When I arrived at the house in San Miguel after flight delays, a 5-hour overnight nap in Orlando Airport Hotel and an early morning flight into Panama City, a day of sitting in the hammock at Hispania reading books and waiting for someone to come get me, a nights rest at the hostel Casa Yala in Panama City where I woke up to another displaced intern Lea in my room, and finally a bus ride and taxi from Panama City to 24 de Deciembre to San Miguel where I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going, I had no idea what to expect. At age 33, I am the oldest intern Kalu Yala has ever had. Now I am sleeping on a top bunk bed in a house with about 20 other interns and directors who are a decade younger than me. Llena means full in Spanish, and our yellow house on the left past the fork in the road is appropriately named. My friends and family know that I am always game for adventure so stay tuned as I take you through the experiences and education of summer 2012.
My graduate studies for global sustainability and water resources guide me to study the water in our town and the nearby Rio Pacora watershed as I complete this Community Outreach Summer Internship for Kalu Yala. The Community Outreach interns won’t start teaching at the school just yet because the students have summer break the week of June 4th. I am excited to get to know the students and anxious about having to teach in another language for the first time in my life.
At lunch the first day I asked Aura, our cook, about the water in San Miguel. Through our conversation, where Evan the Anthropology director assisted my poor Spanish by translating, I learned that our house, Casa Llena, and everyone else in San Miguel gets water from the Pacora River. The water is drawn from the river, which we can see from our front porch, through pipes, and stored in tanks for use. It was explained to me that people prefer to get the water from smaller tributaries, streams, or as the locals call it arroyos, because it is cleaner there. When you ask people where they get their water the common response is arriba, coupled with a gesture of pointing up the mountain. The streambeds are rocky and people seem to know that higher up the mountain provides a cleaner source. I noticed pipes drawing water from one such tributary when we hike up to our waterfall swimming hole through the cow pasture behind the house and another on the road on the hike back from the valley. Evan is still helping me to communicate because at this point I have a limited understanding of Panamanian Spanish. I can understand about ½ to 2/3 of what people say but do not have the confidence to respond.
The last thing Aura told me that day before resuming her work cleaning up the kitchen was that when it rains the water is dirty (sucio). I experienced what she meant after our first big rainstorm Sunday night when we returned from our hike into the valley. The river changed from the normal gentle flow of water over exposed rocks and boulders to a rushing brown torrent with sediment, logs, branches, and other debris being carried with the forcefulness of the water. The difference was amazing, we had just been swimming in the river a day earlier and now it was unsafe. Amazed by the change some of us interns spent time on the bridge by the tavern that night admiring the power of the water rushing beneath us. At this same time all of our water in the house coming from the tap, toilet, and shower was brown. Consequently it was not potable and we had to purchase our water and refrain from showering or doing laundry for a few days. At this point I left and flew back to Florida for my sister’s wedding. During my first few days in Panama I drank some of this raw surface water and got sick. When I returned 6 days later the situation was back to normal but after consulting some professors from my graduate school I found out it is not safe to drink unfiltered raw surface water and would like to work on getting a water filter and building a rainwater collection system for the house.
The interns who live in the valley also rely on the Pacora River as a water source and have a water filter in the kitchen area at base camp. This one works but it drips slow and takes a long time to filter the water. More research is needed to see what other options are out there.