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!