This Is the End

The last year I’ve grown neglectful of this blog which from a productivity standpoint, was actually a good thing. It meant I was busy. The first year, I realized what to do (and more importantly) what not to do and where my help was needed. I finished my solar panel project and taught some people how to use a computer. I helped some artisans get exposure. I built eco-stoves. I facilitated camps and sex ed talks. I taught English. Unfortunately, (and fortunately) my time is up.

Last night, I tucked my mosquito net inĀ  and listened to the termites slowly eat my house on my little mat for the last time. While there is plenty I wished I achieved I realized that with what i was given, I accomplished as much as I could. Most importantly, I can return home with my head held high and say that I completed my two years. That I was a Peace Corps Volunteer.

The plan now is to travel through South America with the final destination being Machu Picchu. After that, who knows? The job market doesn’t look any better than when I left. Maybe Korea for a year teaching English.Grad school?

As I’ve learned, vamos a ver, poca a poca.

November is the month of patriotic holidays. This November 2nd, festivities were held in the community. While I didn’t march in the parade like last year, I did get to engage in some other activities like climbing the greased pole and chasing down a greased pig. I didn’t win either of them but I did get to check those two things off of things I never thought I would do and leave behind stories for the community to tell for the next 20 years.

This is where your chocolate comes from. Those little orange fruits are called cacao. This year, I decided to help a friend harvest his crop which mostly entailed collecting and placing them in a a huge pile.Then, the fruit is cracked open and the seeds are dried to be sold at .90 a lb., sold off to places like Belgiam, Germany, Guatamala and the U.S. and turned into delicious chocolate.

Another volunteer came to my site and gave a presentation on another stove design. About 20 people came, all who seemed excited to build their own.

Elige tu vida- Teaching kids they don’t have to be farmers, how to put on a condom and more—all packed into one day.

Elige tu vida- Teaching kids they don’t have to be farmers, how to put on a condom and more—all packed into one day.

Elige tu Vida-Sex and career education for my 8th grade class

A presentation that teaches them they can be more than just farmers, how to put on a condom and much more crammed into one day.

La Vaina

Newest La Vaina! Only one more left after this one. 6 months altogether and I’m done here…

A Ngobe By Any Name

I recently spent a day in the comarca (similar to Indian reservations) where I realized, my people are not what they claim to be.

The Ngobe people are a race of indigenous who originated within the Chiriqui mountains in a region called Cricamola. Traditionally living in families, for the past forty odd years, the Ngobe have formed communities to take advantage of government funding and education.

Ngobes are known for their hand made bags (called chakaras) and their colorful dresses (naguas) as well as their fierce pride in their people and language. At least, that’s what I’ve been told. In the comarca, things are different.

For one, where in my community, naguas are worn more as a novelty, comarca Ngobe women strictly wear naguas and nothing else. They are also far more prideful, and with good reason. They stick strictly to their traditional ways, continuing the dance of the balseria and pretty much everyone speaks Ngaberi. Seeing all this, I thought, “My people are a bunch of sellouts.”

That was, until I asked my community about it.”Where’s your nagua?”

"That’s comarca Ngobes."

"Why don’t you guys do balserias?"

"We’re Bocas Ngobes. That’s comarca."

"What’s the difference?"

Though subtle, the differences are big enough that confusing the two is akin to calling a California girl a Southern belle. My people are not new to the area, just to the neighborhood. Ngobes have been in the region for hundreds of years and have different traditions like their affinity for boiled bananas and puffy bread called Johnny Cakes. Also, the fact that their homes are built on stilts,random old men who speak English and a difference in dialect. It would seem that even the quintessential nagua of the comarca is only a remainder of Spanish missionaries who, finding Ngobes naked, dressed them in floor length dresses which they still make today.

Ngobe, Guaymi, indio, they’re all the same, with a small caveat attached. At a distance, we’re all the same too. If I tell them I’m from Florida, I mostly get a glazed look. Estados Unidos? Now there’s comprehension.

It’s not just the people either. Even the comarca volunteers are different. Most dress in the traditional manner and while my Ngoberi is spotty at best, many of them can actually converse in the indigenous language. I would feel like a bad volunteer but then I see other volunteers in Latino communities where community members threaten kids by telling them they can live with the indians if they don’t behave, grouping all indigenous into the category indio or more offensive cholo.

Of course, this has no bearing on those volunteers but at that distance, all Ngobes are the same to them too (to be fair, I know little to nothing about the Latino or other cultures of Panama either). But that’s why I’m here. To see the rest of the world in its details, large and small, similarities and differences. To learn that not everywhere is as dangerous as the news makes it out to be and though the way they live here may be different from there, there are reasons for it. I want to know them and when people ask questions like, “Why is she carrying her baby in a bag?, Why are they howling? or Why is he staring at me like that?” I can answer.

At long last, in partnership with ECPA, MEDUCA, and the community of La Gloria, I give you electricity in the school. The system is photovoltaic, a newer technology than traditional solar panels that don’t need as much sunlight which is a plus here in rainy Bocas del Toro.

First tower stove in La Gloria! Finally, an accomplishment I can touch.