The Arbitrary Artifice of Time

It is not news to me that our designations of time are subjective.  I’ve always been amused when Jewish holidays are declared “early” or “late” in a given year.  Jewish holidays are always on time.  Each one has a fixed day and month.  But those dates are fixed to a lunar calendar.  So to those of us who routinely operate in a solar calendar, it appears that these lunar-determined Jewish festivals are “moving” around.  But anchor oneself in a lunar calculation of time, and the opposite would be the case.

Same thing with the start of a day.  In Genesis, the days of creation are accounted for with the words “There was evening and there was morning, Day …(One, Two, Three, etc.).”  Since evening is mentioned before morning, Jewish reckoning is that a day starts with sundown.  To anyone outside that Jewish context, it seems that a Jewish day starts “the night before.”  But from within our tradition’s understanding, the day starts at its beginning.  Plain and simple.

So, I already understood that our designation of time is relative.  But I have been reminded of that, again, here in Panama.

While Spanish certainly has the vocabulary for all four seasons, just try teaching those words to kids who only live with two seasons, not four!  There is a wet season and a dry season here, and that’s it.  It’s a bit cooler in the wet season; so, that’s winter.  Summer is when it is even hotter for being so dry.   Of course, we all know that June, July, and August are the summer months, right?  Not so fast … think again!  Winter here — the wet season — is from May to December.  Summer is from January through April.  See what I mean about the artifice of time/seasonal designations?

But it’s not just the seasons.  Let’s talk about morning, afternoon, evening, and night.  6pm is evening, right?  Not here.  It’s considered afternoon, in this part of the world, pretty much until the sun goes down.  Then it’s night.  Really no evening … not even the vocabulary for it.  Buenos días.  Buenas tardes.  Buenas noches.  No buenos evenings as that would be a meaningless phrase of words.  So again, teaching the English terms “Good morning, afternoon, evening, and night” is more than just a lesson in vocabulary.  It’s a whole conceptual thing.

Many of you are about to do the “fall back” Daylight Savings set-your-clocks maneuver.  I wouldn’t even try explaining that to people who live in a place where days are pretty much the same length all year ‘round.  Panama is a bit north of the equator, so our days and nights aren’t absolutely the same length all year long.  But the variation is very small.  Sunrise and sunset are always within the 6-6:30 range.  So none of this changing our clocks business.  That’s one artifice of time that makes no sense here.  (Not, mind you, that I’ve ever made much sense of it in my U.S. homes either . . .).

So to my friends and readers in most of the U.S., don’t forget to set your clocks back an hour (Did I get that right?) tonight.  Enjoy that extra hour of sleep.  Here in Panama, we’ll go from being on the same time as your Central Time Zone to now lining up with Eastern Time.  But we didn’t change a thing.  You did.

It really is all arbitrary artifice.

Night, night.  Buenas noches.

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Mourning

Through tears and horror, saying Kaddish for the lives lost in Pittsburgh.  For them, for our country, and for us all . . .

15EB6005-B6E9-47E1-8137-0C741AC67C96Enough said.

Parades R Us

As I’ve indicated in earlier posts, this country loves a fiesta.  Any and every occasion will do.  And no celebration is complete without a parade.  Or several.  This weekend was the 170th Anniversary of nearby Aguadulce.  The requisite parade was on Saturday and started somewhere between 9 and 10 in the morning.  After watching my school, Sue’s school, Barbara’s school, and my friend Bridget marching with her school, I departed my viewing stand on the side of the street around Noon.  But Sue, who lives on the parade route, tells me that the marching continued well into the evening with schools and bands from distant provinces arriving after very long bus rides.

So, a variety of parade observations from your roving Panama “color commentator.”  But first, a shameless commercial for my little primary school.

Pedro Guevara Elementary A057DA26-E2FA-429B-A02E-3892E2ABC91D

Of course we have a band.  And we are only 20 minutes from Aguadulce.  So, we were there!  I’m told that as the various November independence days unfold, we’ll be chasing parades all over the country.  This one, thankfully, was close.

Like pretty much all the others, our band is overwhelmingly composed of drums.  And every school seems to be pounding out the same “tune.”  In addition to drums, there are usually a good number of brass instruments . . . just to ratchet up the volume a bit.  Occasionally there’s  a bell lyre — a kind of marching band glockenspiel — which provides a bit of auditory relief.  So, here we are…70785611-06C2-4387-9CFA-06CECCFE8EF2.jpeg

 

Young girls in full skirts seem to be the standard “opening act” for every band.  And they all seem to have studied the same full-skirt swoosh.  Here are some more of these young lovelies (not from my school …), with an interesting variation in the last shot.

Uniformed Teachers

Many of the teachers march right along with the students.  And particularly in the larger schools, they all wear similar attire.  But as my friend Sue notes, it’s one pattern with infinite variations.  Depending on age, size and shape, and personal fashion taste, the female teachers will change a sleeve or a neckline or a dress becomes a skirt and a blouse or jacket, etc.  The men wear varying styles of shirts, of the same material, that somehow echo what the women teachers are wearing.

 

And Student Uniforms Too

Students who make honor roll, or Honor Squad, have the privilege of marching in the 90 degree (feels like 98 with the near 100 percent humidity) heat in long sleeved (white and perfectly pressed!) shirts and even white gloves!

Tembleques

You may have noticed some quite exquisite headpieces on some of the girls. These are tembleques, traditional  headware of  Panamanian folk costume.  They are made of different materials such  as wire, pearls, stones, crystals, and so on.  In the long, dark hair that is so typical of Panamanian women, they are really quite stunning.

And You Know I Wouldn’t Forget the Shoes!

I think I’ve mentioned before that Panamanian women put my shoe wardrobe to shame.  Here’s a look at some parade footwear.  Mind you, these women are walking for hours in these!!

And to think all my great shoes are in a storage unit in Reno.  Not, mind you, that I would be wearing them here.  I do way too much traipsing around on gravel and dirt and asphalt.  Clearly, Panamanian women are made of much sterner stuff than am I.  I am, however, compensating for boring shoes with a pretty extravagant wardrobe of earrings!😁

And to End on an Entirely Different Note

I’ve alluded to the fact that a lot goes on here in November.  Officially, November is Homeland Heritage Month (Mes de Patria).  Which may explain why, after being away from my school since Wednesday, I came back today (Monday) to find a new bust of Pedro Guevara watching over our school courtyard.  Señor Guevara was the driving force in establishing the school here.  This is him . . . or some artist’s representation thereof.EFB096C3-CA06-41F4-8D2D-6D11AF7F0ACF

Ok, that’s more than enough for now.

This coming Thursday and Friday we have a regional meeting in El Valle, which is supposed to be a lovely artesan town.  It’s also about an hour closer to Panama City than is my little pueblo.  So after the meeting, I’m going to head there for synagogue and a nice hotel with HOT water.  (No, not both at the same time!🤣).

And then it will be the culturally busy month of November.  Stay tuned . . . !

 

Reader’s Theater

72DEC905-3D76-47DA-BDF7-9801ABDF6767In the midst of too many days of too little significant to do, along came Reader’s Theater.

Reader’s Theater is a grade school competition that is pretty much what it sounds like.  Each school puts together a team of 6-10 students who present an English reading of less than 3 minutes.  There are no costumes or gestures or memorizing.  Just reading.  Pronunciation (no small task for these kids who don’t speak English) and expression conveyed by voice were the primary skills being judged.  And, of course, standing up straight and speaking loudly and clearly and all that.  And, yup, it felt a lot like all those years of preparing Bar and Bat Mitzvah kids!

My team of six 6th-graders had really worked hard on this.  479CE311-484F-43E0-A800-73FD620C3FCAOur presentation, as you can see way above, was “The Bad Kangaroo,” a really cute story by Arnold Lobel.  No, we didn’t win, though my friend Sue’s group got second and another Peace Corps volunteer’s school nabbed first.  But my kids acquitted themselves well and left the competition feeling pretty good. 52C5B873-D9E8-43E7-972C-5D9A1E6E04F1 Their proud team coach (that’d be me…) took them all out, afterwards, for some well-deserved pizza. 82E1807F-B6D1-4786-9842-0AE0D740DC1DA few observations.  Panamanian kids are either born with an incredible amount of patience and forbearance or they are acculturated into it along life’s way.  There were something like 25 teams participating in this event.  It took place in a hot, stuffy gym.  We got there a bit before 9:00am, when the event was supposed to begin.  In Panamanian, that means we didn’t actually start until closer to 10.  The mics weren’t working very well.  So the kids could hardly hear any of the presentations.  (The judges were up very close to the stage and presumably had better audio.)  There was a lunch break around 11:30.  Then the second half of presentations went on until somewhere between 1:0O and 2:00.  And the kids sat patiently through it all.  My kids were the 23rd team to present, and they courteously hung in through all of it.  I was about to jump out of my skin and start running around like a raging lunatic, mind you.  But they were good . . . .526A9C23-88E7-427F-BB62-B69540EBE4F5And then there’s this Panama “thing” about certificates and other such goo-gaws.  EVERY student, who participated, got one of the really lovely certificates that you can see them holding in the team photo above.  And each team was called back up on stage and EVERY SINGLE student had their name called out as they were formally presented their certificates.  And this happens at virtually every event of any sort here.  By the time these kids get through university, they must have a house full of certificates and related recognition tchotchkes!  And see that little red ribbon badge in the photo at the beginning of this post?  All of us adults got one of those.  Somebody printed them up, cut them out, and attached the ribbons and safety pins . . . one at a time, no doubt!  But such is very, very important here!!!

Anyway, that’s the latest Myra in Panama. Other than the rain.  I’d been told that October was the wettest month here; and so far, that’s proven to be true.  Torrential, in fact.  A tad bit cooler for the rain, tho’ incredibly sticky humid.  And even with all that downpour, my water has once again gone out.  Right in the middle of a load of laundry, of course.

Oh well.  It’ll come back at some point.  Hmmm.  Maybe some of that Panamanian forbearance is rubbing off on me?  Hard to believe…  But, ya’ never know.

¿Sentimental? Journey

So, I have a new moniker for my local older-volunteer buddies.  We are now the Old Broads Brigade.  Which is, by way of introduction, to say that the OBB was ready for a weekend viewing of the opera in Panama City, where the Metropolitan’s cinema-screen showing of Aida was set to take place.  Sue and Barb had gone to these last season, at the Miraflores theater by the Canal, with much enjoyment.  So that was our scheduled Saturday excursion.

Fortunately, Sue called ahead for tickets.  Turns out the theater is under renovation and no other venue could be found to screen these performances.  So, no opera.  And no Saturday plans.

Not wanting to waste a day of planned get-away, I came up with Plan B.  We decided to head back for a visit to Santa Clara de Arraijan, the site of the 10-week pre-service training for our Teaching English, Leadership, and Lifeskills (TELLS) sector.

Santa Clara has been the site for this training for a number of years.  Long enough, in fact, that Peace Corps boss-types were thinking it was time to change location.  Budget cuts, however, have delayed that; and TELLS pre-service training will continue there.  And to my way of thinking, this is a very good thing, for humane considerations that will shortly become clear.

Our trip to Santa Clara was, as are so many journeys here, long travel for a fairly short visit.  But we were all glad we went.  Certainly it was lovely to see our host families, albeit for a short “hello.”  Even more, I think we all needed the reminder of how we started our time here.  Santa Clara is incredibly poor.  Few folks with cars.  No garbage pick-up (at least not that anyone can afford; they just burn it in the yard . . .).  Much of the time no running water.  Those who work have to schlep, often for hours on pretty uncomfortable public transportation, to get to any sort of job.  The Peace Corps presence  is a major sustaining piece of the small town’s limping economic well-being.

For me, it was very good to remember how my time in Panama started.  And to be reminded of how much better is my situation now at my permanent site.  (Whatever the frustrations.)  Right now my water is out once again.  But that’s not a regular fact-of-life, and I have a full tank on the back porch.  My electricity is working, and the AC is a wonderful relief from the heat.  I made cupcakes this morning.  And I’m heading for a nap before going to visit my Community Guide, Enilsa, whose birthday was yesterday.

The people of Santa Clara were — as is so much the case in this country — warm and lovely and welcoming, both when we lived there and on yesterday’s return visit.  But, mercy, they are poor.  And that’s how we lived, too, when we first got here.

Good to remember . . .

Long Time, No Post

I’ve come to realize that, when I haven’t posted in a while, it’s generally because I’m in one of my Panama-ambivalent  “What am I doing here?!?” moods …

So, I haven’t posted in a while. . .

I feel most useful when I’m teaching.  It feels most lacking-in-meaning when I’m not.  There is too much of the latter, even while I work hard to cultivate opportunities for the former.

This past week, for example.  We had no classes on Friday, as we celebrated my school’s 51stanniversary.  Cancelling classes is a regular feature of the school system here.  Pretty much any occasion will do.  And since this is a country that loves to celebrate pretty much anything, the occasions abound.  Last Friday’s celebrations included the requisite Queen contest, coronation, and subsequent parade through town – the queen and her court and their escorts on floats decorated in the “Frozen” theme. (No, I have not a clue why that bit of ice-cold fantasy is so popular in a country that never sees ice and snow . . . but it is.)  From my culturally-biased point of view, this “queen thing” is seriously sexist and uncomfortably sexualizing of young girls.  But that’s a conversation for another time.  If at all.  Maybe I am just being culturally insensitive . . .

In any case, there were no classes on Friday.  For no reason that anyone could explain, there was also no school on Monday.  Up until the last minute, I wasn’t sure about school on Tuesday either.  There’s a teachers’ strike in Panama City, and sometimes our teachers don’t come to school in solidarity.  But we did have school Tuesday, which gave me the chance to work with my six wonderful 6th-graders who are my school’s team for the upcoming Reader’s Theater competition.  Readers Theater is pretty much what it sounds like.  A short story is read by students.  No acting.  No costumes.  Just reading.  It’s in English – part of the effort for bilingual education here.  Pronunciation and expression are primary.  My kids are doing a cute little story called “The Bad Kangaroo.”  They are working their adorable  hearts out on this, and our Tuesday practice went very well.  I was pleased, especially because I figured we still had a week to work on perfecting this.  (The contest, among a dozen-plus schools, is on October 11th.)  Ah, not so fast, Myra!  The 6th grade class is gone, on a trip to Panama City, today.  (Which functionally means that I have nothing to do in school today.  So I’m home, writing this blog post.)  And since they won’t get home until late, they aren’t coming in to school tomorrow, on Thursday, either.  And since I don’t generally work on Friday, it’ll be Monday before we can rehearse again.  Assuming school isn’t cancelled for some reason or other.  Basically, we may have a day or two more, next week, to work on this.  Or not.  One simply never knows here.

Do I sound frustrated?  Yeah.

I try to keep busy with things that do give my service some meaning.  At the end of September, I gave two presentations at the regional TESOL conference.  TESOL is Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.  My presentations, to a total of 53 folks, were on “English Color Idioms.”  Did you know we have a ton of them?  Tickled pink.  Feeling blue.  Green with envy.  Paint the town red.  I had 14 pages of these, and that was a shortened collection.  Anyway, the classes were fun.

My buddy Sue was contacted about doing a Basic English class for some students from a nearby town.  Interestingly, this is being sponsored by our local office of the Labor Ministry.  The motivation is that English is necessary for many good jobs here.  Anyway, these are High School students, and the class meets late afternoon twice a week.  We started last night, and it was fun.  Though attendance was small, and I don’t know if the class will last.  We shall see.

I’m trying to make contact with the English department in the nearby university.  Haven’t succeeded so far.  But I’ll keep trying.  I did a class or two of Conversational English, at the University in Penenome, and loved it.  Again, we shall see.

I’m hoping to do a bunch of classes on Thanksgiving at my primary school.  Teaching a bit of English and some American “culture.”  The problem is November.  Our school vacation technically doesn’t start until the end of December (and ends at the beginning of March).  But November is full of national Panamanian holidays, and school really effectively stops at the end of October.  I’m told that there are very few students actually present during most of November and December.  (Can you hear my frustration through the computer screen?).

I’m also thinking of doing a cowboy/cowgirl day camp for one week during vacation.  Complete with Country and Western line dancing.  For my primary kids.  Mid-February, by which time I figure they (and their parents) will be mildly frantic with boredom.  Lots of planning-bureaucracy necessary.  So, again, there’s no certainty that I’ll actually pull this off.

In January, Sue and I are taking a week-long trip to Colombia.  And the first week of February, I’m joining a group of volunteers who will be helping a Christian medical group, from the States, who come and do cataract surgery for some medically-underserved folks in a province to the east of me.  Supposedly, I’ll be helping with translating.  With my still-limited Spanish, that’s a bit dubious.  But I’ll do my best.

So, I try to keep busy and wrest meaning from service that largely feels pretty insignificant.  I have, for sure, experienced a lot of personal and professional growth.  I’ve learned some stuff on the computer that has raised me from total luddite to minimally-dinosaur-techie status.  I have certainly learned a huge amount about teaching.  And I continue to be amazed and enriched by the skills of the other volunteers.

And I am comfortable in my little Panama rental.  This is not, by any means!, the heroic Peace Corps service that many imagine.  My water is back (yay!), and while the pressure is low and there is never any hot water, it *is* running water; and I am grateful.  I have electricity, air conditioning, WiFi, and a washing machine. (No dryer.  But that’s why God made clothesline . . . )  The insects, with whom I dwell, are minimal.  Mostly ants (LOTS of ants!) and flies.  A very occasional cockroach.  Lots of moths.  And a few other indistinguishable crawly things.  But nothing major.

Still, it’s not U.S. luxury.  I actually enjoy the occasional, silly challenge this poses. Like what to do with my earrings . . . Before coming to Panama, I somehow had the idea that this was a fashionless place.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The women here “fancy up” in a manner that we would find pretty amazing.  Footwear that would put my collection to shame!  But since I seem to be walking a lot on unpaved surfaces, my shoe wardrobe has dulled down considerably.  I’ve compensated with earrings.  But they were all jumbled up in a plastic box-thing.  So, look what I came up with!

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And, yes, that’s a splatter screen (like for over the pan when you’re frying something . . .).  Ok, I’m easily amused.

One last word on surviving Jewishly here, especially during the recent High Holidays.  Thank goodness for live streaming!  I have generally been “attending” worship at Central Synagogue, an amazing Reform synagogue in NYC.  I can’t even imagine how my spirit would be surviving without WiFi and live streaming.  I am, again, grateful.  I also managed to get to synagogue, in Panama City, on the Erev Shabbat during the TESOL conference.  It felt great to be in Jewish community.

So, there you have it.  I continue to hang in here.  I still love the people.  And with all the horrors going on in the U.S. political scene, I’m not sure I’d want to come home either.  I did vote, electronically, already.  I pray for positive political change.

Sorry for the length of this.  I’ll try to post more regularly.  Love to all!

 

San Blas

The San Blas islands are located off the north coast, on the Caribbean side, of Panama.  They include 365 islands, of which 49 are inhabited.  These islands are part of the comarca (district) Guna Yala and are home to the Guna people.  (Guna is also often spelled with a “K” as Kuna.  You’ll see Kuna and Guna used interchangeably.). The Kuna community has a total population of around 300,000; about 50,000 live on the San Blas islands.

The Kuna Yala comarca is a semi-autonomous  region ruled by its indigenous inhabitants.  It is governed by the Guna General Congress, which is led by three Great Sailas, or chiefs.  The General Congress is the highest political authority of Yala Guna and consists of representatives of all communities in Guna Yala.  It  meets twice a year.

The Kunas mainly survive by allowing tourists on their islands and selling coconuts to the mainland and surrounding countries.  Tourists are only allowed on a couple of islands of San Blas, and on these islands the Kuna provide food and lodging.  Myself and my three “Old Gal” Peace Corps buddies were among those tourists for a two night San Blas stay earlier this week.52F80608-66A7-4056-8438-6039EC25B0FC

Alas, we had some issues with the vendor from whom we purchased our tour.  (If you ever plan on a San Blas visit, let me know.  I’ll tell you what company NOT to book your tour with!😠).  Even so . . . the islands were beautiful with crystal clear water and lots of beach and snorkeling opportunities.  If you’re not the beachy/snorkeling type (I’m really not…), then a day trip is probably sufficient.  But if you are ever in Panama, you should do at least that.  Here are some photos to show you why.

The Kuna are famous for their molas, which are hand-made textiles that form part  of the traditional women’s clothing.  The full costume includes a patterned wrapped skirt (saburet), a red and yellow headscarf (musue), arm and leg beads (wini), a gold nose ring (olasu) and earrings in addition to the mola blouse (dulemor).  Check out the lower legs of the Kuna women in this photo.  What you are looking at is strands of beads wrapped many times around and around.  The patterns can be quite amazing.84EF8E8C-05F7-4F2D-88CD-227D67E63214

In Dulegaya, the Guna’s native language, “mola” means “shirt” or “clothing”. The mola originated with the tradition of Guna women painting their bodies with geometric designs, using available natural colors; in later years these same designs were woven in cotton, and later still, sewn using cloth bought from the European settlers of Panama.  Now you can buy molas from traditional artisans on just about every San Blas island.  Here’s one that I bought from a particularly gifted craftsman named Venancio.  It’s now on the wall in my little home.DFF44AF8-E258-46BA-9649-827C8C0BCE92.jpegAnd now I am home, resting up after IST and this brief vacation.  Tomorrow night is Erev Rosh HaShanah, which I’ll be doing online.  There may well be Rosh HaShanah reflections coming by further blog post.  But in any case, I wish us all a most blessed 5779.  May we all know health, happiness, and peace in great abundance!  Shanah Tovah u-M’tukah!!

Ramblings

IST was exhilarating, but exhausting. I’ve been back at my site for a day and am now packed and ready for a few days on the San Blas islands.
For some reason, the photos for my IST posting didn’t upload. Trying again. A few classroom shots:
a729c3d3-adbd-456e-90c8-d30f44540bd32a532a88-7b53-4bcd-883c-a7525ef34268And photos of my wonderful cohort of Peace Corps Volunteers.

One final shot of all of us at a waterfall in San Francisco de Santiago.

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As IST ended, I felt myself really ready and anxious to get home.  “Wait a minute.” I thought, “Did you just say ‘home’”?!?  And then . . . there was an awful moment of forgetfulness when I flushed some TP down the toilet.  That’s a serious no-no down here, where the plumbing is super fragile.  (There’s a garbage can beside every toilet for the TP.).  I was horrified at my error…  And there’s the ongoing water issue at my site.  We’ve had a rather weak rainy season.  So my “new normal” seems to be running water only in the middle of the night.  But I’m becoming reasonably ok with that.  Showers and laundry at mid-night times only.  But as long as I at least get water then, I can manage.

Rather seems like I’m settling in, doesn’t it?  No one is more surprised than me . . . !

On the way back to my site yesterday, we ran into two of the cutest kids who were all happy-giggly to see me.  “Maira, Maira!” they chirped as they ran up to greet me.  I’ve got an idea why this place is growing on me. . . 😊

So, it’s off to San Blas.  Details, no doubt, soon to follow.  Wishing everyone a good week!

IST

In case you wonder where I’ve been …

And because I’m on a bit of a Peace Corps “high” and I haven’t hesitated sharing past lows …

We’ve been at In-Service Training (IST), for the past two weeks, at the site of a G-80 volunteer (I’m G-82; so this is a volunteer who is a year ahead of me in her service.) in Veraguas province. We have been getting more intensive educational training that we then have put into practice teaching a 9th grade English class for the past two days.

Tomorrow we will be conducting a seminar for English teachers. Suddenly I’m an educational expert teaching teachers. Oy!

I started this training with all my usual Peace Corps anxieties at full tilt. But now, as this final week is winding down, I’m feeling confident and happily jazzed. I am becoming ever more at ease with my out-of-Jewish-context teaching abilities. And I’m feeling very valued and incredibly supported by the other Volunteers in my cohort.

And speaking of those volunteers . . . My goodness, what an impressive group! Most are young, ranging from just out of college to just turning 30. There’s one 50-something, me, and one gal who is 76. But all are really awesome human beings! Talented and caring and giving and creative. Some with teaching backgrounds. Others with varied life backgrounds. Some who grew up in Spanish speaking households, while others have much less Spanish (tho’ only a few with as little as me…). But together, we are one powerful group. Which is to say that it’s great to be back together. And as I realize that I would surely never have met any of these fabulous folk had I not gone on this Peace Corps journey, I understand that I’ve stumbled upon one more clue to understanding the “why” of my being here.

Soon, of course, we’ll separate and go back to our sites. Tho’ we do get together with nearby volunteers with some frequency, often to help one another with our school and community projects.

I’m feeling energized and ready to get back to my community and do a lot more work figuring out the projects I want to undertake. That’s all pretty daunting in some ways, but pretty exciting too.

Before that, I’m heading, for a few days, to the San Blas islands. Watch for those details to come.

In the meantime, an early Shabbat Shalom. It feels like a week of fulfillment and gratitude here.

What Number Your World?

In one single country, a person can quickly travel from First World to Third.  That is likely true in the United States, but I have led a privileged enough life not to notice.  In Panama, I have less of that luxury.

Panama City is absolutely first world.  Big high-rise luxury, roads and cars, metros and shopping malls.  Plenty of food and places to get it, including nice restaurants.  Electricity and water are plentiful and steady.  All that first worldness comes with a price, of course.  Traffic is the most outrageous; getting to and from and around in Panama City is a nightmare.  And, of course, there are varying levels of affluence there like everywhere else…

Santa Clara, where we had our Pre-Service Training, was closer to third world. No paved roads, infrequent water, very few private vehicles, and quite poor.  And there are far more impoverished locations in Panama.  Particularly the indigenous comarcas, or regions, which often don’t have potable water or electricity at all.  Peace Corps has some sites in such locations, staffed with volunteers far sturdier than yours truly.

And then there’s my present community.  We have roads.  Most people have some kind of car, though they may also have a horse.  Some have air conditioning and WiFi — it’s not *just* me!  And there is electricity and water.

Most of the time.  But not this week.  We’ve been mostly without water since last Saturday.  Many people have big water tanks behind their residences because this is not an unusual occurrence.  So far, I just have a good-sized water jug that my neighbor lent me.  And I keep my back yard utility sink filled with water for flushing the toilet.  I’ve noticed, throughout the week, that we do get some water in the middle of the night.  So, last night I took a shower (and finally washed my yucky hair!) at midnight.  If we don’t get regular water back soon, I may have to do some midnight laundry as well.

Just to be clear, the entire town has no water.  And, according to my neighbor, this is systemic throughout the country.  There’s a presidential election here next year, when she rather hopelessly expects the usual promises from candidates who will fail to deliver once they are elected and fall into the usual political corruption.  Some things seem sadly universal, no?

Meantime, I do have electricity and food and a safe place to live.  I just don’t much have water.  Frustrating as that has become, it is also a good source of personal reflection.  As the Jewish High Holidays approach, I am daily aware of how downright spoiled I am as one of the more privileged citizens in our world.  It’s a pretty trite lesson, but one that is easy to forget.  Except here, where it’s regularly unforgettable.

But . . . much easier to live with after a midnight shower.  Have a blessed day!!