Thank you Gifts

The classic Panamanian gifts are eggs and plantains. Which I love! So I keep a string hanging on my porch where people can hang their excess bananas and plantain clusters if I’m not there, and I often wake up or come home to 15 bananas and a dozen fresh eggs laying in my hammock. Always a welcome surprise!


Many of these are “thank you” gifts, as I help people with different things randomly. Sometimes I’ll get a call to help harvest pigs, or I’ll visit a house and end up giving a short language lesson, or play with the kids a while to give the parents a break, or even give medical attention to their dogs. I’m always on the move! One of the main things people need assistance with is new technology. Everything is programmed into English. So I’m sought after to help either set it up or switch it to Spanish. This has been for little TVs, remotes, but mostly for phones. You can buy a cheap flip phone for $10 in the stores here, so that’s what the locals often do. But then they are set up to be in one language, so I have to figure out how to switch it to something they understand. I’m always helping out the elderly with their technology! But then they feed me, so it’s worth it.


Or they pay me back in other ways. Like one person gave me a small handful of cacao seeds and told me to burn them in order to “spiritually clean the house”. Another person gifted me a fedora (which is actually in style here… not sure I’ll wear it much!). Or once even the little storeowner gave me a baggy of candy for free when I helped him translate a bunch of English items. I’ll take it!


Sometimes I’m thanked in ways the people don’t even realize. For instance, I’m in a little group with two other volunteers who travel around and organize a presentation and activity based on trash management for others who want it. This is a lot of churches. We are very good at this- each of us has a little station and we lead them through facts about how long certain products take to decompose naturally, and even have recycling games and handout treats at the end. Many times, people are SHOCKED by the numbers (Glass and Styrofoam never decompose, a diaper takes 450 years, etc.) and I always enjoy seeing the realization on people’s faces when they hear that littering and pollution are extreme problems and put it together that the garbage on the side of the road will stay there for their entire lives, their kids’ lives, and their grandkids’ lives. This is how they thank me. Making a breakthrough, having them react to some crazy facts, and talking about how they are going to work with others to clean up the streets or be more sustainable. This is much more fulfilling than the food and candy ever will be!


I love my life.

I love my fellow volunteers.

I love the adventures we go on.

I love my job!



This is a very venomous Yellow-Bellied snake that is taking over the Panama beaches! These fun animals only come to shore twice a year to drink up fresh water, and they gulp down A LOT because then they go back to the ocean and dehydrate themselves for half a year. Isn’t that crazy?! They also travel through the ocean over crazy distances by riding the currents and eating any fish that come along. Beautiful creatures, but I hope I never find one near me in the water!


Held Captive

One of my favorite things about being so close to Costa Rica is that I’ve actually met and hung out with the Peace Corps volunteers serving in Costa Rica. We met some of them as a total fluke, exchanged numbers, and now we are meeting up in the border town to have lunch and chill out. It’s so nice meeting new people and swapping stories- such different lives everyone leads! Also, super nice to be able to speak English for a while. I didn’t realize how tired I was getting of Spanish until I arrived and didn’t have to worry about not being able to express myself. It was a good time!


Speaking of English- there’s a group of 9 people who really want to improve their English skills. They have been studying it on their own for a couple years and really want to get to a good speaking level, so they recruited me to lead their conversation table. I am honored, and also completely lost, because I have no idea how to teach English and that’s not even my job (I WAS NEVER TRAINED FOR THIS). So as I’ve been studying French in my spare time, I translate those little lessons back into English and present that every Sunday afternoon. It’s going well so far!


One day I was trying to leave my house for an early evening lesson. I put on appropriate clothes, gathered the lesson materials, and shooed the dogs out of my house… when I heard a hiss. And some nails on a chalkboard. Then pounding on metal. Causing my dogs to lose their minds. I could heard the scraping and scurrying on my roof headed toward the back of the house, so I went back inside and followed the noise from one room to the next, then back to the porch, all the while my eyes glued to the ceiling trying to decide what kind of dinosaur was on the roof. Finally, I saw a long, skinny, scaly tail hanging off the side of the tin ceiling, and realized some sort of large dinosaur was definitely stalking me. It didn’t seem concerned as I tried to approach it, which for me, means it’s a “green light” to try and touch it. I inched closer and out of nowhere the tail was whipped around, there was a hiss/groan sound, and I jumped back into my house. I’m literally being held captive right now. More nails on metal and thudding as the dinosaur ran around the top of my home. Each time I tried to go to my front porch, this dinosaur thing would get angry. So I waited. A half hour goes by and all is quiet… so I bolt from my house with the dogs by my side and make it to the lesson! No signs of this dinosaur when returning later that night.


That night, and every night for a week after, I would wake up in the middle of the night, extremely disoriented, freaking out that someone is trying to break into my house (Because houses are made with concrete blocks with sheet metal on top, many are burglarized by simply pulling the roof off and jumping in to steal whatever). I would grab my stick and hit the roof and yell, “Leave me alone!” Then I would come to, realize it wasn’t a person but actually a giant iguana that has a very personal problem with me, and go back to bed in hopes that the lizard would stop running laps around my roof soon. Its nails scratch the metal, and its tail whaps every time it turns, so it’s obviously very in to exercising at 2 a.m.! Not my preference of time or place, but to each their own I guess.



This photo is blurry because I took it through my binoculars- sorry! But isn’t that a huge iguana? I’m 90% sure this is the one that scared me from leaving the house and also runs back and forth on my roof all night. It’s gorgeous, though! About 4 feet long and has a very pretty wife that hangs out high up in the trees with him all the time, too. Green Iguanas can get pretty big, so let’s see if they’ll ever let me get close enough to get a good photo!

My Projects

It’s common for volunteers to get burned out, and I’ve had my moments. It seems like everyone has been fighting to get projects started and do everything they can, but in this type of environment, you can never count on anything. We say it’s 1/3 the volunteer, 1/3 the community, and 1/3 the resources. You need at least 2 of these parts to actually make a difference and get your job going. This is easier said than done though.


For instance, I got tired of seeing everyone burn or bury their trash and not understand why asthma, cancer, and contaminated water sources were common. So I had little lectures, conversations, and classes for weeks explaining the process of chemicals infecting our food and water and air if we don’t manage it properly. I worked with the alcalde (the Panamanian equivalent of a mayor) and set up trash collection. He gave me the first date that a garbage truck would roll through my town and pick up any garbage, which would be a couple weeks from then. So I WORKED- walking from house to house, talking to the community, putting up signs, and convincing the store owners to simply drop their trash on the side of the road for easy pickup. Seems simple, right? My community is full of people set on their habits, who sometimes are a little reluctant to change their usual methods (but aren’t we all?). Eventually, I got some of them to come around, and finally Friday came! I was super pumped and brought out my huge bags that I had been saving, full of trash I collected from the creek next to my house. I waited in the village center for 7 hours for that truck to come… and it never did. A large part of the afternoon was spent continuously calling the mayor’s cell, but he never picked up or responded to my texts. I was disappointed, people told me they felt like I lied to them, and my embarrassment grew while my good reputation shrank. I explained that I can only do so much, and if the mayor isn’t going to hold up his end of the bargain there’s only so much I can do… but I could still feel the eyes on me as I dragged my garbage bags back to my house. My third was there, a little of the community’s third was there, but my resource fell through and screwed over this project. I’ll try it again in the future, though! (I think I need some time to let this pain heal first…)


Next… recycling! This has a bunch of mini-projects involved in it. Recycled crafts- benches, gardens, entire parks, and other art that can be sold and turned into small businesses. The possibilities are endless! My women’s group also wants to start collecting the materials and turn them into crafts… but we also found little organizations on the Costa Rica border that will pay you per pound for collected bottles and other plastic. This is enticing. And with monetary gain, it’s gaining more traction with the community as well. Some have even suggested building a small collection center in the middle of the village so anyone can drop off their recyclable materials, and my women’s group can get paid for it. They have discussed using the money to put back into the community- like paving the roads, building a playground, and possibly digging a new well for more reliable water sources. So many things!


One of my other projects is youth development and environmental education. This means a lot of leadership, critical skills growth, sexual education programs, and basically planting the idea that there’s more to life than having a kid at the age of 16. Also, lots of educational lectures about environmentalism! So I went to the school and hung out with the teachers, and told them I’d leave a calendar in the main office where they can write in an hour where I can give a little presentation. After a week I came back… and not one teacher had written anything in. I was devastated, and the secretary said, “They’re all just shy… or none of them might want your help.” So I went from classroom to classroom and told the teachers what time I would be coming in. I marketed it as “a half hour for you to relax, and the kids to have some fun, while fulfilling the new requirements of the environmental education law for your class- for free”. They all liked this MUCH better and quite a few stated that they would want me to come in a little every week.

I’m doing what I can, because my school system is big. Very, very big. In fact, all the surrounding villages and communities send their kids to the school in my community, so it’s overwhelming! There are 10 classes in the morning, prekindergarten through second grade. In the afternoon there’s another 10 classes, third through fifth grade. Each class has 20-30 students… and there’s only one of me. I looked at my schedule and realized I’m going to have some trouble balancing my work with in the schools and in the community, considering I have an entire high school to help out as well!


More projects: I am currently planning on creating an eco-club for kids who want to be environmentalists, a calendar of days when the community can come together to clean the streets, a sustainable garden for each neighborhood of my village, English classes, assisting doctors with translation, organizing spay/neuter clinics, and so much more! It seems like every day my list of projects is growing!


Good thing I like to be busy, I have my work cut out for me!



My host family’s dog had 7 beautiful puppies! They keep trying to give me one, but honestly I just don’t think I can take on another pet at the moment. But they are SO CUTE. I visit them all the time, so more pics in the future will be shared!

The Wild Life

A tarantula hangs out on the walls of my bedroom, and honestly, the thought of squishing it or cutting it with my knife makes me shudder. It’s just so big. And hairy. Some may use this as a reason to kill it, but I humanize it in my head, so I leave it be. It probably just thinks we’re roommates anyway, so what does it matter? He’s just there to live his life and keep to himself. I’ll continue tucking in my mosquito net snug every night. Everything will be fine.

Last week I was sitting in my hammock hoping for a breeze to pick up when a huge gust of air flew by and all the chickens went screeching and sprinting to the other side of the yard. Turns out a huge @$$ stork had flown down. IT FREAKING GRABBED A CHICKEN IN ITS MOUTH AND FLEW AWAY WITH IT. WHAT?!

A couple days ago I was helping out my fellow volunteer with her three day long eco-camp. It was fun! We played recycling games, gave info on trash and ecosystems through crazy activities, ate snacks, and even watched Planet Earth in Spanish. It went really smoothly! I stayed with the volunteer at her house and she was telling me how a giant lizard had entered her house and she couldn’t get it out, so the neighbors had to come corral it and kill it. They told her it bites and causes nasty infections, so it’s best to take it out of nature. Also while there, we had to smack bats out of the air using towels and tshirts. There were so many of them and they flew SO CLOSE to us! Even the volunteer said one time one of the bats flew into the back of her head! So we kept trying to hit them out of the air and kill them. All got away but one, which we’re pretty sure was rabid. It flew really slow and low directly in front of us and she hit it out of the air and covered it with an empty paint can. After a night in there, it died, because we couldn’t figure out a good way to kill it! Also, the next day she was bitten by a dog on her arm and had to get stitches. We’re all fighting different things in our communities on the daily!

After giving an English/ Environment lesson to some kids, they invited me to come play with them. They had made their own rope swing and were climbing up and down it wildly, were swinging like monkeys all over the place, as I watched in horror. The tree was just too frail. I called out to them, but their mom stopped me. “Let them learn on their own” she told me. And of course, the tree trunk snapped, and three kids went falling to the ground. None of them cried, they all just walked it off and brushed the dirt out of their hair. Then they went further into the forest to find a new tree to hang up their rope. Humans are so resilient! We are crazy animals!

My last quick animal story: I was considering going to the river with a family on the other side of town, so I packed some swim shorts and a water bottle in my bag. After several hours of hanging out with my community members, I decided to just head home. Once there I switched out of my pants into the shorts I had packed, just for a scorpion to fall out of them, nearly stinging me! Not only was it catching a ride for free all day long in my bag, but it had the indecency to try to attack me afterwards. Rude!



You see this thing? It has a leg span bigger than my hand. And it lives in my shower. Every morning and night this thing hides behind my water tank in my shower and scurries up and down the wall as I quickly dump some water on my back and jump back out. I can’t enjoy my showers knowing this spider/scorpion hybrid is waiting for me!


Three Types of Blood & One Pencil

I don’t like to eat a lot of meat here. I see what the pigs and cows and chickens eat, and I know I’m consuming the same thing. Maybe I’ve just watched the livestock eat a few too many pieces of trash off the street to feel okay eating them! But one day I was gifted a chicken by the neighbor lady. She was so sweet I had to take it. Already dead and plucked for the most part, all I needed to do was gut it… but I’m a super queasy person. So I placed the chicken in a shallow metal bowl I found in my backyard and just stared at it for a while… I wasn’t going to let it go to waste, but I also really didn’t want to touch it. Put my hair up, washed my hands, and dug in. It was so creepy! I pulled out the gizzard, heart, kidney, liver, etc and set them aside. Leg removal came next, and done! I was only in a little of a panic when I looked down and noticed I had dripped a lot of chicken blood on my concrete kitchen floor. No biggie, I’ll throw some water on that and be good to go, I thought as I went to my water spout in the front of the house. But that’s when I noticed blood drips all over my front porch from the dog. He had somehow cut himself and was bleeding quite a bit. So I turned on my little oven to start heating up while I cleaned the floors. But as I threw soapy water on the ground, I kept finding more and more crimson spots on the ground… and that’s when I realized I was bleeding. I must’ve cut my toe somewhere. And that’s the story of how I ended up cleaning three types of blood at the same time and didn’t pass out! Woo! My stomach is getting stronger! Also, the chicken was DELICIOUS and fed me my protein for a few days. But I’m not sure I’d ever like to do that again!

Lately, my routine has been pretty set for the mornings. I get up fairly early and make tea, oatmeal and plantains. I watch an episode of something while I eat- Gilmore Girls, Brooklyn 99, Friends, Scrubs, etc. Next, I get dressed and head to my hammock. For a couple hours I listen to podcasts, finish a Sudoku, pull ticks off the dogs, and sweep the house. After that, I walk to my guide’s house, Margarita, who is babysitting a bunch of her grandkids, and give them all an environmentally themed English lesson. They often give me snacks while I’m there. But getting the little class started is always like pulling teeth. I rally and rally and rally the kids, and they all want the class, but none of them seem to be ready at the same time. I sit on the porch with a little whiteboard and marker, writing down words in both languages and sometimes drawing a picture or asking them important questions. But the kids keep coming and going. Because they only can ever find one pencil for all of them. So they take turns writing in their notebooks. The house has markers and pens, but the kids really really really only want to write using pencils. So they leave the table after I finish writing down a few words and come back when it’s their turn to use the pencil (side note: I pretty much only have pens in my possession. They do not want these pens. I’ve tried!). So instead I’ve been trying to plan interactive activities to get them away from writing things down. Sometimes this is singing songs, sometimes it’s playing games, but by far their favorite thing is binoculars! They each take turns standing on the edge of the forest and I’ll ask each of them to look for something in English- a flower, butterfly, bird, etc. and they’ll give me the colors in English. They’re learning super fast! I’m so glad I’m starting the kids young in getting into bird watching and getting excited about nature. They’ll be much more likely to care for it as they get older if they get pumped about it now!

Once the little session ends, I head home to eat lunch, and spend the afternoon just trying to survive the heat in my house. There have been a few days where I’ve sat in my shower and just dumped water on my head to cool off. No one leaves the house between 1 and 4. It just gets too warm to safely go anywhere or do anything!

As late afternoon comes, I often go visit some people in the community or go for a walk to the gym (here, gym means concrete floor in the middle of the village used to play any and all types of sports) to say hi to the kids playing games. Then I hole up in my house for dinner, either work or put on a movie, and go to bed early. If I’m not in bed by 8:15 p.m. I get crabby! But now school is starting, and my projects are getting going, so I’ll be out and about more and more as things keep rolling. Sometimes that’s meetings with the locals, the local authorities, planning lessons for classes, and collecting data about the village in order to get a grasp on how to better care for the environment here. It’s a process!


Here’s my little class searching for different birds in the forest!



This furry moth stayed on my porch for three days without moving a bit. It’s like if a wooly mammoth was turned into a fly and then dropped into Central America. I did touch it, and he’s just as soft as he looks!

And This Crazy Storm

I woke up at 6 a.m. to distressed cries from outside my window. A peak out the window and I quickly run to unlock the front doors to see my dog’s best dog friend laying on his side, nursing his paw, which was bleeding profusely. I carried him into my kitchen into better light to see the damage… and it was not pretty. Several lacerations, chunks of pads missing, and a lot of skin hanging off. My heart sank. He had definitely gotten attacked by another dog, and lost miserably. This dog also lives a few streets over, so he limped slowly and painfully all the way to my house to ask for help. Poor babe! I got out my Peace Corps medical kit, which I have now used way more for animals than I have for myself, and set to work. I was worried he would fight me, but he was a good boy and just laid there quietly while I sanitized, cleaned, pulled out dirt and grass, stitched, and bandaged his wounds. He slept there in my kitchen all morning and afternoon!

While sitting in my hammock, I watched a storm move in quickly, but NOT quietly. Because it’s the dry season, I just assumed the storm would pass over us, but I was wrong. It hit us. Hard. For several hours the rain poured down and the thunder shook the house, until I got a message from a friend that said the creek next to my house is at risk for having a giant wall of water flood it, and could reach my house, so I should probably evacuate. Fantastic. As I’m quickly throwing on my boots and grabbing my purse, I hear a huge CRASH and realize a tree fell on my house. Then the power cut out. Throwing the door closed behind me, I start to make my way across my yard when I see my dog following, and his dog friend limping horribly behind me. What choice did I have? I scooped up the limping pup and made my way to the neighbor’s, who were moving to a stronger house down the street even further from the little river. They all thought I was crazy bringing the dogs with me! So a couple hours pass, and we’re sitting in silence, hunkered down while the tropical storm passes, dogs in my lap and next to me.

It gets dark and still lightly rains. The worst of this storm has definitely come and gone.

Thank the neighbors for their hospitality; pick up the injured dog; slowly make way back to the house to see the damage done; told that if my roof is wrecked I should return to spend the night with them; go through the motions; prepare for the worst.

Back at the house the sun has set, and with my headlamp I can see that the roof is still intact but two banana trees have fallen on to the roof. Luckily, these are basically just leaves, so they hardly dented the tin sheets the locals use for roofs and were easily removed the next day by my landlord. *Wipes sweat from forehead* Inside the house, everything was just wet. By headlamp I swept a lot of water out of the house that came in through the cracks of the doors, from the concrete windows, and through little slivers of the roof. And then I was set! The little river was SUPER full that night and the following day. It got fairly close to my house, but I think that’s just because it’s the dry season so the land wasn’t ready for all that water. No one was prepared for that kind of storm! It’s not unusual for the rainy season. But for the dry season??? At least all my water tanks and buckets are completely filled up! Gotta look for that silver lining, ya know? And that morning, the power came back on!

P.S. All throughout that night I heard the village’s battle cries of “We survived!”



This poor puppy is the one who was asking for medical attention! As you can see, his back right foot needed the care. This is my dog’s best dog friend, and I’m glad he trusts me enough to lay there quietly while I cleaned up his little paw. Afterwards, he fell asleep right where he is until the storm. It’s been a few days and he’s still hobbling everywhere, but I’m hoping in a week he’ll be able to use it!

Carnaval in Panamá!

On more than one occasion, I’ve walked into a fairly nice looking house to see that it’s mostly empty, the living room home to a nice TV and some plastic lawn chairs. I can’t be a judge on how people spend their money (or other ways they came to own a nice TV), but this always confuses me. I met some Peace Corps volunteers who served in Fiji and Micronesia who told me it’s the same there. My friends volunteering in Southeast Asia and Northern Africa said it’s the same there, too. Everyone prioritizes the size of the TV over a couch, tables, and sometimes even bed frames. Gotta watch those cheesy soap operas on a big screen, I guess!

A TV is exactly what I wish I had in my house when I got back from Caranval! And I’ll explain why.

First, Carnaval was AWESOME. It’s just days of partying, crowding city plazas, running through water, and seeing the most amazing parade floats I’ve ever witnessed in my entire life. I headed south to Las Tablas on February 11th, the main town where Caranval takes place. It’s in the eastern part of the peninsula, and I stayed with a friend who hosted a few volunteers. She was located just outside of Las Tablas so we would be able to head into town for the festivities, but then be able to escape it after we got tired. Through the late morning and afternoon, the town is crowded with people who fill the streets and center square, which is surrounded by tanker trucks filled with water. You’re standing there in the street, listening to crazy loud music, watching tons of glitter and confetti fall from the sky, and getting sprayed by the hoses from the trucks. It was a lot of fun! Getting drenched was a highlight because it’s super crazy hot and crowded, so the water helps to cool down the street and the people all partying in the street. During this time, there’s a parade of INCREDIBLE floats covered in vibrant colors, animals, sparkles, and locals dressed in traditional clothing. (I wish I had gotten photos, but since you’re standing in water all day, best not to bring anything but a few dollars with you!) But Panamanian parades are not like those in the USA. They are slow, and only about twenty floats in general. They move about thirty feet and then sit there for 10 minutes, letting the crowd soak in how amazing the craftsmanship is. You know how in the USA, they have the road blocked off? Yeah, that’s not a thing here. So everyone crowds the streets to get sprayed with water, and then as you see a float coming, everyone scrambles to the edges as it passes, then immediately goes to the street again. It was PACKED. I have never been shoved so shoulder-to-shoulder compact in an area in my life. Once, I was the last person to get to the outside of the street, and was still in the way of the float without anywhere else to go. So my friends literally pulled my legs and arms back as the float grazed my stomach… I sucked in and hoped it wouldn’t stop right in front of us! What a sigh of relief after it passed and we could all enter the road again! Because forget about safety, right?

The floats are to represent the “Queens of Caranval”. So basically, when a little girl is born to a rich family, the parents immediately sign her up to be a queen. They pay $50,000 just to get on this list, and it’s not even a guarantee she’ll be chosen. So the girl grows up, and when she’s about 18 or 22 years old, her parents donate a lot of money to the Carnaval funds in hopes that her name will be chosen off the list. At the end of every Carnaval, the queens are chosen for the following year. One to represent “uptown” and the other to represent “downtown”. Literally the week after Carnaval ends, the queens begin visiting different parts of the country, volunteering, doing meet and greets, etc. And her family pays people to begin construction on her personal floats, and people to make her dresses and other clothing she’ll be wearing during the festival. It’s nuts! During Carnaval, they both ride their own floats in their own personal dresses and traditional clothing all day every day. They look gorgeous, but it was crazy hot and looked exhausting. I’d never want to be queen! At the end of the week, the two queens have a battle. Basically they stand in their most beautiful dresses on their most beautiful floats, which slowly move toward each other. They scream insults, have crazy fireworks and pyrotechnics, and put on a good show in order to “beat” the other queen. A couple years ago one of the queens let loose thousands of dollars into the crowds in order to say “I’m so rich I can give away money, you aren’t $hit”. Apparently there’s never actually a winner announced, but the locals say “you just know”.

Here’s the kicker. It’s at 5 in the morning.

So you’re supposed to go into Las Tablas and dance and party from 10 at night until the battle, which begins crazy early in the morning. So that’s what us volunteers tried to do! We headed into town after napping that evening and eating big dinners, and watched the parades until midnight- which were STILL going and would continue on with the queens until their battle. But everyone is drinking and dancing in the streets, sometimes with the floats and sometimes just off to the side of the road or in the city center. There was one float with an entire band on it, so we followed that one and danced in the street as it went around the big circle that the parade route was following. There’s a block of this route where it’s completely lit up, crowded with people, and tiers of different cameramen and news crews taping the parade. And we went past this block. Twice. So twice cameras were shoved in our faces while we were dancing. Twice the crowd cheered us on. And twice we were on live national tv (with ice cream in hand, if your name is Amanda). As soon as we decided to take a break from dancing in the parade (we were in it for two hours!), we realized that our host families and communities probably saw us on their giant screen TVs… great. We’ll hear about this when we go back home!

The rest of the night included us getting invited into clubs to dance since we were “famous”, a Spaniard who studied in Miami allowing us to use her apartment bathroom after overhearing us panic about not finding anywhere to go, and a lot of police officers laughing at our attempts to dance the traditional way and sending so many photos/videos of us to their families. It was a good night!

4:30 a.m. rolled around and I was sitting on a couch in a club, two volunteers sleeping in my lap, music still blasting, and other volunteers and friends forcing themselves to chug caffeinated soda or pump themselves up. We were utterly exhausted. I found the girls I was staying with and they decided, to my relief, that they had had enough and were ready to go home. We taxied back to the community where we were staying and crashed! It was about 5:30 a.m. by the time we were in bed. At 8 a.m. we were back on the road traveling back to our communities on the other side of the country. It was a long day!

Some of the volunteers stayed up to watch the battle of the queens, and said we missed a really scary show. Apparently there was so much fire that the crowd was sprayed with ash, and the queens were battling with sound! It was so loud no one could take their hands off their ears and could hear ringing the next day. I’m glad we bailed when we did! I would’ve been super unhappy there.

So after so many days of craziness, I was excited to be back in my community. The trip back was horrible on 90 minutes of sleep and 8 hours in 5 different buses, but I survived! It was Valentine’s Day so, unfortunately, I couldn’t just rest in my house when I got back that evening. I had to go to a church function to please my host parents. As soon as I arrived, I started to feel weird. My head hurt and my stomach was rumbling, but I assumed I was just tired. About an hour into the service I apologized to my host mom and bailed. I was feeling super sick! I quickly showered and went to bed, thinking I’d feel better after some rest.

1 in the morning rolls around and I wake up vomiting everywhere. It was disgusting. I didn’t have time to run to the bathroom sadly so I soaked my sheets and floor. Sorry for the details! It’s my only pair of sheets so I got up and quickly washed them, threw up a few more times, then laid back down completely exhausted. I woke up in the early morning with no shirt, wearing my workout shorts, sleeping on my plain mattress. What I thought was a lot of gas ended up being diarrhea. Man, I felt sick. I forced myself to do a little more cleaning, sanitized my poor mattress, rewashed the sheets to make sure I actually did get them clean in the middle of the night, and spent the day in my hammock. I couldn’t keep down water or food, and my stomach cramps were pretty horrible. After a few days I finally was on the mend, but it took a while!

So that’s the super long story of Carnaval and why I wish I sometimes had a TV. To see reruns of us dancing in the parade, and to watch when I’m laying on the ground feeling incredibly ill.

So turns out, I get no sympathy from my community for getting sick because “carne” means meat, and the meaning of Carnaval is “Satan’s flesh” so basically it’s Satan’s holiday and falling ill is my punishment for taking part in it. Just goes to show how diverse the country is. Half of it is partying in the streets, and the other half is judging them! Carnaval truly is the traditional Panamanian experience. I’m glad I did it once, but I’m not sure I’ll do it again in the future!



This centipede got freaked out when I poked it, and rolled into a little ball. Although this one was only four inches long, I’ve seen centipedes up to seven or eight inches in length. So long! Fairly common, but still unwelcome in my house, I swept it outside and told him to tell all his friends to stay away. I don’t like finding them in my shoes and shower!

Traveling, Spiders, and a Haircut

Once again, I looked up at the calendar and realized it’s been over a month since I last wrote anything… sorry! I’m not sure if I’m apologizing to my readers or my computer or my blog page itself, but either way I’m sorry. I’ll do better.

I’ve been busy traveling to and from my community with destinations ranging from neighboring communities to Panama City. Between helping with camps, having medical appointments, meetings with local organizations, medical check ups, giving lectures, and getting sick again, I haven’t had much time or energy to just sit and type.

Traveling is always an experience here. A couple weeks ago I sat on a little bus in traffic at 6 in the morning, super confused why everyone was just crawling along the highway, when we passed a body of a man in the middle of the street. We had been slowly moving for about a half hour and just as our bus inched past the scene, the police were literally just showing up. It was NOT a good way to start my morning. But as soon as we got to the bus terminal and I hopped on a bigger bus to the capital, I felt better because the old lady next to me danced to the music the driver was blasting the entire 9 hour trip. She was adorable! Also during this trip I was rummaging through my purse to find my passport for the security checkpoint when a giant Huntsman spider jumped out of the bag and crawled up and down my leg while a child screamed and I sat there frozen in my seat until the giant arachnid escaped through an open window. It was an odd day for me.

I guess normal days aren’t less odd, though! It’s still the dry season for another couple months. We’re in the thick of it right now, and my little community is hurting quite a bit. Everything is dry and dying. I had my little garden going well but the region turns off the water during the day to conserve, and when there is water there’s very little pressure. My garden will have to wait, I have to drink and bathe! I have taken to keeping the taps open so as soon as the water gets turned on, I can start to refill some bottles and tanks. This is usually late at night or early morning. Several times I’ve woken up to the sound of the water running at 2 in the morning. I get up to fill my tanks and bottles, and by 4 a.m. the water is shut off again. So I have to work fast! But sometimes the water will be out for a day… two days… the longest I’ve gone has been two and half days and I started panicking! My buckets were drying up and the liters I had in my kitchen for drinking were getting dangerously low. It had been a while since I washed my hair, which had gotten super long in the past few months, and I knew I wouldn’t have enough water to drink, bathe, and wash my hair… so I cut a lot of it off. I grabbed my scissors and slowly went along in sections. Never having done this before I was nervous! But I almost always wear my hair up in a bun or braid, so if it went horribly awry no one would be able to tell for a while. After taking off quite a few inches and sweeping up the clippings… the water came back on. Of course it did. Because my life is a joke.

But although there might be a lack of rain, there’s NEVER a lack of birds. And tropical birds are gorgeous! There are toucans, macaws, and lots of little colorful balls of feathers flying around my yard. My favorites to look for include a neon orange bird, a bird with perfect black and white stripes, and a vibrant sky blue bird with yellow chest. I’ve been trying to get photos, but it’s difficult! They fly around so fast! I’ll continue trying and hope to get a decent picture in the future. My neighbors think I’m nuts for sitting in my hammock with my binoculars, searching the trees for the source of different bird calls. But I love it! And the neighbor kids love it, too. I teach them environmentally-themed words in English, tell them fun facts about nature, and let them search the trees using the binoculars. Such fast leaners that they often run yelling up to my house to tell me they need the binoculars to look at a butterfly. “Amanda, necesitamos ver la BOOTER-FLEE antes se vaya!”



These two babes love to hang out with me and walk me around the community! The bigger one on the left with the white chest is Pinky. He’s the neighbor’s dog, but he is at my house 98% of the day. On the right is his best friend, who remains nameless! Here they are both waiting with me at the bus stop. Usually when I get back in the evenings, they come meet me here as well. I never have to go anywhere alone with these two sweethearts! ❤

December Here & Gone

December came and went, very quickly! I moved into my house, had my community meeting, hosted some of my fellow volunteers for a few days, and then headed up to the mountains to attend the holiday party with all the volunteers in the country! Panama is unique, whereas most Peace Corps countries do not allow the volunteers to throw a large gathering to celebrate the holiday season. This is due to a rule that says there cannot be more than 10 volunteers in one place for safety and security issues. I think the administration just doesn’t want any volunteers to be sitting ducks in case there is some terrorist attack or have a large gathering of Americans in a foreign country be a target. For whatever reason, it’s a rule (that has been broken on various occasions for various reasons), and Panama is allowed to break it every year! It’s very exciting!

The whole weekend is held on the volcano with some altitude, so it was actually slightly chilly! We all stayed in rustic cabins and had some amazing views. The party consisted of lots of dancing, eating a HUGE meal all together, and the province Olympics! Out of 220 volunteers in the country, about 150 showed up to represent their communities.

My region, Chiriquí, made matching jerseys and went in with a “well, let’s just see how this goes” attitude (my kind of people). The Olympics consisted of mud wrestling, volleyball tournament, minute-to-win-it competitions, costume and talent sections, and, of course, trivia. I really vibed with my group because honestly, I’m not that competitive. I also hate team sports. So knowing everyone in my province was super chilled out, not really there to compete, and more wanted to enjoy themselves with their friends, was in general a huge plus. I’m very proud of Chiriquí! We didn’t do half bad during volleyball, and we KILLED the trivia portion.

What I loved about the holiday party is that I was able to meet and connect with SO MANY other volunteers in the country that I had no idea even existed. I thought I had met a large part of the group, but seeing everyone from all the different sectors was awesome and made me realize that I had really only known a quarter of them! I shared ideas, feelings, problems, and solutions with the newest volunteers, the ones who had been in Panama for a couple years, and older volunteers who were beginning their third and fourth years in the country. It was eye opening, and a nice reminder that although we all have different thoughts and emotions and reactions to our everyday lives, Peace Corps Panama is a shared experience and this group of people will always understand what I’m going through and do everything they can to help me overcome any challenges- and vice versa!

Sadly, my province did not win the Olympics, but we did have a great time and that’s what matters! The weekend came to a close, and it was depressing. My entire cohort was so excited to be together and had waited months to see each other… just for it to be all over in a blink of an eye. It’ll be April or May when we can all be together again!

I couldn’t be too upset, because I had saved up quite a few of my vacation days to meet my family in Mexico just a week after the party! Every volunteer gets 2 days off a month, and they roll over if left unused. So I spent a couple months worth of vacation on a wonderful week with my parents and sister in paradise where I stuffed myself with all sorts of cheese and good ravioli, took several hot showers a day, and slept under a pile of blankets with the air conditioning on blast. Like I said, paradise!

While I loved Mexico and seeing my family, it was also a little weird. You just feel weird after being a part of the Peace Corps. I feel like a completely different person, but I can’t explain it. I look exactly the same, but I still feel unrecognizable. It’s just weird. I reached out to several volunteers who said it was the same thing. They almost couldn’t relate or fit in to their previous roles they had in their family and friend groups. The older generation of volunteers basically told me “once you leave home, you can never go back” and that never really resonated with me until I was struggling to feel comfortable being my new self around the people who used to know me the best. It’s just an odd feeling. So if I feel this strange after 10 months, how am I going to feel in another year and half? (I don’t mean this to be a humble brag being like oh my god I’m such a changed person!!! but it’s definitely something that didn’t actually feel very good. It made me feel kinda alone, actually. Strange.)

Anyway, I flew back to Panama City on New Year’s Eve so I was able to bring in 2018 with my cohort! I’m so glad we all love dancing, is there a better way to welcome the New Year than getting down on the dance floor with some of your best friends?



This fatty of a lizard was sunbathing at the resort in Mexico! And he picked the perfect spot- right next to the hot tub. Those cold-blooded reptiles have to stay warm somehow! I’m sure all that extra blubber is keeping him toasty!

The Odor of Death & A History Lesson

Death is in the air today. I woke up choking on it. What I thought would be smoke from a neighbor’s burning trash settling in my throat was actually the horrific smell of rotting flesh. I rolled over, aware that my stomach was made queasy by the pungent stench, and kicked my mosquito net away from the side of the bed. My bare feet on the already-warm concrete floor told me it was going to be a hot day. I quickly unlocked the three doors that stand between me and my front porch, and took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the bright morning sun. The doorway opened to the yard covered in vultures. Pitch black, from their feathers, to their bald heads and beady eyes. Black like death. Of course they would hone in on whatever that smell was. It was strong. It’s that particular odor where you know some sort of life has passed on and is taking its sweet time to decompose. It turns your stomach. Just a whiff can stop you in your tracks. I’m almost positive that’s your natural instincts kicking in. But this scent was everywhere. My one complaint of my house is the permanently open windows; the ones built into the concrete itself. No matter what I do, they will always allow in the outdoor fragrance, which is usually enjoyable, except for smoke from trash burnings… and now rotting meat. No amount of candle burning or “airing out the house” will help mask the aroma of mortality until it’s gone in its own time.

But this is fitting for January 9th in Panama. It’s Martyrs’ Day.

In 1964, the canal was still controlled by the USA. High school students saw this injustice and decided to take things into their own hands by marching with their flag to the flagpole of the canal with the intention of replacing the USA flag with the Panamanian one. The canal security surrounded the pole and a scuffle broke out when the students continued forward with their plan. It is still unknown how, but the Panamanian flag was torn in some way.

Word spread quickly, and an angry mob of protesters arrived at the canal to take down the security fence between the highway and canal itself, called the “Fence of Shame”, which locals referred to as their own Berlin Wall. Police and canal security guards tear gassed the hostile crowd, and many were shot. By nightfall there were 80-85 police officers versus 5-10,000 protesters (like many details, this number is wildly debated). So, the USA deployed their 193rd infantry brigade.

The next day, rioting continued, destroying American businesses and homes, forcing many to flee for their lives. A business building was set on fire with many workers trapped inside. Word of this revolution continued to spread, this time up North to the city of Colón, instigating hostile fights and upheaval there as well. There are reports that many communities and cities caught wind of revolt and rebelled in their own ways along the canal. During this, the USA military shot, tear gassed, and wreaked havoc on angry crowds, civilians, and entire neighborhoods.

Eventually, the fighting subsided and casualties were gathered. The final death toll in Panama City was 4 people from the USA, and 28 Panamanians, all killed under controversial circumstances. The youngest fatality was a 6 month old girl with asthma, who died when the infantry tear gassed her quiet neighborhood. In total, there were over 300 people treated for injuries, many with lodged bullets. Hundreds were left with disabilities, including paralysis, and amputees.

Due to international backlash, (basically a whole bunch of countries were like “THE USA IS A HYPOCRITE AND WE WILL NOT WORK WITH OR BACK THEIR POLICIES ANYMORE” and it made us look bad), this incident was believed to be the catalyst for the treaty in 1977 that began to slowly turn over control of the canal to Panama, who would have full control December 31, 1999 at noon.

Disclaimer: I read A LOT of fluctuating stories online and talked to a few old people who were there in the city, and it seems that details aren’t set in stone at all. I will say that the end reports where USA claims they did nothing wrong, never shot anyone, and pointed the finger at the students is what was published in the final reports. I’ll share my not-professional-in-the-slightest opinion and say that we know that’s bull. The official numbers just don’t add up. It’s just another story of the USA entering a country, messing things up, and then sweeping it under the bed. Pretty disgusting, right?

Have you ever even heard of this massacre? Was it ever brought to your attention during school? Do you think this is the only story hidden from USA citizens about what our country has done across the world?




So, as I sit on my front porch, filling my nostrils with the thick smell of impermanence and thinking about the martyrs, I remind myself that I have a big job to do here. I am an agent for the USA reputation. Though on a daily basis I may not see the resentment Panama has for my country, digging deeper we know it is still there. It is not unwarranted. But I am here to help alleviate this. I will share with them my goals for peace, show them that we are not all war-hungry, and hopefully piece the status of Americans back together. I do not have to apologize or feel guilt for my country’s actions- I do not control nor stand for an entire military. By simply being here in this community, concentrating on friendship, and focusing on deliberately changing the stereotype that follows me across the world… I can begin to make amends.



These were some of the vultures tearing apart a carcass a mere 15 meters from my porch. It wreaked horribly, and these birds were viciously protective of it, so this was as close as I could get. I assume it was a dead squirrel of some type. While taking this photo, I was watched by another 15 vultures from the branches above, and I didn’t appreciate the judgement. 0/10 never want to meet them again!