Sunday, February 9, 2014

Pros and Cons of Living in the Jungle

Pro: So many neat plants and creatures- sloths, little colored frogs, tropical flowers- the list goes on!
Con: They're not all cute and fluffy.  There are scorpions in my laundry pile, lizards on my kitchen table, rats that attack my food stashes, and snakes on the paths.  And those adorable sloths? Apparently they can give you leishmaniasis, so you probably shouldn't touch them either…

Pro: The abundance of water means that there are tons of creeks and waterfalls to explore.
Con: They're also dirty and you might get amebas from them.

Pro: You'll laugh yourself half to death over hilarious dinner conversations about who pooped their pants in the most embarrassing way.
Con: Chances are that after a few months in the jungle you too will have a story to tell.

Con: IF you're lucky enough to have running water, it will go out frequently (and also isn't safe to drink).
Pro: This is what your backup bathing situation will look like.

Con: Just go ahead and store all of your stylish clothes and good makeup.  No uses for them here.
Pro: When else can you literally wear nothing but comfy clothes, sunscreen, and a smile and not feel the least bit guilty?

Pro: Your neighbors grow some cool foods- like bananas and cocoa.
Con: Those things are hard work, man!  You'll have muscles of steel after harvesting bananas and cocoa pods (though maybe that's a pro?)

Pro: Fresh cocoa all the time.
Con: There really is no con to this one.

Con: Do you like dairy products?  Ice cream?  Cold cokes?  Anything at all that needs to be refrigerated?  Go ahead and get used to life without them.
Pro: You'll learn to cook in the campo like a pro.  Do you know how to make brownies and breakfast pizza out of only a few basic ingredients and a fire?  I do.

Pro:  You get to go to sleep to the sounds of softly singing frogs and a babbling creek.
Con: You will wake up to the sounds of loudly crowing roosters and lots of babbling babies.

Con: Between mud, random creatures, kids, and your own filth (don't judge until you've been there),
your house will get really messy.
Pro: Throw some water and clorox on the floor and sweep stuff through the cracks.  Cleaning has never been so easy.

Con: No internet, electricity, or reliable phone signal.
Pro: All the more time to nap with.

Pro: Forget about the cold, it's summer year-round in the jungle!
Con: It may feel like some weird, inception-type situation.  The months change but the weather literally never does.  Ever.

Con: As much as you love your new place, you're going to miss home a lot.
Pro: Your neighbors will do their best to make you feel at home in the jungle, so you might as well make the most of your time here!

Monday, February 3, 2014

It Finally Happened: I Got Parasites

There are currently over 8,000 Peace Corps Volunteers serving worldwide, and each of us is having a distinctly different experience based on lots of different aspects, but specifically location.  Each site has its ups and downs, and though I’d like you all to see Bocas as a beautiful, welcoming place full of warm days, stunning beaches, and nice people, the whole truth isn’t quite as sunny.  

The thing is, we get sick a lot.

The region of Bocas del Toro is notorious for a lack of sanitation, poor water conditions, and, unfortunately, parasites.  After hearing that the previous volunteer in my site was constantly plagued by various ailments, bugs, worms, etc., I was ecstatic (and too early) in thinking that I had managed to escape the same fate. 

About a month ago I started having slight stomach issues but shrugged it off and figured that it was just something food related, since my diet is never constant or normal anymore.  Unfortunately for my stomach, things kept getting worse and I spent the better part of the last two weeks in my hammock debating on whether or not to call our medical office.   I realize that this might not make sense to those of you back in America (sorry, mom) but picture it this way: You’re really, really not feeling well and have no bathroom.  Do you really want to hike 45 minutes to wait on sporadic busses that will eventually take you the hour and a half trek to the lab unless you are 100% sure the reading is going to come out positive for something?  I know I didn’t. 

In my debates about whether or not this little issue was worth the hike, I asked a friend who had dealt with amoebas how she knew for sure she had them.  Her answer- “I shit my pants three times in one night.”  Apologetically laughing, I assured both her and myself that I was not at that point.  Maybe it was the laughing that did me in, maybe it was just meant to happen all along, but two days later, I too knew I had amoebas and left first thing in the morning for our regional capital. 

As odd as it sounds, getting the official diagnosis of amoebas almost made me feel like I was finally a real Bocas volunteer.  For example, the reaction I got from telling friends back home was usually apologetic, but the reaction from volunteers here went some thing more like, “Awesome! Congratulations!” or “Oh, good!” 

Here’s to hoping that being a real Bocas volunteer will continue to err on the sunny, beachy side of things in the future. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

GAD Camp 2014

As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the great aspects of Peace Corps Panama is the opportunity we have to work outside of our specific sector to help improve both our communities and the country as a whole.  Though every volunteer has different priorities and desires for these secondary projects, many choose to work with GAD, Gender and Development. 

Here in Panama there are opportunities to organize smaller community-based GAD activities such as health and youth education seminars, but there also several larger events held throughout the country each year.  One of the longest running and most successful events is the National GAD Youth Camp.  Teens in every village which Peace Corps has a presence are eligible to attend, and spots are highly coveted.  This year I applied to be a Volunteer facilitator, and was really excited to be chosen to attend (along with two of my kiddos!)

There was a race to put on the opposite gender's clothing; I don't normally dress like this.  

We attended a TOT (Training of Trainers) shortly before our annual Thanksgiving celebration where we learned all about the week-long seminar and how to facilitate our own sessions.  While I was assigned to teach a charla on Values, other volunteers received topics such as Self-Esteem, Goals, Career Planning and Sexual Health. 

Finally, the week of GAD Camp arrived and I hiked out of site at 6:15 in the morning (yikes!) along with the two teenage girls who had been selected to represent our town.  After a very long day of travel, we arrived in central Panama at nearly 10:00 pm that night.  To accommodate the growing number of applicants, separate weeks were held for different provinces this year, meaning that the camp we attended hosted campers (and volunteers) from Bocas del Toro, Chiriquí, Veraguas, and the Comarca Ngobe-Bugle. 

Though all of the seminars were undoubtedly important for the kids to hear, for me the greatest part of the week was seeing them come out of their shells and get to know people and places that were completely new to them.  Before GAD camp, the  two teenagers from my town had never even left their families or their provinces!


It was also really interesting to watch interactions between the latinos and the indigenous teens.  Though racism and bullying is sadly common between the two groups in Panama, it was incredibly encouraging to see them genuinely curious about each other’s cultures.  There was even a talent show act in which they started out with a very basic and traditional indigenous dance but later burst into a latino style break-dance!

GAD Camp was tons of fun- for the campers and the facilitators- and I'm so thankful for the opportunity to see our work in action.  Working in agribusiness, I'm starting to get used to having to wait for results, so to see the bigger smiles and budding self-confidence after less than a week was a huge blessing and morale booster!