Some people know this about me all too well, but for those that don’t, first let me start by telling you that I am a huge fan of the TV show Parks and Recreation. In fact, I love it so much that a few months ago I went to a performance in Madison of Nick Offerman’s comedy tour. For those of you who don’t watch the show, Offerman plays the character Ron Swanson on the show. If you look up ‘Ron Swanson burger tossing’ on youtube after reading this and don’t laugh, frankly I just don’t know how to help you.
Anyway, his comedy show was based on some very funny but very wise advice that he called his 10 Tips to Prosperity. The show was hilarious but everyone came away understanding that he really meant for us to take his ideas seriously. Being here in Panama for a month I’ve found myself thinking more about those ten tips and realizing just how much they apply to life here, so after a few changes (re-thinking 8 and skipping 9 for the sake of being appropriate) the following are my 9 Tips for Prosperity in Panama:
1. “Have loving relationships”. This is a serious one. Being here, thousands of miles away from the people I love the most, the only thing I miss about the States is them. Most days though, there is not a whole lot I can do about that without phone or internet so the best thing to do is focus on creating new relationships with all the people in Casa Llena and in this program. It is not easy to be thrown into a new place, without much contact to your old life, to live and work and eat and constantly be together with new people, but creating good relationships with them and maintaining that is essential to living here and surviving this summer. It is also a chance to make relationships that could last for the rest of our lives, and so focusing on these is incredibly important.
[Spending time with other interns exploring San Miguel on the Summer Solstice]
2. “Use please and thank you”. Muy importante- use por favor and gracias and always wear a smile! If you can do this, for the most part you will get along just fine in Panama.
[I don’t speak much Spanish yet, but with a lot of thank yous said to our cook Noris, I now love her like a mother]
3. “Carry a handkerchief”. Aka sweat rag. Seriously good advice. We’re in Panama; get one, treasure it, and wash often, please.
[Sweat rags for Julie, Elly and I, all ready for a hike to the Valley!]
4. “Eat red meat”, and, in addition to this, pay attention to all the meat and food you are eating. We can walk to the Chino, ask for a Coke, turn around and watch people butcher a full cow or pig hanging 10 feet behind us on any given night. We see chickens eating and finding worms, buy them whole at the local Chino, see them prepared and cooked, and then we eat them. Circle of life. Recognize how awesome it is to know where food comes from, know the people who raised it, and where and what the food we are eating ate when it was alive. In the States, we buy processed packaged chemical filled ground beef and turn it into a burger. The system here gives us a responsibility to pay attention to what food is on our table and what is going into our bodies. So eat red meat or whatever food you want, but more importantly, know your food before you eat it!
[Our 6 growing chickens. 3 will be egg-layers and feed us like Negrita and Ruby have all semester, and 3 will be eating chickens to butcher at the end of the internship]
5. “Find a discipline”. This is essential to our internship. Not only do you want to find something that you are passionate about to turn into a project and work on here, but we also have a lot of time that in the States would be spent on computers, social media, putzing on our phones, doing things that really are a waste of our time. Here, we aren’t even able to distract ourselves with those things. So, we each have found things to fill our time that may not technically be disciplines, but that we all love and work at. For some it’s creating soccer drills for the kids, some it’s building in the workshop, many of us have begun to color and paint, or work on photography, gardening or writing. Everyone works on things that have value not just to the outside world but to themselves as well. It is great to see people doing things where others can interact and where there is an end-product besides a new Facebook status.
[Coaching soccer has become a new discipline for me- not just playing, but prepping and interacting with the kids fills up endless happy hours for me here in Panama]
6. “Go outside”. Here, that has a lot of meanings. First, we have learned to love being outside more than ever. So what about the heat- we garden, go down to the river, play in the rain, get muddy, and lie in hammocks instead of our beds. A second meaning of going outside has to do with our Anthropology and Community Outreach work. The point of us being here is to reach out, to become involved, meet locals, talk, create and maintain a relationship with them, have a presence in San Miguel, not just stay inside our house. Lastly- adventure. Navigate the chivas, see the oceans, meet new people and see new places. We’re in Panama, this is a once in a lifetime adventure. Treat it that way.
[The Anthropology team getting outside and conducting interviews has allowed us to see the most beautiful sites and create great connections outside of our English-speaking house]
7. “Avoid mirrors.” In the U.S. standards of beauty dictate a lot of our day because that is often how we are judged as people. Here in San Miguel, our appearance as far as staying clean and wearing modest clothes for our work is important because of cultural beliefs, but besides that, make-up, hair, it’s not something to worry about. How frizzy the humidity makes our hair has nothing to do with how well we conduct research, teach English, coach an after-school soccer program, or forge relationships.
[Typical day of no make-up and hair up, but happier than ever in Panama]
8. This one I have changed into “maintain a relationship with what you believe in”. You may have a religion, you may not, but everyone has passions and ideas and here it is incredibly important to remember those things and work at them. That’s the point of us being here after all.
[One person’s original idea for a compost pile turned into a passion for many interns, and our beliefs about sustainability have led to huge growth in the plants around it, the fertility of the soil, and a great place to feed the chickens and help our farm to table eating habits]
10. Last but most important of all: “paddle your own canoe”. Make your way through this internship and the overall experience by taking a new path, navigating it yourself and steering the experience in the way you want it to go. You have the power to do with this time whatever you choose. So don’t follow where others have gone before but take chances and do whatever is going to make you happiest.
[Paddling our own canoe found us a beautiful rio spot and yet another day of complete happiness on this journey]
Now please. Find some great Ron quotes on youtube and eat some bacon. In the meantime, I’ll be searching Panama for a poster board big enough to fit the Ron Swanson pyramid on it to use in next week’s soccer practices.
Peace, love, Panama.