7.16.2010

One Year Peace Corps Anniversary

Jeff and I left our Peace Corps site in Panama one year ago today.  We said goodbye to our neighbors and friends and fellow Peace Corps Volunteers boarded a plane and in eight hours were driving down interstate 35 back to Ames, Iowa. 

It was easy to slip back into electricity, hot water, Internet, and driving again.  I had a brief foray of riding the bus and brewing coffee on the stove.  It only took a couple months to stop talking to all animals and children in Spanish.  (Click here to read the essay I wrote about coming home.)
View from our Porch in Panama
Sometimes I miss it.  I miss sipping coffee on the front porch watching the mist rise off the hills.  I miss the men salamaring after the rain.  I miss my little gas stove and oven where I learned how to cook everything from scratch.  I miss checking on my auyama squash to see how big it has gotten.  I miss having a waterfall within a twenty minute walk.   I miss the jungle. I miss the sense of knowing I was accomplishing something every day just by being there. 

Our Kitchen in Panama.
Peace Corps provided an instant camaraderie with all the other volunteers.  We all went through the same training and lived with the same problems such as poor water quality, unreliable public transport, untrained teachers.  We fought many of the same fights working with our communities. 

There was also a security in knowing our health care was covered and we'd get our ten dollars a day no matter what.  That stipend covered all our day to day expenses and all our travels around Panama and Columbia.  We even came home with an excess thousand dollars.  We lived well off so little. It was nice not to worry about finances.  That will never happen again in our lives.

Rosa and Me
I miss my Panamanian friends.  Well, I must confess I didn't make that many.  The language gap combined with the lack of education and the machismo that made interacting with any male have sexual over tones was hard.  There were two Panamanians I do consider my friends:  Rosa and Romero.  Rosa had the most beautiful garden protected by a chicken fence and her broom.  She had a wry sense of humor and a get it done attitude that I appreciated.  Romero was our host dad and his love of learning and desire to live the simple country life was unique in our community.  Anyone who got an education went to the city and those who were left behind were the farmers that either never had the opportunity or didn't want to learn.  Thank goodness for Rosa and Romero, I don't know how I would have kept going with out them.

I give Peace Corps a gold star.  I'll tell anyone who asks that they should consider becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer.  Living in rural Panama made Jeff and me more interesting and gave us confidence. We enriched the lives of those in our community in the valley of the Momoni River as well as the one hundred plus American college students we worked with on their service trips to Panama.  

24 comments:

  1. Foy! We're in town for our three month reconnect and I just happened to check your site and see this update. I needed it. We're loving service, but some days it seems pointless; it was really good to see that even in Panama there were the same struggles.

    Thanks for your encouragement and funny stories on our site. They're awesome.

    Alyssa

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  2. Lynette Spicer7/16/2010

    Add this to the reminiscing--(This is what Foy told me.)
    Family and friends will not have a full understanding of the Peace Corps experience unless they visit the volunteers, preferably in their home site. I am so thankful I did. And to have personal guides who can speak the language and show you the non-tourist sites---unforgettable. Thank you, Foy, for telling me to take vacation time and get on a plane to Panama.
    Mom

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  3. Wow what a great experience. So cute how you said it took you a while to stop talking with children and animals in spanish :)

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  4. I'm so glad you fully appreciated your experience. Did going have an effect on your financial health back here at home? I'd be worried that any job I had here would disappear if I went and did something like this for so long. Given the current job situation, that would be a very big consideration for me to weigh.

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  5. Most admirable . . .although I'm sure that's not the reason you did it. (I have to admire your Panamanian kitchen, though!)

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  6. Priestess,

    We left for Peace Corps in 2007 when the economy was just getting ready to burst. So no we did not consider that there would be less jobs when we came back. I was fortunate to land my dream job in seven months after returning to The States, my husband is still looking. He wants to be a college art professor, and is qualified, but no one is hiring. He probably could have gotten and kept a job if he had found one in 2007.

    But you can't know the future. Honestly if you are recently graduated or out of work, Peace Corps might be a good place to ride out the economic depression.
    But

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  7. Foy, what an amazing experience! I wish I had done something like that. Hope you have a great day!

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  8. It sounds like a wonderful transformative and transforming experience.

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  9. Sounds like a very rewarding adventure that you're not soon to forget.

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  10. Lovely story. Welcome back to civilization. Now you can teach the rest of us how truly privileged we are!

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  11. What a great blog post and incredible experience. I love the picture of you and Rosa!

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  12. As an RPCV myself, (Nepal--later sponsored by Peace Corps as a United Nations Volunteer in Malaysia and Indonesia), I enjoyed your post very much. Despite the many difficulties and frustrations of living a stripped down life overseas, the sense of loss on returning to "normal" life is often difficult.
    If Iowa is experiencing anything like the cuts education is suffering in California, even if your husband had found a position several years ago he might be jobless now. I have several colleagues now looking for jobs after teaching at the same school for more than nine years. So if you enjoyed your experience in Panama you should not regret making that decision.

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  13. amazing! i once dreamed of joining the peace corps and wish circumstances had allowed me to do so. kudos to you for doing it! i'll visit again when i have more time to look into your archives for more entries about your experiences living in panama.

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  14. How fantastic that you did Peace Corps - I always wanted to and now will have to wait until the kids are grown and flown the coop. Actually since my husband's a doctor we might do Medecins sans frontieres instead, but it will be a similar experience. And as for Panama, I miss it for you (if that's possible). The photos of your view, your kitchen and your friend Rosa are so beautiful and touching. Thanks for sharing!

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  15. what an amazing view you had, I'd love to wake up and drink coffee like that. Your kitchen looked serviceable and had quite an impressive array of spices. I must come back and read further when time permits...

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  16. Kudos to you for serving in this way. Isn't it amazing how you go somewhere to "help" and come away having learned and changed so much that you feel you're the one that benefited. Thanks for sharing your anniversary with us.

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  17. Anonymous7/18/2010

    I've been on staff at Peace Corps HQ for nearly 5 years and have to say that I'm still amazed by the Volunteers. They are, almost without exception, the most interesting, involved, caring group of people I know. Thank you for serving, and for representing our country so well!

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  18. What a fabulous experience! It's gives you so much confidence to know that you really only need a little of what the western world has to offer.

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  19. I arrived to the U.S. to late to be in PC. alas! Your post reminded me of my friend from Michigan who was in PC in Honduras and Tunisia, in the 90s. When he came back, he could talk to very few people. "How was it?" was hard to answer in one sentence, and most people do not have the patience to listen for longer periods of time. And you CANNOT summarize an experience like that in one sentence!

    I met several volunteers in Cleveland who were going every year to Nicaragua, to extremely poor and almost prehistoric areas - no drinking water, no outhouses, no schools. You cannot bridge the gap overnight. It takes so much time and energy, and I am flabbergasted by enthusiasm of these people. Cudos to you and your husband!

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  20. All the friends I know who have served in the Peace Corps are Peace Corps people all their lives. Thanks for all the good work you've done..

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  21. Such a great experience. Thanks for letting us share in it a bit with your reminiscing. Very cool!

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  22. It's so great to hear you had such an amazing experience- I love the kitchen!

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  23. Sounds like it was an amazing experience. A once in a lifetime thing to do. Thanks for sharing it with us.

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  24. This is a lovely post. Exactly where in Panama were you? I'm a Panama City girl and can recognize the green-ness of my beautiful country, but can't tell where you were at the time. It's interesting to see the drastic contrast between city and rural life. I'm sure everyone was warm, kind and appreciative, because that's the Panamanian way.

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