Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Finished Odyssey

So, once again, it has been a long time between takes. But this time, there won't be any promises of future entries. That's because, after a whirlwind last two weeks, I said good to my community, my friends and Panama and returned home to the US of A as I had completed my 27 month service.

That means I'm writing this not from the oppressive humidity of Panama, but from my parents house on a crisp fall day. While I'm not very good at the whole self reflection thing, I do know that my time in Panama was a wonderful experience. Like all things, there were ups and downs, but in the end, it will be something I will always look back on fondly.

My time in Panama was marked with great friendships both with fellow Americans and Panamanians, incredible support from the Peace Corps Panama staff and tremendous times with family and friends when they visited me. If somebody asked me if I would do the Peace Corps again, I think I would have to say no, just because this one was so enjoyable.

Now as I have said goodbye to Panama and start a new chapter in my life, lets take one more walk down memory lane:

My two favorite kids

The daily catch from the port in my community

Mud and Crocs

Kite day


My room

My cousin Ryan's visit

Herrera Baseball Game

11,339 feet

My Group - 62

Visit from my sisters

My parents in Panama

My World Map

Kuna Yala

Thanks for the memories, Panama.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Time In Between

As you can tell, I haven’t written an entry in quite some time. The other day I was talking with my mom and she was wondering when I was going to post something new. I told her I wasn’t sure. She didn’t seem pleased with that answer. And since I granted her power of attorney over me when I left, I thought it would be best not to upset her. I wouldn’t want to up and disappear with only two months before I return home.

So what’s been happening? Well, back in late June I went home for my cousin’s wedding. To sum up the whole trip in one word, I would go with amazing. The wedding was at the Outer Banks so friends and family converged there for a week of beach going along with the wedding. From the food to family camaraderie, it was just a fantastic week. Everything associated with the wedding was just beautiful. Oh yeah, and a great time.

Here's the bride and groom:

From there, I rode back with my parents to West Virginia and spent a couple of days at home. I was able to see some friends and family that I hadn’t seen in over a year, which was great.

I returned back to Panama in early July and spent the month at my site. With many things going on over the final months, it was great to spend time in my community before everything started to get real busy.

One of those things is earlier this week I had my COS conference. The conference brings together everybody one last time together for a conference where we decide what our next step is, i.e. whether we want to close service or extend. For me, it stood for Close of Service. And it means I’m going to be coming home in early October. I’m very excited for that.

But first I have two months left down here. And I’m looking forward to that remaining time.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Jumbo

You may remember me writing a long time ago about buying a pair of Crocs shortly after I arrived in Panama. Because of the rain and mud at the time, I thought it was a practical purchase. Of course, that doesn’t mean I didn’t immediately regret buying the things. Sorry Croc lovers, but they are ugly.

Things changed by the middle of December as we entered the dry season here in Panama. And I quickly realized that there was no need to be wearing the Crocs. So I started examining the footwear of the guys in my community. And soon, I came to find that the majority of them were wearing a type of sandals called Jumbo. I was hooked immediately.

Shortly there after, I went to buy my first pair at the local store. They were $2 bucks. And I was in love. I started wearing them all the time, after all they were comfortable AND cool.

The only hang up is they aren’t made of the finest things and break quite easily. Over the past 16 months, I’ve had to buy four pairs. But this last pair I bought has been good for over four months.

And it’s just not me that loves them. When my brother-in-law was coming to visit, I told my sister to not worry about bringing a pair of sandals for him. He’ll be getting a pair of Jumbos. She quickly fired back that he doesn’t wear sandals. I assured her that he would like the Jumbos.

So of course what happened when we arrived in my community? We went down to the store and he got himself a pair of Jumbos. He took them back to the States with him. And you can bet I will be too. Multiple pairs.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Mural

Almost every visitor to my house has had the same complaint- it is bare and boring. Trust me, I would like to spruce it up some, but between limited creativity and limited resources I just don’t have many options. So for well over a year, I had a pretty plain house.

That changed when my sisters and brother-in-law came to visit in February. As I mentioned previously, my brother-in-law is a very talented artist (check out the site, he has a ton of new stuff). That was step one in the equation. Step two was I had some leftover paint from the world map project I did, so there was that. And what do you get when you put the two together? Well, of course, an awesome mural.

The centerpiece of the mural is Dan’s take on the devil masks that are made in a nearby community. Also, there are many things that are prevalent in my community: fish, nets, ants (I have a ton of them!) and boats.

When I went to bed the night Dan painted this, he had nothing started. However, by the time I woke up the next morning, there it was, done. I was pretty blown away by it. And nearly every visitor to my house has been too, including some kids who have just stared at it for a while. However, my favorite was a neighbor who stopped by, liked it, and asked me when I could paint one at their house. Yeah, I’ll get right on that.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Hike

A few weeks ago, I received an event invite from my friend Haven asking me if I wanted to hike Volcán Barú. Only knowing a little about Barú, I looked up some more information on it. The two biggest things I found out were it is the highest point in Panama at 11,398 ft and if it is a clear morning you can see both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. So I said why not and I signed up.

The plan was to meet in David around 6:30 on Friday. From there we would take a bus to Boquette and make our way to the entrance of the hike. Since the hike takes six to eight hours, our plan was to start hiking around 11pm and reach the top around daybreak.

With that, our group of Peace Corps Volunteers and Panamanians that numbered 18 took off for the top. The first thing I noticed was how much cooler it was in the mountains. It’s not that I don’t know this, but after living at sea level in the hottest part of the country you tend to forget these things.

So our group was off. The trail leading to the top was 15km, very rocky and, of course, sharply uphill. At about 2am, I started to get a bit tired. It seemed that taking breaks was actually hurting me, because my body felt like it wanted to lie down and go to sleep. At that point, I decided no more breaks. Other than changing batteries on my flashlight for a couple minutes, I managed to do that. By the time I reached the summit, though, I was pretty worn out. And it was 4:30am.

I decided to try to catch a little sleep. I set an alarm for 6am, which was the time the sun would come up. Well, I didn’t make it to 6am, as at 5:30 I woke up shaking like a leaf on a tree from the cold and wind. But by this time, it was becoming lighter and others were making their way to the top.

It seemed like it happened all at once, because at one point I looked out in the distance and there were both oceans, separated by a narrow piece of land. It was quite cool. What’s ironic is, despite being in Panama for 21 months that was the first time I saw the Atlantic (or Caribbean).

These pictures don’t really do it justice of what it was like to be at the summit. It literally felt like we were on top of the Bocas Islands.

Slowly, the clouds rolled in and you couldn’t see out in the distance anymore. I slept for another hour or so. We headed back down around 8:30am. To me, that was the worst part of the trip. The constant downhill rocky path killed my knees. Where I didn’t stop much on the way up, I stopped like every 15 minutes on the way down. Needless to say, it was a long trip back.

It even started to rain with about 2km left, which added to the the misery. Eventually, though, I did make it to the bottom in quite a bit of pain.

But, looking back, it was quite an experience. Just one I never want to do again.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Azuero Classic

Over the course of my life, I have attended hundreds of sporting events. Some memorable, others mostly forgettable. But two weeks ago, I attended the Azuero Classic and it immediately became one of the most memorable events I’ve attended.

What is the Azuero Classic? It is a baseball game between Herrera (the province I live in) and Los Santos (the province directly below Herrera). These two provinces make up the Azuero Peninsula here in Panama. Naturally, because of the proximity of the two provinces, there is quite the rivalry between the two teams.

So that’s the background for the game. The game took place in the Los Santos stadium, which is in Las Tablas, about an hour bus ride for me. For the game, I was joined by four other Peace Corps Volunteers who live in the Azuero. One calls Herrera his home, while the other three live in Los Santos. Additionally we were joined by some community memebers of the volunteers that live in Los Santos. Here’s a photo of the group:

Now we have that out of the way, I feel like this would be a good time to mention that the adult beverages at the game were 65 cents, so the whole crowd was fired up as the first pitch was thrown. None moreso then the respective bands fo each team, who would play when the other team is pitching.

Los Santos jumped on the board first with a towering two run home run that ended up in a graveyard (not exactly McCovey Cove) over the left field wall. With that, the Los Santos crowd exploded and my Herrera friend and I were on the receiving end of some Spanish taunting.

The top half of the next inning saw Herrera put guys on first and second with no outs. However, the Herrera batter lined out to the first baseman who then tagged the guy caught of first before firing to second to get that runner. That’s right, a triple play! Again, the home crowd exploded and I hung my head as I had a lot more things yelled at me that I didn’t understand.

Everything was at a fever pitch when the game turned on its heels in the bottom of the third. With a Los Santos runner on third, the Herrera pitcher uncorked a wild pitch that went to the backstop. Despite no throw, the Los Santos guy went crashing into the Herrera pitcher. And with that, pandemonium everywhere. The Herrera pitcher started swinging at the Los Santos guy and both benches emptied. You can see the brawl here.

But it gets better. The Herrera-Los Santos fans in the stands started to get into it. Since we were right on the boarder of the two fan bases, we got to see beers and beer cans go flying at each other. Eventually the police came up into the stands to calm everybody down.

After about a twenty minute delay, the game resumed. It was hard to match the intensity after that and Los Santos eased its way to a 5-1 win. Leaving the stadium, my friend and I received some more good natured Spanish trash talking. It was quite enjoyable; I just wish I had a good comeback.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Worlds Collide

One of my favorite moments from George on Seinfeld was him having to deal with his two separate worlds – Independent George and Relationship George – coming together. No one wanted to see Liar and Bawdy George die, did they? Over the past 20 months, the quirky concept rang true with me. I had two separate worlds – Peace Corps Panama Dylan and United States Dylan. Outside of a brief visit by my cousin, the worlds never collided.

That’s not to say, unlike George, I didn’t want them to, they just hadn’t had the chance … until this past month.

As I mentioned prior, first my sisters and brother-in-law would come, then my parents. And, with that, my worlds would collide. They would come to my community, meet my Panamanian and Gringo friends, and enjoy Panama. Oh yeah, get to see their loving brother and son.

All this happened and a whole lot more.

I planned the trips with the thought that they would get to experience the real Panama – the interior. That meant riding buses, dining at fondas and having a drink at a cantina. We also went to see beaches, mountains, Carnival, coffee farms, a Panamanian baseball game and indigenous cultures.

And, yes, my parents and I went to see the Mira Flores locks of the Panama Canal. To me, it was probably the least interesting thing we did. After all, the Canal is not the part of Panama that I know.

On the flip side, the best time I had during the two visits was a simple dinner (Carnival was a close second). When my parents were in and staying at my house, I had invited the family I lived with for my first three months while in my new community over for dinner. My mom was going to make a nice American dish for them. So they came, Sergio, his wife Clari and their two adorable kids. Overall, the dinner was fantastic. The food was tasty. The conversation was, ok, a bit awkward, after all I had to play the role of translator. But ultimately, two worlds perfectly collided.