In order to really hammer home the technical training we’ve had throughout the first four weeks, our group recently spent a week practicing what we’ve learned (and learning more!) at a Peace Corps site in the Comarca Ngobe-Bugle.
The Comarca is the indigenous reservation here in Panama, but there are three parts for the three separate groups: Ngobe-Bugle, Kuna Yala, and Embera. Although the culture completely varies from region to region, Ngobere people are generally known as being conservative and reserved; many places in the Comarca are also very impoverished, as was the town we visited.
The houses were made with wood or plastic tarp walls, dirt floors, and zinc roofs, though many homes didn’t even have four full walls. The living situation definitely made the week a trying one; while I had gotten used to not having running water, the muddy floors, un-cushioned, wooden beds, and chickens that slept (and pooped) in my room sometimes pushed me to my limits.
But just when I would get down and start feeling sorry for myself, the kindness of the local people really overwhelmed me and reminded me why I’m here. We each lived with host families for the week, and mine went above and beyond to give me everything they could. They hardly eat ever eat meat, yet they slaughtered chickens so we could have it AND all seven of them slept in one bedroom so that another Peace Corps girl and I could have privacy in the other room. They even bought hot chocolate to make for me when it rained so that I wouldn’t be cold.
Local school kids in their uniforms
A fish tank project
When we weren’t immersing ourselves in the local culture, we were out in the fields learning about Panama’s major crops from Agricultural experts who traveled out to our village to help with our training. In the five days we were there we worked with rice, corn, yucca, plantains, beans, and also gave our own agricultural seminars to interested locals.
A few weeks ago I could never have led a charla (short educational session) on agricultural/environmental topics. Now I’m doing them in Spanish!
Tech week was exhausting in every possible way. Between the physical labor and major lack of nutritional food I was constantly tired, and being away from every type of modern comfort or amenity got to me a lot more than I thought it would. But it was also really, really good. I got to experience the success of a volunteer’s hard work and I got to see how dedicated Panama’s volunteers are- not only to their communities, but also to each other. Now that is something that I cannot wait to be a part of.
*Hugs and a big thank you to my dad this week. The first day was really rough for me and I called him in tears. After an encouraging conversation/reminder about all of the reasons I’m here, he left me reassuring voicemails every single morning for the rest of the week so that when I did have signal I always had something positive to listen to. How great is that?!