I’m back in the states. I guess you could say I went on a one-month all-expenses-paid trip to Panama. But don’t get me wrong – that wasn’t the purpose of my joining the Peace Corps. There are a few reasons why I decided to, what the Peace Corps calls, Early Terminate.
- I would be working at a site that would have been completely different than what I was told I’d be doing. I was told I’d be working with the business side of coffee. As it turns out, there wasn’t a Sustainable Agriculture Systems (SAS) site within 2 hours of one of three hospitals in the area. So, instead, I’d be working at a Community Environmental Conservation (CEC) site teaching youth groups about environmental conservation. But I’d still be going to SAS training, not CEC training. Not that I wouldn’t enjoy teaching environmental conservation, it’s just not what I would want to do for the next two years.
- The areas where many volunteers go in Panama are very lonely. I got pretty sick (bacterial infection) and was on the toilet for three days. I was bound to get sick. The fear of getting sick had nothing to do with the fact that I left. Getting sick was a total wake-up call, though. The rest of my training group went to different volunteer sites and I stayed back in our training community to get better. It was the first time that I had been alone, without any trainees, volunteers or staff. It was a glimpse into the future. Volunteers integrate into their communities; they devote the first 6 – 12 months to community integration. They are alone. I learned a lot about myself during the “sick days”. I love to work in teams, I love to work in fast-paced environments, I love to lead people. I wouldn’t be fulfilling my career or personal desires by staying with the Peace Corps.
- The Peace Corps, when you get down to it, is like any other job – if you don’t like a job, you find a new one. People ask me why decided to leave after I put more than 16 months of blood, sweat and tears into the whole process. I like to use this analogy: you need to buy a new couch for your apartment. You get on craigslist. You find what you think is the perfect couch (you can only see pictures and read the description). You make all of the measurements and find that the couch is the perfect fit. You can’t pack it in your Toyota Corolla, so you rent a U-Haul truck and get a couple of friends to help you move the couch. You’re all set and SO excited. And then you see the couch. And it’s not what you wanted at all. It’s not what you’d thought it would be. You don’t like how it looks or how it smells. It has a few stains you couldn’t see from the picture. So, the question is, do you buy the couch anyway since you put so much effort into getting it in the first place? Well, that’s up to you. But I decided not to buy the Peace Corps couch.
- What really matters is happiness. I was so happy before I left for Panama; happy in the six months leading up to service, happy in the year leading up to service. The week before I made final decision to come back, I experienced the lowest low I’ve probably ever had in my life. I’d wake up upset and go to bed upset. I felt like there was no exit. To me, it didn’t make sense to spend the next two years acclimating to a lower-than-my-normal happiness level. So I made the decision to return to the US. With that said, the Peace Corps Panama staff couldn’t have been more supportive and positive throughout the process. When I told my project director (a mother figure who I had immediate respect for) that I was having second thoughts, she seemed to be able to see inside of me, she knew what I was going through and thinking by the look on my face. She commended me for being honest with myself at this stage in the process. She said that some trainees and volunteers lie to themselves and try to convince themselves that they are happy during their entire service. She was impressed at my ability to look within. She gave me three hugs the day I left.
The Peace Corps likes to say that every volunteer’s experience is different. That’s totally true. I’m not writing this to discourage anyone from joining the Peace Corps. My decision was personal. My circumstances were mine. And I couldn’t be happier with my decision.
I’ve got the rest of my life ahead of me; I’m not sure what I’m going to do and that’s OK. Seems like the title of my blog says it best.
Ok, this one is a little shorter than the last one, but just as ridiculous. Picture this: you’re in a foreign country, your Spanish level is intermediate low and you just moved into a house with your new host family; you hardly know them. On a scale of one to awkward, things are already pretty awkward. After celebrating the urge to go #2 after days of adjusting to a starch-heavy diet, you head to the bathroom. You look around at the pink tinted room and place the removable toilet seat on the toilet.
Yes, it shifts around when you’re sitting on it. No, I didn’t fall in the toilet. I did worse. I finish my business and reach for the toilet paper. As I’m reaching I hear a CRACK!! Oh no. What the eff did I just do? I stand up. The seat is broken in half. Yes, in half.
The people here are full of life. Yes they live simply, but they live in a way that contrasts sharply with a “western” way of life. Everyone talks to everyone, everyone says hello and everyone truly wants to know how you are doing. The people here also truly enjoy sitting. They enjoy both sitting and talking or just sitting on a porch, enjoying the silence that some might call awkward. While I don’t agree with everything Andreas Fuglesang says, this quote touches on one difference between US culture and Panamanian culture:
People in Western civilization no longer have time for each other, they do not share the experience of time. This explains why Westerners are incapable of understanding the psychology of sitting. In villages all over the world, sitting is an important social activity. Sitting is not a ‘waste of time’ nor is it a manifestation of laziness. Sitting is having time together, time to cultivate social relations.
Wild plane rides but calmer days in Panama. What a whirlwind of a weekend it’s been; we haven’t had time to even process the fact that we’re thousands of miles away. That being said, I’m going to say just a little and post some photos, since we’re moving in with our host families (who we’ll be staying with for the next 10 weeks) tomorrow and we have to re-pack and study for the beginning of our technical training that starts Monday.
We’ve gotten a comprehensive medical kit, mosquito net, bug spray, sunscreen, and malaria pills.
Crazy things happen to me at airports. That’s just how it is. Every bad thing you can think of that has happened to you has happened to me. Stranded without a cellphone? It’s happened multiple times. Ever have a luggage car drive through the side of the plane you’re about to get on? Oh, sure, that’s happened to me too.
So should be be surprised when I find out that my flight, from Denver to Miami connecting in Dallas, would be canceled due to three tornadoes touching down near Dallas? Absolutely not. (I was also on a plane two weeks ago that got canceled). The pilot, of course, waited to make the announcement until the last passenger placed their bag in the overhead compartment, sat down, and strapped herself in.
I started freaking out (in a minor way) because I was all the way at the back of the plane and I knew I would be at the end of the line to try and get a new ticket. That would probably have meant I wouldn’t have been able to be in Miami until sometime next week, a little late for my Wednesday Panama departure. So I called the government’s travel agency, the one who booked my original ticket, to see what they could do.
Here’s my complete packing list for Panama. Hopefully I didn’t forget anything! I’m going to re-evaluate this list in 6 months so I can share what my most useful items are, which things I should have left at home, and which things I wish I had brought with me.
- 3 thermal shirts: 1 Smartwool micro-weight ¼ zip, 1 Smartwool medium-weight ¼ zip, 1 Columbia lightweight fleece
- 1 Chicago Bulls Dennis Rodman jersey
- 2 bathing suits
- 14 pair of underwear
- 7 pair of socks
- 3 pair athletic shorts
- 3 tank tops
- 5 dress shirts
- 2 technical fast drying shirts
- 4 t shirts
- 2 long sleeved shirts
- 2 pair work pants (Carhartt and Mountain Khakis)
- 2 pair dress khakis
- 2 pair jeans
- 2 hats: 1 North Face quick-dry cap, 1 Outdoor Research waterproof Gore-Tex cap
- 3 bandanas: 1 brown, 1 green, 1 American flag
- 1 Rab eVent waterproof hard shell
- 1 Mountain Hardware Monkey Man ¼ zip fleece
- 1 Mountain Hardware Windstopper fleece vest
So this is it, one week until I start my Peace Corps adventure. I’ve gotten everything I need for my trip, including three months of prescriptions (I’m taking the whole state of Colorado’s supply of insulin). I’m trying something new for me: packing light. I’m told that we can buy almost anything we need down in Panama, so I’m taking only essentials. I’ll post the list of everything that I’ve packed later this week.
How do you decide what you’re going to bring for two years? Of course, I feel fortunate to be able to pick what I’m going to be bringing. Images of the recent tsunami and earthquake in Japan were in the front of my mind during my packing process. I got to pick my favorite shirts and pictures. Many Japanese have nothing and are left with only memories of their past. No computer, no iPod, no pictures. Until I post I list of everything I’ve packed, here’s a picture of everything I’m bringing minus some t shirts:
In the Peace Corps interview, they ask what are the only three items you’d bring with you on your trip if you could only bring three things. My answer, totally boring and unoriginal, was pictures of those close to me, my iPod, and my camera. What would you bring?