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My Parents Visit and Haney Writes a Blogpost

September 27, 2011

I spent a good chunk of September hanging out with Bruce and Jane (aka My Parents) around Panama. I thought you might be sick of my perspective on things, so I asked Haney to write a blogpost about their experiences:


It’s a Panamanian Thing

As another Peace Corps parent and I sat at the Las Lajas beach, we began talking about our amazing off-spring. It started with interesting anecdotes about what our kids were like ‘before’ Peace Corps. Later, as I sat and listened to about twelve Peace Corps volunteers joyously unite on the eve of a regional meeting, I am in awe. As I look around the table, I note that they are a rag tag bunch so happy to be getting a hamburger or some other special treat and eagerly looking forward to cheese cake. There is a story that one individual previously set a record by eating eight slices of cheese cake in a twenty-four hour period. As I look around the table they are laughing and talking about the Panamanian way of speaking and gestures. The finger snap… the hand whatever gesture…and ever classic lip pointing.  Each gives their own interpretation for their area. Throughout the laughter and sharing I observe and I am truly impressed.

Las Lajas Beach is an undeveloped beach where the jungle meets the sea. The ‘kids’ (Peace Corp’s young adult volunteers) invade this hotel and restaurant for wifi service, food and drinks. They sleep in hostel beach huts a few hundred yards up the beach. The parents that come to visit stay at the much fancier hotel. ‘Fancier’ is a loose term for this hotel, since the hot water is iffy and the air conditioner is controlled by a key that is attached to your door room key so that it turns off when you leave the room. But I would go back in minute because of the solitude. No high-rises…no one trying to sell you something or braid your hair etc. The beach is sandy and the water is warm. It was a lovely way to end our action-packed vacation.

We started in Panama City. This metropolis is as any big city to me, too much…too loud and too crowded, as we wake up on our first morning to horns and traffic noise outside our window. Really! Must they honk so much?! It is the ‘Panamanian way’ to ‘toot toot’ your way around. It says “I’m passing you now,” or “I’m getting in front of you,” or “cutting you off …toot toot!” In the morning, we took a cab to the presidential office area in the heart of the city. From there we did a small walking tour of Independence Square and a museum of Panamanian history starting with the idea for the canal and its development.

In the meantime, Bruce watched learned from the Panamanian cab drivers techniques for driving so the next time he drove our rental car he was into it. He said it was like mountain biking, you can’t let your mind wonder and focus on the task at hand. In this case it is to get where you want to go without getting hit. He drove us to the Panama Canal and that was great sight to see. The ships move in, the ships move out…people from all over come to watch and for some reason I felt a peacefulness there.

The next day we traveled six hours up the Pan American highway. May I say at this point, highway is another loose term in the Panamanian way of things. The highway in Panama is mostly a two lane paved road much like old Route 66. After six hours we turned off the highway to head back to Jessica’s site. This road travels up and down the mountains. They do not utilize the switch back motif only the up the mountain and down the mountain design. We arrived at dusk to her home which is a ten by twelve brick hut. No electricity, no running water. We are greeted by her neighbor children who had flashlights to guide our way fifty yards up to her place. Bruce and I stayed just below her in a room that was part of six rooms where the teachers stay through the school week.

Also to greet us was Bobi, the dog that technically belongs to the neighbor but has bonded with Jessie. She was sad because she thought that Bobi died because he had been missing for two weeks. He came back that same day we arrived! It was a Christmas miracle for Jessie! We had also just picked up her new cat, now called Oscar. She got the cat from another volunteer whose time in the corps ended. Her previous cat, Violet, went missing and never returned. Good luck, Oscar.

The night and morning were restless for Bruce and I because of barking dogs and the roosters crowing. I asked Bruce which he preferred city sounds or country sounds. “Grrr” was the reply. Jessica says she sleeps through it all. Lucky girl!

We set out on a hike the next day that would take us up to a beautiful view of the area. Along the way we met and had either a special milk/oatmeal drink or coffee with some families that Jessica refers to as ‘her people.’ All along the trip she would shout out to various people in their native tongue, “These are my parents”  and we would all wave and say “Hola” and they would say “Buenos” and welcome us to Chichica.

The hike was up a mountain …again no switch backs … but the view was spectacular at the top. It started to rain and Jessica pulled out her umbrella. (Rick – I will never make fun of you again). As we hike down the mountain we run into a man that Jessica knows and he is neither muddy nor wet he has an umbrella and galoshes. Bruce and I look like drowned rats. Jessica has chat and introduces us. He is on his way home, up over and down the other side of this mountain.

After we return to Jessie’s hut and recover we head out to meet Philippa, the first to host Jessica there. This is another down the mountain in the rain hike. Now Bruce and I have our rain jackets. Jessica starts this trip with a short cut through the woods, to the cow pasture (with cows) and under a barbwire fence and down a slick muddy hill side. Bruce asked her if she was mad at us for something… Alas we get to Philippa (Fileepa). This is to be the name of Jessie’s first born female child and I do not pronounce it correctly. I will call her ‘leepa’ when the time comes. Then we hike out up the hill. A man carrying a tree trunk (for firewood) would have passed me but we turned off to see Philippa’s sister. When we get back to Jessie’s home she cooks us a fine dinner on her cook stove. She had made us a good breakfast of fresh eggs and veggies and for dinner we had fresh pasta sauce and spaghetti. Jess is a very good fresh food cook.

The next day’s adventure in the Comarca is an eco-tour on horseback. Jessie tells us we are going to waterfalls and along the way we will learn how the indigenous people use their land, flora and fauna. Sounds good except we three are the only ones on horses and the whole family came along! The matriarch that is talking about the land and its uses is walking while the kids are carrying our lunch and leading the horses. Our guide and interpreter (Jessie) were very good. At last, we came upon the two beautiful waterfalls. At the second fall they break out the shampoo and wash their hair (Jessie too) since this is the only true shower in the area.

When we return to the home we are served a meal that included all the plant life we just saw, rice from the rice field, root vegetables and a chicken they freshly killed for us. And this orange tea-like drink that was delightful. Finally, they showed us the local dances that honor the fields and farmers.

I came to appreciate that these people love my girl and they appreciate her efforts to teach them. Time and again we were told they do not want Yessi to ever leave. I too thanked them for ‘taking care’ of Jessica.

Our next visit is to a town called Boquete, which is a very American tourist mountain town born from when the canal builders were looking for a get-away from the heat of Panama City. It is beautiful. We take a coffee tour to a coffee plantation that was awarded the second best coffee in Panama. Apparently the first best coffee winner does not do tours. This is a small operation built by a man name Tito who with no schooling, self taught at coffee growing and engineering his own machines to produce Panama’s second best coffee. The next day we went zip lining across the tree tops, which is fantastic fun!!

Thus we arrived to the beach to spend a day and a half relaxing and meeting other volunteers.These young adult Peace Corp volunteers used to be middle class students, living the typical American life. High school, college …athletes, cheerleaders…shopping …electric, gas and water using ….carefree kids of the United States of America that now as volunteers try to make a difference to an indigenous group of people deep in heart of Panama. The other parent that was visiting and I were in awe of these children. We could not imagine that they could so embrace this life and are thriving. As I walk back to my room leaving the PCV dinner party I hear another restaurant patron say to her fellow diners that is future of America over there. They are Peace Corp Volunteers. TOOT! TOOT!! It’s all good.

Oh and one last Panamanian thing, why can’t we flush the toilet paper?

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