Monday, July 5, 2010

Something Panamanian

I locked myself in the laundry room for the second time today. They need an escape hatch. That would be real public service.

The first time I locked myself in there no one was home, but I had just unlocked the front door to see if it was cool enough to jog, so I waited about 15 minutes before a neighbor pulled in and I caught her attention and asked her to come through the front door, to the kitchen, and let me out.

Today, I went to the laundry room after Mama Petra said something about there still being clothes out there (I thought I had packed them all). It was just as she left, and I of course shut the door behind me. I didn't realize it until I had gathered what I had left out there, and yes, door closed. There really is no way out of there when you shut the door. There are two other doors but you need a key to open them. The room is outside but barred off to thin to fit your head through. There was a knife out there and I tried to pick the lock (though I've only see this done in movies and by one ex-roommate and have no idea how the process works) but I think the knife was too large. I figured, well, I don't have to be out of here right away. Someone will come home in a few hours. The problem today was that the front door was locked, so I couldn't ask a neighbor for help. Just me and a bunch of damp clothes. And then I saw her. Petra! Across the street. "Petra!!!" I cried. She turned. I indicated that I was stuck in the laundry room. And then she came to my rescue. Who says you need a prince to come save you. Its the princesses with the wits and the compassion to save a tormented creature. So I am officially out of the laundry room sooner than I assumed I would be, and working on my plans for the aforementioned escape hatch.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Doing what I do best

Freaking out. About next year. I have a GREAT opportunity to work with an organization in VA next year, American Indian outreach on STEM education programs. However, I wanted to take Singhal's class (not offered?) and now reeeeally don't want to move again. Think I'll stay in the Rock? Not registered for classes. Have no housing. Still want to work monthly in VA. Oy. Help. I'm in Panama. Not conducive to figuring out my life.

I went on my honeymoon last weekend with my long lost lover, Camille. We went to Contadora Island, home to 200 people and more than enough hotels. I bartered a cabbie on the way to the airport, took a 12 seater to the island where I encountered more English speakers than I have the whole trip. We had a romantic date night at Villa Romantica

And there was A/C in the room.

(check the top of the pic...yes I know the rooms a mess)

It was hyperAmericanized, and I couldn't have stayed another day. We almost had to though! Camille accidentally booked her flight for July 29, not June... This became problematic when I realized I couldn't just trade tickets, as she was scared to go to PC alone without much Spanish. Luckily, everyone understands a terrified, near tears American girl, and a Southerner living in a town about 30 minutes from me showed some southern hospitality and Camille made it on the plane.

I just bought an ice cream cone for a quarter from a man with a push cart on the street. It was fantastic. I also got four dark chocolate candy bars and three birthday cards in the mail today. A good day. Now, I've just got to figure out my American life...

Saturday, June 26, 2010

I'm sitting in an airport...

So, the next two weeks of my stay in Panama are pretty much vacay. I am waiting for my friend Camille to arrive tonight, we are going to an island, and she will be here until Wednesday. Thursday and Friday I have more condom talks. Sunday (I believe) is Amanda's Panamanian bachelorette party. Monday I am back in Panama City for my parents' arrival which well last until Friday of that week. Ha.

But really, I have some experiences in Panama, I swear. Proof:

I call this my classic third world picture (thanks Amanda).

So, I took a bus from Chitre to Panama City. Its the same thing I took the opposite way when I got here. However, this time I took it with a person who works for Amanda, and is from PC. On the way, knowing I planned to take a bus to the airport (1 dollar vs. 20) he tried to talk me into taking a ride with his friends for 30 bucks both ways. In comparison to a taxi both ways, this really is a good deal. However, taking only a taxi to the hostel and a dollar bus here is 21 dollars. In my broke ass head my way makes more sense. He was clearly only looking out for me. He kept telling me how dangerous PC is and when we got to the terminal he ran into a friend who said the same thing without prompting. But by this point I was severely frustrated. I asked him what part of my plan was so dangerous. I had been to the airport at night. I had cabbed to a hostel. I had stayed in a hostel. I had bussed to the terminal (the same terminal for distance busses as the airport we are leaving from tomorrow) and I had successfully navigated the terminal. He told me yes, but you did that with Amanda. NO I DID NOT! I DID IT SOLA!!!! AMANDA WAS IN CHITRE!!! Is the bus the issue. I am not afraid of the bus. I am going four hours early because I want to take the bus during the day, not at night. I am being smart about this. So, he took me to the bus, literally stuck me in the first seat, told the driver where I needed to go, asked how much, took my phone number and gave me his, and told me to call him when I arrived. I REALLY REALLY REALLY appreciate the consideration, but I also have this side of me that wants to DO IT MYSELF! Anyway, I made it to the airport in one piece and am now chilling in the restaurant upstairs (the only place with free internet) drinking wine to pass the time while I wait for Camille.

I also went to some random rural island that I had to walk in muck and take a mini boat to get to, and also to Contadora (but with a massive headache), and to Las Minas to a rural rural school for a picture day. I have pictures posted here:!/album.php?aid=2912236&id=13905659 and will do my best to hold myself accountable to updating on that!!!

Worst. Blogger. Ever.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

About the Monkeys and Stuff

So, I guess stuff isn't a good enough description of Panamanian countryside. I will do my best to describe a beautiful picture for you all to enjoy!!! So, we drove out to a little community, not a town, but a conglomeration of houses. They were open puertas, no doors, and at Abuelo's house random chickens kept wandering through the house as we sat on the porch. Upon leaving, he gave Amanda a bag of eggs...and an avocado (I think) and some mangoes (which are eeeeverywhere here). So on the way out there, we drive past all this picturesque tropical forest, stop and get out to peer at the monkeys. I'm really bad at zoos (I know Rebecca is a rockstar at them) but they are cute little creatures, with the baby on back thing going on. And it was pretty cool that they were in these gorgeous tropical trees. I think I had a stronger impression in the community. So tranquil. After my father's decision not to visit Chitre when he comes to Panama next month (even though I explained to him that there IS in fact a KFC here) because he is afraid to get on a bus that might have passangers carrying chickens (again, dad, this isn't a movie about Mexico), it was fun to watch the chickens wander about. I mean, they're around in Chitre, too, in the yard sometimes, as are the random horses tied to the gate at the school now and then, but given the more developed layout of Chitre (compared to the campo, I suppose) some of these things strike a different chord. Random! Also, an guy had a bunch of hand carved shallow bowls used for sorting rice at his home. They cost like three bucks. Talk about undervaluing your work. "How long does that take?" "Oh, about a day for each." Three dollars. Are you kidding me?

I hope that is an adequate elaboration, Rebecca and Trina, on my "monkey's and stuff" comment. I will leave you with a photo of Abuelo:

Tell me he isn't adorable.

Monday, June 21, 2010


I'm not a big blogger. But I figure, down the road, I will be happy to read through my experiences.

I'm 24. That happened.

I went to a show in Panama. It was like battle of the bands. While it wasn't the best music I've ever heard, I do love a good show.

Amanda is getting married. She goes back to Montana next month for a US reception and then gets married here when she returns. Bachelorette parties aren't so common here, but we're having one. Not only are we having one, we are having one with the women at the brothel. Seriously. Be jealous.

I spent a good little chunk of my birthday eve exchanging songs with translated lyrics to a friend here. Watts would be proud. There is a video for The First Day of My Life with Spanish Subtitles on youtube. This progressed into a spur of Conner Oberst's lovely words, which may or may not be as beautiful in Spanish, but that happened, too.

I saw some monkeys and stuff. We went out to the campo to see Franklin's grandfather (significantly different than Chitre--think lots of free range chickens and lots of greenery). Anyone who has heard my talk about my great grandmother who passed in September knows that I think she is the sweetest person I've ever met. If there could be a male equivalent to how cute she was, it's Franklin's grandfather. I wish my Spanish were better, so that I could really talk to him more.

So, the brothel tends to depress me. But not terribly, just something each time. I absolutely love the women, though. They are so nice, most from Colombia (in fact only one is Panamanian) and have to work a ton. I talked to a girl about her boyfriend. She's 21, Colombian, and has a boyfriend here. I want to ask more questions about their lives, but don't want to pry too much. I've still got a good few weeks left to visit, and I'm sure I will learn more.

Sometimes we have to take a cab to the Flourida (brothel) because someone else is using the car. This is always fun. The cab driver looks at us...two young white girls...and asks again, just to verify. Its just outside of Chitre, in a town called La Arena. It might be a mile from the office...actually I have no idea, but its not a bad walk. However, we have to walk past a construction site, and it is always hilarious. There is a stark difference in dress when we go to the brothel vs. the high schools. At the high schools we have to wear pants and sleeves. When we go to the brothel, its relief because we can put on shorts and a tank top and know that we will still be wearing more than most of them. But when we walk back, I kid you not, the hissing, I love yous, and halting, beeping cars is absurd! Last Friday in particular. Amanda, who is used to living here and the remarks that are frequently directed toward (especially) white women, was so taken aback that she exclaimed: "What! Are we naked?!" Okay, so that is the best line of my trip so far.

Woo! 24.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Soliciting guidance in this troubling time...

I realized today that my birthday marks my halfway point in Panama. Weird. Smack dab in the middle of my time in Chitre, I...dun, dun, dun...age. Eff. I prepared for 23 for two months so that I wouldn't experience the trauma of 22. Ok, but today, I lost part of my face ring, which I knew needed to come out eventually, but was thinking 25 was an appropriate time. So, today I 1st came to terms with my face au natural and 2nd admitted to myself that I am 25. Shut up. Thats what this means. I turned 25 today. Now, I hope to live to be a great grandmother (well, or something of the sort), so I need to find a better way to come to grips with my age. But seriously, I'm afraid of khakis and polos and loafers. I like young. I want to be old. I think I go through my quarter-life crisis annually. Well, for the past three years at least. And I'm sure I have a handful more to come.

So. Advice. Por favor. How do I age without flipping out? Gracias.

Tambien, this is the song I hear 8 times a day. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

But Debbie, You're in Panama...

Yes, AT, I am ridiculously excited about this game. I am streaming game six of the Stanley Cup finals on my computer live (by live, I mean with a mere minute delay). I have been a devoted hockey fan. Since arriving in Panama, I believe I have heard at least a part of every game but two (easy when I'm in the same timezone I was in LR). Definitely cheering for a Flyers win tonight. There are few things I enjoy as much as a good game seven. Especially the last game seven of the season.

Yes. I know I am in Panama. And I love being in Panama. I can't imagine a better IPSP experience. However, my time in Panama will leave me, but I trust that hockey will be in my life forever. So here I sit. On my new sheets (Mama Petra surprised me with lovely new floral sheets tonight when I got home) in my fort room (will explain fort room later) listening to the most intense time in an NHL season. LOVE IT!

Saturday, June 5, 2010


Revelation. I am white. No shit. Men of Chitré have made that very clear. No, they don't call me "blanquita." They call me "mi amor" and tell me, "I love you" when I walk past. It's like when you go running, and you pass a house with a dog in the fenced in back yard. It's fenced for a reason--the dog has this natural tendency to chase and bark at things/people that pass. That's what it’s like when I walk past a restaurant or some group of men here. I get hisses, whistles, mi amors, que bonitas, and I love yous. Once in a while a "vamos a mi casa." It’s not because I'm anything to look at, other than white. I have worn make up three times in the three weeks I've been here. I wear my hair back in a ponytail and a headband holds my hair off my enormous forehead. I took a picture one day when I passed a particularly obnoxious group of what I was wearing, but for some reason my computer is rejecting my camera today. Description, though, is cargo-esque green shorts to my knees, a beater tank top, my satchel bag, sandals, sunglasses, and the aforementioned hair-do. No makeup. Hot and smelly. Everything any man ever dreams of. Today I am working in the NIDA office. There is a restaurant across the street. Having eaten something fishy (or something) last night, I needed to get food to replenish around lunch, and decided to walk to the store. It may have been my hunger, the fact that I don't feel the greatest today, the heat, that it was truly more obnoxious than usual, or any combination of these, but when the dogs barked, I took the liberty of lifting that pretty little finger of mine. (I have seen Amanda do the same, and given the time of day I didn't feel it was too risky.) Public Service? Well, I think it would be one if someone could tone down the machismo half a notch.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Torrential Downpour

I am in Panama during the rainy season, but this year was an el nino year, I'm told, so my first couple of days here were spent in grueling, unforgiving heat.

Since about day three, there has been rain nearly everyday. It lasts about twenty minutes, and pours from the sky. I love it. The temperature drops like 5 degrees afterward. And on really lucky nights, like last night, the rain falls for an extended period of time. It is cooler outside today than it is in the house (okay, thats an everyday thing, too, since there is no A/C and houses tend to heat with the day, but the difference is quite dramatic today). Anyway, as I write this it is pouring outside and there is no more beautiful sound to me this summer.

Also! Yesterday went back to the bar and met with the girls. It was an amazing experience. It started slow, and they weren't terribly receptive at first, but there were only like two missing for a voluntary session, and about a half hour in they were asking plenty of questions and engaging in the conversation. I learned some crazy things that some people do, and there is a reason for this work. I worried they wouldn't care or were already well versed, but there is plenty to do and they were interested in meeting again. Next Tuesday I have only a half hour but am excited, knowing now 1. that they are receptive, and 2. some specific issues they may want to know more about.

I am now awaiting the opening of a hamburger joint next to the office. (yay!!) I will compensate by visiting the gym that opened yesterday for a little martial arts with Amanda. (fingers crossed)

I almost fainted at the vet today. This would have been a better post if I had, but instead I sat down and waited for it to pass. Sorry guys.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Dear Judy Watts,

I present to you my latest work:

This was obviously done with a good amount of wine (it would be blasphemous if my Cab were not invited to the party), and remembering how great our music selections can be with art, thought it absolutely necessary to post this along with my creation:

Hope you enjoy!!!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

LA PLAYA! And More...

Time for an update? Yes.

I went to the beach today! And it was gorgeous!!! I have super intense sunscreen (come one, do people even buy SPF 85 for their kids?), which does you no good when you completely miss a spot. So, my arms, face, and chest are completely fine. My back is fried. Gotta be smarter than the sunscreen can.

And just so we’re clear that I’m still me, I went off on a couple of dudes today. I know some people dig it, but seriously, I do not appreciate a guy fawning/pinching my stomach/pawing all over me. No. Not so much my thing. So, today Debbie entered bitch mode. Dudes (plural—yes, brothers) were having so much fun with this game! They took engagement photos for Amanda and Franklin, for free, which was very sweet. However, I was sandwiched in the back seat with them for two hours each way. Fortunately, none of the absurdity started until we were at the beach. Also, dudes speak English. Not that well, as when I used the word “jerk” I received a baffled, “What is jerk?” However, this is just to say that Panamanian Debbie still has spunk.

Also, loooooving speaking Spanish with the Mama of the house! She doesn’t speak any English, but I try to tell her stories about my life sometimes, and fiddle through the words I know to try to get my point across. She’s so sweet and even if I don’t make sense, she acts like she understands.

Also also, went on George W. Bush rant the other night. In Spanish. Used my outside voice inside and the word “estupido” a lot.

Ok, and I suppose it’s important to mention that I did get to have my first visit with the sex workers the other day. I will be going back for a discussion session (using my lovely STD book—see: Accomplishment) on Tuesday. I don’t know how much I want to say about that. I mean, I know this is my work while I’m in Panama, but I didn’t know what to expect when I went there, but what I saw was nothing like what I could have imagined. I’ll take questions, but refrain from further discussion.

Me encanta Panama.

Monday, May 24, 2010


I miss my English-speaking Canadian friend!

Dear Judy, I have a picture for you. I brought my paints, brushes, pencils, and paper to Panama, and painted postcards with wine the other day. Bueno.

Amanda and Leah went on a little resort vacay, and in the meantime, I went to a conference put on by the Alliance of Panamanian Women. I tried sooooo hard to get everything they were saying the first day. I did alright (except when people talked at me specifically—not sure if it’s a dialect thing or a speed thing or an I don’t speak Spanish thing—I think it’s a speed thing, so I now feel pretty bad about speaking quickly in class when people tell me the international students have no idea what I’m saying…karma). Anyway, it was an interesting experience to see what issues Panamanian women see as pertinent and what they want to do about them. However, by day two, when they were sharing ideas I had kind of checked out of the Spanish and decided to daydream and concentrate more on how to make my headache go away.

We got a sticker in our packet at the beginning that is super sweet!

My body, my territory.

Chico feministo.

At the end of the first day, I kid you not, they got out nail polish and did everyone’s nails.

Big deal here? We also got a little pouch for attending filled with a mirror (that every Panamanian, I swear, got out and started fixing their face with before the conference started), a nail file, a pen, and a wash cloth. Hilarious.

But seriously, I could not have been more happy to be in Chitre afterward. That was a long couple of days. Now to return to my specific project.

Friday, May 21, 2010


Yesterday I compiled a bunch of pictures of STI secretions, and wrote notes about them to compile into a booklet. (Be impressed. I did it all in Spanish. I know. Amazing.) The booklet is for identification purposes to use at the different brothels, as a way to engage the sex workers in the conversation about what different STIs look like. It should be a starting point to finding out what kind of interests they have in talking about further…expanding into more sexual health and beyond the time they will spend in the sex industry.

I went to a copy shop today to make the copies. We printed them, contact papered them, and bound them all at the shop (during the sporadic torrential downpours).

There are some GREAT pictures in there, let me tell you!

Oh, and just so you are all jealous of my IPSP, we did this a tad hung over. The aforementioned Swedish girl and her novio are moving to Sweden and had a going away party last night, where I practiced mucho español. Toda la noche! Creo que mi español es mas mejor después de algunas cervezas.

Oh, one more thing. Amanda rescued a dog. He needs a home. There is a possibility I will bring him to the states.

Can’t leave out the other dog. Amanda’s dog, Barack (after the profit, so I don’t know if that’s spelled correctly):

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tucked Away in Chitre

Hola! Buena!

I have now spent two good chunks of daytime in Chitre, Panama. I fear this may be a dull post, but also feel obligated to update.

When I got into the Airport in Panama City, I walked through the motions, heading toward immigration. There was a big mob of people at the bottom of the escalator, and I figured, “well, I don’t know what that’s for, but I might as well stand over there and wait for someone to tell me to leave.” Turns out it was the line for the census, and people who biased the line were directed to return. So, turns out I did something right!!!

I stayed the night in Panama City when I got into the country. After chatting with Ms. Judy Watts for a bit, I realized that not only was I in the hostel she spent some time in during her own jaunt in Panama, but I WAS SLEEPING IN HER ROOM!!! Always a good sign.

The next morning, I woke to ask the keeper of the hostel how to take the bus to the terminal (the big bus stop). Dude, my Spanish blows. She pretty much stuck me on the right bus, and when I got off, another woman befriended me (in English) and took me to my ticket counter to get on a four hour bus to Chitre. I slept most of that ride, and arrived at the bus station here to find my contact person, Amanda. That was great, but when I got to the truck, it was full! And everyone was speaking Spanish. FLASH BACKS TO BEING 18 IN TOLEDO, SPAIN, LOOKING SOMETHING LIKE THIS:

Alas, it was time for lunch, with which I drank vino tinto, in order to shed a nerve or two. It seemed to help. I then went to the health center with which I will be working (assuming I can pull my Spanish together at some point). I visited a zoo more depressing (perhaps) than the Como Zoo in St. Paul, MN,

and then joined my host, her fiance, her Canadian friend (awesome, I know), and a Swedish friend and her novio for panamanian cervezas. That, of course, was not all that was included in my first day in Chitre. We then went to a beach that used to be beautiful trees, but a gringo came in during the 60s-70s to turn it into a beach and park--now lovingly referred to as Tetanus City.

All in all, a better first day than I could have imagined. And the cervezas even encouraged me to speak Spanish, though I cannot vouch for the quality.

Today I had a real first meeting with health center APLAFA. Let me emphasize that, while I took like 6.5 years of Spanish and did also take a class in Spanish in Spain, this was all five + years ago, and my Spanish blows. So, I sat dumbfounded trying to understand what was being said about working with the sex workers…and failing pretty miserably. Bueno. Amanda is helpful. I then resorted to an Italian restaurant owned by an American from NY with Canadian Leah because it was air conditioned and had wifi. I proceeded to read Spanish books about STIs and bone up on secretions. After tiring of that, we went on a walk, bought a phone, drank Pepsi Lite, and found our way home, where I read more about these secretions and tried to learn my Spanish. Until, that is, hockey games started, and here I sit, listening to the Habs/Flyers game, writing my blog, awaiting tomorrow. Spanish, come back to me!