The cumulating stops I’ve had these past two weeks have, to put it bluntly, rocked my world. Within 14 days I: left the states; spent a week exploring Panama City; pit-stopped in the small village of San Miguel before hiking up and down and up and down to the Kalu Yala Basecamp in Panamanian valley; and then finally returned to de-stinkify and regroup in Panama City.
With each step, my questioning has morphed. The question of “What in the word will these next 3 months be like? How much will I miss a toilet?” lapsed into “What is the cab driver saying? Is that really THE Panama Canal?” which then trailed into “What kind of spider is that? And should I be afrai?? Well, it bit me…now what exactly do I do?”
These questions have been in response to the oh so many types of new. For me, coming from an academic background in Urban Studies, I have a lot to learn during my first visit to Latin America. My recent test drives in four American cities has enabled me to quickly find familiarity in the bustling environments of Panama City. Though I am comfortable as I sit here in a café, I am ready for round two in the jungle.
This feeling gets under my skin a bit and makes me challenge a notion I had relied on during my previous travels. Jane Jacobs, a prolific American community activist turned renegade urban planner, put my underlying notion well. In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, she wrote, “By its nature, the metropolis provides what otherwise could be given only by traveling; namely, the strange.” Jacobs wrote extensively about the importance of street life: the vivacity of place should be felt on the journey while traversing from point A to point B. I’ve had so many types of destinations in the past 2 weeks, the alphabet cannot help me catalogue my perspective of Panamanian street life.
My most intense experiences have not been while at Jazz Fest, not while learning from die-hard backpackers from Europe, nor have they been while understanding a taxi driver’s opinions of the redevelopment of the post-American-militarized land in the city. They’ve been on the trails around Basecamp. I’m turning to look at trail life. The natural world of the tropics offers so much to see and question while hiking. The flowers, the insects, the lichen, and the snakes are all strange to me.
While I learn from fellow interns that are knowledgeable about biology and agriculture, a thought of American urban historian Lewis Mumford resonates with me:
Whether one looks at the city morphologically or functionality, one cannot understand its development without taking in its relationship to earlier forms of cohabitation that go back to non-human species. One must remember not only the obvious homologies of the anthill and the beehive but also the nature of fixed seasonal habitations in protected sites, like the breeding grounds of many species of birds.
-Lewis Mumford, The Natural History of Urbanization
Kalu Yala is nurturing an investment network; so too is it developing roots for sturdy research about the land and the systems it currently supports. I’m excited to be a part of the effort to get to know these non-human cohabitation while daydreaming about the future community that will respect it. Setting up a beekeeping system will be a great project for me to get to know the wilds of the land while being a part of the sustainable food system of the future community. If it’s strange…well, all the better.