Panama, a mystical and beautiful country. Acres of jungle slope over hills swallowing up roads and houses. The only possible termination of the vast and expansive milluex of flora and fauna is the ocean or the canal. My hostel was a 3 story red house nestled to the side of a main road and as I slept, ate, worked and waked I could hear the incessant chatter of the jungle. Birds flying and calling, fruits dropping, leaves rustling and movements of whatever mysteries therein lay. The weather was insufferably hot. The air thick, as most air with 80% humidity often is. It was heaven and it was hell. I have never been so close to the equator, and I can certainly tell you my pale skin is not adapted for it.
Daily I had to walk 7 minutes along a thin side walk dotted with rotting to get to my professors hotel. We met and we worked. We did, what I will now introduce you to as something called a ‘workcation’. Part work, part vacation. Mostly work with the idea of vacation. Before Panama, never have I ever conceived of the words ‘poolside power point’. Sounds absolutely lovely, but it was poolside and little pool-in (that doesn’t work so well, maybe in-pool?).
However, before all this poolside power pointing we went to the Ministry Of Health of Panama (MINSA) and gave mocks of our presentations for critique. Fortunate to have the opportunity, yet unfortunate to have not previously shown or discussed the presentation with my professors. I call moments like that ‘winging it’, stand up and talk and hope it all works in your favour. This is also the point in time when I realized that my Spanish was far worse than I had realized. This makes complete sense, I don’t speak Spanish. Though somehow doing level 1 of Rosetta Stone made me feel bilingual… but only for phrases like “ellos tienen paraguas” (they are holding umbrellas).
We gave our presentations, received criticism, and headed back to the pool for a marathon of changes and formatting.
The symposium itself went great. There were a couple hitches, including my friend and colleague, Brock William’s name not being on the symposium outline. This is funny because we were making fun of him for being teacher’s pet. I guess not.
The other hitch was during my presentation a torrent of rain caused multiple power shortages. I was left standing on stage in front of a room of people with out a presentation. I kept it cool, trying not to laugh too much about the absurdity of the situation. It actually reminded me (although loosely) of this Kids In The Hall skit. Mostly the line when the presenter says ‘if I had brought the graph… you would be able to see that….etc..’. In homage I whispered under my breathe “if I had power you would be able to see that….”
All in all, the audience was receptive to our talks and had a great deal of questions and comments. I missed most of them as they were mostly in Spanish, a central theme to my time abroad. The symposium ended and everyone left. Brock and the supervisors went back to the Hotel, and fellow colleague and friend Javier Sanchez-Galan helped me get back to the hostel. Without Javier, I think I may have spent a lot of time in Panama stranded in my hostel or a bus stand. Maybe even a fruit stand, who knows.
The next day we travelled to San Felix in the Chiriqui Province. This may have been my favourite part of the workcation. We drove with our lab including Emerita Pons, a lively field technician and Dr. Enrique Murillo who was one of the the principle investigators from the University of Panama. I sat beside them on the 6 hour car ride while they and Javier hotly debated politics, swapped stories, told jokes and engaged in other components of chit-chat. I was hoping that by some osmosis I would pick up some Spanish. Sadly, most of it was lost on me, except I learned ‘mira!’ from Emerita. She would call it out to get her opponents to listen to her. This was accompanied by a hand gesture I can only describe as being a swat. The whole thing was a bit wild.
Our hotel was Playa Las Lajas and from what the internet tells me is 1 hour east of San Felix. This was our only brief encounter with the ocean and was absolutely beautiful, especially when it started to storm. Swimming in the Pacific Ocean during a thunderstorm was my second favourite part of the workcation. It would be my first, however the ocean’s enormous waves and the cloud’s threat of lightning scared me a little bit too much for total enjoyment. Regardless of my cowardliness, it was amazing.
The next morning it was back to work, as we gave our second and final symposium in San Felix. What was really cool was we were able to present the research to the community where we conducted the study, the Ngabe Bugle. Again, there was valued input from local health workers and community members, and again I could not gleam as much information as I would have liked. No entiendo, para estoy aprendiendo espanol.
The next day we returned to Panama City, making sure to stop so I could pick wild fruit off of the road side trees. Did you know that each cashew comes from one fruit?! That’s why cashews are so expensive… and delicious…
Clearly I am digressing. I think I will stop here and maybe get back to figuring out if this fruit I picked is indeed edible or not.
Wish me luck!