One of the greatest pleasures this blog has brought me has been the opportunity to meet some very special people. One of these people is Courtney, who is a Peace Corps worker. Those of you that have been here for a while will probably remember her.
She sent me her farewell post yesterday. You may want to go back read some of her other posts. You can find all her posts by doing a search on Chiriquí Chatter for Courtney.
Here is her farewell post. Courtney, I will miss you.
Hi Chiriquí Chatter readers,
I hope that this post finds everyone well and enjoying the rainy season in Panama or the fall in the U.S. My name is Courtney and I am a Peace Corps Volunteer who has been working in rural Panama for two years, during which time Don Ray has been kind enough to allow me to periodically share my experiences with the readers of Chiriquí Chatter. I am finishing my service and head back to the United States next week.
As this will be my last post from Panama, I´m going to use it to talk about the Panamanian “despedida” or, as we call it in English, farewell or going away party. I officially left the community where I worked and lived a few days ago and, consequently, just experienced a series of such events, some very formal and others less so. Let me begin by breaking down what I see as the three essential elements of a “despedida” for any Peace Corps Panama Volunteer: food, speeches, and what I will term “business”.
The food is generally “arroz con pollo y ensalada de papas” (rice with chicken and potato salad). The potato salad may be substituted for a cabbage and carrot salad reminiscent of coleslaw. Soda or a Tang-style “juice” beverage is usually the drink of choice. Next come the speeches. Everyone is given an opportunity to say a few words expressing their feelings towards the person being honored and praying that God will always bless and protect the individual.
Lastly, the “business” portion generally focuses on what the Volunteer will be doing with the items that he/she will not be packing up to take back to the U.S. This conversation is not just limited to the “despedida” events but tends to spill over into about the last 6 months of service with frequent visitors dropping by to check out the goods and trying to make a deal for purchase. I will not generalize for others regarding the sale of their belongings, but I can say that I found the entire process exhausting but also funny. People wanted to buy items that I never dreamed I could sell, such as old umbrellas and my alarmingly lumpy pillow, and community members that had never talked to me before suddenly began to visit my home to get in on the action. It felt a bit disheartening at first because it was as if my stove, Tupperware, and mattress were way more interesting and valuable than my actual presence. At the end though, I tried to get over this and see the positive. They all used financial management to save up the money to purchase the items that they wanted and paid on time or even early! And everyone said, “Each time I use this ____ (stove, mattress, bowl, etc.) I will think of you.” That´s good…I suppose!
All joking aside, I really have enjoyed my time in Panama! The people in my community are amazingly friendly and I feel like I really do have my own Panamanian family there. When I entered Peace Corps it was with the idea of the positive impact that I could make on the lives of rural Panamanians, but after two years I have realized that they are in fact the ones that have given me the greatest gifts and not vice versa. Their friendship, openness, and generosity have changed me in ways that I don´t have the words to express at this point. Perhaps time will give me the insight necessary to pinpoint exactly what is different, but in reality I think that words will always be insufficient. Beyond the human aspect I have learned to speak Spanish (with my gringo accent and errors, of course) and about the immense challenges and rewards of sustainable development work. These are skills and insights that will serve me as a journey along whatever road I choose to take.
Finally, thank you all for taking your time to read my posts and I wish you all the best wherever you happen to be!
Peace Corps Volunteer – Panama
Note: The contents of this post are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.