I GOT TO VISIT MY SITE!!! First I want to apologize for not taking pictures. I was thinking it would be better to hold off in order to avoid coming off like a tourist. They'll will be plenty soon. It started with a conference in Coclé; we got to meet our community guides there. Miriam was great and she really made the awkwardness of it a lot less awkward. I'll spare you the details of the conference other than the fact that it was pretty useful. We had some really long bus rides (It's about a 7 hour trip from the city) and when we got to Las Tablas, the biggest city near me, we were set to take another bus but fortunately, Miriam's boyfriend was in town with his buddy and he was able to give us a ride. I was really relieved because I'm finally starting to feel poor. The boyfriend is a gringo and I was surprised at how many there are here. Brody seemed really friendly and useful in terms of clueing me in on the ex-pat drama. There is a lot of it. I'll think I'll have to keep some distance from Brody in some ways, sadly. If I'm over there aprovecharing his hot water or guitar, how would that look? Not very good. I came away from this week realizing that I should just stay away from the gringos here. Word on the street is that the best ones are naïve about Panamá and the worst are mentally unstable. Not many people are acting with the communities interests in mind. Granted, some of the problems may be due to poor communication. For example, there is a law that you have to wear a shirt in town but the gringos are thinking "Hey I'm coming back from a tropical beach. No shirt, no shoes, no problem" so they go without and the corregiadura doesn't enforce the law for them. Both of my counterparts take it as a serious lack of respect though. If anything, I'll see if the tourism group wants to improve communication with the hotel owners or just do their own thing. (Hmm… I smell a UNION! …just kidding Peace Corps please don't send me home)
The tourism group is very promising. My first meeting with them was really awkward though, even for me, and I'm usually pretty awkward. I really hadn't put much thought into it so I just read a little speech. I choked on my Spanish but that always happens when I'm nervous. At least I expect it now. To be fair, my Spanish is way better than most gringos here. A few don't learn at all apparently. It’s a good confidence booster. Anyway, at the meeting I even forgot to ask people's names! Afterwards, things were much better talking to my counterpart Alexis and his brother. His brother spends most of his time in Germany but even he still seemed to take a real interest in the work here. There is a vivero set up to grow trees to sell to the hotel owners. It just needs some cleaning up before planting. The previous volunteer set it up as a way to combat deforestation while getting the community dollars. Genius! I wanted to do something with deforestation as a side project anyway. So, since the community has the motivation and material needed to do something good, it looks like my main task is to get the committee organized and set up a business model for the tree thing.
I also got to visit the school. The English teacher works only three days a week in my site and the rest in Tonosí. I'm getting the feeling that they will actually want me to teach in the school which is what I was afraid of. I have to ask myself how sustainable that would be to just teach the class myself but I suppose if the kids learn English they will still know it when I'm gone.
As far as where I'm going to live after my homestay, there are two options. One is actually the Centro de Communicación Ambiental which would be great because it's a modern building in the center of town with a flush toilet (for when there is running water). There is already a bed and a kitchen so I wouldn't have to buy all that much with my moving in allowance. Plus, I get to live where I work. The drawback is that I definitely would not be living like a community member, so it's not very good for pasearing. The other option, this house on a hill I have yet to see up close also has the same problem because it's so far for people to just drop in.
The people are really friendly here and they have lots of yummy fruit! Miriam's ten year old neighbor is totally in love with me so he brings me mangoes. He's this adorable kid with a hoarse voice that I assume he got because he yells all the time. He likes to catch pe'ca'o and play baseball and cards. I taught him and his cousin Slap Jack (he says it "Flep Jerk) and they wouldn't let me stop playing. I won him over when he saw I had a biombo (slingshot) I had made at culture week. We went iguana hunting right away. He hit one and made it made so it dropped its tail, fell out of the tree, and escaped. I'm glad it got away because it would have been too small to eat. We would just have killed an animal for no reason. I've noticed that my attitude towards animals is definitely changing. I kicked a puppy. Not hard though.
My host mom's niece invited me to watch a movie (Tropic Thunder… sorry Walt… again) with some of her friends. One of the friends was dog sitting for Americans so we watched it at the big house. It was super nice, even by my middle-class American standards. The owner also has a house on the beach! Mind you, we are already in walking distance. I don't think the niece understood why I was gritting my teeth when she told me that. I had been holding my poop, bathing in the creek, and bucket bathing because there was no water and now I'm watching a movie on a flat screen with Rock Band hooked up to it. You better believe the house had water too. I'm not complaining per se. The creek bath was really fun. It's just that my sense of justice was quite offended. My momma always said that life's not fair though. She's right.
I met an evangelical here who almost converted me. He's a good talker. Maybe I just liked him because he had a monkey.
The beach here is beautiful! It's black sand and I have to be careful because the waves are huge!!! I got knocked on my butt a lot. Also, every so often there are drug runners on the shore at night. I don't say this to embarrass the community (Peace Corps please don't send me home). They know it goes on. I don't say this to worry you back home. It's just the reality of life here. America's and Europe's bad habits are Panama's troubles. The truth is, there isn't anything to worry about as long as I don't do anything stupid like ask questions of a sketchy person. I feel really safe here already, in fact. The community is tight-knit and if I've got a problem, they'll help. Also, there are a lot of cars around so I can get out easily in case of emergency or illness. In Peace Corps you can't have a car but I'm mulling over the idea of getting a horse! It would be good for going to the beach. I think it's too far to ride out to Tonosí regularly but it would be nice not to have to rely on a bus.
That's about it for first impressions. I really lucked out with my site. I don't really feel like I'm in the Peace Corps, in a good way. Not that I want to rub it in the faces of my brothers and sisters in the Comarca and Darien but chances are good that I won't get amoebas. (Chiggers though… JEEEEEEEEEEEZ. I had a run in with them after my hunt for iguana. I woke up the next morning with my shirt bloody from scratching and my feet look like I have small pox). I'm just getting eaten from the outside and somehow that makes it seem better.