Whatever, Y.O.L.O., Crocs

Typically you travel to a place, observe the clothing, think “cool” or “weird” or whatever you think, and then you get on a plane and go home. Besides the fact that I still haven’t gotten on a plane and gone home, I’ve also thought “hmm, that makes a lot more sense than what I’m wearing right now.” And so I started wearing… (In order of my decision to start wearing them)
Sombrero and Man Purse
Sombrero – Month 3
This was an awesome unexpected gift from my host dad. I’d say in a store, it would have cost about $70 which is a pretty legit sombrero. Sombreros are pretty popular in many formal events such as dances, work meetings, etc. and I’ve used it on many occasions. Also important is the fact that I have a huge head and I’ve avoided hats in the states almost completely. However, this sombrero was custom made, as are all sombreros, and fit me perfectly.

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[Insert Job Description Here]

During training, we are told, “your service is what you make of it.” If you want to be out of site all the time, hanging out at the bar, sure, you can do that. Or you can make something amazing of it. To remove any doubts that last sentence might have created; almost all volunteers opt for the latter.
I opted for the latter as well and there are days where I’m out and about in Panama, living another day of my Peace Corps service, and it will dawn on me that, I get paid (as little as I do get paid haha) to be doing what I’m doing. I had one of those moments today when I was in the middle of the jungle hiking up to a water source. A fellow volunteer, in a different sector than water systems asked if I could come and take a look at his system. After that simple interaction, I was now out hiking with him in his community, which is about twenty times larger than mine, to offer what experience and knowledge I have to help assess the water issues being faced by the community. I’m going on a tangent too far, let’s steer this back in with some pictures of where I was working today:
Crossing a stream on the way to the water system.

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What month is it?

I was sitting on a bus the other day when my friend asked me what the date was. I realized I didn’t even know what month it was and that got me to thinking why that was. There are several factors that lead to a near complete disconnect from the calendar. I’ll start with taking the day to day and then expand from there.
Probably the most disconnecting thing is that the nine to five doesn’t exist in the countryside. My neighbors spend their days working on the farm or making sombreros. They start early, end late, and the work is broken up by chores around the house. The work carries over to their weekends as well. This leads to a general disconnect from the weekly routine that exists in the States.
Since the 9 to 5 doesn’t exist, it also doesn’t exist for my work. My water committee meetings are Sunday mornings and workdays are dispersed randomly throughout the month. So, when you ask me what I’m doing on a Saturday night it’s probably getting to sleep early, however, I might find myself in a bar with friends on a Monday.
There is a means of tracking the week with the routine of school kids. However this too has its issues. It seems that the kids all too often get random days or a full week off at a time. This confusion of the school year generally adds to the separation between myself and the calendar.
Attempting to track the year is also a bit difficult.  Sadly seasons that bring snow, flowers, and beautiful warm colored trees, aren’t so pronounced here. The only thing that divides the seasons is rain or no rain, and sometimes it rains when it shouldn’t or doesn’t when it should.
Add in all the other differences like no mirrors in my house to watch me change, the general insignificance of the calendar and hour of the day in the countryside, lack of change in the length of the day throughout the year, plants always looking about the same, etc. And you get a very good answer to the situation that occurred on the bus. I can’t say I much enjoy the disconnect and look forward to structured days again.

August Photos: Embera Community, Rainwater Catchment System, and a Kitten

Watching a soccer match.

In the field over from the grown ups, the kids were playing too.

Here ia woman with a traditional Embera paruma during a meeting about fish and rice tanks that my friend put on.
First round of workdays to build a rainwater catchment system for a friend whose city’s aqueduct’s water is contaminated.


Preparing the mold for the foundation of the tank.

Preparing the mold for the water tank. Check September pictures for follow-up to this project.

Friend got a kitten.

The people we meet and the things they teach us.

“Wishing I could pass on some elderly advice… actually I’m not wishing I am passing it on. When you get older, you realize how VERY valuable the challenging times in your life are. It’s not the easy successes that build character. ALL of your experiences are part of YOUR journey – embrace them all and don’t expect them to all make sense while you’re in the middle of it.” – My Mother
Every negative encounter is an opportunity to learn something new, develop a new perspective, and be more open to the negativity that confronts us throughout life.
Over the past 15 months, I’ve been challenged by various people that I interact with. Somewhere along this journey, the quote by my mother clicked and I’ve managed to view negativity as a challenge instead of something to endlessly frustrate and rant about. Of course I still do a bit of that, it’s a slow process, but slow progress in the right direction is really what matters.
I’ve always been quick to judge people, deciding rather quickly, probably way too quickly, about if I’d consider them a friend or a frustration. I met an individual, Juan Smith well call that person, Immediately, I put Juan into the frustration category. I felt bothered every time I was around him and eager to separate myself from any interaction.
Around this point I started reading The Art of Happiness by The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler. I began to observe my interactions with the new found perspective I’d drawn from the book. One of the first chapters discusses trying to find connections with others and seeing them as more than what is so bothering about them. Since my interactions with Juan caused so much unnecessary frustration, I figured that he would be a good first attempt at this. Through much effort, I realized that there was much more that Juan had to offer than being a bother throughout my day. I’ve since carried this view over to other individuals and have realized that “We often add to our pain and suffering by being overly sensitive to minor things, and sometimes taking things too personally. We tend to take small things too seriously and blow them up out of proportion, while at the same time we often remain indifferent to the really important things, those things which have profound effects in our lives and long-term consequences and implications.”
I was planning to look for more examples but I think focusing on such negativity is excessive and having one example is enough to prove my point. Accept the challenging times, find them as an opportunity for growth and don’t get stuck in a rut, over analyzing or focusing too much attention on them. It’s wasted effort and only serves to lower ourselves, nothing more