Anyways, since I last left off we've officially become Peace Corps volunteers (PCV's) which took place on the 5th of July at a ceremony at the Panama Canal Museum in Casco Viejo (Old Town) in Panama City. It does honestly feel like much more than two weeks ago. That night we had a sushi dinner in the city and ran around to some bars (including the first microbrewery we'd seen since the US). The following day we headed to the beach to celebrate for two nights and rest before finally heading off to our sites for the next 2 years. Training had officially ended and it has been a whirlwind of a ride for the last two weeks.
For a start, my site is called Peña Blanca, and is in the indigenous reservation Ngobe-Bugle (reservations are known as Comarcas) on the West side of Panama. The journey from the city consists of a ~5 hour bus ride, and a 2.5-3 hour ride in the back of a pickup truck up a 4x4 road, which is by no means the least accessible site in the country. These trucks (called carros or chivas) are just old Japanese pickups with a cage constructed over the bed and two benches along either side. For rain, they're covered with a big tarp. I'll try and grab a picture of one for later posts. In any case, they're not comfortable but they are far better solutions than simply walking (which is what happens when the chivas are broken, like today).
For the first three months here I'll be living with a host family. My host mom is a single mother and lives with her parents and two young daughters. Shes an incredibly nice lady named Ofelina who speaks good spanish (which is nice here in the comarca since, at least in my town, everyone speaks Ngobere, the indigenous language, if they have the option). Ofelina's parents, Marcelino and Porfiria are also fantastic hosts and are very understanding of my American-ness, that is to say my terrible attempts at the local language and general misunderstanding of nearly everything thats going on. I live in a small stick 'hut' next to the houses of the other family members just above the center of town (town is about 100 houses and 500 people, for those who are interested).
|Welcome to Peña Blanca. The town itself sits at the foot of that mountain in the background which bears the same name.|
|My house for the first three months.|
|The location of my house in the future (for now).|
My task here as a volunteer is not clear as of yet. The general idea is that I have some sort of positive impact on the sanitation practices and health of the community in general but exactly what that might mean requires a process of community analysis and much pasearing (walking around talking with people) in which I try to sift out exactly what the needs of the community are. That being said, some communities are more aware of their needs than others and, at least at first glance, I seem to have arrived at a community that can identify at least one very pressing concern: latrines. In a town of 500 people, there are no more than 10 latrines that I can see so far. In the various community meetings and personal talks I've had with people these past two weeks, this subject has been the overwhelming priority. So, for now at least, my large goal will probably be to provide sanitation education and eventually latrines to Peña Blanca. This will be a process of many months and years, so I'll be sure to keep you all up to date on how it progresses.
Another, hopefully shorter, process I'll be undertaking is the building of a house for myself once my first few months with a host family are up. The plan right now is for me to build it behind the house I'm currently living in, and it would pass on to the ownership of my host mom once I leave (maybe for another volunteer to rent in the future). The question right now is what to make it out of, how much it will cost, who will help me make it and how soon can it be done. If I make the house out of tabla (rough floor boards, used as siding for some 'nicer' houses) I'll have to buy it locally and pay the guys to make is using chainsaws (I think). The plan right now is for a one room house with a little porch for a hammock. We'll see what it actually becomes.
I'm going to have to cut this post kinda short, I have to get lunch and get some other errands done before hopefully catching the chiva back home. I hope everything is well for all of you back home in the US! I am surviving fine down here, although living in such an isolated place (emotionally, physically, etc...) is quite exhausting. I miss you all and I'll hopefully make it home to the states to see you sometime in the next two years.