My name is Elena and this is my blog about my experience as a Peace Corp volunteer in Panama from 14 of April 2008 - 24 of June 2010. I am working as a Tourism and English Consultant in Community Economic Development. The views I express here are solely my own and do not reflect those of the Peace Corp or the US Gov't.
Thu Jun 7
Mon Jan 3

Feliz Año Nuevo: Grupo 61

It’s been over 6 months since our official COS date, and as I ring in 2011 I find myself recapping on 2010 (half of which was still spent with my fellow Volunteers in Panama). Some of us now are still in Panama, some are new proud parents, some are recently engaged, some have returned from long adventuresome travels, some dove head first into full-time jobs or school, some have new boyfriends, many are still adjusting in one way or another.

 I would love to hear updates from others. From those that are still in Panama, I’d love to hear the Bonchinche about… is it group 67 already?, the growth and change of the programs, the new office staff, and new sites expanding into the where? The Darien? I’d love hear from those that are home I’d love to hear about where you have landed and how you got there. I miss you all!

*So here is MY update:*

 Amy and enjoyed a several week trip exploring Colombia. It was a fabulous trip. I found returning home in the summer comfortable. I spent August camping, going on float trips, and living in the woods still more or less. Those of you who visited my site know that living on the river in the jungle was my reality. I looked for jobs half-heartedly and met up with Amy and Kate (our ex-pat Maersk Panama friend that many of you met on the COS bus party) in Charlotte, NC and made trips up to Chicago and Michigan.

I did finally land a job working with the USDA as a bilingual specialist. It is rather boring office job but the paycheck beats our meager Peace Corps allowances and has afforded me the energy and stability to focus on other things. It also bought me a car which I needed in colder weather to get to work – I guess Panama made me soft on cycling 8miles in the cold when it’s dark out.

I have teamed up with a friend that works with Dr. Sonny Saggar who runs with a non-profit Health and Wellness center in downtown St. Louis. He is broadening his project to *Health & Wellness: mind, body and spirit*. http://www.dhwstl.com/ We are working on our first release of a publication to promote the arts and health. I am hoping to spearhead a project with him involving a space for musicians to collaborate and have the tools they need to grow.

I’m living in a fabulous duplex with my friend Kat (Some of you may have met her at Thanksgiving in Cerro Punta last year… it really doesn’t seem so long ago but worlds apart).

What do I miss most? I find that even though I’m surrounded by amazing family and friends I’m lonely. No one just comes up into my house to pasear when I think I want to be left alone but really could use their company echaring cuento. No one is badly playing accordion across the open divide between our houses. My neighbors are friendly here and helpful. Last week several stopped to help me dig my car out of the ice, but I really miss having no door and people just being there with me all the time. Judy has paseared and crashed on my couch with her dog Ginger in route home from Colorado. You are all welcome to do the same.

Hope 2011 finds everyone well, I just wanted to say happy new year to you all! I’d love to hear from you, ~Elena

Thu Dec 16
Fri Dec 3

Emberá Puru Newsletter

Welcome to our first Emberá Puru Newsletter Vol. 1, Dec. 2010 So many of you have come and spent a day or overnight with us in Emberá Puru and have commented on how your time in the village with the Emberá people was “something I will never forget”. We want you to know that we remember and think of you also. Through this newsletter we will keep you informed of the happenings and lives of your friends in Emberá Puru.

New School in Emberá Puru As many of you know, the children of Emberá Puru had to walk 35 minutes up river to get to the nearest public school. This walk is through the jungle (potentially encountering venomous snakes) and they had to cross several streams that could flood at any time during the rains. This concerned the parents of the children. The parents and Noko (chief) approached the minister of education asking for their own elementary school (1st-6th grade). In February 2010, the education minister granted them permission to have their own school. They were given this news around Feb. 15th and the Panamanian school year starts March 3rd! The entire village, men & women got to work immediately, clearing land and building their own one room school house. They finished it on time. The government sent them out a fantastic teacher, Anayansi Valdás Navarro. Anayansi is very motivated and dedicated to teaching and cultivating the minds of our Emberá youth. We are very grateful to have her.

Warrara Krincha- Emberá Puru Education Fund Some of you may be aware of our *Warrara Krincha* or Emberá Purú Education fund. “Warrara Krincha” means “ideas for the children” in the Emberá language. Through our last Peace Corps volunteer an Education fund was created in the village to receive donations to support the education of the children in our village. A little background, the government of Panama provides school up to the 6th grade to our children, but requires the students to wear uniforms and shoes. Which makes sense in the city but in the village, the cost of uniforms and shoes may make school attendance impossible for some kids. If the kids want to continue studying past the 6th grade the kids must leave the village and live with extended family near a city, which usually means they end up going from the safe, loving and supportive environment of the village to living in some of the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods in the city. There is an American missionary run boarding school that our students can attend through graduating high school. At this school they get a good education and learn English as well. This school requires the parents to pay a small (by Western standards) tuition of up to $200.00 per month. This cost is often impossible for the parents and so many children who otherwise would love to continue their studies, are not able to continue on.

The Emberá parents are just like parents everywhere. They understand the value of a good education and want to provide their children with the best possible opportunities. Because of the large discrepency between the meager income of the Emberá people and the costs of elementary school uniforms and school supplies, and/or the costs of sending a child out to study away from the village, an education fund, named *Warrara Krincha *has been created. Elena Pahl our Peace Corps volunteer helped to create and organize this fund and a committee has been elected with community member, Zuleica Mepaquito as the chairwoman. We are in the process of becoming a legal non profit entity in Panama, (which is a long & complicated process) and after that will apply for US non profit status. If you would like to go support the education of the children of Emberá Puru you can make a donation through PayPal at

http://emberavillagetours.com/Village_Donations.html or by clicking here:

*Donation to Warrara Krincha* Store - or ways to donate: We have a variety of items for sale that 100% of the money goes to support the *Warrara Krincha *or Emberá Purú education fund: * Postcards * *Photos by Ron Porto* *Postcards $2.00/each or set of 5 for $10.00 * (+ shipping of $2.00) Photos taken in the village by tourists and sent back to us with permission to make postcards. The above are samples, we cannot guarantee which images you will receive. To order your set go to our *Village Donations * page.


*Music CD * of traditional music recorded in Emberá Puru $10.00/each *(+ shipping of $5.00) Recorded Live in the village by Elena Pahl. (She was a sound engineer before the Peace Corps.) This CD is a fun mix of both traditional celebration music with flute and percussion instruments complete with singing and shamanic song and dance performed by the ladies in the village. To order your CD go to our *Village Donations * page. http://emberavillagetours.com/Village_Donations.html *Rain Poncho* *Rain Ponchos $15.00/each *(+ shipping of $5.00) If you forget to bring a raincoat, you may purchase one from Anne or in the village. The logo was selected when Anne sponsored a logo contest in the village and then the entire community voted for the best one, designed by Santo Luis showing a nice mix of the local butterflies with the geometric designs used in the typical Emberá cultura. To order your rain poncho go to our *Village Donations * page.


*Dog Collar $35.00/each* Beaded dog collar inspired by the Emberá Tribe. Made by Lori Burt owner of *Zany Zak. *A company that makes Custom Handmade Pet Collars. Lori was touched by her time spent with the Emberá people during her visit on a cruise to Panama. She designed this collar using the colors and style of the beadwork and traditional weaving designs of the Emberá. *Click here to order your Emberá Tribe dog collar* *www.ZanyZak.com Contact:*

Anne@EmberaVillageTours.com www.EmberaVillageTours.com

Honoring Elena Pahl, Peace Corps Volunteer Recently, in January, our devoted Peace Corps volunteer, Elena Pahl completed her service of 2 years. Elena became an integral part of the community in Emberá Puru. She worked very closely with Erito Barrigón in developing marketing materials for the tourism business of the village and helping him, Emiliano Mepaquito and Flor Sotello keep the accounting correct. Elena also began our *Warrara Krincha* or education fund in the village and worked hard to get it registered as a legal non profit foundation in Panama. We are all extremely grateful to Elena and all the hard work, energy and love she put into our community. We all miss Elena very much in the village and wish her well in her future endeavors and we look forward to her coming to visit us again very soon.

Student of the Month: *Yetsibel Barrigón Mepaquito * Yetsibel, daughter of Erito & Zuleica is the first student to attend University from the village of Emberá Purú. We are all extremely proud of Yetsi. She graduated high school from the American missionary school and is now enrolled in University Specialized in the Americas, focusing on Tourism. After she graduates in 2 years from this program, Yetsi wants to continue studying to become an English teacher. Both professions are admirable and she plans on using her education and training to live back in her beloved village to help and support her community.

Fri Sep 17
Thu Jun 24
Mon Jun 7

Things Im already missing glancing through recent photos.

…into disorder and the laughter disorder produces… Dreams from my Father – Barack Obama, 1995

Si yo fuera una lentejuela

I am saying goodbye to Panama. It has been heck of a run the last 27 months. It is hard to put words to it all as it comes to an end. I´ve learned so many lessons. I´ve come to love people who welcomed me with open arms and a culture so different from my own. I came in with my walls up assuming they would never understand me, and left knowing that going home to the states where few will ever really take the time and patience to come to know who I have become. In the states people don’t just show up at your house uninvited to just to tell stories for a couple hours, thank you for your stories, and that is all they want. There isn’t time for listening. I gained patience for so many things in life here, and yet lost patience for so many attitudes.


Panamanian or American I just don’t have patience for people who complain about things. Complaining is OK, don´t get me wrong it is AOK to point out where things have gone wrong, but please suggest a solution. Complaining to just complain and then looking at me like I have 5 heads when I suggest a solution? No. I don´t ever want to fall into that trap.


Example. Neighbor Eliecer bought a tank of gas for his stove from the store and left it there. He was going to grab it when he came back to the port and went upriver. Well the storeowner didn’t realize the tank of gas had been sold and sold it to someone else. There was no more left when he came back. He ranted and went on and on about how much the storeowner had screwed him. I said to him… well since she didn’t sell you anything you could always ask for your money back and walk the 200yards up the hill and buy a tank of gas THERE where they have them. You never know, the store owner might feel bad and drive you up there to do so? He just threw his hands up and said he wasn’t gunna do that and went off and found someone else to complain to. So many people just like to complain.


I´ve learned here how to identify problems in the community I live in and then to look for a unique way in which my community can address and solve them. When I´m asked by tourists or visitors what the community´s biggest needs are… I can confidently say they are all things I have tried addressing. First of all it is rare that people ask. Most look around with their own eyes and see people living in huts and decide they know what the problems are. So thank you for asking.


 I have only lived there 2 years and I can’t say I know everything but I have tried. Even if it is problems with the park, I feel I’ve worked with the leaders on letter-writing and conflict resolution. Abstract things like attitudes and violence I’ve tried to take on with leadership with conflict management skills. I´ve attempted to take on health issues via nutrition and better communication technology by soliciting an Engineers Without Borders project that we have been approved for and are waiting for a chapter to chose our project. It would include installing a solar or hydroelectric system for our office and school, and some sort of microwave system to boost cell phone coverage to enable people to call in case of emergencies. I´ve tried to address education with our Warrara Krincha NGO project and we have sponsored scholarships, supplies etc. Now we have a school and a teacher and resources to some degree. The aqueduct was broken, so we get funding and an engineered and fixed it. I worked with the tourism committee when I realized that a lot of the community conflict came from accusations about money, and we worked to develop a transparent accounting and payroll system using Excel.


I´m not saying we have everything in the community working perfectly, and I know a lot will be forgotten or will far apart. But when a problem has presented itself to me or the community we´ve found a way to address it, not just complain about it. I hope that is something I take with me. I feel like every problem has its own solution if you can get people rallied around working for that solution, and in this small community that rallying has been possible. I’ll miss my community. I will miss the simplicity of enjoying life, and laughing every day. I won’t miss having to depend on unreliable people for transportation and to make things come together, but in general I will miss it. Side note. The word accountability doesn’t translate into Spanish, nor does the concept. Won´t miss either.

When considering Peace Corps two and a half years ago many people questioned how I could leave everything I know for 2 years. At the time I was ready for the adventure and I thought to myself, it’s easy, I just do. There have been rough points, but for the most part it has been an amazing experience and I´ve come to wonder why people don’t think about the hardest part… It isn’t leaving for 2 years that is hard. It is coming back after being gone for 2 years and diving in.


I am not who I was 2 years ago, My friends have changed. My pueblo as changed. The world has changed. There has been an economic crisis I wasn’t present for and have not felt. There is a new President that I absentee voted for but haven’t felt or heard about any of his policies. There was an economic crisis. I hear medical marijuana has come illegal in 15 states. Gay marriage is still accepted in only 5.  There was a big horrible oil spill. A volcano erupted disrupting major international travel for months. There was a giant earthquake devastating the entire nation of Haiti. It all seems so distant here. My nephew when I left had just turned 3, now he is 5 and some. When I left Autumn was getting married to Matt. Now Autumn is married to Bekah and Matt is married to Kirby. Lauren is married to Chris. Chantell is married. Julie & Dan are married. Liz and Greg are married and have a 2 year old baby girl. Groups of friends have dissolved and reformed around places and people I´ve never known. I dive back in and all I have to say is… I dunno I wasn’t there… I was in a hut in the jungle?

Yes that hut in the jungle is no longer mine. Panama is about to become a memory, and hopefully one I can revisit, but it will never be what it has been the last 27 months. No longer will I have friends, fellow volunteers, from all scores of experiences, from different states and cities, etc there to share in our love, frustrations, and sometimes just amazement of the world around us.


I’ll miss wondering and commenting to them… Hey Panama! What´s with the side rattail? I thought that playboy bunny shaved in the side of your head got you enough attention.


And what is with the short mullets? The cut super short shaved head with that lil poof of curly party in the back, Panama´s very own.

I will never forget the day I find myself staring and impressed and the ingenuity of the lady wearing toilet paper rolls with bobby pins in her hair as curlers at the mall. Yes it is somewhat of a fashion statement in this country to go out in public in your curlers, but the toilet paper rolls take the cake.


I’ll miss being impressed by Panamanians ability to be so dang color-coordinated: hair clips match the makeup and neon colored shirt being worn. Even the eye shadow, giant earrings, and bangles to are the same hue. Often this is all matched to their boots. (Because boots are practical in the tropics of Panama City…)


Speaking of those neon shirts. It seems to be a contest to squeeze your way into a shirt the most sizes too small for you. This combined with the peeled on pants create a fabulous focus on the muffin-top and emphasize every fat on your body. I’m glad Panamanians are proud of a thicker body image, but I still will never forget how much of that thickness is shown off.


Then there is the mesh. Yes people wear mesh tank tops in public. It is illegal not to wear a shirt in Panama, male or female, but Mesh somehow constitutes a top. I thought it was a joke when I saw neon colored mesh cover-ups for sale… because mesh doesn’t really… cover up anything, but low and behold then I saw them modeled for me. Men and women alike seem to love the mesh as that special piece in their wardrobe.


One of my favorite bits of Panama style is the added Bling. An outfit is not complete if there are no rhinestones or sequins. I think a bedazzler would be a Panamanian’s best friend. I love seeing guys that have bedazzled their pants, shoes, bookbags, and even hats with studs to match. If your jeans and shirt don’t have rhinestones or sequins on them I can assure you, you didn’t get them in Panama, because I’ve looked high and low for some and cloths don’t exist without that added brilliance.


Then there is the Beanie in the tropics. Please tell me you are cold in this 90+ degree weather.  That is one thing I just don’t get, but I give it to them. When I asked a fellow Panamanian if he know what that 5 leafed plant was on his stocking-cap… he responded like I was an idiot.. Yucca DUH! I am the dummy indeed.


AND then there is the oh-so convenient fanny pack. I saw a volunteer wearing one with his polo shirt the other day and was glad he was finishing up soon. I think he was crossing the lines into too much of the Panamanian style.

I will miss my Panamanian Fashionistas. Even in the jungle –brightly colored skirts—no tops, beads and loincloths. Oh Panama what could possibly outshine your bright colors, the skin tight sequins, mesh, glitter, and rhinestones? Panama will always be that bright shiny place in my memory. And now it is time for that adventure of finding my place between my memories of home and its reality.