Central America | Panama – Panama City to Carnaval to the top of the mountains
January 24 to 28 was IST. Peace Corps is in love with acronyms. That stands for In Service Training. (PDM, or Project Design and Management is in April, following AVC, All Volunteer Conference in February. These are attended by the PCVs, Peace Corps Volunteers, and APCDs, Assistant Peace Corps Directors. I am now in a group called EH, or Environmental Health, there is also CED, CEC, and SAS, Community Ecomonic Development, Community Ecological Conservation, and Sustainable Agricultural Systems. AVC was originally in central Panama, but people complained about that, so the VAC, or Volunteer Action Committee got it switched to Boquete, a nicer location. Our CD, Country Director, and PTO, Programming and Training Officer had to fight to have an AVC in the first place, because worldwide in Peace Corps, AVCs have gotten the reputation of being nothing but a big party. So the CD and PTO decided to rename it APCPC, All Peace Corps Panama Conference. whew!)
IST was about a week long, only an hour from Panama City. So the day after, I took advantage of how close I was and went to the city to get a hair cut, my first in seven months, and eat some great food.
By then it had been about 9 days since I had been in Chami, and as the chiva climbed up the mountains and the vistas unfolded, I felt like I was home. We finally reached Chami, and I will never forget driving along, feeling happy to be back, thinking, hey, thats a new building, I wonder what that i— Thats my house!
At least I hoped it was my house. This structure was clearly made from my zinc. But it was not at all how I had planned. I didnt even know anyone was going to start building me a house, I thought I was going to do it this week! Instead of being a long rectangle, it was a small square, and built adjacent to the Casa Artasania. The house was actually sharing a wall with the Casa! Oh my gosh! This couldnt be farther from how I planned it!
This was all thought in a second or two, as the chiva flew by. Then we passed Augustina’s house- Oh my gosh where’s her roof!?!? Her roof was completely gone!
I couldnt take anymore surprises, and was happy to get dropped off at my host families house. I quickly went to pasear, and find out the wind had blown Augustina’s roof away, and that was indeed my house (as Balbina and Neopoldo happily informed me, look how much money we saved you making it so small! Kristen fakes big smile here)
Oh well, I can live in a small house. Later that week we had a meeting to fill out a solicitud for seeds for home gardens. I was talking with Edena about what happened the week I was gone, and she told me ‘es egoistico, no tiene respeto por nadie, la ley no asusta’ who? Who was this greedy person, who didnt follow laws, had no respect? The wind! she repeated. Oh, then it made sense. It was true. Look at Augustina’s house. The wind had no respect. Balbina later asked me, who gets the zinc when you leave? I was offended. I´ll be here for two years! I said. Why are you thinking about me leaving, thats a long time! She smiled and said patiently, Kristina, for you two years is a long time, but for us, two years will be over soon.
February 3-8 was Carnaval in Panama. The Azuero, a southern peninsula of the country was where Carnaval was biggest. I had been gone a lot, but how could I miss Carnaval? I decided to go, just for one day and night. Trisha, Rebecca F, and Shanna went to. We first met Jessica, a volunteer living in Las Minas and her boyfriend Hugo. It was a cute little town, Latino, so different from the indigenous villages we live in! We then headed to Aguabuenas, where Roy and Dottie live. They are older volunteers who are retired from there jobs in the states. Jessica and Hugo were supposed to meet us, but never showed. Aguabuenas was very close to Las Tablas, the city of the biggest party in Panama. Carnaval in Panama mainly consists of water. Everyone has squirt guns, buckets of water, and basically, you get soaked. There were actually FOUR tanker trucks filled with water, and people with fire hoses spraying the crowds constantly, and we walked up and down packed streets, like ardines. Its not a big show like Rio or Trinidad. There were some floats and Carnaval Queens in the evening, but the attraction here seemed to be getting sprayed. Roy and Dottie treated us to dinner, then we went back to Las Tablas, and went to a PH, a Pub Herrerano. These are huge portable dance clubs, and this was the biggest one, for carnaval. It was several stories, and there must have been a thousand people there dancing, a great time!
I made my way back to Chami after that. Laura Squire came to visit. The SAS APCD, wants to have more coffee volunteers, when the next group comes in May, so Laura was exploring Raton and Cuernava, both accessed through Chami, and she wanted me to go with her. So one day we caught a chiva that went towards Raton. We climbed up the cordillera wall until we were looking down on Chami! We must have been getting around 5000 feet, and could still see the ocean! It was beautiful. We were practically on top of Panama! About an hour and a half later, we were at Hacha, and couldnt go any further. There was a landslide of trees and mud higher than the chiva! So we hopped out, paid the driver, carefully made our way over the mess of trees, and walked two more hours to Raton. It was a quaint little village, and seemed to have a solid local coffee group, but it was soon obvious it was too far to put a volunteer. We had got there easily because it was the dry season, but everyone said most of the year, there were no chivas. And there was no way to contact a volunteer, or have a volunteer contact the outside world in case of emergency, short or having someone on a horse ride several hours just to get to Chami, where I live, and still be hours from civilizaion. So Laura and I walked the couple hours back to Hacha, then a couple more hours, until we had decended from the top of the mountain range, and could see Chami again below. We were luckily picked up by a chiva, which saved us about 5 more hours of walking.
The next day, we went to explore Cuernavaca, and had had wonderful luck that the ambulance was going to Rincon! Wonderful for Laura and I, I guess, not for the patient they were going to pick up. Rincon would have been an hour and a half walk, but it was less than a half hour in the four wheel drive ambulance vehicle, then we walked another half hour to Cuernavaca. It was a very small village, about 15 houses. We approached the first house. A couple women were using hand crank sewing machines to make nagwas. Lots of tiny girls in dirty nagwas ran around. The women giggled and were shy with us at first, then sent for people in the coffee group, and soon were asking us tons of questions. In no time, many people in the coffee group talked with us. It was a productive visit. We walked back to Rincon, to find the ambulance was still there! There was no emergencies, and we were able to get a ride back to Chami.
There Laura and I waited in Balbina’s restaurant for a chiva. She was going back to San Felix, so I waited with her, and we ordered lunch. As we waited, she noticed the date, February 14. We laughed and wished each other a happy Valentines Day. It was also 5 months in Chami for me. Five months! They brought out one plate, with rice and beans and chicken, and put it in front of me. Laura looked at it, and asked for hers with no chicken. I ate mine, and have never gotten so sick so fast in my life. In less than an hour, Laura had caught a chiva going downhill, and I was dizzy and puking in the health clinic. I was attached to an IV, and kept over night. I dont know how she knew, but that was a hard lesson learned. If your Regional Leader doesn’t eat the chicken, maybe you shouldn’t eat the chicken either.