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Over, Under, and Over/Under Rated Aspects of Peace Corps Panamá

In the "Cult of Escapism": Over, Under, and Over/Under Rated Aspects of Peace Corps Panamá

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Over, Under, and Over/Under Rated Aspects of Peace Corps Panamá

Forks, peanut butter, seminars and tri-folds are all accounted for. So are potato peelers and speed metal. The following lists apply to either (or both) fellow volunteers and locals. There is no particular order.


You won’t save the world. Or even your town. When you leave, 15 year olds will still be getting pregnant with their second child, babies will still have extreme protein deficiency and extended bellies, and everyone will still be really poor. I’m not saying you won’t make a difference, I’m saying you probably won’t make a difference. And btw, I’m not bitter, I’m actually quite happy (seriously). But rather than over value idealism as a Peace Corps quality, it’d be more productive to try and be as flexible and absorbent as possible. Like an expensive tampon.

Cup Noodles
Yeah, they’re easy to make and cheap and tasty, but they’re about as nutritious as ingesting cardboard. That said, I have a personal stash at home. Hypocrite?

I like most of the seminars we do, I just think we do too many, relative to the actual impact they’re probably having.

Panamanians love tri-folds – ask any volunteer who’s worked on tourism or with any local government agency. They love tri-folds like Californians love the words “anti-oxidant” and “solar energy.” Have you, reader, ever purchased anything because of a tri-fold?

Sugar-Coating During Training
It felt like the office pulled aside any staff member or volunteer who had contact with the trainees and said, “Don’t scare them…” I didn’t get this, they should have been trying to scare us away. Instead, training had the “La-la” type of feeling you get at a Bible camp. Training should be more like boot camp, so we can weed out the weak early. Brutal honesty would have prepared us a lot better than the sweetened stories we were fed.

The Every-Two-Weeks “Rule”
Going two full weeks in site doesn’t earn you a trip to the city.

“My Site is Harder than Yours”
First, nobody chooses their site, so how can you give anybody shit for having electricity or indoor plumbing? Yet there’s this “I’m more badass than you are” mentality among many of the people with the tougher sites. You hear a lot of conversations like,
“Oh yeah, well in my site, the people can’t even afford toilet paper.”
“In my site, we don’t even have walls, not even on the latrines!”
Shut up. I have way more respect for people with difficult living situations that don’t complain (I’m talkin’ to you, Scott).

Aright, I realize that whole list was rant-ish in nature, so let’s move into the slightly more positive:


Peanut Butter
Every volunteer loves peanut butter, but yet its importance in my life cannot possibly be overstated, therefore it is still underrated.

Really Stupid Humor
Country folk love stupid humor. I use the same stupid jokes every day and get genuine laughter, every day. I just introduced the Ngäbe people to The Three Stooges (thanks, Kenny and Lisa). They love it. Love it. Stupid humor – use it.

The Volunteer Report Form (VRF)
A lot of volunteers rush through this required, trimester report. Guys, Washington uses these to justify our existence and we’re underfunded as it is. Plus, it’s literally the only thing we are required to turn in to the office. Take it seriously.

The Living Allowance Survey
There’s exactly one way to get a raise in the Peace Corps – if everyone else gets a raise too. And the only way to do this is to fill out the Living Allowance Survey. If Washington sees, in the results, that many volunteers are not being paid enough to live on (and some are not), they give us all a raise. But they only look at results from a country with 80% compliance. Half of the volunteers in Panamá did not fill out this survey. Really?

Vegetable Peelers
A lot of locals just use a knife to peel vegetables, so volunteers do the same. But using a knife takes longer and wastes a lot of food. You what doesn’t? A vegetable peeler. And they’re like 60 cents.

Fruits and Vegetables
This is aimed at Panamanians (and fat Americans): a lot of fruits and vegetables are really easy to grow but people (here) still prioritize less nutritious root vegetables. Rice and root vegetables every meal is a terrible diet.

Drinking Water
Volunteers and locals are both guilty of not drinking enough water every day. They say they don’t need to. They’re wrong.

Bat-Proofing Your House
My single greatest achievement in the Peace Corps.

Listening to Speed Metal While Cutting the Grass with a Machete

And now, things that are somehow over and under rated.


You can eat anything with a spoon or chopsticks or your hands, but dammit do I love eating with a fork.

They’re so obnoxious and the office makes us do way too many during training. But dammit if the locals don’t LOVE them

Machine Laundering Clothes
I think too few Americans value re-wearing clothing and tend to overwash. But dammit, those machine-washed clothes are so much better than hand washed clothes.

How you can Deep Fry Anything
A bit overdone in the U.S., but dammit if everything doesn’t taste better deep-fried.

Making Unnecessary Lists


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