Growing Pains

Written on July 21, 2012

Looking back on it, no one ever sayd that middle school was easy. It may have been fun at times but mostly it was uncomfortable. Your body is doing weird things you don't understand, you aren't really sure where you fit in or how, and when your rational and logical side prevails and tells you to just be yourself? Well, you discover that in this foreign environment you don't really know what or who that is anymore.

Let's not pretend this metaphor is really about middle school. Campo life, 24/7...is rough.

The heat. The humidity. The bugs. The sweat. The lack of electricity, and therefore lack of anything and everything that goes along with that. The lack of running water. The lack of latrines. The wooden table that is my bed. The wooden benches that 'furnish' living rooms, if they have them at all. The way dogs are (mis)treated. The horses, pigs, goats, chickens, dogs, and wtf-was-that running loose through the community. The lack of English. The lack of Spanish. Th  e comments about being so whit e. About being so fat. About being so rich,. About not having any kids. About having hair so short. The conversations they have about me in Embera so that while I can pick out phrases like 'white girl' I don't know what they're saying. The food. The itching. The cold I got from who knows which kid. The eye infection I got from who knows what. The weird dreams you endure while your brain tries to process this. The dance you do to get signal to your phone. Losing signal 3x in about 10 min when you really just want to talk to your little brother. The ability to look around outside and be surrounded on all sides by unending jungle. The awkward silence as you sit in a stranger's house. Trying to work with your current PCV in sight closely enough to create a smooth transition for the community and project but not let yourself rely on their presence. The stares while I'm washing my hair, shaving my legs, brushing my teeth, and walking to the latrine. The members of my community with mental and physical disabilities that there is really nothing to do for them. The mothers young enough to be in middle school. The social acceptance that girls stop going to school at 12, and boys only continue if their parents can afford to send them to another town. The sight of sick kids. The crocodile stories. The cute turtle currently hanging out in a bucket in my kitchen that I am pretty sure I am going to have to eat soon. The smells. The border police with their AK-47s. The unpredictable boat and chiva system that can leave you waiting for 10 mins, an hour, or 5 hours. The cantinas where men can sit and drink and pass out and wake up to keep drinking for days at a time. The mold gorwing on my bed. The inability for my friends and family- as supportive as they are and try as they might- to understand my life right now. It's uncomfortable.

Uncomfortable. Not miserable. Not dangerous, perilous, suffering, life threatening. Not impossible. Not easy.

'Don't worry, you get used to it.' That's not true.

The Panamanian next to me is sweating just as hard as I am. Bug bites make them itch and bleed just like me. And I refuse to believe that a mother who lost a child ever says 'You get used to it.' We don't. We are all human, and we are all ONLY human. Panamanians don't come with deodorant and bug repellant built in.

One day while pasearing as yet another woman gaped at the many bright red bug bites on my skin, I casually replied, 'Asi es la vida panamena' and shrugged it off. Moments later, the significance of what I've been saying dawned on me. 'Asi es la vida panamena' means 'this is the panamanian life'. It's not about getting used to the heat and the bugs and, and, and...so that they go away and are no longer 'a thing' as they say. It's all about accepting that this is how life is here in Panama. This is how MY life is. So I'd better figure out how to do (insert all of the things here) while living my life and doing what Icame here to do. My training manager Brandon quoted Maya Angelou for us enough time we've got it memorized:

'If you don't like something, chang it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.'

Asi es la vida panamena.

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