Friday, February 19, 2010

We can't stop here. This is bat country.

It's been a while since I posted because this month has been pretty busy. I was out of site for the first two weeks for seminars. The first was a TEFL conference all the way in Changinola, Bocas del Toro. The idea was that volunteers from my sector would take teachers from our communities to be trained in the SIOP model, which is basically a system for making sure your classes and super interactive, built on previous lessons, and offer stronger students a chance to help those who need more time to catch the lesson. I didn't have a teacher to take because the English teacher here lives outside the community and speaks no English. This is a pretty common problem, especially in the campo. Since the seminar was in English, she would have spent 12 hours on a bus for nothing. I did, however, get to work with some great English teachers and brush up on my own understanding of SIOP. I even met a teacher from my province and we had an English/Spanish bad word exchange. It was pretty silly and now I know that a lot of the shouting from the cantinas is just cursing. I'm so glad I made the trip. I learned a lot and it was so heartening to see teachers open and receptive to new ideas. I'd like to put together a training for the High School teachers in town nearby but it would probably have to be in Spanish. We have agency meetings coming up so I'll see what's up with the ministry of education to see how feasible it is.

It was also pretty cool to see another part of Panama. I've been to Bocas once for my volunteer site visit but never to Changinola. I was surprised at how different it is from Los Santos. Our capital of Las Tablas is an attempt at a Spanish pueblo. It is centered around a cathedral and a plaza. A lot of the buildings have a Spanish flavor but Changinola is much more Carribean. The colors are wacky blues, pinks, and yellows instead of Mediterranean tones. Plus it was green and all the trees didn't look dead. Around here everything is dry grassland now but over there it's relatively jungle like. I even took a walk through a Chiquita Banana plantation and got crop dusted with pesticides! Another difference is that there are way, way more Ngobes (Don't think I've ever seen any in Las Tablas) so culturally, people are a little more reserved on the street yet more likely to hit you up for spare change.

After that I met up with my new counterpart and headed off to PML (Project Management Leadership). This was another great seminar on leadership and running groups. For me, it was invaluable because we came away with a game-plan for starting an environmental group here. Counterpart even came up with a great logo. I can't really put into words here how good it feels to have a plan after trying to nail down specifics with campesinos (who are allergic to specifics) for so long. For the first time in my service I feel like I have control.

On a personal level, it was cool to get to know Counterpart. I feel like we could call each other friends now which is nice because I still feel like I don't have many friends in site. Maybe it's more accurate to say I don't have friends I have anything in common with but Counterpart and I like similar music (a FIRST here in Panama!) and he is dedicated to starting a project so we can talak about that. Sometimes I just run out of things to say to say to my campesinos. We both know it's hot... We both know it hasn't rained in months... My family's fine, thanks. Anyway, it's just refreshing.

The only bummer was that my ear infection I've been fighting on and off since November came back with a vengeance. I got super dizzy and had to miss the last half of the final day because it was too much work to stay vertical. The next day I headed to Chitre to meet my buddies for carnival so I stopped in at the doctor before they all showed up. I got my very first shot in butt. I have to admit, it was the most painful, most sore-making shot I've had in memory. Way worse than tetanus. The nurse was down there for a good 7 seconds which is an eternity when you can feel medication forcing its way into your rump. It was worth it though because my ear stopped pussing pretty quickly. Right now I'm on antibiotics that make me exhausted all the time but It'll be over soon. I'd been pretty healthy for a while so I guess it was time for a crash. Panama catches up with you.

But way more interesting than my little boo-boo is carnival! This guy from Miami who owns a hostel in Chitre left my friend in charge of the building so we turned it into a Peace Corps club house. We had water balloons, a kiddie pool on the roof, and even a megaphone! So, how carnival works is that they have street food EVERYWHERE! Yum. They bring in trucks of river water to hose people down (the mojadera) and play loud music all day and night. There are also floats of gay dudes... I guess carnival is the only time they can be openly fabulous in this machismo culture... and of course there is... the REINA! All feathers and sequins. There is something magical about it.

We had a good time apart from the fact that I got peed on and two of my buddies got robbed. Apparently, it's custom to pee your pants at carnival because there are so few bathrooms and you're getting hosed down anyway. Well, this dude let loose while my foot was nearby. As for the robberies, it wasn't so bad considering we were almost all gringos, or would be mistaken for gringos by Panamanians. It could have been a lot worse seeing as we're just giant targets. But, nothing was lost that can't be replaced and although my friends were annoyed, they remained unflappable.

So now I'm back in site ready to work but my community isn't. Apparently carnival isn't enough so I have to wait until "carnivalito" is over this weekend to pick up tutoring and work on the group. I'm thinking I should give up work ethic for Lent...