Monday, September 1, 2014

The Emotional Moments of a First Year Peace Corps Volunteer

Group 73 at our Swear in Ceremony in August, 2013

This past week I had the opportunity to celebrate the swearing in of Group 75 and couldn't help but remember when I was in their shoes exactly one year ago.  In what seems like the blink of an eye (except for when I was suffering with one of many jungle maladies...) my first year as a Peace Corps Volunteer is officially complete and I'm now on the downhill slope.  There's so much left to see and do, but I also wanted to share some of my most memorable moments thus far.  

To my fellow G73'ers: I have loved spending this past year learning, working, and laughing with you and can't wait for another year of scaries, happies, funnies... and hopefully not too many more grosses.

The Scariest Moment
I will never forget the day we left for our sites.  As the province of Bocas has one main road, many of us road the bus together and then got off at our respective stops one by one.  In the midst of the loud tipico music and chatter of a typical bus in Panama, we were all eerily silent.  As we were nearing her stop, I turned to my friend Zoe and asked her what she was thinking.  Then she, one of the happiest, most positive and upbeat people I've ever met, said simply, "I'm trying really hard not to cry."  It was terrifying and it was finally real.  We were getting ready to start new lives in new places where we would be the only ones like us.  There would be no English speakers, no amenities, no one who could understand where we were coming from, and we would be experiencing all of these firsts while living with an extremely impoverished host family and without a home of our own.  To read more of the scary, hard moments of Peace Corps, check out this blog.  

The Most Personally Successful Moment
While I can put my finger down on the exact moments I've felt successful as an agribusiness volunteer, I can't quite do the same for the personal side of the story.  As a person, and now as a member of my community, I feel like one of the best things I have been able to give to my people is the time we spend together as friends.  We've shared thoughts, beliefs, culture, food, games, laughs, and most importantly, friendship.  Building relationships takes time, but it's the time spent in those little moments that I know I'll be looking back on for years to come.  

The Most Professionally Successful Moment
What started out as a fun little way to spend my afternoons has grown into a women's empowerment and basic financial education project I'm helping to spread across the country.  It's not the numbers that have me feeling most successful with my Women's Baking & Business class though- it's the individuals who are benefitting.  While selling a few dulces likely won't drastically change their lifestyle, it can give them the tools and encouragement they need to be more confident and practice better household financial management.  

The Funniest Moment
While Spanish is the most widely used language in Panama, many indigenous people also speak their local language- Ngäbere.  It's full of gutteral sounds that sound nothing like Spanish, and learning it has been a fun and interesting way to integrate into my community.  An absolutely priceless moment occurred one day a few weeks ago while I was picking up some groceries in a store just outside of town.  While looking around, the two teenage boys who worked in the store started to stare a bit.  Since I'm finally used to sticking out like a sore thumb, I didn't pay much attention until I heard one say to the other, "Meti ta makwe," or "That girl is yours."  I have never seen two faces more surprised than theres when I turned around and replied "Ña gäre.  Ti ña gäre ta mawe," "Nope.  I am not your girl." 

The Grossest Moment
Gastrointestinal parasites, ringworm, mysterious jungle rashes and unsolved stomach bugs have all contributed to some pretty gross personal moments here in Panama, and I'm pretty sure nasty pit latrines with rotting floors can speak for themselves.  The story I continually go back to, though, is the time bathing in unsanitary water led me to get a really, really gross bacterial infection.  It was so gross that the taxi driver of the car I was riding in did a double take, pulled over, and said "I sure hope I'm taking you straight to the hospital, because that looks awful." Long story short, he did, and after fulfilling Doctor's orders of taking tons of antibiotics and moving to a new house, I'm almost as good as new.  The scar remains.  

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