As part of our two month long training, our group recently attended Tech week, a weeklong intensive agricultural training session at a Peace Corps site in the Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé.
The Comarca is the indigenous reservation here in Panama, but there are three parts for the three separate groups: Ngäbe-Buglé, Kuna Yala, and Emberá-Wounaan. Although the culture completely varies from region to region, Ngäbere people are generally known as being conservative and reserved; many places in the Comarca are also very impoverished, as was the town we visited.
The houses were made with wood or plastic tarp walls, dirt floors, and zinc roofs, though many homes didn’t even have four full walls. The living situation definitely made the week a trying one; while I had gotten used to not having running water, the muddy floors, un-cushioned, wooden beds, and chickens that slept (and pooped) in my room sometimes pushed me to my limits.
Just when I would get down and start feeling sorry for myself, the kindness of the local people really overwhelmed me and reminded me why I’m here. We each lived with host families for the week, and mine went above and beyond to give me everything they could. They cannot afford to eat meat except on special occasions, yet they slaughtered chickens so we could have good food AND all seven of them slept in one bedroom so that another Peace Corps girl and I could have privacy in the other room. They even bought hot chocolate to make for me when it rained so that I wouldn’t be cold.
When we weren’t immersing ourselves in the local culture, we were out in the fields learning about Panama’s major crops from agricultural experts who traveled all the way to our village to help with our training. In the five days we were there we worked with rice, corn, yucca, plantains, beans, and even gave our own agricultural charlas, short educational presentations, to interested locals.
Tech week was exhausting in every possible way. Between the physical labor and lack of nutritional food (I think I got 1 non root vegetable the whole week) I was constantly tired, and the mud floors really, really bothered me- I could never be clean! However, tech week was also a great learning experience; I got to experience the success of a volunteer’s hard work and I got to see how dedicated Panama’s volunteers are- not only to their communities, but also to each other. Now that is something that I cannot wait to be a part of.
P.S. I have some exciting news to share- I just learned where I will be living and working for the next two years! Keep your eyes peeled for a post full of pictures of my future home!