Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Blowing out Candle Uno

A profesor and RPCV once shared with aspiring-to-be-volunteers his top 16 recommendations for our PC service. As I come upon the 1-yr mark, I thought I’d reflect on how I’m doing based on his checklist.

1. Spend time with Host Family Well, considering I live right across the way from them, this one’s not hard. Luckily, ellos son buena gente and I enjoy their company. Thanks to Joaquin, Berta, Geron, Virin, Niño, y Liliana for treating me as a member of the family. And I haven’t lost contact with my training host family—we catch up via cell phone (thank you technology) about once a month.

2. Boil your Water No way! My water comes from a spring in the mountain—pure&delicious. I do use my filter though as a safety meansure, but more so because it conveniently stores water inside my house. But I don’t add chlorine and take satisfaction in knowing I am not introducing chemicals into my drinking water.

3. Spend time in your Community This is the best part. This is where I can be crazy busy working or hiking all over, or I can be super lazy, hanging out on my bench welcoming passerbyers to come sit and chat awhile. Things happen when you’re in site—you run into people, you observe something, a conversation gives you an idea. I only wish I could stay in more!

4. Work Hard Sweat hard. It can be easy to fall into a rut, especially when those around disappoint you. However, I’ve only got one chance at this—I need to give it my all. Everyday that passes is one day less to fight for change. Plus, I’ve found I’m happiest when I’m working and interacting with mi gente.

5. Seek Innovators Not only are they the key to change in the community, they are the interesting ones to talk to! Without fail, these people never fail to impress me with their ingenuity. Whether it’s something simple like converting old, colored scrap packaging paper into a piñata or something bigger like converting oil drums into a culvert to keep water off the road/pedestrian bridge.

6. Make use of local Know-how I have learned....to carry stuff on my head..to eat everything with a spoon..to predict the weather..to not eat raw marañon nuts (cashews)..where the best bathing spot is..when to cut bamboo according to the moon..medicinal properties of various plants..just to name a few!

7. Experiment All my gardening experiments failed with the exception of basil (for a taste of Italy in Panama). But I have finally settled upon the location where my laundry gets the most sun and figured out how to make scones in a skillet. I failed at making a chakara (the local hand-woven bag)for the time being, but I dominated the bead bracelet and can amarrar a decent boyo.

8. Share Your Knowledge From what crops grow in the USA (I tell you the truth, we don’t grow rice!) to the varying levels of poverty in the world to matters pertaining to my job (water systems, latrines, health&hygiene, environment) to ‘did u know that you can go a mile out into the Atlantic Ocean from the mouth of the Amazon River and still take out a glass of fresh water?’

9. Help Other Volunteers Of course! In that way I keep busy and get to visit other sites. Also, becasue I almost share a site with a fellow PCV, we team up on many things for a ‘double PCV power’ effect. For example, a group of guys wanted to start a Panadería (bakery)—well he knows buisness and I know bread...presto, our guys are now making delicious bread (and $).

10. Love the Local Cuisine Upon arriving in Panama, I scoffed this. A panamanian spice rack includes salt, sugar, and oil. Oh, but how times have changed. I am most content with a plate of rice&beans, some fried ripe plantains on the side for extra smiles. I could verse an ode to the hojaldra (essentially fried bread dough), or perhaps to a boyo de maíz nuevo (first-of-the-season corn, ground and rolled up in a banana leaf and boiled). The fresh produce is delicious and cheap (A, avocado to Z, zapallo). And a shout-out to patacones (green plantains coin sliced, fried, smashed, fried again) and papaya batidos (papaya-milk-sugar-ice-blend). Mmm...

11. Use Local Transport Unavoidable unless I never went anywhere. So yes, I cram into the bed of the packed pick-up truck and fight for a seat on the make-shift bench while still others cling onto the outer frame/cage or maybe plop themselves atop with all the cargo. Lately, with my road inching towards impassable, I have taken to walking in and out. Nothing better than one’s own two feet.

12. Accept Gifts Everthing from kids’ drawings and large quantities of oranges (big smiles) to iguana soup and tacky clothing (forced smiles).

13. Enjoy the View Check. It’s amazing. Everything’s green and tropical. The mountains are breathtaking. The Pacific sparkly blue down below.

14. Wear the Local Attire Women here wear colorful dresses with zigzag, diamond, triangle, and line patterns = the nagwa. I’m a woman..so I have 3 nagwas that I wear proudly! Also got myself a sombrero pintado (hand-made, all natural palm fibers) and a few pita chakaras (handwoven bags from the fibers of the pita plant).

15. Travel I need to do more of this. All I’ve got claim to is hiking to the tallest peak in Panama, the dormant Volcán Barú, last New Year’s Eve with hopes to glimpse both oceans at sunrise...brrr..it was cold&misty and the Carribbean covered in clouds unfortunately. Currently brewing is plans for a Costa Rica-Nicaragua-Hounduras trip.

16. Enjoy Yourself Well, it’s like they say, Peace Corps is a rollar coaster—there are both good days and bad. Fortunately, there are more of the former. So while I miss family&friends, the changing seasons, turkey sandwiches on 12-grain bread with alfalfa sprouts...I am enjoying the flexible schedule, learning another language, being the famous MESI, the time to reflect on who I am and to grow in more positive directions, the opportunity to witness first-hand the challenges of sustainabilty and development work, and the potential for each day to be an unpredictable adventure. Agárrese bien!


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