Panamerican Proceeding

Lend me an ear and you will hear the rants and raves of this volunteer. "Nothing is stronger than the heart of a volunteer" says Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle (parden the pun), but perhaps no one is crazier either. Why do we care so much? Herein lies a glimpse of my Pan-American experience.

My Photo
Location: Bocas Del Toro, Panama Este, Panama

The proceeding 'Panamerican' is a Master's International Student and Peace Corps Volunteer. Disclaimer: Contents are the author's viewpoints only, (need to stress only), and many may have been written on particularly poor days.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

it's been awhile

It's been awhile since my last post, so I'll try to catch up a little here. My wonderful girlfriend got me a new camera for my birthday, so you can thank her for the photos.

My 27th birthday dinner! It was the best meal I've had in Panama in the last two years.
I stayed at Adam G.'s house while working in the Comarca where we went for Tech Week. Nice eh? Ha ha ha, sorry Adam. He also was suffering from "pink eye" that week. So Adam is ending his service there and for the last two months has been sharing his site with a new PCV. Do you think our boss asked either of them if we could/should come there to build the latrines? Sadly, that's how things operate around here.
I facilitated a working group of 8 new trainees building a composting latrine for Tech Week. They were a really great group, good attitude. If you notice there aren't any Panamanians in the photo - that's because we didn't receive one ounce of help from any locals. This goes against my attitude of trying to work with people, training people. Granted this week was meant as training for the new trainees, but we did the "we came, we built, we left" model for Tech Week for the last two years now and practically none of the past latrines are being used. To me, this goes against everything the Peace Corps stands for, or should stand for, not to mention fostering the "hand-out culture" already in place in indigenous areas here.
But if you ask me, our latrine came out really great. The walls will be the responsibility of the homeowner to supposedly signify the "shared labor", but we provided the tin sheets for the roof.
My group: Jesse, Kaitlin, me, Meredith, Garav, Duncan, Eli, Dave, the director of the EH Program Tim, and David.

And then in the afternoon everyday I gave a 4 hr lecture on aqueduct design. This lecture covered basic surveying, calculating demand, headloss theory, the calculations how to size tubes, how to size a storage tank, and designing multiple networks. Basically this is a semester long class of Fluid Dynamics squeezed into 4 hours, but I argue that every volunteer should be aware of the concepts at least since very few rural Panamanian engineers actually know how to design aqueducts here. In fact, most rural engineers here don't even now how to survey. (And it's not like they're begging us to teach them either if you know what I mean. Most are friends of whatever political party just won local elections.) After this 4 hr class, I would argue that any one of the PCVs I trained is better educated than the rural engineers in charge here.

So last Sunday, Oct. 5 I moved out of my site for good. It took my neighbors exactly 1 min before they rummaged through all the stuff I left behind. The only friendly family in town invited me to a dinner the night before where they thanked me for my service, my friendship, and everything I offered them. The other 100 some people did nothing, no goodbyes, no thank you's, they only rushed to my house afterward to see what I left. At dinner this family told me they hate living in San Francisco de Piriatí as well, can't stand how rude people are, and will be moving in two months as well (they moved there shortly before I did). They told me it was killing them to see me move here and try so hard only to have people treat me so poorly. So Sunday morning Loyda came to help move me out. We drove into town with all my stuff, bought a newspaper, found an apartment, moved her out of her old place, and moved into our new place all that same day. It's the nicest place I've lived in the last 8 years of my life (college, grad school, and Peace Corps). For more pictures of our place check out here.

So now I'm in the city doing all my Close of Service (COS) medical checkups, exit interviews, paperwork, etc. Highlights include a dinner with an NGO called IPADEHM, a luncheon at the Ambassador's residence, and a rented party bus for one last night out on the town.

I'll post again after I'm officially done with Peace Corps here in Panama to close my service and to officially close Panamerican Proceeding. Five more days!!!!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Next few weeks

I promise to get some pictures up one of these days. Last week I was a facilitator at a 4-day conference called "Strengthening Water Committees." If it sounds vague, that's because it was. The way I see it, we missed a huge opportunity to actually tackle existing problems between rural water committees, Peace Corps, and the Ministry of Health (MINSA). Instead, it turned out to be a mixed soup of MINSA reps repeating the exisiting rules, rural water reps bashfully lying, and Peace Corps jumping in and being cut off with "Yes, but..." Not the easiest place to be a facilitator, nor a conference planner. Glad I didn't allow conference planning to be dumped on me the last minute by the office, like I knew would happen. After two years one starts to learn.

The new Environmental Health group of 16 boys and 2 girls are currently down here training (God help them). Next week I'm going out to the Comarca Ngabe-Bugle with them for a week to help run Tech Week (Field Based Training). During the mornings we'll be building a composting latrine and in the afternoons they'll have lessons on aqueduct theory, construction and maintenance. Against my advice, we are going back to the exact same site as last year. (More on this after I'm down with Peace Corps since I'm not allowed to say anything bad about Peace Corps on this blog.)

After that week, I'll have a couple of days in my site before our last regional meeting, closing medical evaluations, and the final week of paper signing. Highlights that week include a luncheon with the U.S. Ambassador Barbara Stevenson and a final group party. I´m officially done October 16th and on the 17th I'm flying to Peru with Loyda for a month. Leaving on the next day makes me nervous because I know the Peace Corps office will screw up the money they owe me. Like I ended my last post, counting the days, counting the days.....

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Oct 16th

So my last post was kind of a downer. The conference was informative, not great, mostly review, but I did learn that my final day is October 16. My main remaining agenda items at the moment include building a composting latrine in my site for the school, organizing "tech week" for the new trainees, consulting on two remaining aqueduct projects for other volunteers, moving out, and completing the heap of paperwork Peace Corps requires to close one's service. I won't have much to report between now and October and won't be posting many pictures either since I don't have a camera. Just winding things down.....waiting......waiting.......

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Welcome Back

So I was out of my community for nearly a month visiting my family in the states and finally returned last week. I walked in as the sun was fading, dreading cleaning my house (I've killed a snake, several scorpions, six bats, and many, many cockroaches to date). Saludos to the neighbors as I opened the door and let all the creepy-crawlys get out. "How was the United States?" they asked.

Most follow-up questions revolved around my Panamanian girlfriend, if she was afraid of the airplane, did she like the food, etc, but after about 10 minutes we ran out of things to say. This seems to always happen and it's really frustrating.

Of course I thought all the incessant badgering in the past was frustrating too. (Think "How much does this cost?" dozens of times a day). The problem is we just can't connect, and neither I nor my community is really trying anymore at this point. After the 10 minutes it was life back to normal, me in my house, them in their house, no one talking to anyone - and rain, lots and lots of rain.

Most people in my community didn't even know I was gone, nor that I have been here for the last 8 months looking for ways to help them help themselves. Most aren't interested - they'd rather complain. I'm just the white guy that lives here who seems friendly but I don't really know him. Why is he here? Why am I here?

After some other Panamanian visitors came to my house the other day they asked, "How could you live here, people are so rude!" Another said I should join the TV show "Survivor" because she thought I could surely win. They brought me food and as we were making some breakfast it wasn't long before there was a line of kids and adults outside my door looking for handouts. And now Peace Corps is thinking about putting another volunteer in the area. I told them I thought that was a horrible idea (a lot of safety concerns in that village too), but they think their two hours visiting the community is worth more than my year here. Same thing happened to the community I'm currently in. Who else will tell them how it really is? What is it they want to hear?

In a few days I leave for our Close of Service Conference with the thirty-some PCVs I came to Panama with. There will be many stories, reflection, probably some complaining, maybe some crying, but lots and lots of memories. It's good our minds only remember the finer moments.

My experience wasn't one of greatness. I don't know if I'd recommend Peace Corps to others, I don't know if it was worth it for me or my communities. I could argue either side. We all tried so hard, but everything depends on the communities, everything depends on the people. I wasn't a bad volunteer.

But it's winding down and there are more in my group who loved it than those who didn't, and several are staying for 3rd year extensions. It's sad I won't have much to contribute at this conference but not every Peace Corps experience is one of success. I know some of this was my fault, maybe I was too patient, or not enough, or was too hard, or too soft. Doesn't matter. To add insult to injury, I've lost all my photos and videos from the last two years. (Don't trust online storage sites.)

Or maybe I'm just a little down right now after saying goodbye to one of my best friends down here who is heading back for Law School. Reading his blog and others (links can be found on the left) reminds me how all our experiences are so different.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Trip to Wisconsin

The Monona Terrace in Madison.
The whole family over the 4th of the July.
Sunset over the lake.
Enjoying my nephew's baseball game.
Tour of Aspirus Hospital in Wausau.
Tour of the 3,000 head Van Der Geest Dairy in Merrill.
Deer are everywhere!
The Colby Cheese House.
Loyda learning to waterski.
Family baseball game.
Canoeing around the lake.
Playing with my new niece, Grace.

Art Fair in the Square in Madison.
Mmmm.......nachos........ Madison Mallards baseball game.
Tour of Meriter Hospital in Madison.
Hanging out with Dad and Grandma.

It was great seeing everyone, thanks for all the hospitality, see you all again soon!