I really did mean to write a blog before I left a couple of weeks ago, mostly about our crazy snow and missing work and no power and fun snow walks and friendly visits and so on... but I never did. I would have also loved to tell you about the Albino show (jazzy jam band + fire tribe performances)... but there's wasn't time. So now you get to hear about my trips instead.
I went to Panama with my brother for just 4 days, but they were impacting to say the least. After flying overnight (read: little sleep), I met him at the Houston airport and we flew to Panama City. We immediately went to the Embera Drua village (taking an insanely rugged road to a river where we road in a canoe to the village - no roads there). The village is home to one of the tribes of the Embera people who decades ago moved into the region because of warfare in the Darien region on the Columbian border. They maintain their cultural identity, with limited influence from the outside world.
My brother became connected with them originally by going as a tourist, which is their main source of income, since they are not allowed by the Panamanian government to farm on the land. Since then, he's gone on more visits and gotten to know the people better, and with a friend decided to ask them what they might like help with. Their response was to have their youth educated. The goal of the trip was to bring them the money for the scholarships that Joseph puts together for any middle school, high school, or university students, because education beyond the 6th grade isn't available in the village itself, and most everyone needs help to be able to afford schooling in the city. Usually my sister-in-law goes too, but this time had schedule conflicts, so Joseph asked me if I could go as an interpreter. Of course, I said Yes!
In the village, we:
-said hi to everyone and played with the kids.
-sang and read some scriptures with Jinko.
-held a meeting to see how the students were doing and take their scholarship applications.
-told Joseph's story of how he's needed financial aid in the past and why he wants to give to others and encouraged them to give back to their community through their education.
-saw their cultural presentation for a group of tourists from Canada.
-met with some of the leaders of the village about the scholarships and discussed their goals as a people and how their education will help them accomplish these goals.
-looked over the applications and distributed the scholarship money to about 17 students.
-watched The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with some of the kids.
-talked with a mother who's past mistakes have led her family to be ostracized and tried to encourage her and offered her help.
-ate delicious food.
-heard and saw lots of wildlife, including an adorable river otter and a tiny monkey.
We were in Panama City for a couple of days too, since originally we planned to turn in the tuition money ourselves, but realized since it was Carnival (Mardi Gras), the schools would be closed anyway. We brought the mom I mentioned and her kids with us to try to by one of the girls' things for school, but the stores were closed as well. So, we settled on taking them to McDonald's, since that is something really special for them.
We got to experience some of the Carnival celebration too - getting sprayed with water and "espuma" (foam, kind of like shaving cream) and confetti while cramming into the street with hundreds of Panamanians dancing and eating and drinking and laughing and having a grand holiday. It was great! One kid got me so good with his water gun that I screamed. A few different people were looking out for us and told us what streets to stay away from, and also asked us where we were from and how we were enjoying the party. Very nice people, and very diverse too, especially compared to Mexico City.
We also looked around the old downtown, but everything, again, was closed. It was fun to ride around the city and see the buildings though. We went back to the hotel to rest before going out again, but were so tired that we just decided to order room service (great Panamanian food!) and watch movies. The next day we just hung out and talked. It was nice to have time to spend with my brother amidst the craziness.
I could say so much more, but this is long enough. I'll just sum it up to say that I learned that the language barrier is honestly the biggest barrier in connecting with other people, because even though these people's lives are incredibly different than mine, I felt connected with them, partly because of their relationship with my brother, but mostly because I could communicate with them. It was a really amazing and humbling experience.
I'll save my Lubbock tales for next time.
Hello out there!
9 months ago