Tag: Comarca Ngobe Bugle

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. 

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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!
Volunteer Site Visit {PST Week 4}

Volunteer Site Visit {PST Week 4}

As I was sitting with the indigenous Ngobe women making chakaras under a giant, majestic “grandmother” tree like in Pocahantas, I took a step back and thought to myself, what an incredible opportunity it is to be here, to learn from the gente, and to integrate into a seemingly disappearing culture. It was at that point I realized how “present” I was – how much less I thought about the past or the future, but how much I was enjoying life in the present moment. I realized at this point in my life, I am exactly where I need to be.

Making chakaras with the Ngobe women

During our 4th week of PST we have the opportunity to visit a current PCV at their site to get a taste of what everyday is life. After learning about the diverse groups of people in Panama I really hoped that I would get to visit an indigenous site, and I got exactly what I wished for.

I visited Sophia, also a surfer from California, at her site in the mountains of Chiriqui of the CNB. Having only been in the city around Panameno Latino culture, I had no idea what to expect. It was a 6-hour bus ride to the entrada, where I met Sophia wearing a nagua – I was in awe she wore her dress for everyday life, but it’s part of the integration. We went to the grocery store for food and she was really stoked when she saw vegetables, and quickly grabbed them. I realized how scarce food is in the Comarca, and as a PCV you scavenge anything you find.

It was my first time in a chiva, a pick-up truck with a roll cage over the bed that you sit in, and it was a bumpy ride up dirt roads through the mountains. The hike-in was 40 minutes straight up the mountain, and I realized that if I got a hiking site there was no way I’d be able to lug all my stuff up the mountain and I’d have to get rid of as much as I could.

HIking into site

Sophia showed the elements of the aqueduct, we met the water committee, sat with the women and learned how to make a chakara, pasear-ed with the gente, and played soccer with the girls. It was a packed set of days, and I was exhausted. The slow pace of life became more apparent too; Sophia hosted a bread-making charla that was supposed to start at 8 but no one showed up until about 10, and then it took another 4 hours after that.

When I first learned about all the different cultures of Panama, I thought it would be amazing to be immersed in the Darien (region of Panama bordering Colombia). After visiting the Comarca in Chiriqui, and being a good halfway point between Panama City and Bocas del Toro (a popular tourist beach region on the Caribbean side, close to Costa Rica) and only 15 minutes from the beach on the Pacific – I think the CNB is the ideal place for me.

Ngobe children
Creepy Crawlies & The Comarca {Month 2 – August 2017}

Creepy Crawlies & The Comarca {Month 2 – August 2017}

I was stirring peacefully in my bed this morning, as the sun’s rays were peeking through my curtains and not a sound to be heard from the bar next door. Slowly awakening from my slumber, I was looking forward to finally having an ice cold shower with running water to wash my sandcastle of a hairdo. Bucket showers the past couple days have not sufficed to tame the medusa mess on my head. 

My eyes immediately shot open to the sound of a loud buzz next to my ear and I violently whipped my head to the other side to get away, yet it only followed. Immediate panic set in, was there some kind of insect stuck in my ear? Is it going to lay eggs and then in a day or two my ear will vomit a plethora of new beings into this world? 

And then, all was silent as I settled back into my pillow. I lay motionless in bed as my eyes carefully inspected my mosquito net, waiting for the enemy to make its next move. I heard a slight whimper of a buzz and saw from the corner of my eye that there was a beetle the size of a dime stuck in the ends of my tangled hair, attempting its final getaway, buzzing its last cry for battle. It dropped back to the earth in defeat, and it was no longer. 

 I sighed in relief, picked myself out of bed, and shuffled over to the bathroom hoping for running water. As I was looking at myself in the mirror, only being able to see from my mouth to my eyebrows, I whispered to myself, “this is my life now,” as I combed the beetle out of my hair and shouted “buenas” to my host mom. 

As I wiggled the knob for the shower, water began to stream through the nozzle. I took a deep breath before braving that first second of ice on my skin, then smiled at the thought of having running water. Today will be a good day. 

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I’ve been slowly adjusting to the world of tarantulas and cockroaches visiting me in the middle of the night along with ice cold showers, eating patacones (and not enough vegetables) almost every meal, and chasing down the “Pan Van” for chicheme.

The first week of August each of us PCT’s (Peace Corps Trainees) got to visit a current PCV at their site to get a taste of what life is actually like in-site. I visited Sophia in the Comarca Ngobe-Bugle of Chiriqui, which is a self-governing region of an indigenous people in Panama. She lives high up in the mountains where you can see the ocean from afar. I fell in love with the people, the culture, and the surroundings. My language teacher said that based on where we go for our volunteer site visit foreshadows where we’ll be placed for our service. If that’s the case, I’m super excited to be going to the Comarca, but we’ll see! Read more about my volunteer site visit here.

Volunteer Site Visit
Learning how to make a chakara bag with the Ngobe women

In mid-August all of us WASH volunteers headed back to the Comarca for Tech Week at another PCV’s site! The past month we’ve had tons of sessions on the work we’ll be doing at our future sites, so during Tech Week we finally got to put our new skills to work. It was a great experience to finally learn hands-on how to build an aqueduct, latrines, and make endless amounts of ferrocement. Plus, for me, being in the Comarca feels more like home than the training community in the city so I was happy to be “home.” Read more about Tech Week here.

Presenting a charla on latrines in the local school
Post-soccer game
A beautiful morning in the Comarca
Throwing the concrete plancha for the aqueduct tank

Finally, at the end of the month we found out our sites! I am so excited that I’ll be living in the Comarca Ngobe-Bugle for the next two years! Having already visited two sites in the CNB, I know I’ll fall in love with the culture, gente, and overall beauty of it all. In early September I have my site visit and I can’t wait to see what life is life.

Site placement!

Check out next month’s round-up: Officially a Peace Corps Volunteer {Month 3 – September 2017}

Quote of the Month: “So, do it. Decide. Is this the life you want to live? Is this the person you want to love? Is this the best you can be? Can you be stronger? Kinder? More compassionate? So, do it. Breathe in. Breathe out. And decide.” – Meredith Gray