Well, where we are assigned to live for the next two years was announced the other day and we are pretty excited about the news. After training (5 more weeks), we will be living and working on a small island near/in the Golfo de Montijo, which is the gulf just to the West of the big peninsula that juts south into the Pacific. It is about 5 hours outside of Panama City. (on the map at the bottom of the page the gulf is just below where it says Santiago. We won’t say which of the many islands in that area we are assigned to for safety reasons, but if you choose to come visit for your own island getaway we will tell you where to come.
I can tell you some general details about the likely living conditions. Based on the information given to us so far (some details may be wrong according to other PCVs):
*****The island is home to a small community of less that 300 people. They seem to be very interested to have a volunteer – they even formed a committee to “support the PC volunteer”. Impressive!
*****We will have a boat ride to the island…likely 40 minutes or so. Faster with a newer engine, slower with an older one…guess which is more likely. Still, Kevin looks forward to that more than a long chiva ride (see previous posts if you don’t understand)
****We will not have electricity in our house, there may be some very limited access to solar power on the island, or may not.
*****We will likely have running water at or near our home, but will need to filter and treat it to be safe.
****We will likely have cell phone coverage…and plan on having a cell phone. Cell phones are very expensive to use here…even in country. We will likely not use it much to make outgoing calls. However, incoming calls are free to the cell phone user…so you are welcome to call us. Other volunteers say that pre-paid international calling cards are the cheapest option state side, with rates around 5-8 cents per minute. We will likely not get a phone until the end of training.
****Our house will most likely be cement blocks with a zinc / steel roof and a cement or earthen floor.
What will we be doing on this tropical island? Laying in a hammock? Well, there is some of that in the life of everyone in Panama, but we be doing many other things as well (no, really I mean it!). As you read the following please know that the first step for all Peace Corps members is to spend several months talking to everyone to figure out “What do they really want to work on here? What are the beneficial projects that the community will be supportive of?”
For Kevin: We have been told that the island is fairly deforested from farming and raising cattle. The people who live there have expressed interest in reforestation to protect their watershed and water supply. We have been told that they are also interested in learning about organic farming as a way to make the most of the land that they have….land is likely more obviously a limited resource on an island. Also, a chicken project may be possible.
For April: We have been told that they are interested in ecotourism, and their location is reasonable for this to be possible. Teaching about the environment & very basic science are also likely projects. There may be call for marine conservation projects in the area, the island fishermen have noticed a change in their harvest patterns and are interested to explore why.
We will have a chance to visit the site in 4 weeks and will know more then. For now it is time for bed, I have to get up tomorrow at 4:30 for travel to our next week of training. We will be doing a week of region specific cultural training, so we are off to Veraguas! I should mention that as I write this there is a bunch of music coming in the window from distant parties…Saturday and Sunday nights are big music and party nights. The music could go on until the wee hours of the morning and I can tell from here that they are having fun.
We will be sure to tell you more when we can. Until then, just know that we are fairly happy and safe (and April continues to be itchy with bug bites.)