… Made in Japan?

For a week of technical training we went and visited a small village in the Darien. To get there, we took a bus about five hours east from Panama City, transferred to a smaller bus for another twenty minute ride and then took a boat about fifteen minutes up the river. Keep in mind this distance, it will come become important later.

The women of the community we are visiting are known for owning a type of dress known as a paruma. It’s roughly a sheet with colorful patterns on it that are wrapped around the waist like a skirt. They’re are many patterns and some of them represent different aspects of their culture. We had a chance on our last day of technical training to purchase some of their goods. One hot item was the parumas which were priced at only $8. For a patterned design, measuring roughly 2 feet by 4 feet, it is rather amazing that they are only $8. I inquired some more and discovered that they are made in Japan. Somehow, someone within one of these communities had managed to make a connection with someone in Japan and was able to start ordering them. 
I thought it was rather odd and so I asked more questions about the subject but received no answers so I left it at that. This past week however, I met a volunteer that set out to track down the source of these parumas. The ladies in the town said that there was a guy from a shop in another town that came around selling them. The volunteer then made her way, spending an entire day traveling to this town to find out how the connection was formed. When she got there, she asked the shop owner about it and she had absolutely no idea about a vendor from Japan. And that was it. The trail ran dry. Somehow the mystery of Japanese parumas will continue to be a Panamanian mystery. 

City Dogs Suck

There are two different types of dogs that populate the country of Panama. The first is city dogs who live comfortable lazy lives and the second is campo dogs which have hard but adventurous lives out in the countryside. My first two months I wrongly classified that all dogs in Panama as city dogs and grew quickly to hate them.

Several generations of dogs ago, there only existed campo dogs since cities had yet to become a thing. The purpose of these dogs was to provide security for their owners. They remained loyal and were always by your side ready to protect whatever wild animal or dangerous human you encountered. At the sign of a machete they would become super excited, knowing that an adventure will soon be underway.

City dogs are dogs that live in areas that people have managed to tame nature and push it back. Wild animals are no longer a common issue and the police force deals with humans. City dogs have transformed themselves to become filthy animals that love to bark all night, leave presents in the streets, and fight each other.

When I first arrived in country I was warned by volunteers that dogs don’t receive the best treatment here and to emotionally prepare you for it. I’d have to say that one of my quickest transition from American to Panamanian was in regards to feelings about dogs. In regards to city dogs, I hate them, but I love campo dogs.

2 in 1: Uncomfortable/Comfortable Silences and Sensing the Rain

So I finished my first chapter of an attempt at a book about my PC service and realized I don’t really care to write a book about it. So I’m back to posting blog posts about my experiences. Going to post my first chapter at some point in chunks. For now, I leave you with a blog post.

Uncomfortable/Comfortable Silences
One of the many classes we took during our training revolved around whether an individual’s action is classified as personal, cultural, or universal. Originally I classified uncomfortable silence as a universal idea but came to realize later on that it was in fact not the reality; it is a cultural thing in The United States. On the other hand, in Panama, comfortable silence is culturally accepted. It is not uncommon for Panamanian’s to sit quietly, speaking a few words every so often, and then returning to silence.

At first this thought absolutely blew my mind and frustrated me to a great degree because I often found myself very uncomfortable in these situations. Over time, as I tried to adapt to this difference, I also begin to realize the awesome side effect of comfortable quietness, you don’t have to force conversation when there is none. When future situations arise where I’m too burnt out from speaking Spanish or can’t think of any more questions to ask, I can return to silence knowing that it will not negatively impact my interactions with community members.

Sensing the Rain 
At some point we were sitting around the table relaxing as a slow afternoon typically goes. The host family’s sister who lives next door was over hanging out. At some point, the calmness of the situation was interrupted with her shouting some quick Spanish which I was unable to understand and she took off running home. I was in the middle of reading and stopped to look up, curious about what had just happened. I looked around, listened, and heard a faint sound off in the distance which grew quickly and was headed straight at us. I questioned what had just happened and the reply was rain. Within a minute, there was a downpour directly on top of us. I find this skill amazing and hope that in time I will have ears that will sense the rain and notify me of it before I’m standing with my guard down in the middle of the road, far from any shelter.

Life Update

Writing to check in after spending my first ten days in site! Alive and well and I haven’t gotten sick yet!

I’m living with a new host family that consists of a father, mother, and twins of a brother and sister that are ten years old. They’re pretty awesome and unlike most Panamanian families. The entire family sits down for meals together, the kids like to read in their spare time, and the only TV that is watched is the news. The first two parts are more normal in the United States than in Panama and I’m glad to be a part of such a family.

After two months of living with three other people in the same room, I finally get to live in a room by myself. I got lucky in two aspects of the room. First is that the room is brand new and I have a glass window which is unheard of, second just as I moved in, the previous volunteer finished her service and I was able to fill my room with furniture on the third day. It’s nice not having to live out of a suitcase anymore. As for the rest of the house, it’s pretty typical with a living room area, dining area, kitchen, and latrine out behind the house. I got lucky in that my house already has unfiltered clean water and electricity from a generator from sundown to about 9pm each night.

I’d had it written down on my todo list as a high priority to figure out my living situation after the first three months because I’m allowed to move into my own house. I heard nothing for a few days and eventually the idea of an old house a few minute walk away could be mine surfaced. It was rather isolated and that wasn’t the most exciting for me. Also, I’d gotten used to the idea of having electricity each night. I lucked out though and my host father said that we could convert the large rather new shed on his property, only about fifteen feet from the house, into my house. It’s big enough that it would work and I’m excited to say that’s where I’ll be building my house.

As far as my time in the community, I’ve been studying Spanish a ton. When I arrived for my first four day visit, I could probably understand about 5 to 10% of what was said because their accents were so different from what I’d known. I’ve committed about two to four hours a day to studying and with conversations with my family, I’d say I’m up to about a 70 to 80% understanding rate. Some notes on my progress:
– 260/501 of the book 501 Spanish Verbs are known
– 200 pages of Harry Potter in Spanish finished
– My record for least words unknown on a single page of Harry Potter has been 15.

 Besides Spanish, I’ve been reading, playing soccer, and getting my room in order.

That’s about all for now. I’ll hopefully be checking back in about a week with some progress of the cool people I’ve met and the work I’ve started doing.