During our 9 weeks of training, the future SAS volunteers are living with homestays in a small Panamanian community about an hour outside of Panama City. While Americans would definitely categorize this town as “poor,” to Panamanians, this is somewhere around middle class. Our time here is supposed to help us learn the culture and also to wean us off of some of the “luxuries” that we enjoyed as Americans.
I live in a small concrete house with four generations of women, but I’m not quite sure where the men are. Though I have my own room due to Peace Corps rules, it’s definitely nothing like what I’m used to. The windows are just decorative holes in the concrete and the walls are not connected to the ceiling. Unfortunately, this leads to multiple types of creepy crawlies sharing my space with me at night (think geckos, spiders, and gigantic cockroaches.) As is normal for the community, we use an outdoor latrine (outhouse) and bathe in a concrete stall using a bowl and buckets of water, which we gather in the morning when the water system works. We do have electricity, but sometimes it’s off and on.
I’ve only been here a few days, but it’s already been an eye-opener into the differences between the way we live as Americans and the way many communities in other parts of the world live. Despite their challenges, the people here are happy. However, happy doesn’t mean complacent. They know that they don’t have a lot of material possessions and they work incredibly hard for what they have. When my friend Carter’s host family was welcoming him, they told him that they didn’t have much money, but they did have big hearts.
I’m so excited to spend the next nine weeks living with and learning from my host family here, and I hope that my experiences here will make the adjustment to living in the campo (countryside) that much easier.