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I Finally Fell

In the "Cult of Escapism": I Finally Fell

Sunday, December 25, 2011

I Finally Fell

I have excellent balance. I say this without ego, because I know it’s true. I’ve noticed this in particular here in Peace Corps Panamá because it’s muddy most of the year where we live and almost every volunteer has at least a few embarrassing stories of wiping out and getting laughed at. Until now, a year and a month in, I hadn’t had a bad spill, but today I absolutely ate it.

Descending a muddy hill in fake Crocs, I was approaching a friend’s house to visit and buy soap from their store. On the last little slope, I looked up to greet the eight family members on the porch. “Good morningWHAAA!!!”


My right foot kicked straight out instead of planting and my body was momentarily parallel with the ground and then Ground and I were getting intimate. Painfully intimate.

I’ve almost fallen many times, but I always managed to right myself or stop myself with my hands. Each times this happens, onlookers light up, ready to laugh at my big spill. But each time, I’ve recovered, showed them my clean backside to prove it wasn’t a full fall, then triumphantly left them disappointed. Not this time.

I fell hard but rebounded quickly, hoping that only my arms were dirty, but no, my black shorts were brown with mud and my forearms weren’t just dirty, they had a thick layer of mud.

Raucous laugher. Uncontrollable laughter. I laughed too but was disappointed that my perfect streak was over. I was so proud of that. The witty barbs followed:

“You fell!”
“Haha, Jack, you just fell!”
“Hey, Jack just fell!”

Maybe witty was the wrong word.

I commented that Laura (my site mate) is the one who usually falls and I never do. They reminded me, “You just fell!”


Their reaction highlights two tendencies I’ve noticed in backwoods Panamá. First, locals like to claim that things that happen to us gringos don’t happen to them, because they’re “accustomed.” For example, everyone claims that they’re used to the water and that they never get sick, even though they, uh, do. People will see me treating my water and boast that they’re “accustomed” and I’m not. Except, that time last week when they had diarrhea, and two months ago when they had worms. Also, I’ve only had one stomach issue since I’ve been here.

Similarly, most claim that they never fall in the mud. If I slip a little, they claim that I fall because I’m a gringo and not accustomed. Except that I never had. Which is part of why I was so proud – I could throw it back at them and they would be visibly surprised and probably scrambling to think about something else to boast about.

Secondly, it’s another reminder of how much people here love stupid, slapstick humor. I have endless examples of this but I’ll settle with a night during training when my host dad was watching “Candid Camera.” The prank that night was jumping out at people and startling them*. There were five pranks and each prank was repeated four or five times. I was studying Spanish in the chair next to him, but it was difficult to concentrate, because he would tap me excitedly at the beginning of each prank, “Watch this.” Someone would get jumped out at. And he would laugh out loud. Every time. Twenty five times. I thought he was just a simple guy, or maybe drunk (extremely likely), but I think he’s just your average country Panamanian – loves that stupid humor.

So at least I have a go-to conversation topic for the next two weeks: “Remember when I fell?” Raucous laughter. But at the expense of being more gringo. If I really want to integrate, I should just start lying. “I never get sick; I never get blisters, etc.” But I’ll have to lie standing up, cause my ass hurts – that was a serious fall. 

*Is that always the prank?


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