Santa Rita life
Our group has been training in Santa Rita for a month now. We are about an hour and a half from Panama City by bus, or about 50 minutes by car. Depending on whom one asks, there are between 700 and 1100 people living in this community. Although the community is small, we are only about a half hour away from the provincial Capital of La Chorrera, which has supermarkets, restaurants and a hospital. All of the Peace Corps trainees live within about 2 kilometers of each other and the school where we meet, so we can easily walk wherever we need to go.
During training we are all living with a host family, which is supposed to help us assimilate to the culture and food. My host family is pretty fun. The father, Alexi, is a plumber and the sole income source for the family while Magali is a home maker or “house-lover” as it is said in Spanish. They have two daughters: Alexandra and Alejandra; ten and four years old, respectively. I did my first guest teaching in Alexandra’s class and she is gifted in many areas. She loves math and wants to be an architect. Alejandra is one of the most mischievous children I have ever met! If I could introduce just one gringo idea to Panama, it would be the time-out and I would start with her. We live in a concrete block house with no air- circulation, toilet or shower, but I guarantee you there is no shortage of good time-out spots for the taking. I adore the girl to pieces, but she desperately needs some tough love. Hopefully she will find a way to channel her hyperactivity into some creative outlet. Or maybe she is just four years old and I am over-thinking it. I dunno.
The food in Panama is sort of hit or miss. There is a huge income gap between rich and poor people here, and the poorer people tend to have less understanding of general nutrition. The frustrating thing is that Panama has such an abundance of tropical fruits and vegetables, but they are so poorly utilized, especially among the poor. My host family, for instance, eats an overwhelming amount of starch and not much else. One night we ate ramen noodles and potatoes with rice on the side. The first couple of weeks were pretty rough, but I finally got up the courage to have a chat with them about nutrition. (Our cultural facilitator helped me out quite a bit. The last thing I wanted was to come across as some spoiled gringo.) The host families get an adequate stipend to feed us, but my family just wasn’t accustomed to incorporating vegetables into their diet. I decided to cushion the nutrition chat by making a delicious batch of fresh guacamole (which they had never eaten, nor heard of). The kids squeezed the limes and mashed the avocados, and I chopped the veggies. It was a great segue to talk about food groups. It worked out really well and now we are eating vegetables every day. They still eat rice three times a day, but I just eat a little bit and it doesn’t offend them. I feel like we have reached a happy medium, so things are good now.
In terms of amenities, we have electricity almost all the time and water at least a few hours a day. We fill buckets and barrels for drinking, cooking, bathing and laundry. It’s actually a pretty efficient system, given the limited resources. I was surprised at how easy it was to adjust to taking a bucket bath rather than showering. The cold water doesn’t bother me because it is usually hot outside anyway. We have a latrine (outhouse) which is not the funnest thing in the world, but it has proven to be a manageable adjustment. I hate to trivialize the experience, but it kind of feels like an extended camping trip. The lack of modern conveniences is not that bad at all; I would dare to say that it is refreshing. I feel good here.
Que mas, que mas…. Hmmm. We finished the school garden and compost project today, so i might put some pics of that on facebook and explain the project in another post. I leave for tech week tomorrow. We’ll be learning how to build stuff. (:
Thanks to everyone for reading. Let me know if anything happens in the states, or if we catch Bin Laden or something. Haha jk jk… I heard.
Peace and love.