Guest column: The toughest job you'll ever love, in Panama
We flew into Panama City on a hot and steamy night, the only kind of night
there is in Panama City. Everything is packed into a camping backpack on my
back, a school backpack strapped to my front, and a kidney bean shaped bag
lashed over one side. I would feel a ridiculous except I am in the company
of 34 other Peace Corps Volunteers all awkwardly laden, and the one next to
me is my husband, Jeff.
We traipse all our bags up to the cielo (sky-colored) cinderblock house the size of a two-bedroom apartment. This is home for Julia and Sergio and their two 20-something daughters. They are our host family for the next 10 weeks of training.
Sergio and Julia have moved their bed into the back of the kitchen so that Jeff
and I can have our own private bedroom.
The first night, through a combination of pantomiming and fragmented Spanish, we answer Julia's question, "What do you like for breakfast?" Trying to keep things simple, I try to explain cereal will be just fine. Except it comes across as, "I like food of breakfast in box," because I don't know the word for cereal. Eventually I discover we both know the words corn flakes. Ah, yes, there are some universal words with enough advertising behind them to transcend language. So I say in my woman-child
Spanish, "I like cornflakes or similar thing for the breakfast."
For the first 10 weeks we will be here in our host village. We are scheduled tight.
Of the 72 days in training there are two days that might pass as open, both Sundays that read "self-directed activity with host family." The rest of our time is divided into health and safety lectures, language classes, cultural classes, site visits and technical training. My technical training is in Sustainable Agriculture Systems, Jeff's in Community Education Conservation.
During our training we are questioned over our skills and what we would like to work with and if we have any preferences of location. One thing becomes clear: Panama maybe the size of South Carolina, but it is incredibly diverse. We could be placed in an indigenous site in the mountains with canoe access only or a Latino community accessed by 4x4 transports on the beach. We could be in a large town or a very rural village. In any location, we will be expected to live and work for two years with the people and give them access to information and leadership to improve their lives.
Foy is a Peace Corps Volunteer placed in Panama with her husband Jeff, both graduates of Ames High and Iowa State University. They are scheduled to return to the United States in August 2009.