Wabash Blogs The Graduate

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Brian Crum '08

Five months have elapsed since my graduation from Wabash. It has been a very interesting and exciting time. In January of this year, I received a nomination to serve in the Peace Corps in Central or South America. Having received a nomination from the Peace Corps, I was assured an invitation to join the Peace Corps pending medical approval. My future assignment would consist of business development, and I could have been leaving any time between June and August of 2008. The information given to me was rather broad, but I was excited nonetheless. As graduation approached and I had not heard back from the Peace Corps, I solidified my plans to begin an internship in finance/accounting in Washington DC starting May 19.

Shortly after graduation, I packed up my belongings and drove to my new residence in Fairfax, VA, west of Washington DC. So I began my internship on Monday, May 19th. I was placed in the accounts payable department where I had my own little cubicle containing residual office paraphernalia from the past employee. The internship was incredibly helpful because it made me realize that I never want to work in accounting.

As an uneventful summer came to a close, I finally received my official invitation to serve in the Peace Corps in Panama. I decided to accept the invitation to serve as a volunteer after a bit of hesitation. My initial correspondence with the Washington DC Peace Corps office left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. They appeared to be very disorganized. Panama was my first choice of the Central American countries. After accepting my invitation to work as a Community Economic Development Consultant.

Sorry for the delay in updating my blog, but the last 10 weeks of training have been ridiculously packed full of training events. Anyway, I have finally arrived to the community I will be living in for 2 years. The name of my community is Rio Oeste Arriba in the Province of Bocas Del Toro (very close to Costa Rica). My community is very close to a city called Almirante. Almirante used to be the headquarters for the Chiquita banana company. Now the town is rundown and trashy. 

Now let me go back to the beginning of the Peace Corps experience.  I left for Miami on August 11th from Indianapolis with a suitcase and a big backpack. I arrived in Miami, FL for staging or orientation. At staging, I met the other 34 people I would be training with as part of the 62nd Peace Corps group in Panama. The 35 of us were split into two groups, Community Economic Development (CED) and Environmental Health (EH). After a few boring days in Miami dealing with logistics, signing papers, and policies. We left for Panama on August 13th.

Upon arrival to Panama, my group went to Ciudad del Saber (city of knowledge). This place is similar to a college campus with dorms and offices. It also contains the Peace Corps office. We stayed in Ciudad del Saber until Sunday August 17th. Our time there was packed full of meetings to go over more orientation, set up our bank accounts, receive vaccinations, etc. On Sunday August 17th, we departed for a community called Santa Clara de Arraijan, a little southwest of Panama City. I would be training and living with a host family for the next 9 weeks in this community.

Training consisted of four hours of language training and four hours of technical training Monday-Friday. Occasionally during the week, often on Fridays, we would go to a conference center in a near by city called Chorrera. Conferences consisted of more Peace Corps policy, safety, and medical issues. We trained in our sectors; therefore, I, being part of CED, trained with all the CED individuals. Training as a whole was beneficial for the most part. I needed more language training then tech. So often during tech training, I would take an additional hour or two of language instead of tech. Tech training consisted of learning different tools for presenting information to our future communities. As a CED volunteer, our goals are to work with Cooperatives in Panama, help them strengthen business practices, and cultivate leaders. Also during training, I spent a great portion of my time traveling around the western part of Panama. During the second week of training, I went to visit a volunteer in La Comarca Ngabe-Bugle in the city of Soloy. Soloy is a huge indigenous town next to the Soloy River. This was an interesting experience because the Ngabe (the indigenous people that live there) don’t really like to talk. So they just stared at me as I walked around checking out the town with the volunteer I was visiting. After 4 days in Soloy, I returned to Santa Clara to continue training. During training, our language skills and adaptability to the culture are always being monitored. This is done so that my boss, Associate Peace Corps Director (APCD) Zach can place me in a community that I can easily live in for 2 years.

So week 4 finally arrives and I was placed in a community called Rio Oeste Arriba in Bocas Del Toro. I would be heading to Bocas del Toro with 6 other volunteers from my group, 4 CED and 2 EH. The following two weeks after site announcement, I went to Valled Del Risco in Bocas Del Toro for a week of studying the culture of Bocas with my fellow volunteers. The week following culture week was technical week. My technical week was in Santa Clara de Rio Serrano, practically in Costa Rica. This Santa Clara was located in the mountains and had an awesome climate. It was the first time I didn’t sweat while sitting in one place and eating my meals.

The following weeks, 5 and 6, I had another week in Santa Clara de Arraijan full of training. During week 8, I was finally able to visit my community of Rio Oeste Arriba. After site visit, we had two more weeks of training. I recently swore in as a Peace Corps Volunteer at the American Ambassador’s house on Oct 22nd. Following swear-in, my group hung out at the beach for a few days to celebrate. Now we are all in our sites where we will remain to integrate for the first 3 months.

I apologize for any spelling or grammar mistakes; I’m trying to write as much as I can while I’m sweating my face off in this Internet café. Anyway, my host dad is waiting so I have to go. I’ll try and update this blog roughly every week or 2 from now on, now that I can have my own schedule.

Pictures: #1- Host family, who live in a community called Santa Clara De Arraijan.  From L to R – Jovana, Stefanie, Arsedilia (host mom), and Grace.
#2- During my volunteer visit to the town of Soloy in La Comarca Ngabe-Bugle, I went to the Soloy River.
#3- Soccer field in Valle Del Risco of Bocas Del Toro.  I lived here during week #5 – Culture Week – of training.  This was the first time I was immersed in the culture of Bocas Del Toro, and I severely twisted my ankle on the field that week.  For a while, it was the size of a grapefruit.


"...uneventful summer came to a close?"

Brian - I'm on the staff at Wabash and noticed your blog ... I lived in Panama for 3 years from 79-82 when my dad was stationed at the former Albrook Air Force Station. There were as many as 7 or 8 US military installations back then but they've all reverted back to the Panamanian Government when we fully relinquished control of the Canal Zone and operation of the locks in 2000. I haven't been back since we left but you have mentioned several places that I'm familiar with ... Santa Clara (great beaches!), Comarca (which is near Boquete ... ineed the climate is incredible), and of course, Panama City. Perhaps by now you've been out to the old ruins which are pretty cool to see. One of your photos by a river looks like it could be the Chagres River. My Boy Scout Troop used to canoe those waters as well as hike and camp all along Gatun Lake. If you get a chance to go fishing, if you like that sort of thing, the Peacock Bass fishing in Gatun can be phenomenal as they are a hard-fighting fish ... we used to go out and in a day could catch up to as many as 200 of them, especially when they were schooled up.

If you ever go out on the causeway (just under and out past the Bridge of the Americas) which used to be the old Ft. Amador, it's really beautiful out there. A friend of mine and I one day took some flashlights and lanterns and explored the old military bunkers built into the sides of the hills out there ... at the top of one of the hills was an old gun turret which had a cannon mounted there during WWII to help protect the mouth of the canal entryway. It was really fascinating. There used to be a train that traversed the isthmus that you could take and was pretty cool. The Atlantic side has really beautiful, blue waters to snorkel in.

My house was at the end of the runway at Albrook and I would wake up everyday and look out my bedroom window to see the big Panamanian flag that flies on top of Ancon Hill. It was errected in 1979 when Carter signed the treaty to return the Canal Zone to the Panamanians. That pole, if I recall, is as long as a football field and the flag is the size of a basketball court.

I also remember going to a place in Panama called Stephen's Circle, there you could find all kinds of native art from soap stone carvings to molas done by the Cuna indians, jade jewelery, and leather stuff. Up by Chiriqui there were more artisans coming from far and wide to bring their work to the market for sale ... a great place to spend the day.

What a place! Maybe someday I'll go back. Enjoy your time ... I'd love to hear more about your experiences and will keep a look out for your postings.

Brian, having received an invitation for Panama mid-Apr 09, I started cruising for web sites looking for groups actually. My husband and I are reasigning to Panama and will be in the teaching TEFL program of tourism. In our last assignment I was in the Health prog and my husband in CED. Are there any other parts to your blog here? Is it restricted as ours and our friends were?