This is a transcription of notes I made this week while on Culture Week.
I´m sitting on the porch under a florescent light, the view of the dark night obscurred by hanging laundry. Senor Gilberto is tocar-ing, strumming an old guitar, his fingers brushing clear the dust. From inside comes the rapid fire announcer of the Panamá v Mexico futbol game, but unlike so much of the rest of Panamá, quietly. He tunes by ear, easing away the years of disuse, and begins to play. The music flows in fits and spurts, occasionally interspersed with singing, the words coming harder than the strumming, and occasionally with long blank pauses.
I don´t know what the pauses contain for Sr. Gilberto. Dusting off long forgotten tunes? Thoughts about how to work the finca tomorrow? Or memories of the last time he played this guitar?
Sr. Gilberto is in his 40s, an extremely happy man with a wonderful welcoming wife. They have four children. Two are engineers. One is in university still, and one had to stop to take care of his own family.
Not bad for a man who had to stop his own schooling at age 10 to get a job and help his family. When he was 3, his own father was paralyzed in a small plane crash. Since the age of 10, he as worked, in the monte, clearing, long hard days to ensure his brother and sister and parents were taken care of. And then doing the same so his kids could have better than he did.
From the porch we are sitting on, we would see the house he was born in, were it not for the thick trees. He has travelled a few times to other provinces, for work, but never wanted to stay or liked it as much as here. His may go to Santiago, a moderately big city 1.5 hours away, at most once a year.
Now it is morning on the same porch. Three dogs sit patiently in hte mud yard looking at me hopefully, but not pleading. They regularly get scraps, and bones, beating the ducks ,geese, and chickens to them. Two handmade cages hang from the ceiling with parakeets. The sun is still blocked, across the valley, by the mountain ridges. At least four spines of land unfold before me, without a building on them, some spots cleared for fincas, the rest trees and greenery. Clouds drift between the spines, the white highlighting the verdent green. The roosters have been crowing for hours by now, it is amazing to believe this is not a dream.
What a beautiful place. What warm wonderful people. What a great experience. Thank you Sr. Gilberto. Thank you Peace Corps. Thank you God.
It was my first great ¨Peace corps experience¨ Great!