My first meeting with Miriam occurred when the Community Outreach Team went up to the school to introduce the new interns for Summer 2012. We met her in the school library because she is the librarian in San Miguel. On the way up the stairs to the school and the library the students greeted us and we stopped to chat and take some pictures. We stood in the library, which was so incredibly hot that day, and spoke with Miriam as she looked each and every one of us up and down and evaluated her opinion of out outfits.
She told us not to wear sweaters because it is too hot, perhaps she could see our perspiration soaking through our clothes, a few of us had on boleros or cardigans on top of our dresses and tank tops. For those of you who don’t know a bolero is the word used to describe a cap sleeve sweater cover-up, I had no idea what to call them until Shannon told me this. Let me explain more about our teacher dress code, we have to wear shirts that cover shoulders and long skirts or pants. I bet you are wondering why this would be a problem but perhaps you forget we are teaching in 90 degree heat with humid conditions in a school with no air conditioning. The windows are concrete poured designs that let light in through the cinderblock walls but the air is still without fans. Each of us discussed our project ideas with Miriam and Lea asked her more about what she wanted in the school garden.
When we left the school I overheard Miriam telling Evan that she was worried about me teaching because of my lack of conversational Spanish. Little did she know that I understood what she was saying. The next morning when I went to the Chino to get a Coke I overheard the woman who works the counter telling another woman from the village about how I am a new teacher at the school but I don’t speak Spanish very well. The Chino is the town convenience store and sells many things the villagers need including: water, soda, gatorade, toiletries, food, medicine, vegetables, empanadas, cookies, shoes, bandanas, meat seasoning, chicken feed, and fresh meat which is chopped on top of the ice cooler as you watch. I was amazed, word travels fast in San Miguel. The day after I returned from the wedding in Florida Miriam spent the day with us at the Casa Llena house. She was spending the day with us because she was cooking us dinner that evening. I woke up that morning at about 8:30, and she had already arrived. It was a late one the night before. I flew into Panama City, cleared customs with 80 pounds of school supplies, rode with Lillian to 24 de Deciembre to meet up with Max and some of the kids from the valley to finish grocery shopping for our meal plan for the week, then drove to San Miguel. That afternoon a bunch of us were sitting outside around the table. I asked Evan, relaxing in the hammock, to ask Miriam where the water goes when we rinse it down the sink and flush it down the toilet. Miriam’s response was el rio which you can probably figure out means the river. I inquired about the sewage treatment and found out that they just installed a new septic system at the Casa Llena house a few weeks before we arrived. I would love to be able to see one of these being built. Our discussion continued on to the topic of rainwater collection and I found out that Miriam has some interesting thoughts about this topic. She told me that the best rainwater to collect is the very first rainwater that falls from the sky. I asked her why she believes this and she didn’t have an explanation. I don’t know the validity of her belief but it gets me thinking that I need to do more research about local beliefs about water. I also need to do more research about rainwater collection systems and problems with water contamination. When Miriam found out that I am studying water resources she asked me to build her a rain-water collection system at her house. I told her I would help her and when she left after dinner that evening she gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Much more promising than our first parting.