Merry Navidad

For the last two years around this time, I would be waking up with a belly full  of home-made organic soup- and NOT the Hoity Toity over-rated grocery organic,  I’m talking about the, “Hey nino, go catch that pollo and grab the machete!” organic, type of organic!  It was probably about 80 degrees with a high of NO chance of snow.  I was sitting on the floor boards of a stilted wood hut, eating hojaldras (those are panamanian syle donuts=fried bread) with sugary hot coffee…emphasis on the sugary.  Kids were making kites out of plastic bags.  It was simple, it was good.

This year, I’m waking up, belly full of not much (because in my family, up until 12:00am December 25th, Christmas.time.is.a.mess.)  In the best way of course.  There’s n0t much time to cook and enjoy holiday radio, take rides to look at the beautiful lights, or watch the classics.  Instead it is filled with running around practicing, putting together music, and making sure the coffee and donuts are ready to take to the church to ensure happy musicians for the late night services.  Once the last note is sung, and the last candle is blown out at 12:00am, we all hug each other and wish Merry Christmas’s, and hop in our cars for home.  Then in the morning, we wake up, pour our coffee, which consists of about probably 1/16th the sugar, and open what we “could not live without.”  It is not as simple, but it is still so good.

In Panama, Christmas is good; at Home, Christmas is good.  Neither one is better or more “Holy.”  They are different but beautiful in each’s own way.

Whether in Panama watching children tackle chickens for a delicious meal, or at Home, eating milk with cereal and trying to guess what’s in the awkwardly shaped package under the tree, I am humbled, I am grateful.

Merry Christmas 2012!

-Kd

Dear Washington D.C.

With all of the sadness of this week, I believe it’s ok to be sad, angry, post things, watch the news, etc., etc., etc.  But the only way we are going to truly end this is by taking action, so here it goes.  I encourage you all to do the same.

Dear Senators Webb and Warner,

I would like to start by saying thank you for being a voice for Virginia. It gives me hope that my two cents can be heard even if I’m not in Washington.

I am a Returned Peace Corps volunteer. I had an incredible experience, however have suffered greatly from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder related to the two years spent in Panama as a volunteer. Thankfully I am getting the help I need with the help of an incredibly loving mother in addition to being one of few “lucky” Americans with resources to go to doctors and pay for medications that would be unattainable for less fortunate people. I say this because I don’t know where I would be today if it weren’t for the help of a counselor.

That being said, I believe that problem lies in the United States healthcare system. Why does it cost so much to get the help one needs? As we see with Columbine, Atlanta during the Olympics, the Fort Worth, Texas army base, Virginia Tech, Aurora, and now the elementary school in Connecticut, it costs lives. So what is more important? High healthcare costs with a bone chilling high mass murder rate? Or cheaper way to access health care and saving lives not ONLY of victims but reaching out to these mentally ill perpetrators and their families. We all deserve to live freely, in both body AND Mind.

I realize you all are doing what are able as legislators. What more can we do as citizens to end of these occurrences?

Thank you for your time,

Kate Douglass

So..you want to join the Peace Corps

This blog is dedicated to all the people who have approached me and asked…

“Should I join the Peace Corps?”

Well, here are my thoughts.

10 Thing to think about before taking the plunge:

1.  Am I ok with awkward moments?….(throughout the Peace Corps, I have experienced the most awkward moments of my life…just pull me aside anytime and ask) Looking back, they were somewhat humorous, as most awkward moments tend to become over time.

2. Is a toilet really necessary? (remember, this is 2 years we’re talking!)

3. Am I ok with dogs/snakes/bugs/spiders/scorpions/bats/(this is just the gist)  living near me, touching me/my food…..(I don’t know how many bugs I ate in my bowl of oatmeal every morning…by accident of course)

4.Do I feel comfortable being alone? (This goes especially for women) I don’t want to scare anyone, the Peace Corps does inspect sites/living situations and have an incredible safety and security department….however, it’s something to think about.  Whether to take that free tai chi class at the YMCA?  Perhaps a good idea =) (This coming from a girl who accidentally got mace through airport security and on the plane…oops)

5. Do I like rice?…like…like rice enough to eat it….a lot….like, really like it….or, how long can I eat peanut butter until the fish head looks appealing?

6. Am I willing to learn a new language?

7. Do I like to read? (No xbox in the Peace Corps…not normally)

8. Am I up for an adventure (A two year adventure)

9. Am I willing to miss birthdays, weddings, funerals, reunions, etc.?    (but realize birthdays/celebrations/holidays etc. will still happen where you are, just with a (insert assigned country name here) twist…which is a humbling experience.  You will make friends with people in your community and other (PCVs)Peace Corps Volunteers*(see footnote)

10. Ask the question…am I running from something?  If you have problems in the States..face it, you will have problems in another country.  This is not to say if you have problems, don’t join the Peace Corps.  This is simply to convey that the Peace Corps will not make your problems go away…however, it will give you a lot of time to think about them!

10 Things to know if you join the Peace Corps

1.  Be frank with your advisor.  If you are unwilling to poop in a bucket or a stream, if you are not ok with hiking 3 miles with a gas tank in hand, if you are not ok with an island boat access site.  “Diga!” or “Speak Up!” Be completely honest with how far you are willing to go…Don’t try and be strong, because realize, this is not a weekend trip, this is a 2 year experience.

2. Patience is key.  Life (especially in Latin America) is slowww. For example, if a meeting  is planned, expect people to show up anywhere form 2-3 hours later.  If in doubt, and the meeting criteria is crucial, advertise and provide food.

3. Don’t expect people to show up.  I can’t stress enough…advertise food.

4. Listen.  I feel that one of my major roles and contributions as a PCV was simply listening to people and their problems, this is why people will remember you- even if the conversation just states the obvious…”So, you’re eating…” “Yes, I’m eating.”   “So, it’s raining”  “Yes, it’s raining”  “So, you’re pretty wet, huh” “Yes, well I have been drier”  “So you’re (insert verb here….) and the list goes on.  That said, listening is an incredible tool that will win the heart of anyone.

5. People will not always see it your way, and sometimes, accepting that is the only way to go.  Conflicts will arise, be humble, accept the fact you are not getting your way, that perhaps your way isn’t always the right way, and move on.

6. One of the coolest/scariest things about the Peace Corps is the impact you can have on others lives.  The big “Peace Corps Boss” is not watching every move you make through a hidden spy camera.  So, a Peace Corps experience relies 100% on the volunteer.  If you want to sit in a hammock and do sudoku for 2 years, do it, if you want to play soccer and eat fried bananas for 2 years, do it, if you want to teach a 60 year old woman how to read and write, do it… if you want to , yatta yatta yatta, do it!  Don’t rely on others (PC office staff, other volunteers, NGO’s) to help you.  Sometimes they will…sometimes, it’s all  you.

7.  …That being said, most times, volunteers are trained for 10 weeks, and after that, adios, see you in 2 years.  In the Peace Corps, volunteers do not do projects as “experiments,” on communities. The projects are initiated with the intent of in some way bettering the quality of  life in a community.  So, anything you do, does have effects, both positive/and or negative.  Do your research.

8.  Things your mother thinks are inappropriate at the dinner table become regular Peace Corps Volunteer casual conversations:

“Dude…I just ate..”

“Man…I just pooped…” *(see footnote)

“Hey, what’s this thing on my leg?”

“I”M SO ITCHYYYYYYYY x 365 days x 2)

(These become regular conversations for a reason…and if you can’t handle that…keep your day job)

9. If you are lucky enough to have phone signal…even if you HAVE signal, this is a common phrase that comes to mind…the commercial was funny, the reality of it …not so much..

“Can you hear me?(in hut)

Can you hear me now?(on porch with 1000 little kids looking at you funny)

Can you hear me NOW? (after running on top of the highest hill in community)…..

10.  I know this is cliche, but it’s true.  Wherever you go, this experience will change you and probably mean more to you than anyone else.  I don’t mean this in a negative way.  Sometimes in doing jobs such as the Peace Corps, one thinks, I want to go change people…sorry, probably won’t happen..but is that even really necessary?  At the end of your service you have given people another view of the world (yours) and they give you a bit of theirs (believe me, you will get it whether you want it or not) You have done your job.  And you will be changed.

*One of my most memorable/interesting conversations involved me trying to explain Thanksgiving to my community friends.  As PCVs, we all meet for Thanksgiving in the mountains for a day or two.  During this time we cook a GIANT feast together, throw a football, and celebrate as if we were at home!  Sounds great..and it is.  However, explaining to my community friends why I would be gone for a few days to celebrate this holiday was a bit of a challenge.  I lived in a community of 160 indigenous people.

What was I supposed to say.. “Well…we came over on a boat, met this cool indian princess and her tribe…and…………….Massacred them and gave them diseases…”

I stuck to the disney version.

*After returning from Panama..I later realized I had brought some of Panama with me, a nine and half inch worm.  Well you know how the saying goes, you can take the girl out of Panama, but you can’t take Panama out of the…..you get the idea..and the good news is that with medication, you can.

Disclaimer: The contents of this page, and all links appearing on this page, do not represent the positions, views or intents of the U.S. Government, or the United States Peace Corps.

Making a Mesi Out of Me

It’s 8:48 on Monday morning. (I don’t sleep later than 7:30…I think I’m still hearing imaginary chickens)

I’ve now been in the U.S.A.  for approximately 7 days.  The last 5 months have been both hard and incredible.  Bittersweet.  As I write this I try to search for the words to express my experience, simply because I have left a great amount of my ellaborate English vocabulary under a rock somewhere in the Panamanian jungle, and because this chapter of my life has often left me without words to describe the moments.

So let me begin..

Beginning of February I installed my final (or what I had THOUGHT to be my final tank) of which I will go into more depth:

The Ngabe’s have a  bad rap for doing things cheaply/halfway…in order to meet a standard.  This could be compared to the life habits of a middle schooler.  Do you remember the kid who pushed all his/her dirty clothes under the bed in order to prove to a mother that the room is infact clean and may now go out to see the new Batman movie with friends? (Although I’m sure you would never do this)…it’s great, mom’s happy and the kid gets to go to the movie!…one problem…clothes are still dirty.

Let me explain.  In my two years living on Isla Popa, two houses have collapsed while the family was still living in them.  One of which fell.. literally fell on TOP of a man while he was sleeping inside.  One might think, “Oh, poor dear!  No Job? NO money to fix the roof?  No sticks and twine to hold the thing up to fend off the blustery wind?”  Noot so much.  This is not so much to do with lack of financial resources, but for the simple fact that things are not “taken care of” until the last possible minute…or unfortunately, after the fact.  Well….to get to the point, this is what happened…

Every PCPP (Peace Corps Partnership Program) which is a grant that funds a project, is founded on the principal of the community working together with the volunteer to acheive a project.  Writing the grant, fundraising, along with installing and providing sufficient water purification and maintanence practices was my role as the PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer).  The community members (each household receiving a tank) needed to build a strong table under a zince roof to sustain each  tank.  Water weighs around 8.34 pounds/gallon.  Multiply that by 200 and that equals 1,668 pounds. *That’s a LOT of weight.  Do you see where this is headed?..

Well, a tank fell.  Split RIGHT in two.  Each tank costs around 200$ and takes around 3 hours to install.  Multiplly that times 30….however, that was the least of my worries.  I immediately blamed myself and started imagining worse case scenarios.  Tanks falling everywhere, a huge hazard for all who walked under around the structures.  I went a bit crazy trying to think of how I could scramble to secure the structures in my remaining few months.  It’s amazing how one moment 3 months seems like a lifetime, and the next feels like 3 days.

Two of my fellow volunteers, who happen to be more engineer saavy, came to my rescue.  Within a week and a half we had gone around to every home, taken pictures, checked the stands, and built a model with community to ensure they knew how to build a proper structure.  There are a few questions to be asked….

Did people use the model? Were much needed repairs made on their half finished stands?  Did they KNOW how to do this…………………… all along?

Well “para que sepa,” or, for those of you who are unaware, not only is Isla Popa inhabited with various kinds of poisonous snakes, it is also one of the areas most bountiful resources with Nispero, an impressively strong wood.  Not only does the wood exist, but experts to cut the wood exist as well, aka, lumber jacks.  YES, lumber jacks, or serradores, do live in Popa.

The project is done.  Now, I can proudly say, good was done.  All of the outcomes weren’t the way I thought or wanted them to be, but what ever is.  The truth of it all is, I was a volunteer sent to a community to teach English and develop a women’s micro-tourism business.  But what good are these things without health?  Should I have left the project for another to come along?  Someone who knows more about civil/chemical engineering..Perhaps yes.  But, it’s done.  My hopes still remain for the Peace Corps to send a follow-up to continue work with the water.  Engineers Without Borders are still planning a trip in August in which I hope to join and be a liaison.

With great sadness but a sense of closure, I left Panama 2 weeks shy of completing two years.  I gave it my all.  I commensed my service in the community the only way a “good”  PVC knows, a PINATA and a big ‘ol frosted cake.  My mom and another volunteer joined, Jessica, also known as Mesi.  My community made chicken and rice…and there it ended.  Two years.  I made incredible friends.  I learned to speak some Ngabe, hold my own in a fishing contest, played more volleyball and rummy 500 than I care to explain, learneed how to successfully barter down a taxi from $1 to .50 (every cent counts!!) I’ve seen the canal (multiple times)  Grown a love for the NBA and Taco Bell (Steve, Ashley) I’ve ran half marathons, of which I won an incredibly expensive however farely annoying bmw bike (anyone interested in buying it?) I traveled as far north to the Teribe bordering Costa Rica to the southern province of the rustic cowboy pueblos of the Darien.  The experience has changed me, in ways I haven’t yet figured out.

What’s Next?

Well…I have been in hiding for the last 7days or.. so….I plan on coming out soon =)  And then..

Hanging out “re-cooperating” for 2 months in the ‘burg (this includes hangin with mom, reconnecting with old friends, the little grill breakfast night, Daves, smores,playing the piano, good beer, running, drinking cold milk, avoiding all possible banana stands…although, I don’t think they have those in Virginia)

Heading back to Panama in August…Perhaps working with a group of doctors that befriended my community.

Getting a J-O-B…if anyone knows where to find those..LMK! (Let Me Know)

Grad School maybe in Colorado?  Is that what people do when they still haven’t decideded what they want to be when they grow-up?

Harrisonburg, I love you, this town has been with me for the entire 2 years from afar.

Isla Popa, 2 years, you have made me into a true Mesi of which has challenged me in all kinds of ways and made me take a good look at myself.   The best things in life aren’t always free.  Sometimes they are hard, and we pay for them..but I don’t regret it.  Popa, I will never be the same because of you. Thank you.

Disclaimer: The contents of this page, and all links appearing on this page, do not represent the positions, views or intents of the U.S. Government, or the United States Peace Corps.

21K

I´ll make this short and sweet.

I went to Panama City to run a half marathon.  I ranked 13th out of the women and 3rd out of the women internationally present.  My time was 1:58 which isnt that amazing but luckily it was not a huge race, as in not many people….point being:  I won 300 bucks and a brand new BMW mountain/road bike valued at  2,300.  Now if you know anything about my situation, you will realize that I live on an island…in the middle of no where….with NO roads or sidewalks making a bike unpractical. Sometimes life´s funny, however, I´ll still count it as a success.  Lets just say I can replace the Ipod that was ruined when I was forced to jump into the Caribbean last week.  Victory.

Disclaimer: The contents of this page, and all links appearing on this page, do not represent the positions, views or intents of the U.S. Government, or the United States Peace Corps.

Over the River and Through the Woods… and a Jump in the Caribbean

As of December 1, I have been able to install 23 tanks!!!  It has been quite the project, but I am getting closer and closer to finishing!  I’ve climbed/nearly fallen off many roofs, been hit by hammers/boards, and sawed through about 30- twenty foot PVC pipes.  Who needs a gym…I’ve got quite the set of biceps.  There are many stories that I can tell while in the midst of this project but I will tell you this one in particular.

The last tank I set up was in an area a bit a part from the community I live in.  It was late November and so the weather is crazy (windy, rainy, etc.)  The first trip I went by my little canoe.  I arrived fine, coming back I encountered a strong waves.  Paddling, I was able to maintain myself  in one spot, not moving forward, not moving backward, no progression.  It was like I was stuck in a video game, not going anywhere.  I decided to head back, tie-up the canoe and go by path.  I arrived just fine.  The next day I had to return to finish the tank.  I was going to go by boat, but seeing as what had happened the day before, I decided to go by path.  I had never gone this way but two intelligent men in the community assured me I could make it.  So….I went.   Two hours later I was lost…On the Island…In the Jungle….Of Panama.  No phone.  So after a while of wondering around trying to find the path…I got to thinking of how I might spend the night…would a big mountain rat eat me?  Would I have to eat tree bark and berries and spend the night and later on in life right a book/film a movie about it?  My imagination began to get the best of me.  So, I left my 5 feet of PVC pipe in the jungle and set out to find the ocean.  I found the Caribbean, jumped in, and swam to the dock.  (Never doing THAT again).  I finished the tank later that day.

On another note, the “Floating Doctors,” came yesterday and did a clinic!  There was a lady there who said she was accidently stuck in the side with a sewing needle.  She claimed it had broken off and remained in her side.  She had gone to the hospital in Bocas 2 months earlier just to be told she was mistaken and to go home.  The doctors brought their sonogram and so they agreed to give it a check.  Well, one sonogram, some unaesthetic, and a small surgery later, half of a sewing needle was removed from the lady’s left side.  Victory.  I couldn’t believe it.  I watched some of it, but just so you know, watching surgery on CSI has NOTHIIN on real life…long story short, I will NEVER be a surgeon. Nope.

In the beginning of January, “Engineers Without Borders,” from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute  will be coming to my site to do some water tests and will work together with the, “Floating Doctors,” to see if they can find a solution for the sicknesses caused by the water in the community.  It’s gonna be awesome.

As for right now, I’m off to the city to run the Panama 2011 International Half Marathon.

 

Disclaimer: The contents of this page, and all links appearing on this page, do not represent the positions, views or intents of the U.S. Government, or the United States Peace Corps.

EXITO!

The last time you read this panamakate blog, life was a bit grim. This just proves that sometimes the rain comes before the shine.

The tank on the church is OFFICIALLY up! When I arrived in site, the pastor of the church was busy working with a few others putting up the new zinc in order to connect the tank. So, after 4 months of wondering if the tank would just sit inside the church to be adorned with tinsel for Christmas or if it would be set up to catch water, the tank is up and ready. The community is completely DRY, myself included, it will be nice to have another source of water. I’m finding that it is just one of those necessary things- water that is. I also brought the first 2 200 gallon tanks, the first one is almost completely finished- this, is verrrry verryyy exciting.

Another volunteer and I led a leadership seminar in my site with my women’s group and a few of their daughters! The other volunteer brought 4 people from her community whom are in an artisan group as well. It was a great exchange of ideas for both groups of women. We had lectures about how to cut clothing, sowing class, necklace/bracelet making, as well as good business practices. One of my favorite parts was teaching the women how to use a calculator. Many of them know how to use calculators; however, many of the older generation do not. When they were young, there was a fear that if the children were sent to school, they would be kidnapped. Others lived so far away from any school, they were unable to attend. Because of this, many of the women do not know how to read or write. Every woman received her own calculator. I, along with another women, taught the different buttons, (+,-,x,=, etc.) Now if you know ME, even just a little, you KNOW that…I DON’T DO MATH! Hah. I definitely had a moment as I stood up in front. Never in my life did I think I would be teaching math, of any form. Just goes to show, You Never Know, so Never say Never! It was really great. I am so proud of all of them. There was also a portion of the seminar that we talked about health; better eating practices, AIDS, contraceptives, etc. It has been one of the best experiences I have had since being in Panama.

The Floating Doctors also came to my site. They distributed various medicine for amoebas/parasites, weird skin problems (we have lots of those), fevers, etc. There is a man with diabetes in the community, (I’m sure there are various). The doctors gave me a machine to check his blood pressure on a regular basis. I went over to his house the other day to show the family how to properly use it. (I was playing math teacher last week, this week I’m playing nurse.) We all sat down and I practiced on myself and a few of them because the man was out fishing. Well, based on the blood pressure reading, we were all in trouble with extremely low heart beat readings. It appeared that it was a miracle we were all breathing. Haha, aka, I did something wrong I think. Anyways, the daughter checked is blood pressure when he got home, 119/80…..looks like she’ll be getting the nursing job before me! So the Floating Doctors were great, what we really need though is someone to pull teeth and give eye exams/glasses. So if anyone knows anybody………..

Hasta Luego

Disclaimer: The contents of this page, and all links appearing on this page, do not represent the positions, views or intents of the U.S. Government, or the United States Peace Corps.