Saturday, September 19, 2009

Fifth Week of Training: Culture Week


I hope you are well. It has been a challenging, encouraging week. Three of us who will be stationed in the Comarca Ngobe Buble, a large plot of land set aside for two indiginous groups, spent a week living in the community of a current Peace Corps volunteer, Andrea. She stationed us with our own host families and then organized some language and culture classes throughout the week.

God has shown me His beauty in the beautiful views, sunsets, and the beautiful people He has created. He´s forced me to rely solely on Him, being sick on Wednesday on the top of a mountain in the rain with a host family from an indiginous culture who I´ve only been with for less than a week.

I´m encouraged even as I write this because my host brother Efehemio, a host brother who´s in 5th grade, saw me reading my bible and pulled out his own bible and read a chapter together in our own languages. How cool is that!

It´s been a joy to be with my family this week. Efehemio is 13 years old and so eager to learn. He teaches me the indiginous language Ngabere every night and then I teach him some english. The family has also taught me some of their traditional dances. The family has two parents and 13 kids, ten of whom live with them. They have a palm roof with wood walls and dirt floors. They don´t have electricity, but use a kerosene lamp to light up the house for a bit after the sun goes down. They listen to lots of Christian music, often at 2 or 3 in the morning when they can´t sleep. The father is fairly quiet, the mother a bit more outgoing. They talk to me in a mix of Spanish and Ngabere.

As Efe continued his dances, his brothers and sisters joined in as I took some pictures. Eventually, I started to dance too and then they all started laughing as I tried to learn the steps.

Showering has been quite an adventure. There is a path down the hill to the creek where they have a small bucket. It´s kind of fun showering in the jungle, but the water is actually quite cold.

Sleeping is a bit of a challenge. There is plenty of time to sleep as the sun goes down around 7pm, but my bed is just bamboo rods with my sleeping pad on top. It gets quite cold up here in the mountains, so it gets fairly cold at night. I´ve worn pants, sweatshirt, and socks to bed every night.

Every morning we walk over from our host family´s house to Andrea´s house, where we have some lemon grass tea from her yard and then catch up on our host family experiences. We usually spend a few hours learning Ngabere each day and then have some type of field trip in the afternoon.

On Friday, we came back to my host family´s house, where we learned how to shuck some fibers from the plant to make rope to make a chakra, a type of handbag that can be dyed a variety of colors. My host dad also was working on a sombrero which he will sell later. He works on it for 3.5 days and sells it for around $25 down in San Felix. We also toured the vegetable garden of one of the men in the group.

Other fun activities this week included hiking to the top of the town, where we could see down to the river valley, out to the Pacific, and up to the tallest mountain peaks. We´ve learned about the history of the Comarca, typical family foods, typical family responsibilities around the house, and other helpful bits of information.

I hope you have a bit of an idea of what life is like and I will try to post again after my upcoming technical week.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fourth Week of Training and Site Announcement

Hey everybody,

Today is a very exciting day--our group got to learn our sites for the next two years! I will be in between the cities of David and Santiago on the Pacific side of western Panama. It seems like a great fit. I will be following up a previous Master´s International volunteer who did a great job of setting the stage for a future volunteer. Word on the street is that they already have a house built for me!

Here´s a bit more information on my site given to me by the Peace Corps:

Tucked into the rugged foothills, you will discover the multi-faceted culture of the indiginous group Ngabe. You will find traditionally-styled homes of penca (dried palm leaves) and bamboo, steep ridges covered in corn and yucca, green and blue loros (birds) flying in the trees, women wearing the iconic clothing of their predecessors, travelers hauling goods in multicolored chakras, and friendly neighbors ready to share a totuma de cafe with you. You will be welcomed everywhere in the valley. It is a community of 300 people concentrated near the banks of the river. The central playing field, school, and church form the hub of the valley.

The community has carved their life out of the surrounding hills and valleys. The community relies principally on traditional agriculture for subsistence. Modernization has accelerated changes in this region since a main road was paved. The nearest town is about 45 minutes away and has a post office, supermarkets, and beach access. Improved access to town has allowed the neighbors to pasear (talk with other families) with ease, connected more students to resources, expanded businesses, and brought in more tasty goods for the small, local stores to sell. They are excited to work with Peace Corps Volunteers and invite you to join the community.

Here are my primary tasks:
1) Build trust, friendship, and work partnerships by listening, observing, and participating in meetings, work days, trainings, or any behind-the-scenes planning going on in the community.

2) Facilitate a participatory community analysis with your work partners or counterparts.

3) Facilitate strategic and action planning with individuals, groups, or organizations while utilizing participatory tools.

4) Design and carry out planned Environmental Health activities with partners.

This will include operation and maintenance of one acueduct system, an improvement of a second acueduct system, and possible design and implementation of a third acueduct system. Other projects could include building latrines and conducting Environmental Health charlas (interactive presentations).

5) Evaluate the success of activities based on previously set objectives and measures, as well as lessons learned for the future.

6) Report out to stakeholders and celebrate progress!

7) Follow up with partners through individual training, mentoring, and troubleshooting.

I eagerly await my time with my future community. It seems to be such a great fit--great people to work with, great projects to work on, close to the pan-american highway, close to the beach, and close to the mountains for some great hiking.

If you are at all interested in visiting my site or Panama in general, I would love to help you in whatever way I can. I would love to show you around my site and give you an idea of the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer and the lives of people in my community. I can start having visitors in February, so let me know!

On Sunday we will head to our culture week near the city of Santiago, but up in the mountains a bit. We will learn about the food they cook, the indiginous language they speak (in addition to Spanish), as well as how they make a living.

That´s all from Panama!

Dios te bendiga,


Friday, September 4, 2009

Third Week of Training

Hey everybody,

Blessings to you all! I just finished up classes today and got a bit of time to post. This week we returned from our volunteer visits with plenty of energy and confidence that we will in fact be able to integrate into the culture in a couple months. We´re starting to be comfortable presenting in spanish class now, which will be quite necessary very soon.

Next week on Wednesday we should find out where our sites will be, so after next week I´ll have a greater vision for what the next two years will hold. I continue to enjoy hanging out with my host family, learning how to cook new foods, and watching intense thunderstorms in the afternoons. In the coming weeks we´ll have culture week and technical week, where we get to spend a week in two different locations to get a greater focus on the cultural and technical skills we´ll need on site.

I hope all is well back in the States.