesson my mom always tried to teach me when I would whine or complain. Although, she is one of the most patient people I know, she always said she wished she had more patience and tried to teach that to us.

 

Patience is a lesson I’m still learning in Panama and will always be learning for the rest of my life. Waiting for buses that come 3 hours late, or not at all (if its raining). Waiting for Panamanian Government Officials to come to meetings – when they show up 7 hours late. Or waiting for the water committee paperwork to be approved in the Ministry of Health, which took 9 months and I’m still waiting the paperwork I turned in to get a bank account. I am learning patience with people when they decide that “lines” at the cash register don’t apply to them. I’m learning patience with people that want to try to speak English with me but can’t say anything more than “how are you?”“Fine, thank you” and “I love you baby.” I’m learning patience with trying to figure out what comes next in my life. Patience is a virtue. For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.

 

  1. The One-Half Rule

I have been organizing sporting events since about the age of 8. I was one of the older kids in the ‘hood and somehow it always fell to my brother and I to get the neighborhood together. Growing up in the 90s/00s kids had a lot to compete against… the life-sucking energy of television and mind-numbing effects of video games were constant competition. But somehow we’d always manage to drag kids out of the house to play capture the flag, or basketball, or street hockey or whatever.

 

Anyway, I digress, the One-Half Rule. Dad always said that however many kids say they’re gonna come, assume that half of them will actually come.

 

That is the rule of life in this country. The number of people that told me they would come to my meeting, half of them show up. The number of kids that say they’re coming to Frisbee practice, half of them show up. The number of Peace Corps Volunteers that say they’ll attend a training… half of them show up. -.-  Well, at least I had been preparing for this for the past 17 years.

 

These are just three short important lessons that I’ve been learning for 25 years and I am sure I will continue to find new meanings in these basic teachings as I get older. I’m just lucky that I have such incredible parents to have started teaching me these valuable lessons :) Here’s to the next 30 years!

It’s presidential election time here in Panama! This only happens every 5 years, so it was a really interesting opportunity to experience.  The votes were tallied on May 4th and the new administration will take over on July 1st.  Now, as you all know from US politicians, election campaigns bring out the best in everyone. I would like to share some of my favorite billboard slogans. All of this is verbatim:

 

“I want your vote!” – Candidate: Uncle Sanchez

“Panama, there is only forwards, no backwards.”

“I will put more money in your pocket.”

“Water for everyone! Latrines for no one!”

“Darien, you’re in my program.” (Um, thanks for recognizing that we exist?)

“Never vote for the same people twice.”

 

I also feel that I should mention that there was a candidate (not for president but for a different position) that nicknamed himself “Obama” because he was black.

 

The whole election process is very… open. People hang flags and wear jerseys of the political party they are involved with. Furthermore, politicans are very openhanded with their funds. For example, a political candidate came to my community a few months ago and had, essentially a townhall meeting. Then he left a $100 bill (yes, a Benjamin) with the community leaders. And the community leaders showed it to everyone in the community. The politician also bought us all candy and soda.

 

Politicians are essentially just a source of funding for… ANYTHING. You can ask for water, sanitation, soccer jerseys (most common), a baseball stadium. They just throw their money at whoever asks, as long as they can put a big sign on it that has their name.

 

On the actual voting day, it’s was not something individual or private. Every main political party had a truck full of food at the local school (where everyone votes). There were 100 people just hanging out at the polls all day long, eating free food from whatever political party they belonged and watching people vote.

 

I also had a hard time distinguishing between parties. There appears to be very little discussion on ideology or philosophy and people seem to just vote for whoever they know. I mean, almost everyone has a cousin or aunt or something that’s running for office.

 

Another interesting tidbit; Panama has never voted for the same party twice. The polls suggested that this year might be different. The current president, Ricardo Martinelli, made his own party, Democratic Change, and they did a fair amount of work in Panama City:

 

Built a few bridges,

Put in a nice metropolitan park,

Constructed Latin America’s first subway system,

Implemented new city buses (aka NOT old US school buses, I think this is also the first country in Latin America to do this)

Introduced a $1 coin (humbly named, the Martinelli)

 

So…they did a fair amount in just 5 years. That’s not to say they were perfect. They basically ignored the rest of the country. But it’s interesting that hardly anyone talked about this progress. The current president, Martinelli could not run for re-election by Panamanian law, but he had a successor run and his wife was to be his VP. After they named Mrs. Martinelli as VP, the party took a dive in the polls and apparently could not recover. People felt that it was too much like a dynasty and that you’re not exercising your right to a democracy if you vote for the same person twice.

 

Anyway, the new president, Varela, is part of a party called the Panamenista, and is apparently very Panamanian. His slogan was “water for everyone, latrines for no one.” He also has an engineering degree for Georgia Tech… which makes me question Georgia Tech’s engineering program. Hopefully I’m just being pessimistic and Varela will actually work to provide these basic needs to the most difficult to reach Panamanians and not just focus on Panama City. We shall see…

I have a new job.

 

In my last post (which was actually written 4 months before this one), Lajas had running water. The water committee has been infinitely more organized than I would have imagined, that is mostly thanks to the incredibly industrious and hard-working Eufemio Guaceruca, our water committee president.

 

So I applied to extend my service a few months to switch gears a little bit and go back to focusing on sanitation. I’m going to be traveling around the last few months essentially trying to find out if people are using compost latrines and their perceptions on using human waste as compost. I still collaborate with Lajas occasionally by phone and try to assist them in whatever way I can.

 

I’m now living in Meteti, otherwise known as the Dallas of Panama. I live with cowboys. I literally moved from living with Indians to cowboys. The muchachos here walk around in their cowboy boots and ride their horses around town. There are lasso contests. And rodeos. And a baseball stadium. This is civilization people. Well, kind of. I still only have running water every other day and phone signal has gone out 4 times in the last 24 hours.

 

I have an awesome roommate PCV that works in the school teaching English. She likes to sing Kesha, Adele and Mariah as much as I do, which I honestly didn’t think was possible. She introduced me to who I think must be the only Panamanian that 1) knows how to dance AND 2) can play Adele on his guitar. We had a little jam session the other night and it was amazing. His 12-year old brother actually improvised a traditional Panamanian typico song about us.  Absolutely incredible.

 

This is so different from the life I was living but I am definitely enjoying the change :) 

 

Finally, water is pouring from the 50 taps that dot the community. Finally, potable water is available to 600 Lajas Blanqueños. Finally, one year and 6 months after living here, I can begin working.

I don’t mean that in the literal sense, I have been working, but the nature of my work has changed entirely. And I’m glad. My life before this was the endless pestering of the Panamanian Government to come through on their promises; it was kindly asking them to process their paperwork faster and making sure they hadn’t lost it; it was tirelessly frustrating. My job was almost entirely outside my community. Go to Panama, talk to the government, check on the status of legalizing the water committee, email, email, email, phone call, phone call, phone call. It seems many people like to dress up and go to work and few like to do their job.

Until now, we had not been able to catch a break. There was a problem with the original budget that had somehow not accounted for the connection of the pump to the electrical system. That took a year in and of itself to get worked out. Then there was the accidental machete-ing of an electrical cable. That was another nightmare. Then there was the flood, which brought its own mess of damages.

I am not so naïve as to think that this is my work or that this is the completion of a goal. This is just the beginning.

 

watereileen

Well the river is slowly but surely going down, the rains have stopped and the summer is upon us. Ahead lie four glorious months of no rain, no mosquitos, and an omnipresent breeze that elicits a feeling reminiscent of being cold.

There will be damages from the flood, like the tapstand that broke because of a boat slamming into it, and the already-damaged electrical cable that spent a week fully submerged in water. But those things will have to wait. There’s not much to be done while the river is still going down to a normal level.

So in the meantime, enjoy these pictures of my kittens and neighbors.

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So we are getting to the very end of the rainy season. Soon the summer will be here and it will not rain for at least 3 or 4 months. Unfortunately, the rainy season is ending late this year and the rain has not been stopping. The river that I live on has flooded over the banks and is encroaching on peoples houses. Our entire aqueduct is under water and I’m not sure that it will work once the river finally goes down. I was asked to leave my community until the river stops rising, which hopefully is soon. Last I heard from my community, the river had reached the very bottom of the stilts of my house (still impressively high, but my house is another 8 ft up so I’m not too worried). I’ve been in Meteti for the past few days waiting it out. Here are some pictures of what my community looks like (as of two days ago, when I left) … the river continued to rise after that.

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this is the walkway between where I live and the main part of town… which I currently need a boat to get to. the water is over my head.

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view from my house. normally the river cannot be seen or heard from here. Now I can do both.

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My next door neighbors house, from my house.

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There’s a flood indicator marker there. Under water. Somewhere.


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You can see more photos on their fb page here – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lajas-Blanca/178960802179020

 

Luckily the rise has been slow. As far as I know no one has been hurt from the flood. Supposedly the rain has stopped and soon the river should begin to go down. At this point the biggest problem is the fact that all of the pit latrines in my community are under water (thus they have contaminated all of the water we have to use to cook, wash clothes, bathe, and drink). All we can do now is pray that the river goes down quickly and things can return to normal.