Pre-service Training in Santa Rita
For the past 8 weeks I’ve been in pre-service training where Peace Corps has taught our group all about integrating into a community, building latrines and aqueduct systems, and how to effectively cooperate with Panamanian government agencies. We’ve been really busy and haven’t had much internet access so I’m just now getting around to my first blog post in Panama.
We moved into our training site, Santa Rita, on May 6 and I lived with a 29 and 30 year old couple with a loud 4 year old daughter and 11 year old son. They’re very nice and always try to make sure I’m doing well and eating well. The dad works in construction and usually just comes home and watches TV after work, the mom is a teacher and gets home around 7 or 7:30 to start preparing dinner.
I was placed in one of the advanced Spanish classes which met between 9 and 12 and was followed by a lunch break between 12 and 1, and technical class between 1 and 5. After classes, some of the volunteers would meet up with a bunch of neighborhood kids to teach and play simple games with them and the group seemed to get bigger and bigger every day.
As far as living conditions, we had a smelly latrine, outdoor shower with cold water, and my own room. The water shuts off pretty regularly so you pretty much had to try and take a shower whenever you got a chance. It gets stinko hot here but whenever it rains there’s a really nice breeze that comes through and cools everything off.
We spent a week in May on a site visit to go see how a current volunteer lives and what life will be like in a couple months. It also gave us an idea of what to expect and what we might want in our own sites when we start talking with the director about where to send us. It was really amazing and I took pictures of some really incredible views. I wasn’t too far away from Panama City- a two hour bus ride, two hour chiva (pick up truck that drives certain routes) ride, and about a two hour hike. I was in the province of Cocle with a volunteer living with a latino community. It was amazing. He showed me around the village which consisted of about 120 members and we played some volleyball, bathed in the river behind his house, taught a couple English classes, spent a day doing water leveling (measuring length and height of an aqueduct to figure out distance below the source and stuff), watched some soccer games between the local towns, and did a lot of hiking around the area. I really enjoyed it but after hearing from some of the other volunteers who went to indigenous communities I was thinking I might want to go to a Ngäbe community.
We received our site placements in mid June and I found out that I will be going to the Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé into a community called Salitre which consists of about 300 people. I’m a follow up volunteer and I’ll be taking over for a current volunteer called Chris Kingsley who helped out with training during Tech Week and is a really cool guy. He’s known for being a really, really intense hiker and will probably be able to show me all of the different trails around Salitre. To get to my site I have to take a 5ish hour bus ride from Panama City to Tolé, take a 1 hour chiva ride, and hike for 2.5 hours. Also, from what I’ve heard Chris basically lives in a treehouse with no walls at this top of a hill with an absolutely gorgeous view.
I met my counterpart, Raul, at a pre-visit conference to go over some last minute info sessions and get to know someone from the community who I’ll be working close with. He was timid but nice and had never been more than a couple hours away from his community. When we arrived in Tolé he definitely started opening up more and became easier to talk to. The 2.5 hour walk that was promised to me took a painfully slow 3 hours and 45 minutes since I was carrying most of my luggage and a guitar up a lot of hills in the pouring rain. After the grueling hike, I arrived at my new host family’s house where I will be staying for a month and a half after swearing in on July 6. All of my bags and everything inside of my bags were totally, completely drenched and I had to hang up string and bungee cords throughout my small dirt floor room to hang clothes and books so they could start the drying process. Once I settled in I felt a bit better except that I had to sleep in wet clothes, wet sheets, a wet blanket, and no pillow with a foot and a half of my legs hanging off of the wooden table that was my new bed. This will definitely take some getting used to. The week I spent in Salitre got continually better as I got to know some community members, played in a pick-up soccer game, hiked out to the spring source that supplies the community with water, had some lessons in the language of Ngäbere (My community speaks a LOT of Ngäbere so learning to understand and speak it is one of my top priorities right now), and worked on my counterparts rice farm for a day. It was a really good taste of what my life will be like for the next 2 years and although I know it will be extremely challenging to adjust to the new lifestyle (especially the lack of meat and veggies and fruit, they eat a whole lot of rice and yucca), I’m sure that this is going to be an eye opening and life changing experience.