I Have Written This Life Update 4 Times...

...because each time I update it, I end up not having a chance to post it and life happens and makes it way out of date. So...here we go.


(this is the 'here is what I am actually doing' post)


Health Update- knock on wood, 3 months sans major illness or injury! After Giardia, 4 rounds of pink eye and an ear infection, not to mention 4" thorns in my hand and slicing my big toe open, I am healthy! I have lost some weight, seeing as nothing I own fits, but it is hard to tell how much without a scale. Also because my clothes get stretched out by beating them on rocks. It will be a pleasant surprise the next time I find a scale. I just finished 2 weeks out of site and the change in food wreaked havoc on my digestive system, but the traditional Thanksgiving food, the egg casserole and veggies, the ice cream, and cheese were worth the stomachaches.


Mental Health Update- the rollercoaster continues. Panama is great, and then it makes me crazy. I am accepting the bugs and the heat and the food and the physical discomforts that come along with the job, but the social aspects are a bit harder. I didn't realize how affected by it I really felt until I went to IST (in service training) when after some discussion with others I gained some perspective on things. I am referring specifically to machismo/gender equality, racial discrimination, and health care (aka if i pray on it God will heal me and I don’t need to see a doctor.)

It is always helpful to know that there are lots of other Volunteers tackling these same issues and we talked about coping mechanisms for the various challenges we face. Disney musical dance parties, chocolate cookies, and 'the deck' are my favorite suggestions to come out of it. BTW- the deck is an exercise routine you can do with a deck of cards. Pick 4 things, like crunches, planks, pushups, and squats, and assign each to a suit. Shuffle the deck and pick the top card. Do the number of reps for the exercise it says: a 5 of hearts means 5 pushups in our case. Aces can be high or low, depending on your motivation and how freaking hot it is today. Planks are held for the number of seconds on the card x3. It will kick your butt but is a great way to both work out in a group and go at your own pace. Plus there is no better feeling than finishing the entire deck and knowing you have done almost a hundred reps of each...and not only kept up, but led the group of almost all tall athletic guys...even if I did girl pushups. Yay endorphins!


So overall, I am in the same boat as the rest of G71. The highs are really high, and the lows get really low, and we can flip flop from one extreme to the other in a matter of moments. It is as unpredictable as Nebraska's weather.


Hut Update- I have settled into life in my hut and transformed Moiz's 'rustic bachelor pad' into something...more my style. I might be in the jungle but I am still a designer and need some color! I think I finally evicted Moiz's former roommates, Jerry and Dorothy, the two rats that were living in the dry material stored in my roof. I had an uninvited house guest, a 3" diameter, 6' long black snake. The guys I got to kill it for me told me, and I quote, "Amber, we can just leave this snake. This kind doesn't bite. Well, it bites, but it doesn't hurt. Well, it hurts, but it isn't poisonous." I am still waiting for the "it is only kinda poisonous and will only kinda kill you." I had no mercy and made them kill it. I learned that snake blood is kinda magenta when I had to scrub it off of my floorboards. Also, I fixed the rainwater catchment system on my house so after 3 weeks I get to drink rainwater instead of river water again. It was a very exciting day when the faucet gave me water for the first time!


Community Update- We have had 2 funerals in the last few weeks. The first was for the infant of my neighbor who died within an hour or two of birth. I don't really know what happened, because it happened in the night and the funeral was very quick. The second one was for my host grandma, an adorable old lady who gave me a green bead necklace to wear with my parumas. Her name was Berenicia. She had been sick for quite a while but her sons, being the devout Pentacostals they are, would not take her to the hospital. Finally the Noko (the tribal mayor) intervened and they used community funds to take her to a hospital. She was there for several weeks and then they decided she had an advanced stage of cancer and prepared to send her home. Due to the protests and the city-wide shutdown, they could not leave the city and she died 2 days later. Because of the road blocks it took 3 days for her body to get back to the community. We held a 24 hour vigil at the community center where everyone sat around talking, praying, playing card games and hanging out  throughout the day and night to accompany her soul until it moved on at dawn, then we buried her in the cemetery at the edge of the community in  a concrete box, essentially since the high water table prevents digging a hole in the ground.

We celebrated Panama’s Independence Day from Colombia on the 3rd, which was a bit of a tightrope walk since the community is almost half Colombian refugees. The teachers at the school organized a convocation where we sang the national anthem, children recited patriotic poetry, and they showcased some traditional dances of the Embera/Wounaan cultures. We also used the community funds to buy a 200 lb pig to cook for the celebration. That was quite a sight to watch them haul it into the community by canoe!


Country Update- A few weeks back Congress passed some laws allowing the sale of land in the Free Trade Zone in the province of Colon, the North end of the canal. The people of Panama were very unhappy with this and there were several protests, roadblocks, and even a bit of rioting in some parts of the country as it gained momentum over the course of the week and other groups started protesting different causes just to jump on the bandwagon. After about a week of this, the Congress met at midnight to repeal the laws and everything calmed down very quickly because of it. As far as how this affected my life, the answer is very minimally. No one in my site really cares about the national politics and I doubt that many could even tell me where the Free Trade Zone is. However, many major cities were shutdown and all travel was very limited if not prohibited around the country. I ended up not being able to attend my meeting with the architect from PAN (the Panamanian agency I want to fund latrines) because between the protests, roadblocks, and then the flooding that rose up in the region between the city and I. So I hung out in my hammock and chatted with my community. Very tranquila.


Project Update- The weekend of Berenicia’s funderal, my health committee came to me ASKING for a meeting. This thrilled me. It is rare to get a Panamanian to want a meeting, so I happily agreed. Two hours after the burial, we met at the school and set a list of deadlines to finish prepping the families. I told them that I cannot get the money until they have all of their materials, and at the time we lacked about 1,700 feet of lumber they needed to cut down out of the jungle. They agreed to work ON A HOLIDAY to cut the lumber down the following weekend. I was so excited. S.O.P. for the men on a holiday is to drink the cantina dry so the fact they were volunteering to work on this day was very exciting, even if I was skeptical that they would follow through. When they day to work came, they were up and ready to go bright and early…except that it wasn’t bright. It was pouring. Like only Panama at the height of the rainy season can. So no lumber was cut. I left for IST a few days later and they promised me that when I returned they would have all of their materials ready. We will see!


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