This article was published in the Ames Tribune January 23, 2009.
Electricity as a scarcity
The other day, we were visiting Earth Train, and a group of two gringos and two Panamanians returned from a hike. One gringa was dripping with sweat and dirt. This is how most foreigners look after a hike in the rain forest. The Panamanians will look tired but not red-faced and not dirty.
Anyway, the gringa walks into the kitchen, opens the refrigerator, grabs her water bottle and then continues to stand in front of the refrigerator with the door open. Now there would have been a time, not that long ago, that I would have shared a “I know how you feel” look with this woman. However all I could think was, “Shut the door! You are wasting the electricity!”
I had to bite my tongue and leave the kitchen. I found her abuse of the refrigerator childish and irresponsible, angering even. I’m sure this gringa didn’t even consider what she was doing.
That fact that I considered what she was doing shows a change in me. I have developed a very different idea about what is valuable. Not because the culture in Panama has different priorities but because it has different scarcities. I now regard more things as valuable. The refrigerator is a luxury. It should be treated with great care so it lasts. Electricity is a limited resource.
I wonder how long it will take once we return to the states for me to open the refrigerator door and not worry about how much coldness is escaping. I hope I never revert. I think I will make a concerted effort to use less energy. Now I know how to make that change and have made that change. Why would I ever go back to being irresponsible?
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 August 2009.