Archive for 2010

Summer, again?

Packing up to move out of this house all over again feels weird. We just got back here! I’m super excited for being free of school for a while, though I don’t think this semester felt real.

Next semester is going to be a shock. Real scheduled classes, a 5-day long school week, more than 2 professors, classrooms with 4 walls and electricity…

So, who wants to go back?

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Processing Panama…still

These couple weeks back were initially too busy with work to let me breathe, let alone really think about the lasting effects Panama will have on my life. For some reason, maybe because I’m finally wrapping up and have time to ponder, Panama has been on my mind a lot in the past couple days.

I seem to be less patient. Sitting still and being inside is hard. Putting up with other people’s stress and petty drama is even harder. My current way of dealing with this is taking long, aimless walks and seeing if I can get lost. It’s made me question my life here and whether I am really dying to re-assimilate as fast as possible or whether there are some things I’ve learned from our trip that I want to hold on to.

One of these lessons is the dose of reality that Panama gave me. It has made me take a harder look at what I actually want to achieve in my life and possible future career. La MICA taught me that to have an idealistic goal turn into a realistic project and eventual positive change takes every ounce of effort and dedication that you have, and then some. Success doesn’t just naturally happen because of a worthy cause or good intentions. And a lot of things don’t work out.

I’m not necessarily a cynic now, or anything. I think I’ve just received a bit more realism in my life. There is no prescribed path that will take me where I want to go, and I’ll probably wander into many dead ends before finding my ‘calling.’ I think I’m more at peace with this idea now, but I am also expecting more from myself. It is a privilege to have a wide open future with endless options, and I need to be active in the process of finding my way. I can’t expect things to just fall into my lap. I need to seek out things that I care strongly about, and stick with them.

This currently consists of figuring out what the heck “sustainable development” even means in the real world. I like it in theory, but I am so curious to learn about real people’s stories and projects. Does it ever work? How do you measure its success? What is the appropriate role of an outsider in inspiring local change within a community?

Currently reading Kicking off the Bootstraps: Environment, Development and Community Power in Puerto Rico by Déborah Berman Santana. We’ll see she gives me any answers.

Anyway, these are things I’ve been pondering. Thanks Panama 🙂

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Blog number 11

Isn’t 11 one more than we’re required to do? Then why am I writing it? I never do more than the bare minimum. Guess I’m just in a quirky mood.

Tonight is one of those nights when I wish I was back in Panama, sweating under a mosquito net waiting for the morning to come so I could get up and ride in the back of a Toyota Hilux to Parque Nacional Omar Torrijos. I would get off and head down the seldom used trail on the Pacific side of the park. Approximately 2 minutes in I would walk through a clearing on the hillside where the grass had now grown over my head; then, after a few meters on a well graded trail covered by thick canopy, I would emerge into the second and last clearing on the trail. I would take a left turn and descend a slippery grade down to the giant stump with the thorns growing out of it, and I would follow the barely discernable tread past the green, spiky vine and into the first dry streambed. I would turn left and follow the streambed down the hillside, making a right after 30 meters and taking up the narrow trail once again. I would drop into and climb out of one streambed, and then another. Just when the sound of rushing water was beginning to tease my earlobes, I would arrive at the sharp left turn that took me down a series of sharp, steep switchbacks, passing a particularly striking orange fungus on the right side. After 25 minutes of hiking through mist and fog (30 if I was feeling particularly brisk) I would arrive at a stream Macedonio had shown me over two months ago, one that the locals called the “Nombre de Dios.” It’s a quiet place; sitting beside it’s gurgling current, I would lay down on a rock and stare off into one of its many miniature waterfalls and watch the sunlight dance upon the falling droplets. Time and space would slip by imperceptibly as wind and water drowned out the voices of anything that mattered– voices of the people at LaMICA, voices of the people back home, the voices of all the burdens I left behind in Missouri.

And then, after I had received my fill of nothingness, I would rise and march down my transect to collect the litter sample for the day. Within a matter of hours, I would be back in the world of human-manufactured voices and human-manufactured problems–but for a couple of minutes, I would have peace, solitude, and isolation.

Right now I would give just about anything to have 30 minutes there again–lay on a rock, watch the mist twirl through the branches, and ponder the Name of God. The guy who figures out how to bottle and sell that place is going to be rich.

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Reminiscing

So these are the funny memories, quotes, and inside jokes from the trip that I can remember (this will probably not be funny to those not in attendance of the Spring 10 Latin American Experience).

-alganismal biology- Marc

-Jackie and Angie proclaiming the El Cope police station a public bathroom.

-the pointed lip gesture- Kuna for: hey how’s it goin?, what I don’t understand?, I’m going to kill you., You lookin fine tonight., or actually anything else you want it to mean. That’s the fun of it.

-the studios

-“What the hell are you eating? Is that a sandwich or some sort of **** **** empanada?”- Jose in reference to Ethan’s PB&J

-“What’s the difference between a siesta and a fiesta?”- Nancy

-Marc’s penguin joke

-“You’re flailing.”- Roger, Randy, w/e you want to call him

-Paul falling asleep on the bus with a banana in his pocket.

-Nancy and her Panamanian hot dog fetish (Bocas breakfast).

-our classy hostile in Bocas: complete with no windows, eight beds, and a removable floor board over the ocean

-Chad playing bananagrams and watching movies for two weeks straight when everyone decided they didn’t need his help anymore

-“I’m kind of a big deal here.”- Nancy

-15 passenger vans with 25 people on them

-long lost cousin Cara hanging out with us at the hospital in Panama City.

-Paul telling Macedonia “shut up and kiss me.”

-the allusive hot springs

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Dreaming…

of floating on my back at our swimming hole, while the current carries me slowly along, gazing up at the sky through the bromeliads and tree branches.

Instead I find myself in Pickler, literally stuck in my seat, pondering the meaning of a ‘wiki final’ and why more of our katydids couldn’t have managed to hold onto their legs.

Also, is it appropriate to describe something as ‘stubby’ in a scientific journal article?

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When it’s all said and done…

So this is it. The semester is coming to a close. We’re polishing up papers and practicing presentations. A week from today and everything about my Panamanian experience will be all said and done. How am I feeling? I feel accomplished. Studying abroad is something I always hoped I would do during college, and also something I wasn’t sure I’d get the chance/ have the nerve to actually carry out. I feel sad. My once in a lifetime opportunity is over. That’s it. Done. Yeah, I’ll most likely travel abroad again some day. Maybe I’ll be on vacation, or helping with some sort of disaster relief, or for work; but I can say with almost complete certainty that I won’t be studying abroad, and I surely won’t be in Panama with 23 Truman students and two professors studying biology and history, and more importantly, learning a thing or two about life. I feel oddly uncomfortable. Being home is great, but maybe it’s the things I learned about other cultures, my culture, and myself, or maybe it’s knowing that I’ll never get that chapter of my life back, or maybe it’s that I uprooted my life for two months and planting it back firmly in the ground is challenging, but whatever it is has left me uneasy.

Some days I wake up and half expect to walk out into the jungle. Instead I walk my bare feet across my carpet, into my bathroom (with running water! yes thats right, the toilet flushes!), then into my kitchen where I can eat all the not carb food that I wish. I go outside and the world is flat, no mountains here, and I’m back at school. Back to my life. I must admit, I miss not having the excuse of no internet or I’m in the middle of the freaking jungle to use when I’m feeling less than productive. I don’t wish for the life they have, but I can see why someone would maybe pick it over ours. They live more simply I do believe. I really respect this aspect of their culture. The hustle and bustle of the US is great, but overwhelming at times. When is the last time my whole family all sat down together to just drink a cup of hot tea?

I had considered posting what I wrote for our JINS book because that sums up a lot about how I feel about the trip. But since it’s going into a book you’re just going to have to pick one up! 😉 Instead I thought it might be more appropriate to address why being back home has been harder than I expected.

I didn’t expect to have to realize that one of the more important/life changing events in my life was quite the opposite to the people I left behind at home. I mean yes, they all care about me and want to hear about my trip. But to them, the past two months is not something they will remember as epic; what they experienced was simply the absence of me. They are glad to have me home, excited is putting it lightly ;). But their lives didn’t change in the way that mine did, no profound revelations from what I have seen (some things changed {mom, emily, ashley…}). Something about this leaves me feeling a little bit alone in the world, even when some of my favorite people are sitting right beside me.

I also did not expect to be questioning my life. I have all I could ever want, need, or ask for. So why do I have bad days; what gives me the right to ever be sad, feel sorry for myself, take things for granted, or want for more. And at the same time, it (i believe) is completely impossible for any human being to go through life without these emotions. I wake up on the wrong side of the bed and my day automatically gets worse becasue I feel bad for feeling bad. What a viscous cycle!

If I remember correctly, I addressed some of my favorite aspects of the trip in my last blog. Since being home, I get the question, “how was it?!” a lot. How do I sum up everything I learned, saw, felt, experienced, missed, and loved about Panama in a two or three minute response that I am usually allotted? With the end of this life changing experience coming to a close, I guess I could try and sum it up like this: In two months I learned some bio and some history. I wrote a few papers and I took a lot of lizard temperatures. I lived in the jungle in the mountains. I made some good new friends and learned a lot about an old friend. I not only saw, but lived a way of life I had once only heard stories about. I learned many reasons that I am proud to call myself American; and many reasons why I should treasure this privilege. I learned a lot about myself (though it’s possible I came back with more questions than answers). I overcame things (physically – we hiked our butts off some days! and emotionally – frustrations that come with feeling as if you have no control over your current situation ect.). I learned/saw/experienced more in one semester than I thought possible. I went to Panama and came back with an new perspective on the world, as well as my place in it. And as life goes on I keep finding things I learned that I didn’t even realize, it takes awhile to sort it all out. Oh yeah, that’s another thing I learned: life goes on. With or without me, life goes on. Not in theory, for real. How’s that for perspective?

So there you have it. I went to Panama. I came home. And in between? There’s only 24 other people on Earth who know what happened, and only one set of eyes that saw it my way.

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blogspot.com

I am really quite surprised that I have had so few difficulties reassimilating. I remember really struggling coming home from Honduras a few years ago. Perhaps it is because I have been through the motions before, or maybe because we spent so much of our time with each other rather than community members while in Panama. I guess I’m pleased.

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Things I miss about Panama. And others that I don’t.

Things I miss about Panama:
1) The lack of political correctness. I loved that you could call a fat person fat, a white person white, a Chinese person Chinese, and a small person small. This distinction was made clear on the flight from Panama to Miami- American Airlines was showing “Up In the Air,” and at one point George Clooney is instructing his protege on the best line to choose in order to pass through security as quickly as possible. “Bingo, Asians. They pack light, travel efficiently, and they have a thing for slip on shoes.” Except we’re in America now where the term “Asian” is racist, so it was dubbed over with “business people.” This, after being in a country where anyone who looks remotely Asian is called a Chino without any thought to being “racially sensitive.”

2) The inherent pressure to eat local. Non-local produce such as grapes and apples had limited availability, but unlike the US, where food prices are subsidized, its price reflected the true cost of transporting it long distances and out of season. Buying green peppers in Bocas del Toro, for instance, would run you $1.50 a pop. Conversely, local food like yuca, bananas, and plantains was dirt cheap. A sack of 100 oranges in Santa Marta for $1.50? A pineapple for 50 cents? I dig.

3) Having time to breathe. I loved getting into a routine at LaMICA- wake up, ride to the park, collect a sample, walk back, process the sample, eat dinner, sort my samples, then go to bed. And yet even though I was always busy and always had more work to do than time to do it, it was chill. Not like here, where I always seem to be worried about finding time to do everything.

4) Taking joy in the simple things. Here in America, we need hot showers, 200 channels, 2,500 square feet, and a car for each member of the household to be happy. In Panama, they found a way to be happy with a mud house, a sturdy horse, and enough food to feed the family. And even though they don’t have all our fancy gadgets to bring them joy, the Panamanian suicide rate is still nearly half that of the US.

5) Being able to take a brief pause in my journey to adulthood. It was nice being able to forgot about responsibilities and burdens back home for awhile and just do what I like to do. Growing old sucks.

6) Not having to deal with pricks. They tend to grow on trees where I grew up in Chesterfield. In Panama, it was perfectly acceptable to have chickens, turkeys, pigs, or whatever you wanted roaming free about your front yard. And you could put up a clothesline without your neighbor alerting the trustees to the “ghetto-ization” of the the neighborhood. Nobody was having a contest with their neighbor to see who could grow the best lawn, either.

7) Lack of traffic. It took an hour and a half to get home from the airport last Thursday. Yuck.

8 ) The self-sufficient attitude. In the US, we tend to blame the government for all our problems, then expect them to solve everything. Panamanians in the countryside have learned not to expect miracles from their government, so they tackle problems on their own. The people of Santa Marta needed a system to provide the community with water, so they built one. The source, a collection of springs high in the mountains, needs to be maintenanced every couple of months, which the people of the community do personally. This is a much more effective solution than sitting at home and whining about entitlement checks, which tends to be the first instinct for most Americans.

Things I do NOT miss about Panama
1) The general attitude towards females. In the US, cheesy catcalls and obscene gestures are usually restricted to a limited demographic- namely, toolbags and drunk frat guys. In Panama, it was universally expected and glorified for grown men to talk and act like 12 year olds around girls. Really? Grow up guys.

2) The acceptability of mediocrity in business. Once I was in an electronics store to buy a replacement pair of earphones for my MP3 player. I selected the set I wanted, but it was locked in a display. I alerted a sales clerk, who went to his boss to get a key. After opening the plexiglass door, I held the earphones and inquired about the location for checking out. Little did I know, I was only at the beginning of a long process. The clerk pulled up a computer program and noted my name, occupation, and nationality, as well the item I had selected, which he took back from me and returned to the display. Then he directed me towards the back, where there was a lady sitting behind a desk. After I had waited 5 minutes for her to finish her word puzzle, she asked my name, and pulled up my information on a second computer. I paid my $8.99, and she filled out a yellow form which she ripped out of a book and gave to me. I then had to take his form to another man behind a desk on the other side of the store- this guy read the form and disappeared for 2 minutes, returning with my earphones. He then filled out a receipt, which he gave to me along with my purchase. Somehow, I feel like there could’ve been a better way. An American ex-pat I spoke to in Bocas said that building their home was a terrible hassle- they would order an item, such as flooring or siding, only to have something completely different arrive. The company never seemed to see a problem with this, and refused to correct the problem. Overall, it took 6 years to build their home. This mediocrity in business seemed to not only be expected, but accepted.

3) The heat. I love being able to shower and not smell like a sweaty ape the second I walk more than 50 meters.

4) Constantly being stared at. There’s nothing better than walking into a store to buy a soda and have 40 pairs of eyes follow your every move. Sometimes I felt like doing a backflip and singing a song, just so I wouldn’t disappoint any spectators.

5) Not having a place to throw trash away. There doesn’t seem to be any motivation to collect trash in a common area, like in the US. Public trashcans are virtually non-existent, as well as trash collection services. As a result, trash is everywhere- on the trails, in roadside ditches, and in the river. It’s kind of gross.

6) Being away from awesome people. I love my friends and family.

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Welcome to America!! ~ Thanks Jill Hampton :)

So this is it! We have officially been home for exactly one week.  Back in the states! How does it feel you ask?

Try this…Bizarre. (Word of the week, possibly month)

Since I have been home I have had a much easier time adjusting than I expected.  I really enjoy missing the dirt water, but it hasn’t bothered me once that my sink keeps producing crystal clear H2O without too much effort on my part.  However, a few things have been a little odd lately- such as my cell phone.  Why does it seem so bizarre that it rings all the time?  It astounds me that there are actually people needing to communicate with me- I was so free of the chains that are my cell phone until I slept with it the other night and realized that people even want answers at 3 am… Lesson to be learned here, if you don’t want to gain an attachment, don’t sleep with the darn thing.  Okay but really I feel like my phone is encroaching on my independence- its like a controlling boyfriend.  I did miss it though 🙂 Glad to have you back phone.

Other things about life- Aud and I are eating great and everything in our fridge is something we would actually eat. What a luxory! Made a roast last night for dinner, that went over well 🙂 Plus there are leftovers for later this week. Pretty awesome! Missed cooking for myself 🙂

Having a few withdrawals from Panama so the last two/three ish nights I’ve slept in my hammock in my room.  Don’t ask me why because I didn’t sleep in one while there, but it feels great…

Nerves are killing me, giving a speech for elections in 7 minutes time to flee from the library and mentally prep for whats to come!

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Home sweet home

 

                I’ve had unlimited access to the internet now for almost a week, so I no longer have an excuse for not blogging. Spending a few days in Washington with my parents and my brother was great. I’m sure I bored my mom to death showing her every one of my pictures and spilling endless stories. I’ve been back at Truman for a couple days now and as much as I miss Panama and our group, but it is wonderful to be home. It’s time like these when I love living in a house of five girls. I had grown quite accustomed to being around a large group 24/7, so it is nice to have a house that has plenty of activity going on.  My schedule is looking quite a bit more packed than the last two months, so I better go work on some papers.

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