I haven’t really talked that much (or at all) about the work aspect of life down here. Two reasons for this, one it is not as sexy and entertaining as diarrhea and observational humor is, and two, I haven’t done a whole lot. That’s all changed since January (funny, once my house was finally finished we started talking about PC stuff. I’m sure I wasn’t being passive aggressive or indirect…) Once the ball started to get rolling it kept snowballing. My once seeming empty plate is now crammed full of honest-to-goodness work.
It all started with the Water Committee Seminars being organized by PC. My community is one of seven who received brand-spanking new aqueducts designed to bring filtered and treated water 24/7. In early January I volunteered to take part in the very first seminar at another volunteer’s site. Mainly, I wanted to practice my Spanish before the seminar in my community. It went alright. We got our message across although we probably could had been more organized and prepared going into the event. I vowed to be super prepared for my seminar. The plan was to have my community and a very small neighboring community with the same project attending the seminar. 16-20 people were expected.
A week before the seminar I go to the neighboring community to formally invite their Water Committee to the seminar. Keep in mind that I have been talking with the other community leader about this for the past month and a half, but Panamanian custom dictates a formal invitation. I arrive and am immediately met by the community leader who was bien borracho. He spouts off about this and that (about 3″ from my face and most of which was drunken Emberá). After about 10 minutes of this he tells me he’s not coming and he won’t allow anyone from his community to go to the seminar. OK fine, I thought. It’ll just be my community, we’ll keep it simple. I had been advising my community about the seminar for about a month and a half as well. They seemed indifferent at best. The day before the seminar I went house to house and personally invited everyone to participate. Free food and more gringos in site was my selling point. It was met with a , “Yeah, sure we’ll be there (wink)”. “Dammit, you’re not supposed to wink at the person you’re lying to!”, I thought to myself. I feared the worst. I thought at most we would have five participants.
The next day I was frantically running around trying to make sure that all the last minute things were in place. Things didn’t start well when the volunteers that were helping me we running late. No problem, I told everyone 9am which in Panama means 10:30am. To my surprise people started gathering at 9am. “What’s going on?”, I asked genuinely confused. They told me they were waiting for the seminar to begin. For once Pamanians were waiting on the gringos. I wished I wouldn’t have stressed myself out so much planning and worrying about the seminar to appreciate the irony. The gringos finally arrived at we started the seminar. Two and a half days later we handed out 28 certificates to community members. I was blown away by the attendance and participation from my community alone. It was awesome! By far the best experience I’ve had in site to date. Everyone was so nice afterwards thanking us for giving the seminar and talking about all the new things they learned about. I was so proud of everybody.
Another nice finish to that story is that the aqueduct has been finished and we now have treated water todos los dias. I’m like Tim Robbins in Shawshank Redemption (when he finally escapes from prison and is standing in the rain) for every water-related activity I do. Nevermind that the plumas are only 4ft. tall. Washing dishes, washing clothes, bathing, filling my drinking water cubos, you bet your ass that I’m soaking myself with my hands towards the heavens.
The other thing we’ve got going on in site is a latrine project. Currently, 40% of the homes do not have a latrine of any kind. The river and/or the monte are used for that. The goal of this project is to create 15 pit latrines and, hopefully, 2 composting latrines. PC projects funds are split between the community and PC. The community usually contributes 50% or so of the cost in manual labor and locally available materials because they usually cannot afford “straight cash, homie”. One thing I did not know about the PC side of the funding is that basically the volunteer asks their friends, families, acquaintances, and random strangers for donations. Something I wasn’t too particularly happy about, but it is what it is. So I wanted to throw this out there right now so maybe, possibly, hopefully you might think about donating a buck or two towards this project. All donations are tax deductible if that sort of thing floats your boat. When I finally submit our proposal and everything gets checked off there will be a website I will link to where you can donate. Donations are filtered through the PC and I will not get access to the money until all the funds of my proposal are raised. So again, just a heads up that I will be looking for some handouts from all two of my faithful readers here in the near future. Remember, Jesus is watching!
I’ll end with some photos of a Health Seminar I participated in a few weeks back. Actual visual evidence of me being a productive member of society. Ciao
**Thanks to Ben and Andrew for the pictures**