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Some Vocabulary

In the "Cult of Escapism": Some Vocabulary

Monday, September 6, 2010

Some Vocabulary

   This past weekend, all of the trainees participated in a ┬┤Volunteer Visit,` which means we stayed with and shadowed active volunteers as they went about their daily schedules.  I went to a small town called Valleriquito (rich little valley), near Las Tablas, the provincial capital of Los Santos on the Asuero penninsula in the south (ring any bells?).  For those keeping close track of this blog, you may have noticed that last week I said I was going to the mountains in the Ngobe Bugle Comarca in the West, which brings me to my first vocabulary lesson for the day:
 - Flexibility - Fairly straightforward, this is one of Peace Corps` favorite values and means putting up with uncertainty.  E.g. on my way to my volunteer visit, Peace Corps tells me that my volunteer is sick and Im now going somewhere completely different.  This turned out to be advantageous in my opinion because in a few weeks, all trainees are going to Ngobe Bugle to do a week of technical training.  Which means, this past weekend, I got to see one more place in Panama. 

   Accomponied by a 34 Virginian named Sean, I visited one of five married couples living in Panama.  Their house is nice (by PC standards) as they have steady, running water from a well and relatively consistent electricity (it went out several times while we were there).  We followed them during their daily routines and spent a lot of time at their house, grilling them and discussing the key cultural differences between Panamanian and American work cultures.  They warned us of 2 - 4 hour meetings that need only be 30 minutes, tardiness for meetings (up to two hours late), extreme indirectness (people will tell you, "Yes, I will attend your meeting" even if they know full well that they won`t - this is considered a better option than offending you by telling you the truth), etc.  We also witnessed first hand why Panama`s school system is considered one of the worst in the world.

   The first day, we were supposed to accompany our hosts to their weekly elementary school English class. When we arrived at the classroom, the teacher was in the room alone, just kind of standing around.  We asked her what was going on and she said that there had been a bus crash the day before (no serious injuries) and half of her students were not there so she wasn`t going to teach.  Sean and I looked at each other and asked our host why she didn`t just teach the other half of the students.  That`s when he took us aside and taught us another important vocabulary term:
 - Gringo Logic - this is any combination of Problem and Solution that has a seemingly obvious answer but is not pursued for some reason.  In the case of the teacher, she could just teach half her students, but she doesn`t because the school system is terrible, especially in rural areas and many teachers have the opinion that there is no reason to teach students anyway, because they will just become farmers. 
  Another perfect example - the same school we visited has 22 brand new, Dell notebook computers, locked in a closet and not integrated into the curriculum.  We asked our host why the school did not begin a computer class and he once again cited Gringo Logic.  It turns out, there is a teacher who is the "Tech Specialist," who is unqualified to teach computers and who feels intimidated by the presence of PC volunteers and therefore refuses to use the computers. Again, an obvious Problem - Solution combination that is not addressed.

   However, the above comments should in no way be interpreted as a reflection of Panamanians in general, simply as a critique of a widely broken education system. In the same town, we visited a cheese factory, conceived, built, financed, and operated for 17 years by local farmers (the same farmers the teachers often give up on).  Encouragingly, a PC volunteer in 1993 helped the farmers lay the groundwork for the creation of the factory, including helping them apply for the loan, which paid for the start up costs, and drafting a daily cost sheet.  For 14 years, the farmers put money into the factory, with no return, to get it running to capacity and for the past 3 years, they have enjoyed handsome returns.  Additionally, EVERY DAY, for the past 17 years, the farmers have filled out the cost sheet drafted by the PC volunteer and now have 17 years worth of cost data, which our hosts are hoping to input into Excel (they are currently helping the farmers effectively pool their money to buy a computer and a printer).  This is particularly significant because if the farmers can prove that they have increased production, they can apply for a grant, which will give them access to better soil for their farms, which will increase production in the dry summer months (our winter).  It is nice to see such a successfully implemented development project and I can`t wait to start my own.

   We also learned the fine art of Pasearing:
  - Pasear - going to someone`s house (almost always the porch and almost always unannounced) and hanging out and talking indefinitely.  This is what people do with one another on a regular basis in rural communities and is PC`s number one recommendation for community integration. It is fun and people often feed you so I think it is something I can get down with.

   So I brought my camera but not the cable, so this post will go pictureless. Also, put your flashcards away, I thought I had more vocabulary words, but I actually don`t.  Also, I spent most of my waking hours and all of my sleeping hours on a hammock this weekend - it was awesome and I cant wait to buy one.

Rice count: 927 pounds


At September 7, 2010 at 6:20 AM , Blogger Martha said...


Sounds like you are enjoying yourself very much. Just adding one more culture to your vast data base!

I have to say I am very impressed with your writing skills. It is very nice to read something that is grammatically correct and interesting.

Martha Rose

At September 14, 2010 at 9:21 PM , Blogger eabrown said...

That is really interesting insight about the education system and gringo logic. I enjoyed reading this :)

Ellen Brown

At September 15, 2010 at 2:59 AM , Blogger Charlie said...

In many ways this actually reminds me of Spain. At least the general attitude towards punctuality and the whole "Lo haremos manana."

I'm really enjoying your blog by the way.

At September 15, 2010 at 9:07 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...


At November 4, 2012 at 3:09 PM , Blogger bama said...

Some good challenges ahead and great examples to follow. Good luck. Billie


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