Officially a Peace Corps Volunteer {Month 3 – September 2017}

Officially a Peace Corps Volunteer {Month 3 – September 2017}

“Does Meli drink coffee?” my neighbor asked my previous volunteer. Tikön looks over at me and I nodded. 

“Good, because that’s all we have to give,”

Tikön and I sat on a bed that’s essentially wooden slabs thrown together like a table, but since there was no other place to sit the bed became our chair.

“Meli, nete,” my neighbor says as she hands me a tall cup of coffee. I take a sip, and it’s the taste I’m becoming all too accustomed to: a burnt corn “coffee” blend with heaps of sugar that I know my teeth won’t thank me for later. 

My eyes glanced over the cup of coffee and three kids were standing before me, visibly sick, staring at me with their giant eyes in curiosity and stomachs extremely bloated from malnutrition and hunger. 

My neighbor’s words rang in my head as I was thinking about poverty in the Comarca; contemplating the fact that all that they had was coffee, and they were generous enough to make me a cup to welcome me into the community while their children were starving. It was a new-found motivation to be able to bring water to the community and return the generosity that was so selflessly shown to me. 


I was so excited to find out that I’ll be living in the Comarca Ngöbe-Buglé in the mountains of Chiriqui for the next two years! Reality set in when a few days later and a guide from each of our community was going to come to Panama City to essentially pick us up and take us to our sites. Everything was happening so fast and it was really going to be the first time I would be alone with gente. I was excited and nervous all at the same time. Will I have a good guide? Will my community like me? Will I like the site?

First work junta clearing out the ojos de agua with the women in my community

It was a relief when I met my guide for the first time and he seemed tranquilo, but really quiet. It was his first time ever leaving the community further than the closest town, so I understood the city must have been overwhelming. I exhausted all my questions so I just let things be after that. After a day and a half of ice breakers at the office, we got the motion to head to our sites. The guides were in a mad rush to get out of there and I had no idea what was going on, but I was trying to stay calm.

Meeting my previous volunteer, Tikön, and his host sisters

We headed out on the six hour bus ride to the Comarca, and I tried sleeping but I was worried about the hike into my site. One of my friends who visited the previous volunteer for their site visit said that the hike was brutal. And I was probably carrying about 60 pounds of stuff to begin the moving process from the training community to site. By the time we arrived to the closest town to site, it was 7 PM and pitch black. There was no way we would be able to make a hike like that so we stayed at a hostel for the night.

In the cancha of our training community

I was freaking out on the inside when the morning came; my bag was heavy and I wasn’t confident that I could carry it up the monte and this was the last time I would see my friends and the first time I would be alone with gente. As soon as it was daybreak, we headed out. Sitting in the busito climbing up the winding road, I looked out the window to an incredible view of the lush monte and valleys below. I was incredibly excited I get to live in such a beautiful place, which reassured me that the Comarca was the right place for me.

Ready for our Despedida! Wearing traditional Ngöbe clothes

We arrived at the entrance of the community and I took a deep breath and braced myself for the hike ahead. There was a gringo that got off the busito as well and I was staring at him in awe, but also really confused what he was doing here. My brain had been constantly translating Spanish and Ngöbere so when he spoke English to me, my mind was blown and I forgot how to respond. “You must be the new volunteer in the area. I’m in the community down here working with Bridges to Prosperity but I hear your community is waaay up there.” Thanks for the reminder that I have a brutal hike.

Everyone going to Ngöbe sites

Normally I don’t sweat, but my heart was pumping and streams of sweat were dripping down my face and body. With my 60 pounds of baggage, the hike was just as awful as I imagined it would be. I thought to myself, my legs are going to be in amazing shape after these two years. Two hours later and sopping wet from crossing a river, we made it to the community. My guide immediately took me to my host family’s house so I could change and get ready for the meeting at the botiquim (communal meeting house). From far away I heard a salimando (a unique yell that people use to greet each other) followed by my name. Who knew my name and why are they so excited to see me? I realized it was my previous volunteer, Tikön, and I was just as excited to see him too.

The ladies heading to Ngöbe sites!

I didn’t have service in site, so knowing that I’ll have Tikön as someone to talk to during my first few months in-site when I can’t talk to anyone else was extremely comforting and made being at site so much better. To read more about my experience my first time visiting my site, read here.

Women of WASH at swear-in

The last couple weeks we spent finishing up all our classes of PST and celebrated our leaving the training community with a despedida, where we performed various dances of the Comarca Ngöbe-Buglé. Our final week we moved the rest of our things to the dorms in Panama City to take care of office things and officially swore-in as G81 Peace Corps Volunteers!

G81 Peace Corps Panama Volunteers!

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