Tuesday, April 3, 2012

365 Days Later...

I've officially survived my community for 365 days. Holy (insert expletive here)! I should say something to the effect of how it's gone by so quickly or how it feels like another year will be an eternity but I can't say either. Mostly because I cant even grasp the concept of time here in Panama. Life just continues on and on. There are no seasons or changes in daylight to let my body know another spring is coming or another winter has passed. Living in a tropical country so close to the equator is comparable to living in the twilight zone or in that terrible movie Groundhog's Day. Every day is the same. Some a little rainier than others but other than that...lo mismo. We like to say here that the days go by slow but the months go by fast. I struggle through each day only to be in shock each time another month goes by in my calendar. My daily thought process tends to go: How did another month just go by? Didn't I just get back from visiting my family for Christmas? How the hell is it already April? Oh god, I still have another year...

To sum up life in my community over the last year isn't easy. Former volunteers have shared that it's easier the second year. I don't think it ever gets easier, you just get used to it as much as you can. You learn to expect the disappointments and feel motivated by the smallest of victories. I try not to focus on how many good days and bad days I have these days. It's more just about making it through the day with my sanity intact. Some days I'm working from sun up to sun down while others are so empty that I feel like I just might die from boredom before I get to the end of it. The majority fall in the middle but none come and go without a challenge. Whether its work related or just trying to live daily in the jungle.

One challenge that's been particularly frustrating is the lack of water during the dry season. Since my water source is a tube stuck in a spring further up on the mountain, when that spring dries up, so does my water. Last year, I had a reserve tank but during the battle with my previous landlord, I had to leave it behind when I moved in to my new house. Now I'm struggling to wash clothes and plates, shower and have enough clean drinking water on a daily basis. The hardest part is not knowing when it will come or for how long. For a few days it would come in the early hours of the morning. One morning, I woke up at 3:30am to wash my clothes by hand only to discover that it was no longer coming at that time. But while I'm sitting here complaining about how challenging it is to live like this, it's only a few months a year. I can't imagine what it's like for other PCVs and Panamanians who spend the entire year continually waiting for water to come or relying on a river to bathe and wash their clothing. It's a reality check to discover that every time I turn on the faucet, water won't always be coming out like it does in the States. Hopefully I'll take the conservation habits I've developed here out of necessity back to the States with me. I actually prefer bucket showers anyways.

While their are many physical challenges, one or the more frustrating parts of being a Peace Corps Volunteer is the lack of self expression and personal opinions. As a representative of the U.S. government, I need to be neutral in my religious and political opinions and other personal thoughts. I understand this expectation at its fundamental level. I don't want to alienate anyone who I could potentially work with in my community. But recently, we were reminded not to take sides regarding an issue that I felt was important to discuss with my community members.

The indigenous community of the Ngabe Bugle people blocked the only highway in Panama for several days creating disruptions throughout the country over a contract the government made with foreign firms to mine and build hydroelectric dams within the comarca of the indigenous group. Similar to a reservation in the States, the Ngabes have more autonomous control over the land in the comarca than the government does. The Ngabes took the streets to protect their land and subsequently three people were killed in the violence.

In Panama, there is some racism against the indigenous population. But for this issue, many Panamanians came out in solidarity with the Ngabes. Instead of adding my support (or disapproval), I was reminded by the Peace Corps that I should remain neutral on the issue due to the fact that we work closely with the government. This included in my community and other public domains that I deem personal such as my Facebook or this blog. Damaging our relationship with the government could affect the work that we do here. As much as I understand the need for neutrality, it adds to the frustration I feel here not being able to live my life the way I would in the States. Its stifling not being allowed to voice your opinions. Especially when you live in a community where all your friends are technically coworkers since being a part of the community is technically your job.

Even though an agreement has been reached between the government and the Ngabes, many Ngabes are not happy with the negotiations their leader accepted and there could potentially be more problems in the future. However, I, as a Peace Corps volunteer will continue to remain neutral.

To end my one year update, I'll finish with something a bit more positive and answer what you all have been dying to know. What am I actually doing? Besides chilling in a hammock and eating rice? Luckily, I have a few things going on in and out of my site. I don't want this part to sound like a resume but I do want to let you all know what I'm actually doing or trying to do... Actually I might just use this as my resume.

English Teacher Seminar. In January, two fellow PCVs and I developed and ran a weeklong seminar for English teachers. We had over 40 participants. Even though it was challenging to say the least, it was a great opportunity to work with motivated teachers who care about their jobs.

Adult EFL classes. The whole reason I got myself into this "situation" was because I loved teaching ESL to adults. Right now I'm working with a group of about 12 young adults twice a week tackling English and all it's conundrums.

After school tutoring. On any given day, I have at least one student stopping by my house for English homework help. Sometimes it's an annoying part of being a professional volunteer but I'd rather them not fail out of English.

At my primary school Co teacher with my English teacher. These days we are doing more planning together outside the classroom instead of actual co teaching but hopefully the principal will finish our new "English classroom" and I can get back in the class.

Tech guru. I solve (or rather attempt to) any computer problems in our computer lab. This mostly ends in failure. I think I might need a computer class myself...

Unofficial and unpaid school secretary. People here are mad jealous of my typing skills. Unfortunately, this means that they constantly ask me to type up documents for them. Don't worry, I've started teaching typing classes so that I comply with the Peace Corps goal of sustainability.

Tech teacher for the fourth and sixth grade. Last week I started teaching technology class to two groups. So far it's turning out to be a lot of fun since I get to be the main teacher.

Outside projects
Special Olympics volunteer. I'll be helping out with the table tennis event for the Central American Special Olympics in April along with other fun days planned for about 500 athletes.

 Facilitator at a youth leadership camp. The protests I mentioned earlier caused us to cancel our weeklong camp for teens in February but hopefully it will get rescheduled for June!

I'll be sure you update you all with another rant and rave session as soon as I get around to it...which looking back on my blogging track record will not be anytime soon.

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