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Rincón de las Palmas – Saturday, July 21st – Larissa & Hannah 

Our names are Larissa and Hannah. We are 15. Larissa is from Phoenix, Arizona and Hannah is from Houston, Texas. We are staying in Rincón de las Palmas with Don Simon and Doña Magdalena and their grandson, Ángel.

Today was Saturday, so we woke up early and took a bus with other volunteers and staff to the community El Barrero. It was great to meet up with our friends that are staying in different communities. The hike was tiring but the view was beautiful. Afterwards we had a small party with sodas and snacks before returning to Rincón for lunch. Then we went home for an hour to get ready to play with the kids at la Casa Comunal. We played charades, soccer, hot potato, and other games with the kids, which was super fun. We had time to relax before eating dinner with our family and playing the card game Uno with Ángel. At the end of the day, we were exhausted and we went to bed early.

While in Panama, we’ve learned more about the culture and lifestyle. We will never forget how much fun it was to make the kids smile and laugh as we played games with them and taught them at the school. We’ve both really stepped up as leaders by practicing our Spanish and helping the kids this week in our community.

La Negrita – Saturday, July 21st – Francesca & Carmina 

Hi, we are Carmina, age 15, from Arlington, Virginia and Francesca, age 13, from Marin, California. We are writing from La Negrita, Panama. I, Francesca, have two parents, a sister, and a dog waiting at home and I, Carmina, like to draw.

Today we woke up at 6:00AM to take a bus to our neighbor community, El Barrero. We met up with the other two communities to take a hike. There was lots of screaming and excitement as friends, who were separated for two days were reunited. The walk started off easy, but progressively got steeper and more difficult. At one point, after an especially hard climb, we were met by brief relief when some fellow participants, who were already there started cheering for the people who were on their way up, “Congratulations! You did it! You made it to the top!” Only then we found out that we were half-way there!

We compared and contrasted our experiences in our different communities as we reached the top of the mountain and looked out at the beautiful view. After some brief snacks and drinks, we took the bus back to La Negrita. We had lunch and after hanging out and talking out our community experiences, we went to the kiosco, per usual, and then returned to our homes. We watched, and some played, in a king of the court soccer game, went home, ate dinner, and went to bed.

In Panama, we have learned about cultural differences and how to respect them. We thought that everything would be very remote and hard to get to and that there wouldn’t be running water. But upon arriving here we learned that you can walk everywhere and not only is there running water, but pretty much everyone has a TV that is constantly on.

A memory we will never forget here is how welcoming everyone in the communities are, especially the students and staff at the school and most of our host families. Here in Panama, we have made many new friends, but one of the most important to us is Alexandra our 11 year old host aunt, and yes, host aunt. We always have fun throwing dance parties and talking in her room late at night (aka 7:00pm).

Overall, our experiences in Panama have been amazing and I couldn’t find a way to better spend my summer.

La Negrita – Sunday, July 22nd – Orlando

My name is Orlando and I am 14. I have lived almost my whole life in California (7 months in Mexico). For the past few days I have been staying in La Negrita with Doña María. She has been absolutely incredible. I don’t have much dance expertise, but as I write this, a birthday party awaits so I can learn!

Today, there was not much focus on our service project, since we work in schools and today was Sunday. Instead, we took a hike with a few community members.

I spent a lot of time with all my friends and the “extended host family”. We were all dancing like crazy, chatting away, and screaming. We ate a lot of amazing pork and cake. We also tried hojaldra today, a type of bread. A bit of a greasy treat that goes well with jam.

Usually the host family brings movies of our collective choice. While the movie plays, we all exchange music. I think the baby likes the song, Fortunate Son, more than any of Maluma’s songs. The rest of the family is not happy with its infantile taste in music.

Since I came to Panama, the one thing I really learned is to rely on people with experience. This just happens a lot in community and it’s something I should definitely take back with me. I honestly expected more machismo, racism, and homophobia, but I was surprised that it was not as I had expected. Everyone has been really nice and trying to be open to our own culture. I will never forget talking about Panama’s government  with my host mom or dancing to the Beatles with a little 11-month-old baby and the family.

All of this to learn, live, and experience with someone else.

La Negrita – Monday, July 23rd – Darwin and Andreas 

Today, there are two of us writing this blog post, Darwin and Andreas. Darwin is 15 and lives in California. Andreas is 13 and lives in Texas. We are both living in the same host family at the edge of La Negrita with a third participant, Orlando, who wrote yesterday’s post.

We woke up this morning later than usual and rushed to eat breakfast and catch the local van to school. There, we were met with an unusual assembly that lasted quite a while. Luckily, our task for the day was organizing books; much easier than our group’s previous task of building a second bathroom for the school. After organizing the mini library, all ten of us sat for a cooked school lunch of rice, beans, chicken, and plátanos.

Our afternoon’s extracurricular activity topic was health. We played multiple semi-related games including head, shoulders, knees, and toes and another game in which the 7–13-year-olds ran around chasing the healthier option of different activities.

After school, all ten of us and many students crammed into the same type of van we arrived in. We got off at La Casa Comunal, an open building in which we discussed tomorrow’s plans. From there, we split up and went to our respective houses. At home, we were met with the usual warm hellos from our host mother, two host sisters, host brother, and our nephew. We ate a dinner similar to that of lunch while watching English movies dubbed in Spanish. With a decent amount of light left, we walked to a local waterfall to dip our feet in. Now, almost 10pm, we are writing this while entertaining our seven year old nephew and 11 year old sister, while Orlando watches TV.

Since arriving in Panama, we have both learned that Panamanians are very welcoming and friendly. We were also both surprised when seeing the contrast between Panama City and rural Panama. The city has huge skyscrapers while the rest of the population lives quite simply. A fond memory neither of us will forget was when our 7 year old host nephew told us we were “friends forever” before going to bed a couple nights ago.

Finally, we both have become great friends with many of the kids we’ve met, especially the school children, despite many of them being half our age.