Kalu Yala has forced me to break my boundaries and think outside of the box: I can do this by myself. I am now actually looking forward to riding the bus into town alone, or eating breakfast, lunch or dinner alone, doing research and promoting my program(s) alone… having a drink alone.
San Miguel has now entered my heart and each day I am feeling more a part of it. It’s a soul baring and extremely beneficial experience. The hardships are worth the beauty of this place. But still, it’s hard.
I arrived here horrified and feeling handicapped by my inability to bypass my nerves and communicate with the Spanish-speakers and locals. Luckily, there was camaraderie through inexperience growing amongst interns as lifelong friendships began to form. The Kalu Yala experience went into full swing the first weekend, as over 35 interns arrived and gathered at Casa Llena before separating to the valley and city.
We took a trip and tour of Panama City and its old neighborhood Casco Viejo during our first week of orientation. There we saw Casa Yala, Kalu Yala’s main office and business headquarters AND new and upcoming hostel. I thoroughly enjoyed Casco Viejo due to its likeness to New Orleans, where I’m from. The cultures are very much alike, both being built ground up from Spanish, French and African and native influence. I enjoyed the downtown area, its shopping and the people and felt at home as I fell in love.
Luckily, unlike some of the other interns, communication is the biggest and only factor as relates to the people here in San Miguel. My looks are very similar. Back home in the States, I get asked a lot about my ethnicity, and accused of being Carribbean. Here, they are often shocked to discover that I’m not from a part of Panama or Latin America, but not once I start speaking Spanglish. Still, regardless of all the barriers in connecting, the people here in this village, young and old, are very willing and excited to connect with, teach and learn as relates to the Community Outreach program, the interns and Kalu Yala as a whole.
Now a month into the internship, the interns have separated to their rightful places in the city, San Miguel, or the valley. Here in San Miguel, I’ve started recruiting teams for a soccer tournament, and now as of this week, started teaching in the school. I’ve taught 3rd and 4th graders English, and assisted my fellow interns with their classes and after-school projects with the grade school children.
The children love me, know my name, and greet and hug me every chance they get. I love them. I kind of want kids, now. Teaching is hard, though, dealing with hyperactive non-english speaking kids who don’t have access to the American control mechanism Rittlen or Adderrall.
To balance out the stress of trying to organize a community soccer team AND county soccer tournament ALL WHILE making lesson plans and teaching, I ran away last weekend. With the intent of going to Pal Mar, another intern and I ended up first in Colón after being directed to the wrong bus, possibly. I say possibly because with communication barriers in the mix, who knows what is going on at times. Nevertheless, we got in a cab and I asked to be taken to Portobelo, the town of the freed slaves. It’s situated on a bay on the Carribbean coast and home of multiple forts established to ward off the Spanish invasion and protect gold Captain Morgan brought overseas.
Portobelo also contains 500+yr old buildings and architecture used to house and transport the gold. The people there celebrate the Congo and are considered African-Antillean. I found this out asking if they were considered Creole like I.
From Colón to Portobelo to La Guaira to catch a boat taxi to Isla Grande- the story of my past weekend. It was beautiful.he people were very tropical, Carribbean like, reminding me of Jamaicans. We were on the coast of the Carribbean but amongst beautiful and high mountains, as well as people.
On Isla Grande, I wasted no time diving in. The water was amazing, beautiful blues! The scenery was gorgeous. I met an American now Panamanian business owner who gave us a tour of the island. He showed us the second black Jesus we saw that day. Breathtaking.
It was in the middle of the water amongst coral reefs and was rumored to have fallen off of a boat during transport. Upon retrieval, Jesus emerged black. I don’t know if this was after or prior to the influx of African people and ex-slaves into the area. It’s such a beautiful place– paradise.
At first I felt people here and there were very similar to people in the great mixing pot of Louisiana, or that I was similar to them, but I’ve been told I’m still a gringa, just with dark skin like some Panamanians. The Panamanian culture is so diverse, but not much French like in Louisiana, which is what makes me Creole. Surprisingly, though, my Spanish continues to improve and I impress myself. I can easily talk to the natives, but find difficultly with those who talk fast and with accents purposely, or when other English speakers are present. One language at a time, por favor!
This weekend, majority of the interns from the valley, city and San Miguel are running away to San Blas, a beautiful chain of island archipelagos great for snorkeling. I’ll be traveling San Martin County this weekend and continuing to promote the soccer tournament and recruiting players. I would love to go but I vacated last weekend, and in vacationing, vacated my soccer tournament work. This weekend I will stay in San Miguel and promote the tournament and find players while every one else sleeps on beautiful islands in tents. Todo bien, though. I actually missed San Miguel when I was in Portobelo last weekend. It is literally SIMPLY PEACEFUL.
The village/smalltown mentally here isn’t too different from my own small town. I think that’s why I feel so comfortable here, and love the tranquility. Still, though, sometimes one gets cabin fever and small town anxiety and needs to escape to the city.
With that being said, I might just hit up Hispania in Panama City and watch the moon rise the Atlantic this weekend.