April and Kevin in Kuna Yala, the northeast coast of Panamá

Sunday, April 13, 2008

First Time out of Santiago

Last week, I took our 15-year-old neighbor to another volunteer's site to work on an estufa lorena junta. It was his first time outside of Santiago (our provincial capital) and in fact, his first time to even spend the night there. It was also his first time in the mountains, even though there are others only about an hour bus ride north of Santiago.
We caught a bus out of Santiago heading east for the three-hour ride and I gave him the window seat. I could remember my first ride across Panamá, and even having watched out the window as the American Mid-West, the Red Center of Australia, central Europe, and Patagonian Chile had rolled past, it was still exciting, everything new. I can only imagine his thoughts as he watched huge fields of sugar cane zip by; the mountains slowly approach, grow large, and then recede behind us; and he saw his country, beyond the one hour small-bus trip from port to Santiago, for the first time. At one point, he hit my arm and pointed. "Look at that river!" I didn't think it huge, but it was probably twice as wide as any other he'd seen.

The other volunteer, who lives in the mountains, with a beautiful view, was working with her
community members to build six estufas in six days. While there, we stayed in her house and he got the chance to chat with other Americans and a broader view of who we are (and how well we speaking Spanish) than just April and I can provide. During the day, we worked with about ten of her community members on sifting and mixing materials (soil, sand, and estericol - horse poo), building the form, packing the mix, and then carving out the stove. Throughout the junta, he got the chance to talk with other Panamanians and learn how similar and different life is in other parts of his country.
(Julian on the point just outside Steph's house, with El Valle lost in the clouds behind the rock spire)

(Julian carving out the mouth of the stove; the first "burner" is beginning to take shape on top)

We worked on two of the estufas, then returned to Santiago for the night before catching an early bus to the port for a ride back to the island. Unable to find anyone in town to stay with, we ended up at the hotel that April and I usually stay in. I was afraid it would give him an impression that we have a lot of money (and compared to his family, we do), but I figured a "fancy" night out would be okay - hot water shower, cable TV.

Ironically, when I told him how many more channels were on this TV than the small B&W in his house, he changed the channel once, and stopped on a basketball game. From the US. With the original English commentary.

After a few minutes of talking over the game (which the channel had switched to baseball, still in English), he asked if it was dark out. I said yes, and asked if he had seen the city in the dark. He hadn't, so we went for a walk. I'm not sure it was what he expected - loud and dusty, relative to the island. We did stop in the supermarket, which he'd never visited, and saw toys, clothes, and food that was all new, and bought some apples.

I hope I didn't overwhelm him, I hope I didn't show him a life he becomes jealous of, but I hope I did show him some of what else is available out there in the world, beyond the island, beyond Santiago, and how much there is that is different, but also how wonderful, how familiar, how beautiful, it can be.


dcropper said...

I am sure both you and your travelling companion learned a lot on this trip. What an exciting time for him. Don't you wish you could overhear what he tells his family and friends about this trip?
Mom C.

Linda said...

hooray for new experiences =)