Monday, June 16, 2008


Culture and Tech weeks have left me little time for internet, but I’m finally back up and running.

Our Culture week was at the Embera Village of Parara Puru. Coincidentally, this community is only about 20 minutes down the Chagres River from Embera Drua, the site where I will soon be moving! I can’t tell you how hard it was to spend the entire week, at just a short canoe’s distance away from my future home. Numerous times I considered bribing someone to take me upriver to check it out :)

Myself and two other aspirants spent the week with a current Community and Economic Development (CED) volunteer, Deborah, who is working in tourism development. There we spent the entire week learning and exploring all aspects of Embera Culture. We learned traditional dances, basket weaving, coco bolo carving and even how to prepare a traditional Embera meal of fish and plantains. And each day we also had four hours of Embera language training. I’m still finding Embera rather difficult. Correct pronunciation is quite nasal, and my being such a visual learner, I’m finding it rather difficult to a mostly spoken (not written) language.

I absolutely loved my experience in the Embera community. Admittedly, when I was first introduced to the Embera culture, I was incredibly hesitant as to if I could adapt into a culture so distinct from Western cultures: palm thatched huts, traditional (and often scarce) clothing, and a new dialect entirely different from a Romance language. But the Embera are such warm, fun-loving people that I'm slowly finding myself feeling right at home amongst them. And after spending culture week in an Embera village, I'm completelymesmorized by their art, music and way of life. It's truly reminiscent of a time when people just lived a lot simpler.

Below are pictures from the Parara Puru: Deborah's (tree) house, and myself and 2 other PCVs learning all things Embera: from traditional dances and music instruments to coco bolo carvings and fish scaling.

Our technical week was spent at Isla Canas, an island off the Pacific coast of Panama’s Azuero peninsula. There we visited a volunteer who is working in ecotourism surrounding the many species of sea turtles who visit the island’s beaches. During the week we put on a tourism workshop (taller) for all community members involved in tourism endeavors. This included everyone from families willing to rent rooms in their houses to sea turtle tour guides. By the end of the workshop, we were able to put together a basic, but comprehensive, brochure of tourism information pertaining to her island. I think the community was very impressed by their finished product, and I think this project really served as a good learning example for our group.
Below are some pictures from the week: the workshops, teaching in the schools, and even the beach and sea turtles!

Also below are some shots from our Cross Sectorial training (translation: TEA does Agriculture and Environental Health training!) Here's some shots of me swinging a machete, gardening and playing on an acqeduct:

It was also my 25th birthday just last week! After our morning tech session, the TEA group surprised me with a cake and piƱata (in traditional Panamanian fashion). It was so thoughtful of them, and it really made it feel like my birthday even away from home. At night, the kids who live next door to my host family made me a cake (complete with icing spelling out "Feliz Cumpleanos Eimi, which is how they spell my name). They then proceeded to organize a "tipico" dance party on their porch. As you can see from the pictures below, these kids know how to have a good time :)

After my second cake (and tipico warm-up), I went to our town’s baile to hear a tipico band called Las Plumas Negras with some other PCV aspirantes. It was a blast! As of yet, I still haven’t really taken to traditional Panamanian "tipico" music. I find it a bit redundant and circus-esque. But who knows, I felt the same way about reggaeton when I moved to Puerto Rico, so perhaps there’s still hope!

The last few pics are from some between training weekends away with other PCVs. The first is of a beautiful beach, Santa Clara, on the Pacific Coast, and the last two are from El Valle. El Valle is a mountain town known for its hot springs (note my mud mask!) and its beautiful hiking and riding trails.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


I’m already 7 weeks into training now! I can hardly believe it. I think my Spanish IS improving (even though at times I may get really frustrated and often think otherwise). Aside from language, our tech classes have been really interesting. We’ve had mainly theory-based lessons; topics have included community analysis, project design, building leaders and community empowerment. Above all, what’s been incredibly helpful is having current PCVs assist in our tech classes. Hearing about their experiences and projects, including both their successes and blunders, is really insightful. Their stories really help to bring reality to the information we’ve learning.

Below are some pictures from a Community Analysis presentation that we gave last week, as part of our tech class.

In the past few weeks, I've just begun Embera lessons, which is the native language of the indigenous group I'll be working with. I'm finding it rather difficult so far...but I've still got 2+ years to work on it.

Oh! In and out of training, this past weekend I had some free time to explore Panama City! What a beautiful city! Myself, another PCV Jessica, and her host sister Iris, spent the entire day making the tourist rounds. On the way there, went to Miraflores Locks, where we watched ships come in from the Pacific and begin to pass through the Canal. It was really neat! The rest of the day we spent touring Panama City, both the old and new. There is so much new construction going on in Panama City right now- apartments, businesses- it’s incredible. The older part of the city, historic Casco Viejo, is also being restored. Panama City is already gorgeous, and with so much changing so fast, I’m really excited to watch it evolve the next couple of years.

Below are some pictures from the day: At the Miraflores Lochs, checking out the views from some Panama City rooftops, and touring historic Casco Viejo...

Will try to get the pictures from Culture and Tech weeks up real soon!


SO I’M MOVING TO THE JUNGLE! Yes, indeedy. I’ve been placed in an indigenous Embera community near the Rio Chagres. I’ll be about 2-3 hours from Panama City. My project description is to help the community develop a feasible, sustainable tourism plan. I’ve been told my work could include any of the following: developing products/services for tourists, advertising, budgeting/ accounting, coordinating with tour operators, and even teaching community members English for interactions with tourists.

Admittedly, when Pablo, the TEA director, first asked me how I felt about moving to the jungle, I had HUGE reservations. Canoe rides, big trees- CLAUSTROPHIA. I expressed these fears to Pablo and he was really understanding. He even gave me some other site options. But work-wise, he really thought this would be a great fit for me. He continued to express how fantastic this community is and how much potential it has. With these thoughts, and a weekend for reflection, I came to the conclusion that work and community is most important to me in an assignment. And that means I’ll just have to really work through some of these silly fears and hang ups I have. So, deep breath. I will grab that machete, and get in line to help build my hut (seriously, my community will help me build a hut for a solid $250). And I will not think about crocodiles or snakes on that canoe ride in.

So now that I know my site, I’m really excited for next week- Culture Week! I will spend an entire week at an Embera community, immersed in Embera language and culture. The following week is our Tourism Tech Week, at Isla Canas in the Pacific Ocean. More will come!