September 28th 2010
I am finishing my service in a few weeks and this will probably be my last post. It has been an incredible time here in Panama. I have learned an incredible amount during my stay. I am grateful first to the Peace Corps for their support and respect. I have always been treated well by the organization as a whole. I must also thank the American taxpayer for supporting an agency that allows a joven like me to do this. I swear…I’m pretty sure it´s worth it.
Sorry no more pictures. My third camera broke.
Because I am not an eloquent writer, it´s easier for me to simply make a list of the general lessons I have learned in Panama:
Empathy and understanding. How does an American, with all the ideas and experiences we have as Americans, relate to an indigenous subsistence farmer who has no idea what the internet is or does? How can an American truly feel what it feels like to be hungry because there is nothing to eat or money to buy it? How can someone who has never had more than 200 dollars understand that an American can make 80,000 dollars a year? How can a Ngäbe actually see the point in putting on a condom? It took a lot of time for prejudices and personal barriers to come down, but the ability to put yourself in someone´s shoes, truly listen and understand their viewpoint is eye-opening. It will take a lifetime of practice to perfect.
Poverty sucks. People who consider themselves ¨poor¨ and don´t feel like they have control over their lives exist, and it is very sad. There is also very little a ¨rich¨ person can do to help. I have seen the devastation of paternalism and the way it strips people of their pride and motivation. It´s sadder than hunger. People get angry if I won´t give them things for free and I´ve been told I´m going to hell because I won´t completely share my richness. They feel entitled to gifts because god has determined that they will always be poor. We want to eradicate suffering, but we can´t, only oneself can. Feeling pity and giving a poor person something humiliates them, takes away their pride and keeps them poor.
Humility. I am forever humbled by Ngabes in some respects. They can do physical work like ants. Their bodies just don´t feel pain (or they never admit it) and they never get tired. By being put in an environment that I´ve never lived in, I have been laughed at for all the ridiculous things I´ve done because I didn´t know, or have no practice at it. My farming skills, which had radically improved, were awful at the beginning. I could carry a little more than half of what they can at first. Nobody is born knowing everything and we can´t know everything.
Humans are incredibly adaptable. People joke with me that I´ve ¨gone native¨, but it is only that I´ve had to adapt. We can go out of our comfort zones and do a lot of things we never thought we could just because our bodies adapt and we´re willing to have an open mind.
Suck it up, it´s not that bad. You have to carry this 150 pound sack of sand for 2 hours? Ok. You won´t die from it. No dinner tonight? You´ll be ok. You have boils? It could be worse. Only 5 more hours of walking and it´s definitely about to rain? Who cares? Most people in America are big complainers and we get stressed about things we can't control. I remember coming to my host families house after a night of incredible winds to see if their hous fell down and someone is injured. I came to the remains of her house and saw her sitting there laughing. You can´t be upset at every uncomfortable thing that happens. You will always be uncomfortable about something whether it´s the scorpion that just stung you or your friend is 10 minutes late. Let it go.
Just keep working. Don´t worry about a thank you or the rewards. There is no word in Ngabere for thank you. They just don't use it. Don´t worry about the people who didn´t show up to help or the negative people who tell you it´s a stupid idea and it´ll never work. If it´s worth doing in your opinion, do it.
I am looking forward to being in the states and adjusting back to being Eli again. Chöti, my Ngäbe alter ego, will have to figure out how to live en los estados unidos.
Ja twoida ti mräkä. Kä nibi jutö tibta dre mun ti olo kidaba ngwäne ti ñämä nere kätärate. Gwongware, ni niki mun kaite nunekare sede, akwa gari ñaka munye dre ti noinaba nere. Ti puedo mun niere, akwa nu gar munye.