9.26.2008

Day 498 - Volunteer Service - Article 13

This article appeared in the Ames Tribune Newspaper on September 26, 2008.

Guest Editorial: What's in yer pickup?

We are in route to Isla Grande for our one-year-in-Panama celebration. When we arrived in Washington, D.C., for staging in May 2007, the Peace Corps had a list of 34 names of volunteers for Panama. Two applicants didn't show up. Two volunteers left during training, two more left right after we went to our separate sites, and a married couple went home in April to have their first child. We're now at 28. Twenty of us made it to Isla Grande to celebrate.

The transportation from home to the real road can be dodgy. This time we came out in an extended cab pickup rather than the regular chiva. This is the first time I have seen people chose not to get on any vehicle because it was too full. We had:
20 people (5 children),
4 70-pound sacks of cilantro (each about the size of a large duffel
bag),
2 propane tanks,
1 5-gallon gas tank,
10 or more backpack type bags of varying sizes,
and1 puppy.

To make the trip interesting, there was a transportation strike in Colon (the city at the north end of The Canal). We were almost the last to get there. The first to arrive eventually were taken by the police to headquarters. The amazingly helpful officers then provided a private 30-passenger bus and driver gratis. Our Peace Corps security officer is more than effective, and I suspect the Colon police still are shaken up from the last interaction they had with her.

By the time we got to Colon, all this was done, and we got off our bus to try to flag down a taxi. Due to the strike, all the taxi drivers avoided us like brujas (witch or evil spirit). Foy caught the eye of an ambulance driver who took pity on the stranded gringos and gave us a lift to our friends. That's right, Foy hitched an ambulance. All that remained was an easy ride to port and a short bit by boat to Isla Grande.

We had a great time with our fellow volunteers. There is a nice resort on the other side of the island. Foy and I hiked over for a good but rather expensive dinner. On the way, Foy walked within six inches of a fur-de-lance (very poisonous and aggressive snake). I saw it sitting along the trail just as she was walking past. Luckily, it seemed sick or very sleepy and quite uninterested in Foy's ankle.

We are currently in Panama City for our one-year medical exams. While we were waiting in the office, Marcela, our embassy family hostess, called saying that her neighbor had met my godmother's sister. She gave me the number of an embassy nurse who was having lunch with said sister. I called, and Foy and I ended up having a pleasant dinner with Jim and Jan. That's networking! They have just moved to Panama, and we shared their first meal in their fine apartment.

Foy and Jeff's Peace Corps assignment is from May 2007 to Aug. 2009.

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