Confessions of an Undercover Gringa


…And the award for worst blogger EVER goes to…

Well I’m sure there’s someone that’s worst at keeping up with their blog, but I’m probably pretty high on the list. So..since the last time I blogged in August of last year so much has happened…let me catch you up….

1) August 18th Arrived in Panama as an official Peace Corps Trainee (PCT) bright-eyed and bushy-tailed

2) Training

3) October 28th 2010 completed training (language, technical, volunteer visits, tech week, site announcements/visits) and was sworn in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer at the US Ambassador’s house and President Martinelli was there

4) November 1st 2010 reported to my site for my first official day of PC service…whoo hoo the countdown finally begins! My site is a little Ngabe (Indigenous) community of about 300 people in the beautiful province of Bocas del Toro

5) November 1, 2010 - January 31, 2011 worked on community analysis and lived with two different host families learning and experiencing Ngabe culture first hand

6) February 7th officially spent my first night in my own house (I’m renting from a guy in my community for $15/mo..yes, $15)

7) February 9th first presentation of community analysis to my community in a meeting with my APCD (boss)

8) March 28- April 1st 2011 In service training and reconnect for EH group 66

I’m not sure why it’s been so hard for me to blog, I have to blame it on shear laziness..I’m suffering from extreme pereza…I have plenty of chances to use internet and plenty things to say, so this is an apology to all my friends and family and I promise I will do better :)

Answers to my most frequently asked questions: You don’t even need to ask because someone else already has…

• What is Peace Corps?

The Peace Corps traces its roots and mission to 1960, when then Senator John F. Kennedy challenged students at the University of Michigan to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries. From that inspiration grew an agency of the federal government devoted to world peace and friendship. Since that time, 200,000+ Peace Corps Volunteers have been invited to serve in 139 host countries to work on issues ranging from AIDS education to information technology and environmental preservation.

• Where is Panama?
Panama is located on the narrowest and lowest part of Central America. This S-shaped part of the isthmus is slightly smaller than South Carolina, approximately 77,082 square kilometers. Panama has two coastlines, the Caribbean Sea to the north and Pacific Ocean to the south, and borders Colombia to the east and Costa Rica to the west. The country is divided into nine provinces, plus the Comarca de San Blas with over 350 islands, Comarca Embara-Wounaan, and the Comarca Ngabe-Bugle.

• What are you doing in Panama?
I am currently working and living in an indigenous community of about 306 men, women and children to assist in improving the infrastructure of the community, educate community members on issues directly related to improving their health (working with improving the current aqueduct system, latrine construction and education) and basically assisting them with whatever plans they have and also bringing fresh ideas as well. I am teaching English in both the school and the community and working with all of the organizations within my community to assist them with writing solicitations for funds for small projects and just getting organized. I do a little of everything because there’s so much work to be done.

• Do you have electricity?
Nope..nada. The President in my community did have a pretty swanky solar panel and allowed me to charge my phone for free, but it has since died. I try to get most of my chores and cooking done during the daylight hours because at night there are no lights and I will burn up some food cooking by candlelight. Currently all I’m using is my headlamp (flashlight worn on your head) and candles that I’ve been burning through at record speed. I do plan on purchasing a kerosene lamp in the next few weeks though...

• Where do you use the bathroom?
Well…most families either have their own or share a pit latrine (outhouse). Currently I don’t have a latrine so I am sharing with my closest neighbors. Eventually I plan to try out the composting bucket (in theory…a bucket that I will poop in and add dry material to keep the odors at bay. When it fills up in 3-4 months I will dig a hole away from my house and bury it) I usually just pee wherever really bc everyone else does…me assimilating into my community lol

• Where do you bathe and wash your clothes?

In a creek...well, actually…if I’m washing clothes then I will bath in the creek that day too after washing, but if I’m not washing clothes that day I will just bathe in my lovely shower at my house. For now I’m filling up my solar shower and using that, but eventually I plan to connect pipes from my rain water catchment system to my bathing area and maybe even a shower head…Ohhh!
• How do you get water?
My community has an aqueduct system that for all purposes…functions. We have water from an underground source available for a couple hours almost everyday. I go collect water in buckets at the faucet behind my house and then filter and chlorinate it. Currently there are 27 houses in my community, but only 13 connected to the aqueduct system…that is a problem because these other houses are possibly getting water from contaminated sources such as the creek, and this is making their families sick.

• What do you eat and drink?
Well I’ll answer this in two parts, living with host family first , and then living alone. Typical food in my community includes rice with EVERY meal, an assortment of root veggies (they all favor potatoes or yams) including name (white yam and orange yam but not a sweet potato), nampi, yucca, a lot of soups, eggs, fried bread called Ojaldras (it’s like a funnel cake without the toppings), Johnny Cakes (bread baked with coconut milk) chicken (the whole chicken…one time I had a soup of only chicken feet..eww), beef, fish, salchichas , green bananas, plantains, an assortment of canned meats which I turn down everytime, tuna, spaghetti noodles with tomato sauce AND rice, salad of cucumber and cabbage with lemon juice (yum!) Some special occasion foods include cornflakes with milk (it’s a drink and’s soggy cornflakes in milk, and oddly I don’t hate it) apples, and grapes (apples and grapes are crazy expensive here). They drink A LOT of coffee from babies to old folks with every meal and an assortment of sweet drinks made from rice, corn, plantains, kool-aide…Ngabe’s in my community don’t like to drink plain water. I’ve actually had people turn it down when I offered it at my house, and they don’t turn ANYTHING down.

At my house I’ve been cooking pancakes with ripe plantains, scrambled and boiled eggs, PB&J of course, oatmeal, spaghetti, rice, lentils, black beans, green bananas, raman noodles, cucumber/tomato salads..still working on the creative veggie dishes.

• How long will you be in Panama?
My service here is for 27 months, and I’m scheduled to finish in October of 2012. I do accrue 2 vacation days a month and it’s possible that I may pay a visit to the States before October 2012, BUT I think it’s better if you come visit me here!

• What are you doing after Peace Corps service?

Getting married and having babies..duh! Actually I’m really not sure…my plans change everyday. Just yesterday I was considering going to bartending school and trying to get a job on a cruise ship lol…ask me again tomorrow!

• What do you miss most about home?

OMG I could go on all day! I miss southern food…somebody please send me some grits! In my community I constantly miss good, tasty, healthy food, but if I go to the island (Isla Colon in Bocas del Toro) or Panama City it’s within reach. I miss good customer service, speaking English, the Dixie classic fair, Poetry slams and live music, Rib fest, A&T and WSSU homecoming. I miss friends and family, Twilight Zone marathons, Game nights, I miss driving (sometimes), I miss shopping, I miss Bravo lol But, everything I miss - with the exception of friends, family, events and grits can be found somewhere in Panama for a price, so that’s the upside….for the most part, Panama’s got it all!

• How can I send you a letter or care package and what do you need/want?

Whoo hoo! My favorite question yet!

My mailing address for letters:

Whitney Mack-Obi
Cuerpo de Paz- Panamá
Entrega General
Changuinola, Bocas del Toro
Republica de Panamá

My mailing address for packages:
Whitney Mack-Obi
Cuerpo de Paz – Panamá
Entrega General
Bocas del Toro, Bocas del Toro
Republica de Panamá

*Sidenote: It’s been recommended that you put religious symbols and address packages to Sister Whitney Mack-Obi to deter creeps rummaging through or detaining packages. *

What do I need or want: Hair products, grits, trail mix, magazines, candy (Women’s health, Essence, Cosmo, whatever…) Non-fiction African American literature (for example: Mis-education of the Negro, Autobiography of Malcolm X, Sista Soulja…we have an awesome collection of books here, but as u can guess not much of this genre) Vegetarian cook books, teaching Bibles or other religious education books, burned copies of new CDs or movies that are coming out, photos, African Heritage shea butter lotion or body wash or that one that smells like chocolate, black soap, castile soap (the Whole foods brand or Dr. Bronners unscented) Raw African shea butter (the yellow kind), Queen Helene Mint Julep mask, Neutrogena body wash…still gotta primp and preen in campo! Until next time...Peace!

Crunch time- I sure hope I can get out this bed

Just an update...This has been a fun-filled last couple of weeks. I got back from visiting my dad...went to Carowinds...went to Charleston...went hiking in the pouring rain at Hanging Rock State Park yesterday. Just a little over two more weeks left and there's still some things I wanna try to squeeze into this time. Tubing will be done before I depart...and swimming lessons(its looking bleak)...dinner at Vintage 301 and shrimp and grits from Ganache...learning to crochet...and the beer fest! I need to get all of these forms together to have filled out for staging and before staging. I have homework to do-- shit---I think I have some due tomorrow. Unfortunately I don't foresee it being an easy transition back to being a student and working long poor lazy bones.  Mostly I need to get my stuff from everybody's house and throw my junk in one central location and start packing. Hut-warming party on the 7th, so I'm gonna try to see everybody there and lay low for the next week so I can get all my last minute task together. Times a ticking... unbelievable!

That's why they call it standby -- you stand there going "Bye!"

Greetings once, for those of you that don't know me...I LOVE Seinfeld, so I always love a chance to use a reference to the show (even tho my Seinfeld references are wasted on about 98% of my friends) so while I was sitting around the airport yesterday for a good 9 hours before I could catch my connecting flight, this episode of Seinfeld popped in my head, just the stand-up portion Jerry always does either before or after the episode...and it goes a lil something like this:

 Jerry: But I have to admit, I like flying. I like those little bathrooms that they have on the plane. It's kind of like a small apartment of your own on the plane. You go in, you close the door, the light comes on. It's like a small surprise party every time you go in there. The worst way of flying, I think is "standby", you ever fly standby? It never works, you know, that's why they call it standby-- you stand there going ``Bye!'' So I was on this flight where the flight attendant-- it was her first day on the job so they didn't have a uniform for her yet, and that really... makes a big difference, I mean this is just some regular person coming over to you going ``Would you mind bringing your seat back all the way up?'' It's like, ``Who the Hell are you?!''

So anywho, on with my story...sometimes standby works perfectly and you make all of your scheduled flights (like last time), but sometimes, u get bumped from 3 flights and start to think you're going to have to spend the night on an airport bench like a homeless person. So..for those of you that don't know..this is how standyby works...I got my ticket to Newark at a discount bc a family friend works for US Airways. So standby passengers take empty seats on flights that weren't sold. sounds purty good, right? The catch comes in..even tho I may have booked my flight way before anyone else. anyone that works for the airline or is actually a direct relative of an employee can come in at anytime and get on my flight before I do. Seniority system... I knew it would be a gamble, especially flying on a Friday, so I just told my mom it would be a little "adventure." But, I quickly became irritated, drained, and ready for the "adventure" to come to a screeching hault --thank God for tequila! It wouldn't have been so bad if all of the food, drinks, everything in the airport wasnt skyhigh in terms of cost. I got a sausage, egg and cheese biscuit combo from airport Bojangles for ONLY almost $6. Freakin creeps... Luckily for me I was blessed to eventually get on a flight to Newark so I can finally see my dad, before I spent my entire last paycheck on airport food and drinks. that I've vented about yesterday..updates --> Humm, got my dental clearance and my staging packet (via e-mail)..yaay! Staging in gonna be in Arlington, VA..I was disappointed, but excited nonteheless. I know ur tired of reading bc i'm tired of tyipng, so..until next time!

4 more down...24 left...teeth, that is!

Greetings out there! I realize it's been forever since my last and first entry.  Well -- here goes the update... I completed all of the paper work I mentioned in the entry before. Just yesterday I got my wisdom teeth extracted per PC dentist orders. It started off as a reccomendation, but ended up being a requirement. I've been procrastinating on getting my wisdom teeth out for a good 6 months now, so its good that that's finally behind me. My last day at work is the 15th  of this month (yaay!) so I had to get it done while my benefits are still in effect. I'll spend the rest of my weekend iced up and eating solid foods only after taking one of these kick ass pain pills! I'd like to send a shout-out to Dr. Owlsey and staff for getting those 3rd molars out and not killing me (literally or finacially). I got the hook up...laughing gas, local anesthesia, AND an IV drip...haha, overkill! These last 4 four teeth will make a total of 8 teeth I've had removed, so that only leaves me with 24 teeth to chomp candy with for the rest of my life. Drugged up and all I made sure to send my dental folder back to the sweet folks in the PC dental office so I can finally get cleared. Cutting it a tad close bc I'm supposed to be recieving my staging packet as early as next week, but hey...I like to live life on the edge. After I dont have to work everyday I'll have time to do fun stuff like shopping and packing for the next two years. So, now in the process of planning the rest of my summer trying to squeeze everything I wanna do in before I leave for staging on August 17th. I hope staging is somewhere I've never Cali. I'll find out soon enough, and keep ya posted. Until next time! 

It's Somewhat Officially Official!

MOOD: Excited! hungry
TIME: 10:49 am 3/4/10
CIRCUMSTANCES: chilly outside, but warm in here, sitting in my roomies room on his computer and he's laying here snoring..tisk tisk smh..he needs to get his booty up so we can go get pancakes at IHOP!

Yaay..I can finally stop procrastinating on my blog and lay down my first entry in a new chapter of my life. (Of course while i'm doing this I'm procrastinating on doing something else more important I'm sure) I received my invitation to Peace Corps in Panama yesterday. Double YAAY!! I was nominated to the Environmental Health Program and my job title is Environmental Health Extentionist. (Humm..spell check is flagging this word..probably bc it doesnt really exist..yep..they made it up just for me and my new job bc i'm that freakin awesome..uh huh!) I dunno what an extentionist is yet, but I'm soon to find out and I'll let you know too ;) I also received several books of info to read as well as MORE forms to fill out and return. I STILL have to get these wisdom teeth yanked out, apply for a special peace corp passport, get pics taken for my visa, update my resume and work on my new and improved aspiration statement...which i will include for you to view eventually.