Wednesday, January 20, 2010

6 months in site update

Well hi there! In good ol´Catherine fashion I´ve managed to make myself obscenely busy and have neglected my blog. Gracias a Dios, my family realized I needed some kind of technology to boost my spirits in the campo and stoked me out with this sweet netbook. So I can now type my updates from my site and post them when I get internet in the city. Sweet!

I guess I´ll do a quick recap of the monthly highlights:

October: Completed my 3rd month in site! This means I got to mnove into my own house which isn´t much but it has worked more or less. A month of finalizing my community analysis and a killer Halloween celebration on Isla Colon.

November: In Panama, November is basically a big holiday. Separation from Colombia, Flag Day, Grito of Los Santos, Anniversary of the founding of Bocas del Toro, Independence from Spain... I´m sure I´m missing some. The first week of the month of ferias was spent in my buddy Lee´s site celebrating Panama´s separation from Colombia. It kind of felt like Thanksgiving in the sense that we ate turkey, mashed ñampi (basically a potato), watched a parade on TV, and hung out with the 150 folks that make up Lee´s town.

December: My good friend John came to visit! The first (and hopefully not last) of my loved ones who decided to brave the jungle and pay me a visit. He got to experience my daily excitement, trash cleanups, meetings half in Spanish/half in Ngabere that last for 5 hours, harvesting of cacao... Apart from my community activities we managed to visit the mountain town of Boquete at the base of Volcan Baru and kick it on the beach in Bocas del Toro. After the visit, I celebrated Panamanian Mothers´Day on the 8th and congradulated my graduating junior high students on the 16th. For Christmas I got to go back to the good ol US of A and had an absolutely wonderful time! Definately was too short a visit.

I think next I´ll do what we do at our regional meetings which is share the "rose and thorn" aspects of my life here.

The "rose" or great things about the job:

I can say that I successfully ran a community trash clean up day with assistance from the education agency in providing food for the afterparty and environmental agency who hauled our trash away. A small victory but I´ll take it.

We´ve gotten a library committee set up over the last month or so with two successful meetings and are in the process of applying for book donations.

On a personal note my three former host families are amazing. My first family (with their enormous clan of children) are still some of my favorite people in town. I can roll into their house, pick up a baby, and feel right at home. My second family are a little closer to my age. The wife is 29 and the husband 34 so we can talk about more relatable stuff. My third host family adores me and refers to me as their "hija Californiana". Another comforting thing to have here.

The "thorn" or not so great part about the job:

About once a month my body decides it´s had enough of the crappy water (no pun intended) and I have to endure a less than comfortable hour and a half bus ride to get to Changuinola to get myself some amoeba pills. I could get more graphic but I´ll leave it at that.... if you want a funny and informative description of giardia check out this site :

Loneliness and job frustrations do occur. The way of life here is much slower than I’m used to so if talked about projects get delayed or just don’t happen at all, it becomes aggravating, especially when I hear of other volunteers having successes. The cultural differences do exist and I will always be the weird one here so combating loneliness is something else I struggle with.
Earlier this week a friend and neighbor of mine in site passed away. He was young, only in his 40s, and probably had something curable. However in this culture, many indigenous feel intimidated at the thought of going to a doctor or feel they will be rejected with the assumption that they don’t have money to pay for the medical services. Needless to say, after a week of not being able to keep any liquids down, the family still wouldn’t take him to the hospital. Paying him a visit on his final day was one of the worst images I’ll ever have to see. The whole situation was just a damn shame.

On the horizon….
I do have much to look forward to that will keep me busy over the coming months. In October I became the proud mother of an adorable puppy named Osa and she continues to make me smile every day.
This coming week I have a leadership conference in Coclé in which I get to bring someone from my community. I chose a woman who I felt was one of the stronger female voices in the community and since men definitely dominate the leadership positions in the community, I felt it right to bring her.
Due to some annoyances with my living space (basically that it blows) I will be moving to a much more “tranquilo” residence in early February. It has a huge porch, space for a garden, and only a few neighbors that are very chill people. Once I get back from the conference we will be making some last minute repairs and it will be move-in ready!

In the spirit of the new year (and since one of my resolutions is to improve my skills in speaking Ngabere) I’ll leave you with some Ngabe vocab. Much love and saludos!

Ñantore: “Buenas” in Spanish or the general greeting you say to people in passing

Drekukwe: “what’s up?” or what I say when I get sick of saying Ñantore

Mä nigi mdente?: where are you going?

Ti nigi basare: I’m going “pasearing”, which can mean anything from visiting, to going to the store, to going wherever basically

Mä tä dre noaine?: “What are you doing?” A common question I get asked. Sadly I usually have to answer in Spanish. Unless the answer is Ti nigi basare, hehe!

Ti binine juben aune däbotete: “ I’m going to the river to bathe and wash my clothes.” I say this often.

Ti tä ichi kri kain: “I have to take a big poop.” Great for getting out of unwanted conversations and usually true during those amoeba times.

Mä tä bren?: “Are you sick?” and/or “Are you pregnant?”…. yeah

Mä toro brare/ Mä toro meri: “Do you have a man?” and “Do you have a woman” hey these are important questions right?

And finally because they like to be silly at times just like us….

Choochoo budiere: “naked boobies”

Take care of yourselves!


  1. Glad that netbook is getting some use! :)

    Not sure how a future visit will work out but we'll let you know! Keep at it sis!


coastal Peru

Machu Picchu

Santa Barbara, Arajuno River, Ecuador