Tuesday, September 20, 2016

I am Geli: How the Peace Corps Changed Me

When I first moved to my little town in Panama, the community came together to pick a Ngöbe name for me.  After some debate, a name was finally chosen and I became "Geli Quigavo" for the two years I lived in the village.  Although it took a little getting used to, before long I was easily introducing myself by my new name and even began to identify as "Geli" just as much as I had ever identified by my given name, "Abby."

When I left my site for the very last time,  I almost cried when one of my best friends, Virginia, said to me, "Now you won't be Geli anymore, will you?"  At the time, all I could think about was how much I was losing by leaving this way of life and these people who I had come to view as family. 
I was so excited to finally be going home and starting the next chapter of my life, but I was brokenhearted at the thought of everything-and everyone- that I was leaving behind... including Geli. 

However, the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that while she's partially right in that I will no longer hear that name called out to me, I will always be Geli Quigavo.

Geli is strong, both mentally and physically.  She's not afraid of hard work, and is not above any type of manual labor (though if we're honest, she's probably always going to be happier in the kitchen).  
She knows the value of community, and devotes time to building hers up.  

Geli knows that strangers are just friends you haven't met yet, and that relationships are built on asking people about their lives and genuinely caring what they have to say.  She understands the value in putting herself out there in order to start those relationships, and that a few minutes of awkwardness is well worth the friendships that can come from introducing yourself and starting a conversation.  

Geli loves to travel, but she knows that every town is someone's home, and has learned that just getting to know people and spending time with them (especially when cooking/food is involved) is just as good, if not better, than visiting any tourist attraction.

Geli thinks about the future and makes plans, but she knows that life happens.  When last minute changes pop up, whether it be a roadblock stopping your bus or being asked to lead a workshop starting right now, she'll make it work.  She knows that little things are just that- little things, and if you can't change them, they're no use stressing about.  

I became Geli when I lived in my rural Panamanian village, but I'm not leaving her there.  As Geli, I became a stronger, kinder, and better person.  I learned important lessons that will stay with me for the rest of my life, and now whenever a new friend asks my name and my story, I will tell them about Geli and the people that have built her into me.  


  1. Good morning, how are you?

    My name is Emilio, I am a Spanish boy and I live in a town near to Madrid. I am a very interested person in knowing things so different as the culture, the way of life of the inhabitants of our planet, the fauna, the flora, and the landscapes of all the countries of the world etc. in summary, I am a person that enjoys traveling, learning and respecting people's diversity from all over the world.

    I would love to travel and meet in person all the aspects above mentioned, but unfortunately as this is very expensive and my purchasing power is quite small, so I devised a way to travel with the imagination in every corner of our planet. A few years ago I started a collection of used stamps because through them, you can see pictures about fauna, flora, monuments, landscapes etc. from all the countries. As every day is more and more difficult to get stamps, some years ago I started a new collection in order to get traditional letters addressed to me in which my goal was to get at least 1 letter from each country in the world. This modest goal is feasible to reach in the most part of countries, but unfortunately, it is impossible to achieve in other various territories for several reasons, either because they are very small countries with very few population, either because they are countries at war, either because they are countries with extreme poverty or because for whatever reason the postal system is not functioning properly.

    For all this, I would ask you one small favor:
    Would you be so kind as to send me a letter by traditional mail from Panama? I understand perfectly that you think that your blog is not the appropriate place to ask this, and even, is very probably that you ignore my letter, but I would call your attention to the difficulty involved in getting a letter from that country, and also I don’t know anyone neither where to write in Panama in order to increase my collection. a letter for me is like a little souvenir, like if I have had visited that territory with my imagination and at same time, the arrival of the letters from a country is a sign of peace and normality and an original way to promote a country in the world. My postal address is the following one:

    Emilio Fernandez Esteban
    Avenida Juan de la Cierva, 44
    28902 Getafe (Madrid)

    If you wish, you can visit my blog www.cartasenmibuzon.blogspot.com where you can see the pictures of all the letters that I have received from whole World.

    Finally, I would like to thank the attention given to this letter, and whether you can help me or not, I send my best wishes for peace, health and happiness for you, your family and all your dear beings.

    Yours Sincerely

    Emilio Fernandez

  2. Abby,

    I absolutely loved reading your blog! You did a fantastic job describing your day-to-day life in the Peace Corps. I just interviewed for a Peace Corps position in Panama and I'm waiting to hear back so it was awesome getting to read about your experience. Best wishes to you on your continued success!

    -Anna Harris