Day 459 - Volunteer Service - Article 8

This article appeared in the Ames Tribune Newspaper on August 18, 2008.

Guest editorial: Living in Panama is like camping ... for two years

Jeff and I live in a small, rural agricultural community. Population: 42. There is an aqueduct, but no electricity or cell phone signal. When I say aqueduct, I mean PVC pipes that bring fresh water to the houses. Each house has one concrete basin with a faucet. This sink is used to wash laundry, babies and the dishes.

Each family has an outdoor shower, which is nothing more than a zinc-sided booth with a spigot. The water runs onto the ground and is directed away from the house and walkways by open trenches. There are no flush toilets. Everyone has pit latrines.

I miss hot showers. All our water is cool, coming directly off the highest hill. Sometimes I boil the water on the stove and mix it with a bucket of cold water. Then I ladle it over myself. That's as close as I'm going to get to a hot shower.

The houses are either concrete block or wooden boards. Our house is made of wood, has a corrugated metal roof and concrete floors. It has two rooms. We have one of the nicest houses.

Families don't really live in houses. They sleep in them and use them for storage. They live on their porches. We pass time with our neighbors, write, nap and work on the porch. Our dinner table is on the porch. When the climate is 65 degrees to 75 degrees year round, all you really need is a roof.

Every two weeks or so, we go to town (3,000 people) to buy groceries, use the Internet and call home. We buy all our food in the largest mom and pop store. Then we pack it up to ride in the pick-up truck which serves as transportation to and from our valley once each day.

We eat a lot of rice and beans. Without a refrigerator, we are limited to dry goods and fresh produce. I miss cheese, milk and ice cream. I miss ice.

We have a gas stove and oven. The gas is brought up on the same transport for $5 per tank. Most families have a gas stove and a fagon which is a raised cook fire where they smoke meat and cook large quantities of rice.

Living in Panama is like permanently camping for two years. We sleep in a tent of mosquito netting, on a four inch thick cushion of foam. Sometimes I wonder if I miss hot water or a queen size bed more.I know when it comes time to leave Panama in about a year, I will miss our big porch. I will miss the ideal temperatures, passion fruit and this pristine environment where there is no noise and distraction from cars, cell phones, televisions and lights. Then I will take a very long, hot shower.

Foy and Jeff are Peace Corps volunteers in central Panama, some 40 miles northeast of Panama City. They live in a town of about 50 people that has no electricity. Their Peace Corps assignment is from May 2007 to Aug. 2009.

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