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Viaje a Panamá
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"I wanted a perfect ending.....Now I´ve learned, the hard way, that poems don´t rhyme , and stories don´t have a clear beginning, middle, and end.   Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what´s going to happen next.   Delicious ambiguity."
- Gilda Radner
 

February 26, 2004
It's exactly one week until I step foot on the plane that will take me to Panama.   Everyone keeps asking me if I'm excited, but at this point I don't feel much of anything.   Maybe it's because I've done so much coming and going the last couple of years but I don't think I'll really feel anything until I'm on my way to the airport, or maybe not until I actually get there.   I am however, feeling excited about the idea of embarking on a new adventure.  I seem to feel most alive when I'm doing something different.  Perhaps I'll spend the rest of my life, or at least a fair part of it, heading for the open road.
Wrapping up a few things and trying to spend as much time with my family as I can.  Leaving my little nephew is by far the hardest part.  Nothing comes without a cost and this great opportunity means that I miss out on seeing him more often.   Sometimes I feel guilty that I'm going off to spend time with other children instead of spending more time with him, but I worked hard to make this happen and firmly believe in the importance of the work that I'll be doing there.  They say you can't have everything you want so you have to decide what you want most.   I've never found that to be easy to do....
I still don't have a lot of information as to my placement and very limited information on my host family, but I like that.  I like stepping into the unknown and greeting whatever awaits me.  
 
 
March 6, 2004
I arrived in Panama City late last night after three days of traveling,  The trip itself had a few bumps so I was really happy to finally be here and start off on this new adventure.   There were about 23 of us that arrived over the past few days and we're all staying here at the hotel together for two days to receive our orientation.   Most of the other participants are the college exchange program - there are two guys in the adult program with me, one from Quebec and the other from Belgium.  Most of the participants are from Germany or Belgium, but there are a few high school exchange students from Iceland, the US, Japan, and New Zealand.   It's an interesting blend of people and languages, but we're all joined by our excitment and a bit of apprehension over adjusting to this new, and very different culture.  On Sunday we will take the bus from here to our host cities.  Unforunately we won't be able to see the capital city, but have been told that we will be able to see the Pacific entrance to the Canal from the bus.   Better than nothing!
 
March 8, 2004
Yesterday I took the seven hour bus ride from Panama CIty to my host community of David.   At the last moment they changed my host family for a reason unknown to me, so I was a little nervous about not being mentally prepared for this family, but I figured it would be fine.    I'll be living here with my host-mother, Samira, and her four year old son, Ramiro.    She met at the bus with Ramiro and two of her cousins and they are all very kind and extremely welcoming.  I'm the first foreigner they've ever really had contact with, so I feel a bit like an exotic bird with all the attention but it's also very sweet.  I'm quickly learning about the extended Latin American family, and that we do everything together.   This is a big change for me, and a bit of a test for my independent nature but I think it's also a good learning experience for me.  I didn´t really enjoy my cold shower this morning, or the largotia (little lizard) that joined me in there, but this is all about adjusting and adapting.  We drove to Boquette this afternoon, a gorgeous little town in the mountains surrounded by coffee plantations.   The coffee was wonderful and the weather was much cooler which was a welcome change.   Already the 34C (100F) weather is getting to me!
 
March 13, 2004
I´ve been here for a few days now and have had some time to take everything in.  It´s not really like I expected, but nothing in life ever is exactly what we imagine it will be.    I haven´t been feeling very weel - a combination of the heat and trying to adjust to the food.  It´s not in my favor such a health nut and have picked Panama as my placement.   We eat A LOT of meat, and A LOT of rice.   Breakfast is a bit different as I make that on my own and tend to go with fruit and yogurt or cereal.   There´s so much incredible tropical fruit here and the taste is  amazing (plus it´s really cheap), but people here don´t eat a lot of fruit.  I don´t get why, but I for one plan to consume my fair share.   Lunch is usually rice, meat, and platanos.   The meat and platanos are usually fried.   A lot of food here is fried.    I watched them fry hot dogs for breakfast one morning.   Dinner is the same as lunch - more rice, plantanos, and meat.  I don´t mind the chicken, but the beef is really tough and I´m not a big fan of it.    I´m slowly working on obtaining more vegetables and trying to figure out a polite way to turn down some of the food as it´s just too much.    My big issue is the MASSIVE quantities of Coca Cola that everyone drinks.  I´m stunned.   They were really shocked that a North American didn´t like Coca Cola, but it wasn´t a problem.  I just stick to water and lots of it since I´m constantly dehydrated from the heat.  I do like the platanos though!  They´re really good fried, or cooked with brown sugar or honey.
 
March 16, 2004
The last few days have been really hard for me.  For starters I haven´t been feeling well.  Woke up yesterday with a bad fever and had to go to the doctor.  That was interesting to say the least.  He took my temperature by placing a hand on my arm and asked me what translated into ¨Do you urinate with zest and passion?¨.    Huh???    Anyhow, he eventually determined that the fever is just a result of adjusting to the heat and not sleeping very much (I haven´t been sleeping because I´m too hot at night).    I´m still struggling with the food a bit but it´s getting a bit better.    Right now, the hardest thing by far however is adjusting to my family.  They´re REALLY nice, but they´re always around and they´re very interested in everything that I do since I´m the first foreigner that they´ve ever gotten the chance to know.   It´s really hard to constantly have 10 people around me all speaking Spanish and watching everything I do.    I realize how independent I am and that this will probably be what I have to compromise the most on, but I really like them and as I get more comfortable here it´s getting easier and easier to bond with them and feel like I am part of what´s going on around me.
My work placement is also presenting me with a challenge as it´s not exactly what I thought it would be but we´re looking at making some changes there so I just have to go this week.  I can do anything if it´s only for a few days.
 
March  21, 2004
I´ve been here for two weeks now and finally feel like I´m starting to find my groove.   I´ve been able to find more foods I like and my family has grown more accepting of me having different needs or wanting different things from time to time.  I also feel a lot less like an outsider with them, and they´re giving me more independence which is great for me.   I really needed that. Samira is teaching me how to dance and swivel my hips like a true latin woman and I´m showing her Yoga.  It´s fun.    We´ve also been going out and doing things together and we spend a lot of time with the rest of the family as well which I´m really enjoying now that I´m feeling more comfortable with them and with the language.
I´ve got a new placement with the Ngobe Bugle peoples and I´m really excited about it.  I´ve got the new few weeks to learn the language and get my project organized and then I´ll be heading off to the mountains to work with them during the week, and returning my family here on the weekends.  There´s another girl from Canada (Evelyn) already working up there, and she´s lovely so it´ll be good for me to have someone there to show me ropes and so we have each other to rely on a bit.  She´s here until June, and by then I should feel comfortable with everything.  I hope!
 
March 30, 2004
The last few days have been full of emotions, new challenges, and surprises for me.  I went up to visit Evelyn at our work site last week and it was nothing like I had imagined.   It´s beautiful, but it´s not going to be any easy job.   The conditions are quite rustic, afterall we are in the middle of the jungle.  The cabana is nice - we don´t have electricity, but we have running water and a propane stove for cooking.  It´s in an amazing setting, with palm trees and lush, green vegetation everywhere.   There are also a myriad of animals and other creepy crawly friends there for my amusement.   Vemenous snakes as well - time for me to get over my fear of reptiles!    The Ngobe Bugle people are beautiful, and I feel that I can learn a lot from them.  The children are really cute and were quite fascinated with my tatoo.   I was floored by the poverty...I don´t really know what to say about it.   I knew that people lived in huts, and had next to nothing to eat....but to actually be there and see it makes it so different than just knowing that it exists.    The children all have swollen bellies from what I believe must be dysentry, and they all suffer from stunted growth.   Kids I thought were 3 or 4 were really 8 or 9. 
I don´t even know what else to say about it right now.   I feel really overwhelmed.  Overwhelmed by trying to learn this new language.  Overwhelmed by not knowing the best way to help these people, or where to even begin.   Questioning what I´m doing here and if my presence will make a difference.   Hoping and praying that I can do something, anything to make life easier for at least one person, or to at least bring some sense of hope of knowledge to the community.     I´ve been praying a lot for the strength and endurance that I know this project will require of me.....
 
April 6, 2004
The last week has been a roller coaster ride...there were a few moments when I wanted to pack my bags and jump on a plane Vancouver bound, and a few others where I felt better than I´ve felt in years.   The lack of privacy that I have with my family has been hard for me and it´s hard for me to get used to having someone "watch over" me.  I´m so used to being independent.  I did get away from the city this weekend and Evelyn and I did a 14k hike through the rainforest/National park which was really amazing.  There´s a great story attached to this one that I´ll have to tell you all sometime - VERY funny.   My project plans are going well, but there´s a bit of doubt at the moment whether or not AFS will fund this work so I´m a bit nervous about that.   What I´m planning feels very right for me and I like the sense of purpose and mission that it gives me, as well as knowing that I´m offering the community something they need and desire.  Keep your fingers crossed and the prayers going that it all works out.
I´ve been really frustrated with Spanish lately and struggle to be paitient with myself.  I know I need to accept that I can´t learn it all at once, and for month I feel like I´m improving.    It´s a humbling experience however.
 
April 13, 2004
The past week has been really challenging for me.  I´m hanging in limbo waiting for a decision on my project and feel a bit frustrated that I´m not working yet.  I´m doing a lot of work researchng and planning for my project which is good, and  I´m still attending 5 hours of lessons a day so at least I´m keeping busy.   The heat has been hard for me - can´t eat, can´t sleep....so I took a couple of days off and ran away to this little town in the mountains which was really nice.  I really enjoyed the fresh air, incredible flowers, and the joy of a good night´s sleep.    I´ve been purposelessly spending less time with my family as I tend to feel ovewhelmed with them.  They mean well, but they give me too much attention.  Between them and the attention I attract on the streets I´m starting to feel like one of those ants that children burn on the sidewalk with their magnifiying glasses.   It´s really hard sometimes but I´m learning to live with it and finding things here that I really enjoy.   And thanks for all your messages and "virtual" support.  I save a lot of your messages (especially the ones that make me laugh) and reread them when I´m feeling frustrated or overwhelmed.   I feel so blessed to have so many amazing people in my life.  
 

April 23, 2004

I just returned from my first full week in the jungle and I have to say that his is truly the "experience of a lifetime".   The jungle is amazing and filled with all kinds of creepy crawly things and of course tigers.    I actually heard one yesterday near the cabana and yes, it scared the pants off of me since I was there alone.  Evelyn was supposed to be living there with me but she can´t go there anymore as she has really bad excema and the humidity is too much for her.  So I´m there alone with this man from the tribe called Liberto and his son.  They´re nice and I´m not at all threatened by them, but again I have to proceed with caution.  Life in the cabana is challenging - it´s not clean and I won´t be shocked if I get sick.   But I´m doing what I can to stay healthy and safe.   I always wear bug spray and never walk without rubber boots on outside.  I boil and/or purify my water with drops and spread tobacco leaves around my mattress on floor to ward off snakes at night.   

Right now I´m in the beginning phases of my project and I have to collect the weight and height of every person in the villages.  I´m working on a grant proposal for a one-year project centered on health and nutrition and have to have evidence of the malnutrtion and stunted growth in the area.  I´m in the process of going from hut to hut and explaning why I´m here and what I´m doing (my Spanish is really starting to improve!).   I want to tell you what it´s like, but I don´t have the words to describe it.  A lot of the time I feel like I´m in a movie.  I have never seen, and almost hope that I will never again see this kind of poverty.    The kids are all sick with parasties and skin diseases.  There´s one little boy who has such intense pain from his parasties that he can´t drink water without it hurting.   And there´s a baby whose head is covered in open, bleeding sores.  I cried when I saw her.   All the kids have lice and are covered in germs, but they´re still beautiful and even though I know I shouldn´t I can´t help but pick them up when they ask me for hugs.   I can´t understand why in a world where we have so much there are children that have to grow like this.    I am so grateful for the life that I´ve had and the life that we´re able to provide for our children at home.....

I won´t say that this is easy.....I work hard and I work alot.   I walk and hike miles everyday and then have to come home and make dinner for Liberto and his son and we don´t always have a lot of food.  But it´s an amazing experience, and every night I get to sit and write by candlelight as I listen to the amazing sounds of the jungle around me..... Am I crazy to be doing this?   It´s not like my entire life has been a walk in the park and I can´t always come up with a reason as to why I feel the need to stay here and go through all of this.  But then I think about that baby with the sores and I know that there´s no way I can walk away.    I remind myself that I didn´t come here for my own comfort, or for a vacation.  I came here to help in whatever way I could and I´m grateful to God for giving me the opportunity to do that.   I pray a lot....for strength and courage.  For understanding, compassion, and to do all of this without complaint or thoughts regarding my own comfort.

April 30, 2004
This week was extremely hard for me, and has left me wondering where I'm going to possibly find the strength to do this for another 4 months.  I spent the week completing the task of going house to house and getting the weight and height of each member of the two communities, 240 people to date.   Yesterday I met with resistence for the first time and actually had some people say that they don`t want me there and don't see how this project is going to do any good for the community.   I know that there's always a percentage of people who resist and I'm trying to just move beyond it and focus on the people who do want help, but it's hard.  We're going to have a community meeting to discuss the project next Monday which should be rather interesting.
The two communities are a bit different - Alto Valle sits up at the top of the valley and while it's poor the poverty isn't as overwhelming as in Bajo Valle.   Bajo Valle is only accessible by foot - it's about 25 mintues to get down there and a 40 minute hike back up.  Not an easy hike either.  I really struggle when I go to Bajo Valle......like I said before it's like something out of a movie.  I have to yet to return from there without crying when I get home.  In fact, I'm crying now as I think about it.....it's almost too much to take and to return to it time and time again is going to take it's toll on me.  I can feel that.   But then I think how lucky I am because I have the ability to leave it....these kids don't have that choice.  This is all they've ever known and some of them will never know any other life.  They have no shoes, no toilets, no medicine when they're sick.   Some of them can't go to school because they don't have notebooks and pencils.   They're all sick with respiratory infections, and lice, and parasites.   I stand there and see the flies buzzing around their heads, the dirt covering their ripped clothes, and the hunger in their eyes and I can hardly stand it.  I don't know how I can help.  It seems like no matter what I don it isn`t going to be enough.  
Sorry, I can't write anymore this week.  It's all a bit overwhelming right now......
 
May 25, 2004
Wow...where do I even begin?!?!   The last month has been a adventure and the country has seen one major earthquake, a presidential election (no more female president!!!!!), my first live chicken on the bus, and a cockroach in my ear.   Nothing phases me anymore.......
 
My project is going well and I'm actually really happy with my life in the jungle even with all of it's challenges.   I finished the process of going hut to hut and getting the weights and height for about 350 people and then I did a nutritional analysis of the data as well a more in-depth analysis of life in the community.  I can only describe the whole experience as being surreal.   After the analysis was done I wrote an 11 page proposal and one-year project plan (in Spanish!) to the Embassy of Canada to solicit funds so that another volunteer can come after me to continue the project.   I have to say that even though it wasn't perfect I did ok for only being here a little over two months.  I can't remember the last time I worked that hard on something and it felt good to be passionate and excited and absorbed by my work.   I'll post a copy to the website. The next portion of my project is to begin educating the community so starting in June I'll be giving educational seminars to the adults on various issues surrounding health and nutrition and I'll also be doing cooking classes with the women.   I'm feeling pretty good about my Spanish, but not sure if I'm ready to teach in Spanish, however I'm learning that we can surprise ourselves in this life and do things we never dreamed we could.  The one thing that isn't getting easier for me is the poverty.  To go back into it time and time again is really hard for me emotionally.  I want to tell you about it, but every time I force myself to confront the truth of what I'm seeing there I cry.   It hurts to see people, especially the children, living like this.   I feel helpless sometimes, but I'm just going to do my best. 
 
Somewhere in between all my work I've also squeezed in a bit of traveling this month including a few days in Panama City which I loved, although I had extreme culture shock upon seeing a Dairy Queen again.   It's beautiful city and I was able to stay with my friend's cousins who were lovely and gave me an incredible tour of many sites, but not the canal as I'm saving this for later.  Additionally, I celebrated my big 28th birthday on Isla Bastimentos which is part of the Bocas del Toro islands.  It's up on the Caribbean side of the country and has a very distinctive and relaxed feel, and it's absolutely beautiful there.   There's definitely a different feel in being there and even the language is different as they speak a mix of Spanish, French, and another dialect.    On my birthday itself my friend Evelyn went to see a live reggae/calypso band called "The Beach Boys" play at this little wooden shack on the water which was incredible.  They serenaded me publicly, we had a few cold ones, and danced the night away with some nice Caribbean men.  The surprise of the evening was the islands first ever strip show right there in the bar which we really weren't expecting.   It wasn't all that pleasant....both a man and a woman exposed all they possibly could and then some, and it wasn't well done.  He had sparklers and a whip........  I still haven't recovered from the shock and honestly don't feel ready to say anything more about it.
 
I've still been struggling with a few things here, namely my health and my family.   In the jungle I feel pretty good because the climate is cooler and I can exercise, and we eat well since I bring food and cook it (the NGO here gives me a stipend for this), but in the city it's harder as it's a lot hotter and the situation in my house is stressful.  First off I always get sick when I return here as there's a dramatic change in altitude and climate. And IT IS ALWAYS HOT.  It's quite the feeling to wake up at 3 am soaked in sweat.   Although right now it's a bit better as it's "winter" and we´ve entered the rainy season.  And it rains, torrential rains.  Rains so heavy I think I'll follow Noah's lead and build an ark for all my new animal friends.
 
June 6, 2004
 
I had my first cooking class with the women in Bajo Valle this week and minus catching my boots on fire I feel like everthing went really well.   It's quite the experience to teach a class in Spanish with foods I've never used before, with very little equipment and only an open fire.  But we made it work and I feel like I'm making progress with the community - slowly gaining more accpetance and a bit of trust.   A lot of time I just need to "be" with them  Sit and talk and let the kids play with my hair or teach them words in English.    This is hard for my North American business and need to accomplish, but I 'm learning how to slow down, relax, listen, and share.    I've got a full schedule now with four classes a week (two with the kids about health and nutrition, 1 cooking class with them women, and English lessons in my free time).  It's a lot but it's good and I'm enjoying being busy and feeling like I have a sense of purpose.    I'm also feeling healthier and stronger and my Spanish is improving by leaps and bounds.   Perhaps I've passed the test and made it through the hardest part!
 
June 12, 2004
I'm happy to report that things are going splendidly and I'm really enjoying my work in the community.  Things have really shifted for me in the last few weeks....I think it was a matter of accpeting certain things about this experience and learning to see beyond what was hard to find the beauty that it is here.   Everyday I feel like I'm learning more and more and feeling as though I've finally stopped thinking about my life and started to live it.  My classes with the children bring me so much joy and I'm starting to wonder which of us is getting more of out this!   This week we studied the origin of different types of food and next week we're going to assemble a human body - in Spanish and English!  How fun will that be!
As well, everyday God seems to give me a lesson about life and I'm at the point where I'm really trying to learn from what he's showing me.   The other day I had a great lesson in learning how not to pity myself.  I was feeling pretty tired as I'd hiked over 30k in three days and was just starting up the path from El Valle Abajo which is long and tiresome.    I was whining to myself that my bag was too heavy, my ankles were hurting from my boots.....on and on.   Then I came across one of the women from the community who was also hiking up at the same time:  barefoot, with a baby in her arms, and also with a heavy bag.   Needless to say I stopped my complaning really fast and went to help her.  Yet again I realized just how much I have and that nothing I ever suffer here can compare to what they live with on a daily basis.   It was a great reminder to me to put 100% of myself into this project and to do it all without complaint and with a smile at all times.
 
July 4, 204
Happy Canada Day (belated) and Happy Fourth of July!
 
I apologize for my lack of journal entries, but things have been really busy the last month or so.  The grant proposal is all done and went to the Canadian Embassy in Panama, but has been put on hold for review until the next funding cycle.  Hopefully it'll be approved and we'll receive the funds to construct a Health Centre in the community as well the funds to support a volunteer/educational seminars for one-year. It was a good experience to write and develop the program proposal and I really hope that the help comes through because this is something the community really needs.
 
All five of my classes are up and running and for the most part moving along splendidly.  My cooking class with the women has been a big hit - with Black Bean Burritos being the most popular recipe to date. For the most part I try to utilize foods that they have available to them in the community, but they really enjoy it when I bring things they can't easily access like cheese and milk so I try to include some different things too.   I enjoy giving the classes, although the lack of equipment is hard to work with.   We have one pot, one large spoon, and we build a fire to cook over with whatever palm leaves or sticks happen to laying around.   Not exactly Betty Crocker's dream kitchen.     I'm in the midst of assembling a cookbook of all our recipes and nutritional guide for them - hopefully this will help with maintaining some of my efforts once I leave.
I've also got 2 English classes which are going really well.  The only challenge here is consistency as not everyone shows up every week and the class size can range anywhere from 3 to 30 students! But in any case I'm really enjoying teaching and my own experience with learning Spanish has made me a better teacher - more patient and with a clearer idea of how to teach ESL.    And it helps my Spanish as well, which is getting better and better.   For you NOVA folks, I'm probably about a Level 6 right now....although I'm going to loose points for pronunciation with that dang rolling "R".
 
And then there's the kids.  I do two classes a week with them centered on health and nutrition (nutritional needs, personal hygiene, etc) and this is my biggest challenge as it's all in Spanish and I have a lot of kids in the classes to keep under control - usually about 50 so it requires just a bit of energy. They're just like any other kids in the world - they want to play and they want snack time.  And they misbehave and go crazy when I bring paints and games and do funny things like put inappropriate body parts on the play dough bodies we made to learn about the human body.  I taught them "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" which they like to sing as "Had, Woulders, Keesychose" which I love to listen to, although I've now sung it about 2000 times so we need to move on to another tune.   They drive me crazy, make me laugh, and bring me a sense of joy that I never thought I would have with kids (sometimes I even think I might want some of my own one day, but that's probably just the heat getting to me).   What I can say......att the end end of the day I'm covered in peanut butter kisses and play dough hugs, and their beautiful smiles never fail to remind me why I'm here.
 
Life in the jungle is wonderful.  For the most part I've grown used to both the environmental challenges and to living amongst the "poorest of the poor" in Panama as the Ngobes are often referred to as.  I've been given my own Indigenous name by the community which is "Guenami".  This is a great sign, as it signifies their acceptance of me.   As for day to day living, things like cold showers and cockroaches and general filth don't bother me anymore, but there are still occasions when I see the children suffering and want to cry.   My health goes up and down, but I maintain a really healthy diet and exercise a lot in the mountains.  I'm most bothered by skin infections on my face, bizarre things that bite me EVERYWHERE, and I can actually feel the parasites moving around in my stomach (sorry for painting such a pretty picture!).   But these are temporary conditions that I know will clear up when I leave and these are things that the community suffers from constantly without the ability to treat them easily so I'm not going to complain.
 
I fight with myself a lot here about this....this complaining or lamenting over what bothers me or what's hard.   Sometimes the lack of privacy drives me nuts, or I feel tired from working so hard and so much, or simply because I itch from so many bug bites.....and then I see a kid walking in the mud with no shoes or that woman carrying her baby up the trail in the rain.   A little girl licking the empty plastic bag I brought the sandwiches in because she's starved for food. How I can EVER complain about a thing?  I have a place to sleep and food to eat.  Shoes and socks.  I may have little by our Western standards but I'm rich compared to them so I just shut my mouth and fight that war within myself.  And I have to say that I find the work here is redemptive in a sense - my chance to stop being so self-absorbed and to pay off all the ways I've intentionally or unintentionally messed up, and to pay forward all the good that has been done to me.   It's a blessing to be able to learn how to smile even when you're tired....give even when you don't want to give.....stop and listen and learn how to just be with someone even when you had other things you thought you needed to do.  I like this and I'm fully aware that it's these things and more that make this a "once in a lifetime" experience and I'm savoring them...along with swimming naked in waterfalls alone in the middle of the jungle and laying in bed eating 20 cent mangoes!  In general I find that I'm no longer thinking about my life, but rather living it.  How long it took me to get here, but what joy there is in finally having arrived.
 
So that's that.  There's so much I could say, but I never know how to take this experience and put into an email......I'm happy and the work is good.  But most importantly the kids are benefiting from this work...and I want to thank you guys from helping me get here to accomplish this work - and I don't believe there's any better way for me to do this than to tell you about Octavio.
 
Octavio lives in El Valle Abajo and he's about 7 years old.  He's a gorgeous kid with the most beautiful brown eyes and a smile that lights up everything around him (I'll get a photo of him for you).  The first day I was teaching in the village he laid down on the floor of the hut where we have our classes and cried because the pain from his parasitic infection was so severe.  The kid couldn't even drink water without having pain.  He couldn't play, he couldn't focus on school, he could hardly move.   I talked to the doctor I work with and for $2.15  the NGO I work with here bought him a bottle of medicine for Ascarsis (type of worm infection)  which I took to his mother to give him. 
 
Last week when I arrived in the village for my class I saw a child in the distance running across the field towards me calling out my name. A smiling, pain free Octavio who is no longer laying on the floor in pain, but running and playing with his friends like any 7 year old should be.
YOU made him better because you supported me to get here and see these problems, and because you have continued supporting me in my work with your thoughts and with your prayers. Thank you so much for this.  I only wish that each of one of you could have had the joy that I did in seeing him run across that field.
 
July 17, 2004
 
The last few weeks have been good, but as always challenging.  I struggled a lot this week with just wanting privacy and for people to stop asking me for things (money, food, time) especialy in the cabaña with Liberto and his son, but I made myself stop being frustrated and spent some time thinking of and appreciating all the amazing things about being here (like spotting my first monkey in the trees near our place!).  I'm starting to feel sad about leaving, even though I've got another 6 weeks.  If I could just tweak a few things and make it less hot here I don't think I would leave.   I'm that happy.   And that's a good feeling to have.   I' m worried about finding another job that I enjoy as much, but have realized that what I really want to be doing with my life is serving the poor and needy and there is no lack of them in the world so I don't think I need to be worried about finding another placment like this one.
My classes are all reallly good and I had a record number of kids in my class in El Valle Abago this last Monday - almost 60!  I brought banana bread that I had made for them and this was a huge hit.  I know they come more for the food than they do to learn and this doesn't bother me anymore.   I'm happy just to see them eating and enjoying themselves.  I think I should bring homemade Oatmeal-Raisin cookies this week as I know they've probably never had the pleasure of tasting those.
I thought a lot this week about what I've done here and what it all means...and at the end of the day I don't really know if what I'm doing is making a huge difference, but I decided that even if I can't measure the results or even if a single person never told me that I made a difference in their lives, it's ok.  I feel good about being here.  I feel good about loving them and no matter how hard it is I'm going to keep on giving 100% till the end.   My reward is so great -  at the end of the day I have a smile on my face.  I feel like I can't and don't want to ask for anything more than that.  
 
August 2, 2004
Hard to believe how fast the time is going and I now have only two more weeks of classes and then two weeks to wrap things up before heading home.  The reality that I'm leaving is starting to hit me and it's harder than I thought it would be.  This unreal, dream-like experience has in fact become my reality, and the people here have become my family and friends.  By investing 100% of my heart and energy into this I've ended up building a bit of a life here and it's going to be incredibly difficult to say goodbye to that.
My classes have been going extremely well and the kids are so fantastic.  I've continued having 50 or more children in my classes in El Valle Abajo and while that's my biggest challenge, it's also where I feel like I'm doing the most good.    I used my vacation money to buy toothbrushes and toothpaste for them and the joy of watching them learn to brush their teeth was by far better than any trip I could have taken!  Hopefully they'll keep up the habit.
My health has taken a bit of a beating the last few weeks but that was to be expected.   Mostly I suffer from allergic reactions and problems due to numerous bug bites, but I also for sure have parasites and now have earned the reward of lice as well.  I'm being treated for all of them, and will do another round of meds when I wrap up my work in the community.   I've also encountered a problem with my wrists as the ganglion cysts I've had for years reacted to all the weight I've been lugging around and the fluid spread out causing arthritic type pain and disabling me for a bit of time.  I had a small procedure done with the 5 of the world's largest needles which sucked out some of the fluid and they also injected cortisone and put me on some very nice painkillers.   I'm able to use them again but it's limited.  But not to worry - my spirits are great and I feel like this will all pass.  And as I always say, I have the fortune of being able to seek medical help for all of this and cure myself - a luxury these kids don't get.
 
August 8, 2004
About to begin my last week of classes....wow.   Feeling both good and bad about it.   I admit that this last week I've been low on energy and frustrated with a lot of things and frustrated with not feeling healthy, but at the same time it's not easy to say goodbye or to feel that I've done enough.   I've been having horrible dreams and crying in my sleep - just thinking about the kids and all that they have to suffer from makes me feel sick.  And I don't know if I did enough or could ever do enough to make it better.  I try to focus on what has been better since I've been here....but the poverty has always and will always be overwhelming for me.
In any case I'm trying to stay positive and bring my best smile forward to them this week.  We'll have our classes and then I'll return right before I leave with my family from David to have a bit of a party with a piñata and all.  After this week I'm going to take a couple of days off to go to some beaches near here.   It's going to be nice to do nothing but eat mangoes and soak up the sun for a few days.   I haven't finished all my work here yet as I have final reports and translation work to do, but why not do it from the beach?   I'll write again when I'm all done in the community.
 
 
August 15, 2004
Well, I'm officially done with teaching all of my classes and am now trying to tie up a few ends. Leaving wasn't that hard because I'm actually going back this coming weekend for a party with the kids in El Valle Abajo and also for the inaguration of the new resource center that my NGO has built in Altos del Valle.   Sunday is the day that's going to be hard because this is the day when I'm going to have say goodbye to everyone.   In any case I feel a bit better about things there and while it was hard to accept that it's ending I also feel good knowing that I made the most of it while I lived it.   I put 100% in and I didn't take anything for granted.  I really savoured my life in the jungle and appreciated it for the amazing beauty that it brought to me on a daily basis.   I'm heading up to a pennisula with a friend of mine to camp on the beach for a week and then will have a few days to wrap things up here in David before I head out.
Below is a copy of the last email that I wrote home (in both Spanish and English).  I'll update once more before I leave.
 
 

Terminando el capitulo/Finishing the Chapter

 

Hay tantas partes de mi experiencia aquí que yo quiero compartir con ustedes, pero mis palabras nunca estarán suficiente para definir o explicar como se ha sentido al vivir los seis meses anterior.  Es imposible de tratar tomar ese series de momentos viviendo y respirando y moverlos de mi alma a esta sola hoja de papel.

 

Yo he terminado todas mis clases y estoy moviendo a través los movimientos de conclusión: sacando fotos, despedido, visitando pocos lugares, comiendo muchos mangos....y tratando de preparar yo misma otra transición en mi vida.  Yo admito que para estar aquí ha estado uno de las cosas más difícil en mi vida, pero estoy saliendo con bastante lágrimas y un cierto deseo de quedar.  Es asombroso la habilidad que nosotros tenemos de tolerar y acomodar.   Este irreal que a llegado a ser mi vida.  Estas personas han llegado a ser mis amigos.   Este lugar ha llegado a ser mi hogar.

 

Para despedirme de los niños es las cosa más difícil de hacer.  Yo tengo sentimientos conflictivos sobre que yo he hecho con ellos.  En un lado cuando yo veo los meses anterior me asombra de pensar en todo el tiempo y el trabajo que he pasado para nuestras clases y actividades.  Puedo ver algunos cambios positivos....pero, en el otro lado también puedo ver todas las cosas que se puede y necesita pasar y me siento que no hice suficiente.   Porque estoy de pie acá y puedo ver que tan sucios ellos están: sus caras, sus ropas, sus cuerpos.  Yo toco sus estómagos agrandados....ver sus heridas.......les miro subiendo el sendero difícil y fangoso.....oigo sus voces desciendo me sobre sus dólares y hambre.  Octavio me pregunto porque el no puede ir conmigo a Canadá y no tenia una contesta.  Yo deseo tener el poder de llevar todos los niños por allá conmigo.  ¿Alguien quiere adoptar un niño muy precioso?

 

Aquí es la verdad que yo he realizado – yo no tengo las contestas o las soluciones para que ellos sufren.  Yo se que hice lo mejor que podía con lo que tenia, con los recursos, la educación y el apoyo que yo tenia disponible.   Supongo que todo lo que puedo ahora, es continuar a amando ellos y ayuda los en cualquier manera yo puedo.   Porque yo se no puedo olvidar que he visto acá......a veces sueño con ellos y me despierto llorando.   Sus caras no van a salir mi mente.

 

Una cosa que yo se es que hay personas maravillosa en el mundo que están trabajando con y ayudando las comunidades como Los Valles, y a nuevo quiero decir gracias a ustedes por todo el apoyo durante mi tiempo acá  especialmente a Heather, Paul y Craig:  ¡su regalo a la comunidad de El Valle Abajo es increíble!  Gracias a ustedes 60 niños van a tener botas plásticas y pies limpios y libre de parásitos.  Jess, Cynthia y Janice – su regalo fue a comprar cepillos de dientes y pasta de dientes para los niños.   ¡Muchas sonrisas hermosas están brillando en su dirección!  E Yvonne......¡wow!    ¡Tu hiciste mi día!   Las especias indias han hecho mi estomago tan feliz y todo el mundo le encanta el “Chai Tea”.  Tu eres un ángel.

 

 

Al final de cada tiempo en nuestras vidas preguntamos nuestras mismas si tenemos la oportunidad de hacerlo nuevamente, ¿haremos?  Por esta experiencia yo digo sí.   Aun con el calor, la dificultades para aprender tanto tan rápido, los molestias, los hombres.....todo.   Lo haré cientos de veces, a pesar que sea ciento de veces más difícil.  Yo he encontrado una belleza indescriptible entre la pobreza, suciedad, las enfermadas.  Sonrisas tan brillantes el sol se expone a la vergüenza.   El sentido maravilloso de comunidad que ellos tiene.  La habilidad de vivir sin plata, estatus o posesiones.  

Y yo he recibido lo mejor regalo de todo – una sentimiento de paz dentro de mi.  Es la verdad que cuando nosotros damos y en algo lado entre los pies desnudos corriendo en la hierba verde, los besos de mantequilla de maní de los niños, los voces llamando mi nombre yo he encontrado una cierta redención.   Una habilidad de olvidar mi propia persona, mis propias necesidades y necesitaba aprender eso.

 

Entonces, es el tiempo de terminar este capitulo de mi vida y seguir adelante.   ¿A que?   Yo no se todavía.  Llegaré en Vancouver el 28 de este mes y no tengo planes más allá abrazando mi familia y disfrutando el clima!  Yo simplemente quiero vivir y vivir simplemente.

 

Espero que esta carta ustedes la encuentra bien, felices y saludables.   A ustedes les envió mucho amor y espero verlos a ustedes muy pronto.

 

 

There are so many parts of my experience here that I want to share with you, but my words will never be enough to define or explain how it has felt to live the last six months.  It’s impossible to try and take this series of living, breathing moments and move them from my soul to this single sheet of paper.

 

I’ve finished all my classes and am now moving through the motions of wrapping things up:  taking photos, saying my goodbyes, visiting a few places, eating a lot of mangos…..and trying to prepare myself for yet another transition in my life.  I admit that being here has been the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, but I am leaving it with a lot of tears and a certain desire to stay.  It’s amazing the ability that we have to adapt and accommodate.  This unreality has become my life.  These people have become my family and friends.  This place has become my home.

 

Saying goodbye to the children is by far the most difficult thing to do.  I have conflicting feelings over what I’ve done here with them. On one hand I look back over the last months and I’m astonished to think to think of the time and work that’s gone into our classes and activities.   I can definitely see some positive changes as a result…..but I can also see how much more could be and needs to be done here.   Only because I’m standing here right in front of them and I can see how dirty they are:  their faces, their clothes, their bodies.   I touch their swollen stomachs….. inspect their bleeding sores……watch them climbing up that rough, muddy trail……listen to them telling me about their pains and their hunger.  Octavio asked me why he can’t come with me to Canada and I had no answer.  How I wish I had the power to bring them all home with me.  Anyone want to adopt a very beautiful child?  (You know they offered me a child as it’s a local custom to “gift” them.  Let me know if you’re interested!)

 

Here is the truth as I have realized it – I don’t have the answers or the solutions for what they suffer from.   I know I did the best I could with what I had, with limited resources, education, and support.   And I suppose that all I can do now is continue loving and helping them and I hope that I can do so in some manner because I know I can never forget what I have seen here…..sometimes I dream of them and wake up crying.  Their faces will not leave my mind.

 

One thing I do know and that is there are wonderful people in the world who are working with and helping communities like Los Valles and again I want to say thank you to all of you for your help during my time here especially to Heather, Paul, and Craig:  your gift to El Valle Abajo is incredible.  Thanks to you guys 60 kids are going to have rubber boots and clean, parasite free feet.   Jess, Cynthia, and Janice – I used your gift to buy toothbrushes and toothpaste for the kids.   Many beautiful smiles are shining your way!  And Yvonne – wow! You made my day!  The Indian spices made my stomach so happy and I’ve got everyone hooked on Chai Tea.  You’re an angel for making so much effort to think of something so luxurious.  

 

At the end of each chapter in our lives we ask ourselves if given the chance we would do the same again, and for this experience I say yes.  Even with the heat, the challenge to learn so much so fast, the annoyances, the men…..all of it.   I would do it 100 times over.  I would do it if it were 100 times more difficult.  I have found such an indescribable beauty amongst the poverty, the dirt, and the illness.  Smiles so brilliant they put the sun to shame.  The wonderful sense of community that the people share.  The ability to live without money, status, or possessions.   And I have received the best gift of all – a sense of peace within myself.   It is the truth that when we give, we receive and somewhere among the bare feet tearing through the green grass, the children’s peanut butter kisses, and the voices calling my name I have found a certain redemption.  An ability to forget my own self…my own needs…..and I needed to learn that.

 

And so it’s time to close this chapter of my life and move forward.  To what I still don’t know.  I arrive in Vancouver the 28th of this month and I have no plans beyond hugging my family and enjoying the climate.   I simply want to live and live simply.

 

I hope that this letter finds you well, happy, and healthy.  I send you much love and hope to see you all soon.