Thank the freaking Lord. My site is one of the most beautiful places imaginable in Panama. It may be only 45 minutes outside the disgusting hell hole that is Chorrera (which I may be starting to enjoy….bad sign) but it is a completely different world up in the rural mountains of Panama. There are stunning views everywhere you look. The houses are sparse in quantity and spread out in a huge valley. The people here are amazing as well. The locals have a physically hard life working on the farms surrounding the community but I have yet to see one without a smile on their face. There is a lot of poverty in the community and most of the houses are made out of wood with rancho style roofs. Some of the families are on welfare but everyone treats each other with respect and friendship. The kids immediately adopted me into their families and made me feel right at home. I feel so lucky that I was assigned to Trinidad de Las Minas.
The Director of the school is a ball of energy, constantly laughing and smiling which makes it kind of hard to understand him. He came to pick me up at CEDESAM in Farallon, Cocle and I instantly liked him. It was hard to get him to have a serious conversation as he just kept repeating, “you’re going to love it.” We didn’t get much accomplished in terms of figuring out my role in the school the first days at the conference but he just seemed so happy to have a volunteer that I didn’t push it. I have a feeling this might be a constant theme during my service. The last night at the three day community entry conference was the same day the earthquake hit Japan and Peace Corps evacuated us inland since we were less than a mile from the beach. It was nice to see Penenome, Cocle for a night but I need to return soon and really explore the town. I’m sure I’ll get the chance since it’s the home of my regional leader and we already have one reunion planned for May.
The Director and I set off for Trinidad de Las Minas in the morning. It was an easy journey from Chorrera that takes less than an hour, only two from Panama City (so no one has an excuse not to visit me!). When I arrived to Minas, we stopped at the Director’s house which is the second nicest house in town (the nicest belonging to the woman who was the school director for 27 years). We immediately ventured off to pasear with the neighbors. When we got to the school, we were greeted by some students, teachers and parents. I gave a little speech on who I was and the director helped me to explain my role in their community. After a quick Chicha break, I got a tour of the school from the “janitor” who is an awesome girl the same age as me.
A little bit later, the Director took me to visit one of my host family options. The padre de la casa is the most adorable old man. He must be at least in his 70s yet he still works out in the fields everyday his body lets him. I can’t understand a word he says so I just smile a lot and he smiles back. The ama de la casa is an equally adorable old woman who I can understand completely. Their daughter used to teach at the school but for reasons I couldn’t determine, no longer works at the school. The granddaughter is in fifth grade at the school. Even though the latrine was a bit intimidating and I will be doing bucket showers while I’m there pretty much out in the open since I’m a good two feet taller than the walls, I think I’m going to love living with their little family. There is another stunning view of the valley right there and they are on the main road making it easy to venture off to Chorrera for a quick shopping trip once I’m no longer prohibited from leaving my site.
On Sunday, the Director and I met up early to walk to the finca before the Panamanian sun hit. Our mission was to visit another host family option who I’ve chosen to be my first family. The main reason behind my decision being that I have to walk for 30 minutes and forge two rivers to get to their house which does not have electricity. A feat that will not be possible once the rains start and the river rises. When you all see the pictures you’ll understand why I chose it. It’s so amazingly beautiful out there and so secluded. The finca is owned by a Swiss man who the locals seem to love since he has brought in a lot of employment and is only using organic processes with everything, from houses made of clay to roads paved with a dirt like substance. The host family is amazing as well. The padre and madre have two small children. The daughter is in third grade while the son is just a toddler. They have horses and cows in their front yard and are constructing a pond out back so they can raise fish. I’m pretty sure they are all under five feet tall. Most of the food they hit comes from what they can grow on the land substituted by of course rice (it wouldn’t be a meal in Panama without rice).
The part of the finca where a large part of the community resides (and who are all related) feels like a jungle trek, which in reality it is. The houses are hidden among the trees, disguised with rancho style (palm tree) roofs. I’ve been told to watch out for snakes so I’ll be sure to stick to daytime visits. The families were all very warm and eager to meet me. While walking up to stranger’s houses and taking a seat to chat for 30 minutes wasn’t very natural at first, I feel like I’m already getting better at it. I think I could completely butcher Spanish and they would still enjoy chatting with me. When I was walking back to the main part of town I actually felt a bit scared that something would go wrong during the next two weeks and I would lose this amazing site (knock on cement). Living on the finca will be a bit of a challenge but it will be completely worth it to meet the people who live out there. Unfortunately I have to do it quickly before rainy season comes!
I ended the weekend eager to embark on my new adventure. Even though I instantly felt the fish bowl effect as I am without a doubt the tallest person in the entire community and the only one with glasses, everyone was so friendly and welcoming that I just might be able to fit in. My site is exactly what I had in mind when I joined Peace Corps. Remote with some modern conveniences (okay so running water and a roof are about the only two) but also a school where I can work with the community in a structured environment. Life here is going to be so different from DC. Not much happens on a daily basis and there are no cell phones or televisions for most of the community. In fact there is no cell phone service, bummer. I’ll get along just fine though. I can’t wait to move there to help the community and really become a part of it too.
I’ll post more on my visit to the school on Monday and Tuesday early next week when I get more computer time! Start planning your trips!
I miss you all muchisma!!