Tag: Panama

First Site Visit {PST Week 8}

First Site Visit {PST Week 8}

Sweat was pouring down the temples of my forehead and I was breathing heavy as I dragged my feet up another hill. My nagua was completely soaked and weighing me down with the sweat that streamed down my body. My guide was marching ahead, unphased by how tired I was after pasearing all day. He looked back at me as we arrived at another house and said, ¨last one,¨ and I was so stoked. I thought my stomach was going to explode if I received one more bowl of rice or coffee so I was looking forward to the day being over. I sighed as a woman handed me another bowl of rice and a cup of coffee, gave myself a pep talk, and downed the food and drink. I told myself first impressions were everything; I just had to do this one time so I don’t insult the gente. Since food is all they have to give, by rejecting the food they offer, in a way you reject the person or family also so it’s important to just do your best to smile, force it down, and tell them it’s bonänte.

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I was ecstatic to finally meet my guide and find out where I would be living for the next two years. I had no fears about meeting the people and the site in general, but I was psyching myself out over the hike into my site. One of my compañeros that had visited my site for their volunteer visit told me that my hike-in was brutal and wished me luck. I had a lot of stuff I was carrying into site and I was worried about the weight and my guide not helping me carry my bags.

We stayed in a hostel overnight to rest for the hike the next morning. I couldn’t sleep, and I was counting down the hours until I would have to make the trek with my heavy bags up the monte. It was 6 AM when my guide asked if I was ready to go; physically I had been ready to go with my clothes on since 4 AM but mentally, not even close. I asked my guide how long was the hike, ¨a little over an hour,¨ which meant in Ngobe time, probably around 2 hours.

We climbed in a busito, which drove us into the Comarca and started up the mountain. I looked out the window and saw a magnificent lush, green valley below with majestic mountains that extended for as far as the eye could see. The sun’s rays was peaking over the crest and the fog was beginning to dissipate, and I was in total awe as I realized somewhere along the horizon, I was going to be living in this area for the next two years. I couldn’t believe how blessed I was to have been picked to live is such a beautiful place.

Arriving at the bus stop, my nerves set in and I had to take some deep breaths to calm myself. We had to get to site and we had a meeting with the entire community planned right off the bat. I wasn’t worried at all about meeting new people, I just wondered if I could make it up the mountain with my bags for the next two years. The first 45 minutes was rolling hills; I had my giant backpacking backpack on my back, another big backpack strapped to my front, and a mini-pack hanging off my side. It was probably close to 70 pounds, but I managed the rolling hills. What got to me was after we waded through the river and we had to walk straight up the mountain for another hour. I was incredibly frustrated but I hung in and made it to site after close to two and a half hours.

Everyone was so excited when I showed up to the community meeting in a nagua and I gave my speech in Ngobere:

Köbö kuin dere! Ti ka Anna. Ti nunanka California, Estados Unidoste. Ti ta sribire Cuerpo de Pazben. Ti nunai nete ka kröbu krakwe. Ti sribidi nö kukwebdta. Böri kuin!

Good afternoon! My name is Anna. I’m from California, USA. I am working with Peace Corps. I will live with you for two years. I will work with water and health. All is well!

The gente errupted in total applause and cheers at the end, and the community decided to give me a Ngobe name, Meli, so I am no longer Anna Harris these next two years, but Meli Klauböda. The next few days I paseared in the village to get to know the people and get a feel for what the community was like, and also had my first work junta to clear the ojo de agua to make way for work in the aqueduct. I’m really excited how motivated the people are to work among the 4 different pueblos I’ll be working with and to see what these next two years will hold.

Harvest Season {Month 4 – October 2017}

Harvest Season {Month 4 – October 2017}

I thought it was the end; this wasn’t how I wanted things to be. 

It was the dead of the night when I was stirring in my hammock, and I felt a rush of a burning sensation in my throat, rising to my nose, and foam bubbling out of my mouth. My eyes shot open immediately, awakened by the searing pain. My instincts told me to excise the fluids, but there was a thick mucus blocking my nasal passageways. I couldn’t exhale, and my body wouldn’t let me inhale either. I was trying with all my power to cough, but it was as if my lungs gave out on me.

I was running out of time, out of oxygen; panic set in and I started flailing my limbs every to move and get out of my hammock. I had moved too close to the edge too quickly, lost my balance, and slammed into the ground face-first. I whimpered as tears streamed down my face, soaking into the earth, wondering if these were my final moments. Finally, some of the foam and stomach acid drained out of my nose and mouth and I was able to manage a cough. I attempted to vomit all of the contents in my throat, then at last took a sweet breath of fresh air. I had survived.

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My first full month in site had its ups and downs trying to integrate and getting used to being so isolated from other Peace Corps Volunteers. Luckily the harvest season was upon us and I was able to immerse myself in agricultural work; harvesting rice, pilaring rice, clearing the monte, and planting beans for the next harvest, to name a few activities.

The Ngobe women are some of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. Not only do they tend to all the house work and care for the children, but they also work in the fields, side-by-side with the men. During work days, we harvest rice by using a special tool to cut the stalks for 10 hours straight. We get small five minute breaks every few hours to drink chicha de maiz, a sour-tasting fermented corn juice.

The next step is pilaring rice, which usually takes place after work days in the long, dark hours of the night until 1 AM, using only the light from a dim torch to help see. Before pilaring the rice, the grain needs to be prepared and separated from the stalk by either sifting with feet or using half a coconut shell. Pilaring, or plundering the rice grains, takes place in a large wooden hourglass shaped bowl and the grains are pounded with a giant log to open the shells. Pilaring rice is the ultimate bicep and tricep workout, and after about 20 plunders, I’m completely worn out and my arms feel like jelly but the Ngobe women can pilar rice for hours on end.

Since my previous volunteer was still in-site and finishing his projects, he hosted an Ultimate Frisbee without Borders tournament at the school with the kids. I was able to meet another volunteer, who has become a really good friend of mine, and experience another Peace Corps program, which was refreshing for me to see since all I had been doing in the community was harvesting crops and other agriculture. We also had our first regional meeting, along with agency days to meet various organizations we’ll be working with these next two years, but unfortunately I was hit hard by a plethora of sicknesses all at once – fever, diarrhea, infected bug bites all over my legs, and gastrointestinal issues – so I was sent to Panama City to see specialists.

Check out next month’s post to find out more on my medical condition and read more about my activities in site, Overcoming Sickness {Month 5 – November 2017} and Latino versus Ngöbe Food!

Playa Farallon

Playa Farallon

Pre-Service Training (PST) is an intense three months of integration into Panama and learning about everything Peace Corps. All of us were feeling a ton of pressure and felt the need to decompress, so we headed to the beach! The best beaches from Panama City are only 2 hours away, so we hopped on a diablo rojo and then took a chiva to reach Playa Farallon. Playa Santa Clara is right next door, and is deemed one of the best beaches in all of Panama, but we decided to go somewhere a little off-the-radar.

The beach was exactly what we all needed to relax, and us WASHers had a great time getting to know SAS as well. In the past groups, WASH and SAS spent a lot more time together in PST, but since our group was split from the get-go into our training communities, we hadn’t had much time to bond.

Playa Farallon is a bit on the dirtier side, with trash everywhere but if you go to Playa Santa Clara it’s a lot cleaner since there are resorts nearby, it’s more centered for tourism, and there are a lot of water sports if you’re looking for more activities. We found a tienda close-by to buy some snacks for lunch to keep things on the cheap side.

Towards the end of the day, a storm rolled in suddenly; one minute it was bright and sunny, the next it was downpour. We all scattered for shelter and were trying to catch a chiva back to the city but none would stop. We waited two hours until a busito finally gave us a lift. Pro tip: Always bring your jacket in buses because they keep the temperature a frosty 50 degrees, and since we were soaked from the rain it made the ride even worse.

On the other hand, it was a magical day for other unexpected reasons that will be revealed in time…

“I like to live my life like I’m in the ocean, surfing the waves how they come, or just being one with the sea. You just have to let it flow.” -Arturo Arzon, 30 July 2017

Oh, and we decided to start a WASH calendar as a fundraiser for our projects. What do you think of Mr. July?

A First Look at Panama {Month 1 – July 2017}

A First Look at Panama {Month 1 – July 2017}

So it’s been awhile since I’ve actually been on a computer so I’m a little late on the updates but from here on out, I hope to regularly post once every 2 weeks when I go to town to gather supplies. Let’s start with my first month in Panama!

It was 4 AM on July 10th and I arrived at the airport with my bags packed for staging in Miami. My heart was racing, so many thoughts were going through my head. I was ready for a new chapter in my life, but had no idea what was waiting for me on the other side.

I had a lot of great things going for me, or what you would call “living the American dream,” but I wasn’t happy; I felt that there was something waiting for me, like I had a greater purpose in this world and I hoped that Peace Corps would help me find that fulfillment by leaving it all behind.

Staging in Miami was a blur; I spent 3 days doing ice breakers and meeting 48 new Peace Corps Trainees that I was going to be spending these next two years with. Most of staging was an introduction to Peace Corps, its mission, and putting us into the mindset of living in Panama. We were given money for meals, and a lot of PCT’s spent all of it, but my advice is to save as much of it as you can because the dollar goes a long way in Panama.

Staging in Miami

Stepping off the plane in Panama City, everything was thrown at us all at once; we met the country director and our “greeters,” current PCV’s who are our guides for the week to help us get acquainted. We were immediately shuffled onto a Diablo Rojo called ‘Mama Chacha,’ which are old US school buses that are converted into colorful modes of transportation in Panama City. WASH (Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene) and SAS (Sustainable Agriculture Systems) were separated into different training communities, where we met our host families for the next three months. Night fell, and I was finally settled-in and on my bed in silence. I was in awe thinking, “This is it. I’m finally here and this is actually happening.”

Learning about the Comarca Ngöbe-Buglé culture
Diablo Rojo, Mama Chacha

The first few weeks in Panama were spent in training sessions about Peace Corps policies, Spanish language and Panamanian cultural sessions, and technical classes about our future work in Panama. We had a lot going on with homework, projects, and learning Spanish with our host families, but we managed to have a few outings in our free time; two of my favorites were spending the day in the city and going to Playa Farallon.

Learning about Emberá-Wounaan culture in the Darien
Panama City

After so much time waiting, I am excited to begin my Peace Corps journey here in Panama and to see what stories will unfold. Read about my Top Things to do in Panama on a Budget, Playa Farallon, or Creepy Crawlies & The Comarca {Month 2 – August 2017}!

Quote of the Month:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Playa Farallon

Peace Corps Panama Packing List

Peace Corps Panama Packing List

As it is very popular for Peace Corps bloggers to post a list of what they packed for service, I plan on doing the same! After a few months in, I plan on adding an updated list of what I should have brought as well. Some of the items I added a link to and the quantities are in the parenthesis next to the item where applicable.

CLOTHES:

  • Formal outfit for swear-in (1)
  • Blouses for office days (2)
  • Jeans for office days (2)
  • Tank tops (3)
  • Long sleeve Columbia shirt (1) **
  • Short sleeve Columbia shirt (1) **
  • Cropped running tights (1)
  • Gym shorts (1)
  • Jean shorts (1)
  • T-Shirts for work days (3)
  • Prahna field pants (2) **
  • Long sleeve mid-weight thermal (1)
  • Patagonia rain poncho (1) **
  • Patagonia light puffy jacket (1) **
  • Casual dress (1)
  • Underwear (14)
  • Bras – Regular (3) Sport (2)
  • Socks – Short (5) Boot (2)
  • Bathing suit (2)
  • Wide brimmed hat (1)
  • Buff (1)

ACCESSORIES:

ELECTRONICS:

*Items qualify for Peace Corps discount

**Only qualifies for discount if you find it on Backcountry.com

Why I Joined the Peace Corps

Why I Joined the Peace Corps

Yes, it’s true! I decided to join the Peace Corps departing to Panama for 27 months in July 2017, and I’m ecstatic I landed the ‘Environmental Engineer & Water Resources Coordinator’ position. To some of  you it may be a surprise, and to others who are just curious, this is the story leading up to why I joined the Peace Corps.

In September 2016 I had a great job in the tech industry – amazing pay and benefits, an awesome team that I loved, able to take vacation pretty much when I wanted – but I wasn’t happy. 

I was sitting on the train during my 3 hour commute home and an older Indian man sits down across from me and we started talking. He asked what I do, and I replied, “I’m a mechanical engineer in the semiconductor industry in San Jose but I live in Sacramento.” His eyes widened, and I told him how I get up at 3:30 AM every morning to catch the 4:30 AM train, get to work at 7:30 AM, work a full 8 hour day without taking a lunch break, then catch the 3:30 PM train to get home at 6:30 in the evening.
 
He asked me, “Do you like what you do?” I shrugged, “Yeah, it’s a great job.” 
“But do you love your job?”
I was silent.
“Do you love where you live?”
I liked Sacramento, but I couldn’t see myself there forever.
He continued, “I have found that if you love what you do and you love where you live, you will be very successful. Don’t worry about the money – if you love what you do and where you live – the money will come.”
 
I had a tendency to go to bed pretty early because of my work schedule, but one night I woke up at 11 PM from a dream I had about a clean drinking water system and it sparked an idea. I grabbed one of my old environmental engineering textbooks and ran across the street to the coffee shop and started drawing and researching. And I realized, this is it. This is what I want to do with my life, but I had no idea how to go about it. 
 
The idea to engineer water resources in developing countries started back when I was 15 years old. My sister and I went to the Philippines with my mother to visit family when she abandoned us. The village my sister and I lived in didn’t have electricity or clean drinking water and the locals had to walk 2 miles with an arrowhead jug to fill up at a well. What stuck with me was how we take having clean drinking water for granted, a basic necessity of life. That was an experience that totally changed me and my outlook on life.
 
When I was in college I took an engineering class on computer aided design and we had to engineer a clean drinking water system for a village in a developing country. Using my past experiences, I decided to design a system based on the village I was in back in the Philippines. I hoped that maybe one day I could implement my designs in places that need it all around the world. 
 
After that night in the coffee shop scribbling down my ideas, I spent hours researching volunteer organizations that would allow me to design and implement water resources in developing countries with little luck. And then I came across the Peace Corps.
 
I looked into doing Peace Corps while I was still in college a few years earlier, but they never had engineering positions available so I gave up on the idea back then. This time around, however, they had the exact position I was looking for: Environmental Engineer & Water Resources Coordinator. I knew this was the experience I needed in order to eventually start my own business but I was a little uneasy about being away from home for almost 2 1/2 years. I applied anyways. 
 
It was a long process going through the application and interviews, but I knew this was a calling I had to pursue. I was so excited when I received my invitation to serve, but then came the next step: I had to quit my job. In my head I went back and forth of when to quit since I hadn’t received medical or legal clearance yet, so it was still up in the air whether or not I would be serving. Ultimately I made the decision to quit because I didn’t want to commute anymore; I was exhausted and it was taking a toll on my health. I then figured out how much I needed to save to be able to live on my own for 3 months unemployed along with extra money for emergencies and travel during my service. 
 
People were very quick to judge when they found out I had quit my job, saying things like, “that’s what’s wrong with kids of this generation” or “eventually you’ll come back and have to face the real world and get a real job,” but they didn’t understand my plan or what I wanted out of life. There are so many people out there who hate their job but don’t do anything about it because they’re afraid of change, don’t want to venture outside their comfort zones, or feel that right now isn’t a good time to pursue something else. But I believe that the best things in life happen to us unexpectedly, and following the unfamiliar leads us to the ultimate success. Because if you think about it, If you stick with the familiar and what you already know, you would already be successful, or at least know you’re on the path to success. And for me, I knew that I wasn’t utilizing my talents in the ways that they were meant to be used.
 
Through my service in the Peace Corps, I hope to gain the experience I need to work at an international level and to one day start my own NGO (a type of non-profit organization) to engineer and implement clean drinking water systems in developing communities around the world. I’m incredibly excited for my future ahead and I’m counting down the days (50 to be exact!) until I leave for Panama in July 2017!