Saturday, September 28, 2013

Starting from Scratch

I think one of the mean reasons people are drawn to babies is because they’re practically helpless.  They can’t talk, eat, dress themselves, or attend to the majority of their basic needs.  Yet, somehow it’s still cute and their clumsiness just makes you want to smile and help them a long.

However, when you’re 22, not knowing how to talk, cook for yourself, or attend to the majority of your basic needs just isn’t so cute anymore.  Unfortunately, that’s where I come in. 

Though I had lived abroad before, I had never been far from other Americans and 1st world comforts.  But now, as the only English speaker, much less the only American, in the area, I have to start over and learn everything from scratch. 

Though I like to think that I had a pretty advanced level of Spanish before arriving in Panama, the local Spanish accent and indigenous language have still thrown me a few curve balls.  The other day I was in tears because I thought I was being sent to live with another family.  In reality, they were just telling me that the other family had invited me to work with them that afternoon…

I also apparently don’t know how to cook… or eat.  Most families here cook over an open fire, and as I had started a decent amount of fires in my life, I mistakenly assumed I knew what I was doing.  A full hour into my attempt to boil a pot of water, my host family finally came to my rescue, laughing, and a huge, gorgeous fire was blazing in under 2 minutes. 

Also, did you know that Panamanian oranges are both green and too juicy to eat?  Instead you must peel the skin off and then suck the juice out of the top.  I did not know this, and it took me not one, but two tries before I was able to get more juice in my mouth than on my clothes.  In classic American form, I attempted to skip a step and just suck the juice out without peeling the orange.  You cannot do this, however, because the skin will burn your mouth and make you think you’re having the first allergic reaction of your life. 

I won’t even go into what it’s like not having an actual bathroom (on the hill where I live, we don’t even have latrines!) but instead will mention bathing and washing clothes.  There is one spring on my hill, and this is the one place that four large families use for bathing, doing laundry and dishes, and collecting water for drinking and cooking.  As such, bathing is no longer a private or relaxing activity for me.  Instead, before nightfall each day, 2-6 kids and I stomp through the mud to bathe together- with all clothes on.  Never in my life have I bathed with my clothes on, and unfortunately for those around me, it took a few tries to figure out how to really get clean. 

And when I do laundry in the creek, people still laugh at me.  Apparently I haven’t quite gotten the hang of the Scrub, Smack, Smack, Wring Out routine of the locals.  One day though, one day…

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