Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A home with my new Panamanian Hosts

So here I am, all settled in with my host family! For the next 2 1/2 months, I will live with them, in a suburb of Panama City, while I go through PC training. I have a host mother, Martina, and host father, Reyes. They have 4 children, only two of which live with them: Ricardo, 26, and Estefany, 10. Their other daughter, Querube, is 20, and lives next door with her husband, Santos, and her four year-old son, Santos (Toin). They’ve been incredibly welcoming to me. The house is cute and humble. It’s rather small for 5 people, but I have my own room. We have electricity, but all the amenities are out back: sink, shower…and latrine. Yes, latrine. It’s going to be a long two years.

Every morning we have tech class, where we learn about anything and everything pertinent to international development in Panama. In the afternoons we have Spanish class. Most of the TEA program placed into the Advanced Level, as I believe some Spanish was a pre-requisite for our program. The class is mostly conversational, and it is really helping me to fine tune my grammar and increase my vocabulary (especially in Panamanian “modismos” and slang).

Class ends at 5 pm each day. After that, I usually begin the process of what the Panamanians call “paseando.” It involves stopping by each and every house on the way home to hang out and chat. I think within just my first few days here, I’ve already met half of this little town. Each week, I have nearly every evening booked up with a different house visit- trying someone's cooking, helping kids with their English homework, or just hanging out. The whole town seems to be so excited about our presence, and everyone wants to know all about us. Which is actually pretty easy, because nearly the whole town is related. If you tell something about yourself to one family, it is guaranteed to spread like wildfire to the others. Children are especially fantastic; they in turn tell you everything about everyone else, and they also make you feel like a real celebrity of the town when you walk by.

Last night my host family took me to a pizza place a few towns over. I think they know that Americans eat a lot of pizza and drink a lot of Coca-Cola, so they were trying to make me feel right at home. And I did! It's no New York Sicilian-style or Chicago deep-dish, but it was quite good.

Attached are some pictures of my house, my room, and my host sister, Estefany.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Greetings from Panama! My first week as a Peace Corps Panama "aspirante" (aspiring) has been hectic. I'm currently in Orientation at a facility about 45 minutes away from Panama City called Ciudad del Saber (translation: City of Knowledge- how appropriate!) I'm really enjoying Orientation, getting to know the PC Panama staff and talking with the other aspirantes. The other TEA (Tourism and English Advising) aspirantes are especially interesting; we’re a mix of people with business, teaching and even law backgrounds. Each person's background is so unique, and I'm really curious to learn more about the TEA program, a new program for Panama, and the communities where we'll all be placed.

Pablo, our TEA Program director, is fantastic: he’s knowledgeable, professional and so inspiring. He explains that the TEA program will strive to enable Panama’s poorest, indigenous communities to participate in the new and booming tourism industry to improve their own economic situation. TEA has 3 principal goals: developing strategic business plans for tourism, teaching English, and community and leader empowerment. In our first interview, Pablo told me that he definitely wants me to work on the business development and planning side of TEA. I’m thrilled; the more he talks about the communities we’ll be working in, and the opportunities that could be afforded to them, I am so certain that this is the right program for me.

However, a small disclaimer here. This is not to say that I don’t have my concerns, and BIG ones, at that:

-Rural sites (apparently almost all of the TEA sites will have cell phone coverage, but how far to another volunteer/internet/etc?)
-No running water or electricity (what DOES one do when the sun goes down? And bathing? Sheesh)
-It’s a wild, rugged Panama out there (bugs, snakes, scorpions…and this chica’s never even camping!)

Sunday we arrive at our Training Community, where we will live with a host family for 10 weeks, and undergo a “crash course” in the Spanish language and our various sectors. I hope my host family likes me. I brought them a picture book about Chicago and some little toys, should there be any munchkins. :)

Below are some pictures from the TEA group's first trip within Panama! We went to visit one of Panama's indigenous groups, the Embera, at a community along the Chagres River.