Monday, November 21, 2011

As the Holidays Approach

So here in Panama, we have been in holiday season for about a month now. The celebrations started at the first part of November, and they will continue until we roll in the New Year. In fact, I came to the city today hoping to get some work done, but my computer has quit working, very few internet cafes are open, and the bank is not open because I forgot it was a national holiday. As for me, I've been busy, but it has really been a great time. (and I know, I need to update my blog more frequently.)

I have had some very interesting experiences...

From seeing more snakes killed during this recent period than the whole first year (corral snakes, a snake called "the X"), to watching it rain for days on end, to giving up on using an umbrella (I just carry extra trash bags to water proof everything I am carrying and I walk in the rain, including putting a trash bag over my hat and putting my hat back on my head), to wearing out shoes at the quickest rate in my life (I brought one pair of Docker dress shoes with me that lasted for a year in the rain, mud, and trails, but I have since worn out three additional pairs of dress shoes in a three month period. I use my mud boots whenever I can, but they are not considered appropriate for me all the time because of the title I hold of a University graduate and professor. They hold me to the same dress standards as the mayor, representative, priest, teachers, agency workers, and other professionals who enter the community, so I end up walking in mud in dress shoes more than I would like), to having a con artist try to smooth talk me out of money (he never asks for money, he just tells a really good story of being robbed, and no, he did not get my money), to watching my house grow (the tree limbs that were buried for bracing are now growing like they were planted, which doesn't help when you house is made of dirt), to being kissed by pet deer, and going on an amazing hike.

About the hike....

From my community, backdropping every vantage point, overlooking the entire Ñürüm district, and tempting me to conquer it every day, stands a mountain of enormous beauty and statute, which frequently hidden from the world by approaching rain clouds. On occasion, the clouds clear, the sun shines, and the beauty of Tolíca Mountain rains over my community. Since the first day I came to reside in my community, I have been tempted and by this beast. “Climb me if you dare. You think you can, but I know better” is whispered in the wind and echoed by the trees.

Well, out of nowhere, I received an invitation to travel with a community member to the community that was near the top of the mountain. I, without considering, thinking, or even looking at my calender, eagerly stated that I would love to go.

What turned out was one of my most memorable experiences so far! I conquered the mountain, hiked for 5 hours, heard the rosary prayed in Spanish for the first time, slept in the community, saw children playing the balseria (which is a traditional celebration of the comarca), stayed the night at a community member´s house (who treated us with such hospitality that it felt like home), witnessed the first celebration held by a community counterpart, hiked through rain, climbed trees to drink oranges when the water ran out, drank from the mountain springs and creeks when I could, stood in the clouds as they passed, and hiked back to my community the next day. In addition, I have amazing photos to remember the journey with. I also saw my first Chirola, which is basically a prison in the Comarca. If there is a fight, theft, violence, adultery, or statutory rape (when consent is given but the other person is under age, male or female), the person is put inside this prison for 24 hours, or more, without any water or food. It doesn´t seem that harsh, but the prison is so small that you can not sit. In addition, if you fall asleep, you fall into barbwire.

Outside of these amazing experiences, I continue teaching accounting, marketing, and English, have started teaching computers, and stay busy working in all sorts of random projects, ranging from helping write the statute for a cooperative that´s forming, constructing cash flow statements, training individuals personally on accounting, tutoring adults who are studying at the university in math and English, reading Dracula (which does keep me up at nights), and learning how to play the Star Spangled Banner on the guitar.

But right now, all I can think about is Christmas...........

Also, I have updated Picasa with some photos of the above described...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

One Year Complete

One Year Complete...
I have been in Panama for over a year, and I have been in my community for over 10 months now. What a whirlwind it has been! And for that, let me try to give it some perspective....

First 10 weeks - Culture shock, long days of training (technical and language), living in a environment where learning, hours, freedom, food, safety, and families are controlled and monitored by Peace Corps, constant feedback and evaluations, new diets introduced, pit latrines avoided and despised, English speakers living next door, fellow volunteers seen on a daily basis, dinamicas are introduced and seemed outrageously childish

Next 3 months - Period of Community Analysis, Family, Religion, Education, Economy, Health, Organizations, and Politics being the topic of focus of every conversation, new names are introduced on a daily basis, many conversations pass and you don´t know what was said, reunions occur and you sit in a corner and listen, then you get invited to the front to talk and you give your short memorized speak about Peace Corps, yourself, and your program (which is very challenging when it is called Community Economic Development), you learn that your program is being cancelled....Wait.....No more CED after I leave? Why?

Next 3 months - Volunteer Reporting Forms (VRFs) start to count, you worry what in the world will you really put on that thing, your work schedule piles up, you agree to do anything and everything that you are invited to do, teach English, Accounting, and Marketing, help in the school garden, go to every junta you can, you help with many short term projects, can you help me know how much money I made last month, you teach how to analyze financial statements, you teach how to use condoms, you talk about HIV/AIDS in the school, the scenery constantly takes your breath away, the women don´t, time flies by, where did it go?

Next 3 months - Isolation starts settling in, In-Service Training comes, your entire group is reunited in one complex, casinos, swimming, ocean, boats, stories.....a home visit occurs, friends, family, food, flavor, grease in your food, good times, stomach problems........leadership training to community members is given, you discuss the big problems openly because you know what they are (or you think so at that point), you work to write a mission and vision statement, you start working on accounting, you give homework to community groups, you see the problems and failures from non-sustainable development, projects that you agreed to work on during the past three-month period nobody now has interest in, you feel like your language is okay, you set up a condom distribution network in you community because they are not sold to anyone under the age of 18, you realize why so many young women have babies, you keep teaching...........

Past month and a half - you start thinking, ´Am I making a difference?´.... you start doubting your language skills, your community groups still haven´t done their homework, you see the benefit to pit latrines, you would really rather use one than an indoor commode, when the fill level is low and the smell is properly maintained with gasoline, the benefits out-way an indoor toilet and the maintenance is definitely a lot lower, you make an appearance on a reality TV show, you help a local community member write a recycling project proposal, you start a bureaucratic nightmare of getting computers from the states sent to your community, you get health checks, you poop in a cup for three days, you find out you don´t need de-wormer, you solicit books for the school library, you travel to fellow volunteer sites helping teach leadership skills, you realize that dinamicas make seminars successful and memorable, you go on long hikes along unknown trails seeking isolation, you live in a ´Fish Bowl,´the beautiful scenery becomes normal, you start thinking that what used to be amazing is now just average, the women in the community are looking more beautiful every day, you find petroglyphs only a 45 minute hike away, you walk for 3 more hours one way looking for more rumored petroglyphs only to end up breaking a sweat and wasting time, you start thinking about the end........

Hope/Goals for the Future - to start studying for the LSAT, to get a higher LSAT score, to get elected to a PCV in-country committee, to take another vacation to the states, to stop teaching English, to have more free time, to not have to repair your dirt house before the end of two years, to stop having to buy new umbrellas, to see projects start falling through and stop falling apart, to see success, to stop and smell the see the cup as half full again.....

The first day in Panama, our Country Director Brian Riley gave a very memorable speech, and it went something like this...

"I want all of you to think about the moment you first stepped of the plane, the moment you first experienced Panama, the moment you first saw it ... the green, lush vegetation.....the tropical birds in the trees.....the palm trees.....the beautiful tropical weather.....the excitement built up in you......the motivation to do whatever Peace Corps asks....the attitude.....the energy....the enthusiasm! Don´t ever forget that! Whatever you do, remember that day!"

Of course, his version was longer, and it contained different words. (So I really didn´t need those parenthesis, but you get the idea)

One-Year to Go

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

4th of July in Panama

Wow how the time has flown! It has been way to long since my last post, and with so many stories to tell and so many memories that have been created, I will limit it to two, which most of you are probably unfamiliar.
First, I want to say that my trip to the states went really well. I loved visiting family, golfing, fishing, and hanging out with friends. After I returned to Panama, I spent the next four days in Panama City working with at an artesan fair with some women from my community. Anyways, to get to the story I find hilarious and embarrassing at the same time.....
Stomach problems. Being a Peace Corps Volunteer and having stomach problems is common place. I am sure that thousands of volunteers have story similar to mine, and we usually only talk about them among ourselves, or at least from I can tell. However, I feel as if it is time that future Peace Corps volunteers are made aware of common place situations, at least here in Panama and especially for those living in the more rural communities. In Panama, the public transportation system is fairly reliable, and overall I am impressed. However, there is one bus line that travels from Panama City to David, the two largest cities in the country, that is more luxurious. Air conditioning, large seats, curtains, television, and even a bathroom are included. However, the bathroom is actually a deception. While most people would think that a bathroom on a bus is available for all personal needs, these bathrooms are not. They are meant only for urination purposes, and not any more, and this has never been a problem before. However, when I left Panama City after my time at the artisan fair, I felt fine......for about 10 minutes. Then, it struck. The gut pain, clinched cheeks, cold sweat, no comfortable position problem hit. I thought, oh, it will pass, but it didn´t. After about 10 more minutes, I realized I had to take action. I could not go until the 3 hour mid-way stop in Santiago. I walked to the front of the bus and explained to the driver and helper my dilema. They seemed not at all phased by my situation as it is something I am sure they frequently deal with. Anyways, they stated that they could stop the bus in about 15 minutes at a closeby town, but if I needed them to stop sooner, just let them know. In the upcoming town, there would be a public restroom, equipped with toilet paper, with a comfortable seat and four walls. How nice that would be! However, I could not wait for 15 minutes. I gave it a shot, but after about 5 (which seemed like an hour in my time) the bus driver pulled over. Now, before leaving the bus, I did get toilet paper from the bus driver, and he did stop where tall cane was present. But really, none of this mattered. I hurried from the bus, slid down the embankment, pushed my way through head high cane, and found the ideal spot. I looked back to see if I could see passengers on the bus, and I couldn´t seem them. Therefore, I assume they couldn´t see me. Anyways, after finishing, (the bus waiting for me the whole time) I go to make my way back out of the ditch, and I find it much difficult to leave than it was arriving. I fall about twice, and finally manage to make my way back to the door. Covered in mud, sweating, and a little uncomforable after the whole experience, I go back to my seat and continue to my destination.
Okay, so I want to write more, but I have to go meet a community member who just called me. I am going to teach her about emails. Anyways, the fourth of July was great and memorable. I danced with the queen of the private high school, and we danced, coriographed, to the following song:
More to come in the future.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Few Photos!

A day never turns out the way it is planned in Panama. Anyways, I had time and speed to upload a few photos (10) to my Picasa page, but no more.
Sorry! I'll search for more time another day.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Post Site Visit and First Night Out of Site

So, at this point, I am probably considered a ´site rat´ because I don´t leave site very often. In fact, tonight will be my first night that I don´t sleep on the same table, in the same dirt walled & floored room, listening to the same roosters crowing and music blasting, and smelling the same scents that come with living in a remote village in the hills of the Comarca since I moved there two and a half months ago. And right now, I am wanting to run back home to my community. It is familiar, and where I am right now isn´t. In addition, it is a lot hotter here. It is probably 10 degrees warmer than my site with temperatures around 90 degrees farenheit here. So why am I out of site....not by choice, but because I have my first regional meeting to attend. I am really excited about it, as it will be my first opportunity to see many volunteers that I haven´t talked to in the same amount of time. Since moving to my site, I have had two volunteers visit my site, not including a relatively close volunteer (which I call vecino) that Í run into occassionally in my community.
So how has it been? AMAZING!!! My last post concentrated on my ever looming Site Visit, which I have come to realize was all needless concern. My site visit went great, and I feel so much better now that it is over. In addition, having the boss visit was really a great day and not a day of stress like I thought it would be. She helped me with a seminar I had, and she arrived with chocolates and apples. Plus, she bought my lunch (all $1.50 that it was)! Also, it was really refreshing to receive a ´pat on the back´ and appreciation for what I have been doing. Overall, I wish she would come more often, but it won´t be for another year that she makes a trip to my site.
Now, I have six month goals. I will continue the business analysis I started with the women´s (and two men) artisan group, I will train two people to teach basic computer skills, Word, and Excel which will in turn teach at least one class during this time period, and I will teach English classes tailored toward selling good to a person who can speak no Spanish. In addition, I will continue my primary job duty, which I call helping whoever wants help. Plus, today I introduced a really simple project to one of my community counterparts, and he was really excited and wanting to start on it immediately.
So where am I heading? Besides the goals set during my site visit, I also have a hiking trip planned for next week. I am going to hike 20 kilometers with a group of boys and girls (Boy Scouts) to the top of a mountain that I look at each day with amasement and desire to concure!
Oh, and I forgot my major accomplishment yesterday! My ´junta´ went amazing well, and we finished putting up the dirt/straw on my walls within one day! Now, I have 1 month to build two doors, two windows, run water, constuct a bed and table, get approval, and move into my new house! (The walls need 1 month to dry thoroughly, or otherwise, it is really cold and causes illnesses.)
I wish I could upload pictures, but my camera and the internet connection does not allow. However, imagine a group of six guys (Panamanian), one gringo, and one gringa in a circle with arms locked stomping mud in a giant mud pit! This was yesterday and the building of my house!
Right now, the only problem I have is my language. I find myself not thinking about what I am saying as much, and I end up accidently speaking English in the middle of a conversation! ¿Por que?

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Search Continues

Life started feeling routine in Panama, and then I came to the city again......

Many mornings, I wake up here in Panama frigid cold. No, it really is not that cold, but it is verano here, which is the dry season. In essence, for those accustomed to Panamanian weather, it is cold at night and dry, windy, sunny, and hot during the day. Then, I jump in an even more frigid shower because the water from the aqueduct system still has the air of the night in it. Next, I eat breakfast, which can be fried hot dogs, hojaldras, rice, boiled yucca, or chicken feet (which I went for seconds for the last time it was fixed). Then, I seem to have something going most days, whether attending business meetings, work days in the farm, or celebrating a holiday with the community. Some days, it starts off slow because I have nothing scheduled, but it usually picks up with me wondering around talking with people (pasear), which is a great past time no longer done in the U.S. Then, in the evening, some days I walk the road in the dark with other members of the community or go to a late night meeting, which has a set time of after mass, or spend time talking with my host family or I just go lie in bed and read until I get tired. During the night, I listen to the radio of my host brothers, as it is loud enough for the neighbors to listen as well, and try to listen to the newest or oldest U.S. top hit songs hidden behind the Spanish dubbed over them.

I have a few meetings lined up at the start of the new year, and I have been purchasing supplies and crafting letters for my first in January, where I plan to faciliate a BOCA (PC acronym for Business and Organizational Capacity Assessment). Also, I have made commitments to attend the holidays with the community. I have also made the decision on where to build my house, and I feel like it is a good decision. It has a little bit of a view, is further from the center of town than I would have liked, but will benefit more people after I leave than other options. Everything was calm until I came to town.....

An email from my boss that is for the APCD visit. Crap! I forgot! I still have a boss. I am supposed to organize a community meeting during the visit of my APCD. Everything felt normal, and now I have this meeting. I am not doing anything wrong, and I even think I am doing most things well. But, a community meeting with my boss present! Yes, even as a volunteer, I still have a boss. I have to decide who I am going to have as my community guide for my boss to meet (because in my community, there are many people who will be similar to a community guide for me), organize an event.....

Another challenge ahead, and another solution I will find.

Every day, I learn something new about my community. I learn of a different NGO that has been working in the community (today, World Brigade is in my community, and the community members are super excited to have them. Plus, I think that all the work they do only supports the work that I will do for the next 2 years), and I learn of past projects that are no longer functioning (a small hydro-electric plant used to be in my community?). Every day is an experience. Every day is a challenge. Every day is full of rewarding moments. Every day I want something that I do not have (usually in terms of food, family, or friends).

A few days, I get to come to town and update my blog. Very few days. I have been out of site only 3 days since the start of November, and I only spent the day out of site. Since I had so many other activities lined up, I was unable to update my blog, so I apologize for a delayed post. However, I have friends and family in the states that are helping keep friends and other family informed. Thank You!

As for next week, Merry Christmas to all!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Update from Panama!

Hi all, Mrs. Judy and I are writing an update for Kevin. By no means will we do as good of a job describing the adventures and experiences that Kevin has already had in Panama, but hopefully we can let everyone know how he's doing and what he's up to! - Judy & Nancy

As some of you may have seen on Facebook, Kevin had the opportunity to run (technically - hop on a chiva and then a bus) to Santiago, Panama last week to pick up a few necessities. He has been in his location, Buenos Aires, for a month now and has certainly had to make a few adjustments to his routine, but is finding his new home welcoming. Right now Kevin is learning more about the culture and people in the city as well as the way the community operates. After learning about his new home, he will decide how he is best suited to assist the people of Buenos Aires.

Kevin talks fondly about his community and his excitement in helping them. One of the most inspirational things for him is the unity of his community. Despite their differences, the people of Buenos Aires are all dedicated to their community.

He has already become active in the community using his knowledge gained from Future Farmers of America (FFA) in high school and his involvement in the Boy Scouts of America. He has been asked to work with a Boy Scout troop in the area. Using the skills he honed in FFA, he has helped evaluate the growth seedlings in a nearby greenhouse to determine if they were strong enough to be transplanted to another community for planting. Kevin has also found that he will be able to use his accounting and finance skills to help his community and has even bought a new accounting book!

Kevin has learned some new trades while in Buenos Aires, one of which is washing his clothes by hand! He said that on his first try it took him about four hours to wash his clothes in the river near his location. No worries though, his second round of laundry went a bit faster...there's only room for improvement!

New Address
There is a new address for Kevin posted on the Contact page of his blog. If you send any packages his way, let him know via email so that he can be prepared for a pick up! He's certainly looking forward to getting more pictures and letters.