Short Stories
Entry No. 41 January 15, 2005

¡Mil Gracias, Peace Corps Panamá!

I can't believe it. I am in Panamá City, Panamá. Susie and I made it. WE MADE IT (this far at least). I continuously think about what is to come as there is so much preparing and decision making that we still need to work out. Nevertheless, I sit here, sweating in this computer café, reeling. I am so content. I celebrate inside that I have come so far, and then since meeting Susie, we have come even further.

Panamá has been the most fulfilling experience for me thus far with Zihuatanejo, Mexico a very close second. My campaign took a wonderful turn in Panamá. I went from just off-the-cuff presentations in random schools and handing out pencils and pamphlets to whomever would take them, to organized visits to various communities in rural and urban areas.

I had contacted various Peace Corps directors before leaving for the trip in hopes to get a few activities planned with Peace Corps volunteers. I actually was told by Peace Corps Guatemala that they wanted nothing to do with me due to the country's recent unrest and sour crime record. Fine. I moved on to other countries and of course heard from Honduras, but in the end, they hadn't really prepared much on their end and I don't think my boss truly believed I was going to make it. I also know with the budget cuts, PC Honduras is overworked, at least my boss was when we passed through. No importa, though, because I had a great visit with the communities I lived and worked in. Then, I had heard back from PC Panamá and thought it was great that they wanted to maintain contact in order to plan for activities in their country.

As I was passing through Nicaragua, I got an email from Peter Redmond who heads up Programming and Training for Peace Corps Panamá. He wanted to know my ETA in Panamá to get things rolling and let volunteers know about my arrival. Carlos Moreno, Activities Coordinator, was going to contact me about some events. I was so excited. I unfortunately couldn't give Peter or Carlos a confirmed date until I was sure of the mileage into Panamá and our maps since Guatemala left a lot to be desired. I did let him know my estimated date would be January 15 into Panamá City and they worked from there.

Before I knew it, I had emails rolling in from volunteers about ideas and activities and offers on places to stay. It was so exciting but I was worried that the logistics would be too complicated. Nevertheless, Peace Corps Panamá showed up again and had everything prepared- I just had to let them know how long it would take to get from one city to another and they coordinated all of the activities. They even invited Susie and I up to this beautiful Eco-Lodge where I spoke to volunteers about my experiences when I closed my service as a "PCV" and returned to the US. I unfortunately had to tell them about my momentary lapse of reason and purchase of the AB-DOER through an infomercial. That definitely put a dent in my readjustment allowance.

Never would a cyclist biking through these countries have the opportunity to go to the towns we went to and meet and hang out with the people we did. The fact that we were biking so far and coming to see them made them feel really special. Of course, at the same time, I had the chance to get my message acrosse to very attentive crowds. It was perfect.

It didn't end when we got to Panamá City either. Peace Corps Panamá also planned for a press event with various environmental organizations and TV, radio, and newspapers invited. I was on Buenos Dias Panamá, the equivalent of Good Morning America! The Peace Corps office took us in as if we were their volunteers. We stayed with one of the Assistent Peace Corps Directors, Grag Branch, and he was so kind and generous. He even escorted us with his hazard lights to the press event on the 17th! We were also named Honorary Peace Corps Volunteers. It was pretty great. I was a little upset that Susie was named HPCV- after all she is Canadian, eh. She actually has dual residency so I got over it quickly and we moved on to our newspaper interviews.

I was always very proud of Peace Corps Honduras and I am proud to have been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Honduras. I will always hold a place in my heart for this second home of mine. My service was great and the Admin and Medical support was thorough and quick. And I would like to add that comparing Honduras to Panamá with respect to infrastructure, communications systems, governmental and non-governmental agencies, and regulations, Panamá wins on all fronts. This, therefore, makes planning logistics a little easier.

Nevertheless, after talking to the volunteers, working with Peter and Carlos, and meeting the other staff including the Director, Jean Lujan, it was clear that the there is something more here. The dynamics of the staff working for the volunteers is incredible and you easily can see that the leaders of this show are forward-thinking and acting, open-minded and love their jobs. Everything is so smooth, no one seems to be running around like crazy, "putting out fires"; everyone is constantly communicating. I don´t know how to create this kind of dynamics and assure that the right kind of people are in the right roles, but Peace Corps Panamá has it and although, Jean, the director is soon leaving, I don't doubt the program is working to assure that these dynamics remain intact.

I just want to thank all of the Peace Corps volunteers that we worked with and met for their service and desire to get out there and foster sustainable development, or just make people's lives more sustainable and healthier. As well, I want to thank all of the staff at Peace Corps Panamá for their open arms to this trip and the campaign.

Don't forget to check out the articles written about the trip! I will translate them soon!

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