Friday, November 13, 2015

Much Needed Rest

Day 5- August 11, 2015

Morning came far too quickly. Ben woke me up by tugging on the hammock strings. As soon as I opened my eyes, I realized there was far too much sunlight. I was definitely late for a boat. Four minutes later I was packed, power walking down the hill. Enilda invited me over for breakfast but I had to wave her a thanks and keep going. Ben promised to say bye to her for me. I made it to the river just in time to catch a boat. I hopped in and we set off downstream, hoping to catch the chiva to Metetí.

Meanwhile, I was more tired than I had been when I went to sleep the night before. My head hurt again, and when we all piled into the chiva and took off down the windy rural highway I quickly started feeling nauseous. Crap.

The culprit was probably doing too much too soon from my strep- I was still on antibiotics and I had spent the entire day previously working in the sun. Dehydration and exhaustion- those were simple enough fixes. We were in Metetí by 8AM so I went straight to the Volunteer house where I drank a lot of water and prepared for a nap. My chiva to Playona runs until 3PM, so I could sleep all morning and go in the afternoon. I rinsed off in a cold shower then curled up on a mattress in front of a fan.

I woke up in the dark, at 7PM.

"Well, that happened. It's not even worth getting upset about because there's nothing I can do to fix it. I can't go anywhere now that it's dark. I'll just call my chiva driver, ask him to pick me up first thing in the morning and then I'll go get dinner from the chicken man up the street," I shared my plans with the house cat. She silently approved.

After a phone call, some food, antibiotics, and another shower, I was asleep again by 9PM.

Today I am grateful for a quiet place to sleep!
(And the cat's approval)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

A Lifetime of Plantains

Day 4- August 10, 2015

“I just can’t stop thinking about my kids. I want them to have a role model that shows them they can be and do just about anything. I know that I am just one person, I get that there are kids everywhere but these are my kids we’re talking about- Feli, Pecho, Emili, Miliana, Josecito…all 86 of them. Rationally, I know that it is my time to go, I need to move on, but my heart doesn’t understand how to leave. They are surrounded by drugs, HIV, poverty, racism, and have the worst education system on the planet…it doesn’t feel right. Am I supposed to be like, ‘See ya later, good luck with all that?’”

My voice trailed off into the night. It was late, and Ben’s hut was blanketed in thick darkness, pierced only by a sliver of moon. Lying in our hammocks, we were talking about leaving, moving on, and starting the next phase of our lives. While on the one hand it seemed exciting and fitting; on the other hand it made absolutely no sense.

She made sure I didn't get bored waiting
for the rest of the workers to arrive!
It had been a long but exciting day. Six AM brought morning bathing, coffee, and plates of fried plantains and eggs, per usual. The plan was to finish building the composting latrine we'd started back in January 2014 that we'd had to abandon when we were evacuated. The morning got off to a slow start. I played with a pair of little girls on the base of the composting latrine while Ben scoured his community for volunteers and tools. We started work around 11, and by 5pm the latrine was nearly finished, just short a few boards for the walls and the stairs needed to dry out before we could fill them with concrete mix.

I went straight from the work site to the river, grateful to sit in the cool water and relax after a hot day of work one last time. Afterwards we had another plate of fried plantains and scrambled eggs at Enilda’s while watching the sun set over the tree tops. Everyone had been talking about an event at the school all day, so we headed to “downtown” to check it out. The school was dark and quiet, but we visited with a few houses on the way back.

Antonio’s wife gave us yet another plate of fried plantains and scrambled eggs. I powered through this second dinner while we watched the discovery channel with half the neighborhood on the porch. We stopped next door at Fuljencio’s and he topped us off with- ok, not plantains and eggs this time, but mugs of plantain pudding. I willed my stomach to digest faster to make room.

The stars were bright and clear when we climbed back up the hill to Ben’s hut. The surrounding jungle felt both alive and still. It was my last night in Vígia. The next day I was going to Playona to say goodbye.

The problem was, I still couldn’t figure out how I was going to do so.

Today I'm grateful to be part of the completion of this project.

Watching sunset over downtown Vígia.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Heading East

Day 3: August 9, 2015

Morning came way too quickly: 4:30am. Luckily for the rest of the world my groggy, cranky self didn’t need to interact with anyone until I arrived at the bus terminal. The pavo asked me if I was going to Metetí and I said yes. I tucked myself into a seat and pretended like I never woke up.

In true Darien fashion, the bus took forever. It was 1pm before I arrived in Metetí and I was still early morning cranky. And starving. And hadn’t had coffee. And needed to pee. And needed to buy things from the hardware store for Ben’s latrine. And knew that I was running late to hitch a ride to the port. I was arguing with myself over how to prioritize the aforementioned necessities while paying the bus driver and squeezing myself out of the cramped space when I heard, “Djabawera!!!”

I quickly spotted the woman in the paruma and walked over. I didn’t know her. Did I? Quick introductions confirmed that we’ve never met, nor was she traveling to Vigía. However, she was bound and determined to find me a ride to the port. She commanded that I follow her and took off. I followed.

A few minutes later I had plans to ride in with some of the Vigía teachers who would be arriving to Metetí on the next incoming bus. That gave me time to deal with all the other things I needed to do. Diocilia and Juan Carlos arrived at 2, bought me a second lunch, and then we piled into a taxi headed for the port. I asked to get dropped off at the border police checkpoint, just uphill of the dock.

Soldier: “Where are you going?”
Me: “To Nuevo Vigía”
Soldier: “What is your mission?”
Me: “I’m Peace Corps. I’m going to visit and build a latrine.”
Soldier: “We can’t let you go.”
Me: “Uhh, what? Why? Here’s my ID, I’m Peace Corps.”
Supervisor: “Oh hey, yea, its ok. She’s just going to see her husband. He went up there yesterday.”

Me: No, I - (Freeze. Commence internal battle. On the one hand, I want to clarify that I am in fact my own independent person and that it is not fair- but on the other, I want them to just let me go. In the end I say nothing.)

Solider: “Ok, go ahead.”
Me: Sigh, so much for principles. “Thank you.”

We wait at the port for two hours before catching a ride up river, arriving an hour before dark. I try not to get too muddy climbing up the river bank barefoot and am somewhat successful. I wander around asking for the white guy until I find him, hanging out in the hammock. In true Emberá fashion, we visit three houses and are fed three more times in quick succession: corn drink, fried fish, boiled plantains, fried plantains, scrambled eggs, and tea. Meanwhile I was massacred by mosquitos and had sweat running down every part of my body.

Welcome home.

I was exhausted, it was dark, and there are crocodiles, but this Emberá wera refused to go to bed without bathing. We grabbed flashlights and precariously climbed back down to the river to bathe. Everything was immediately better. Back at the house, things were a little complicated. Ben and I were staying in a one-room house with 8 other people. I went outside into the yard to change clothes- thank goodness there was no moon yet- so once the flashlights were turned off I had complete privacy.

The night ended with another mug of tea, and an hour chatting with Rigoberto, the only Emberá I have ever heard of to go to the US for college. We strung up hammocks and mosquito nets and I fell asleep listening to the homey sounds of monkeys, birds, and the river.

Today I am grateful we didn't meet this guy in the dark!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

One Short Day in the Panama City

Day 2: August 8, 2015

My dorm room had long emptied by the time I regained consciousness at 10am, just in time for more antibiotics. Ben had left hours before on a bus to his site in the Darién, and the other travelers were off sightseeing. I moved upstairs to the sunlight to work my way through a champion’s breakfast of popsicles and coffee. Seneca, another PCV finishing his service, joined me and we discussed our major life changes.

After a lazy morning, I was starting to feel human again by mid afternoon as the dark clouds started rolling in. Knowing it was my last chance to go to the indigenous store, I mustered up my energy to brave Cinco de Mayo- a street bursting with stores, street vendors, and crowds of every age and ethnicity.

Resisting the temptation to buy another paruma, I settled on a Kuna headscarf, then dashed off into the rain to catch a bus to the mall. It had been three years since I had done any real clothes shopping. Walking into the fancy GAP, I felt like a fraud. At any moment one of the staff members was going to realize that I didn’t belong here and would kick me out. They didn’t. I bought a pair of sandals and a shirt.

Back in the hostel, I made mac n cheese with a side of popsicles for dinner and tried to pack my bag. It took me no time to decide to take my day backpack to the Darien and to leave the rest in the hostel for the week. Although I had been awake for less than twelve hours, I soon found myself snuggled back in bed. After a bedtime popsicle, of course.

Today I'm grateful for feeling well enough to be able to visit Cinco de Mayo one more time.

Monday, November 9, 2015

False Start

Day 1: August 7, 2015

3 sets of metal bunk beds creak and groan as their inhabitants come to life and start preparing to face the day. Wait- maybe those groans are coming from me. Yup. Oh, man. My head is pounding like a cheap wine hangover, but I didn’t drink last night. This isn’t fair. I swallow and immediately regret it. My face twists up like a toddler getting ready for a tantrum. NOT FAIR.

Today was supposed to be the start of my post-Peace Corps life. Today was supposed to be the first day of the greatest adventure of all time. Today is the start of a new chapter, a whole new era in my life.

Today, I have a fever.

Sitting at breakfast, eating scratchy toast that feels like a chainsaw in my esophagus, I admit something must be done. I can’t start backpacking like this. I call the Peace Corps Medical Officer and they reassure me that I am still officially a Volunteer until midnight; therefore, they can still prescribe me medicine.

Two hours later with a brown paper bag full of antibiotics and painkillers for strep throat, I meet my travel buddy Ben in the food court of the bus terminal. “I’m supposed to sleep for 48 hours,” I tell him sadly. He nods, pulls out his calendar of our trip itinerary and stares at it for a minute. Then he shrugs and says, “well, it’s not like we can’t change the plan!”

Thus our original plan was tossed even before we started. We discuss a few different options, depending on how long I need to feel better. Feeling relieved sleep is my primary job for the next few days, I catch an early afternoon bus back to the hostel for a nap. I won’t wake up until dinnertime, which will consist of red, purple, and orange popsicles. Then more sleep.

Today I am grateful to still be a PCV with access to medical care!

Storytelling Central America

Gratitude: Warmly accepting and deeply appreciating kindness or benefits received

I have recently completed 70 days of travel throughout Central America. I want to adequately express how deeply appreciative I am for the experience. The best way I can think to do so is through what I do best: Storytelling. Starting today, I will post a story chronicling my journey from the heart of the Darien in Panama to the bustling metropolis of Mexico City. I hope to convey the overwhelming hospitality of the people we met, the vibrant cultures, and the astounding natural beauty of Central America.


Morning in Cerro Ceniza (Comarca Ngabe-Bugle, Panamá)