Transitioning to Central America

I invite family and friends to add a note or a memory of El Real here and if you have photos let me know or email or add them on facebook and I’ll download them and add them here.  The place to add your memories and photos is at the end of this post.  This message can be translated  on the side bar.253799_10200360868173932_400333435_nSo far I’ve  written about training in Puerto Rico, arrival to Panama and now to my townsite.  I’d  fallen madly in love with the man who spoke English. I could not stay in the Peace Corps married to a National, a rule at that time, since changed I believe. I had to go home to MN to think about all this, stayed there for several months working to earn my fare back to Panama. And then  I  returned.

First things first, we got married in Panama by a judge with two of his friends as witnesses the day after I arrived. The judge had apparently had a liquid lunch but no matter so did the groom and the witnesses. The judge noted in English that we should all intermarry to solve world problems or something like that.

It wasn’t much of a ceremony.  I found out later that my father-in-law had planned to have us marry at the small church in El Real and he had asked the ambassador to give me away.  Would have been nice, I’d have better memories of that time. Husband said no and I was never consulted. So starting out with some concerns I should have taken note of, no wedding,  too much alcohol,     I had no complaints, I was in love. Most of my husbands family didn’t speak much English and my Spanish was primitive.

We lived in El real for 6 years.602731_10200360877014153_1961031867_n Sorry, I don’t have better photos of that time I didn’t have a camera.  Can you imagine anyone not having photos of all this today? We arrived in El Real via a very tiny airplane after making a few swoops to get the cattle off the landing site.

El Real is a small town up the river from Yaviza another larger town and in-between was a wood mill, la donceya not sure about the spelling, a woman who sometimes lived there because her husband owned the mill,  taught me to crochet.  It took about an hour to get to either place depending on the tide..via piragua on the river,196859_10200360875734121_968003015_n (yes there were tides)

There were some missionaries that lived close to Yaviza, several families that were translating the Bible into a native language for the Indians.  We saw them now and again.  The missionaries in the area, the Doctor and his family and other professional people working in government jobs in town, teachers, family, and Peace Corps volunteers were my sources of community. Never all at the same time.  

Doctors and Scientists working for the Smithson Institute had a yellow house, in town, everyone called it the yellow house, in El Real to do studies deeper in the rain forest.  There is a bug named after Don Pablo Othon (my father-in-law.) called the othoni something, I don’t remember the name or the kind of bug now.

We also had some interesting visitors because ours was the only place for visitors to stay with plumbing.  I wish I had my visitors book where I asked them to sign for me. People from all over the world. Unfortunately for me all that was left behind.

In years past life was good for the Othon’s, I saw signs of fine living, rooms painted in murals that must have been beautiful but most was gone when I lived there.  The river is taking the land in front of the house and the last picture of the house showed earthquake damage.  Now no one of the family lives there l,  though there may be relativesmonkey in town still there.  Most recent photos of El Real show a lot has changed over the years but there is still no road to get from El Real to Panama City.

Its called the Darien gap but I’ll cover that in another post.



Tell a Good Story and They will come….

I guess I’ve just realized that this is true and if I want visitors here I need to make it interesting.  Some people say that I’ve had an interesting life and one may like to read my stories.  I’ll try, but most of my ‘interesting’ life happened over 6 years many years ago, and my memory for detail is not good.  I’m hoping that as I think back I’ll remember more and more.

I was one of the first PeaceCorps Volunteers (PCV)  1964  to Panama, it seems like a different lifetime. I suppose it was.  I wasn’t a successful volunteer as I fell in love and at that time if you married a national you were out of the corps.  However, I did remain on my ‘site’ for 6 more years.

They were difficult years for me.

I have touched on life in Darien before but only the interesting and different aspects to amuse, not the lonely days that lasted forever with the sound of cantinas until midnight.

When I arrived via avioneta (tiny airplane) at my townsite, El Real, Darien Panama  I lived in the hospital with intent to assist there. Honestly, the nurses that ran the hospital didn’t need any help from me.  The MD was there periodically but the nurses managed the hospital.  My Spanish was negligible  I was so bad that when our PCV group arrived in Panama and we went around to introduce ourselves I said ‘soy enferma’ instead of enfermera.  I’m sick instead of I am a nurse!

So I walked around town with kids following behind me every day stopping here and there and trying to talk with the residents sitting on doorsteps hanging out at the Chinese stores trying to communicate, teaching English to a band of kids.

One Peace Corps suggestion to get to know the people in your town, was to do a census.  That was the worse idea and I never even tried to do it. Can you imagine?  We were already suspected by some to be CIA operatives rather than volunteers, just the stupidest idea! Can you imagine answering census type questions to total strangers coming to your door!, Ugly American stuff! Unbelievable  I hope no volunteers did census taking.

I had just arrived in November before Thanksgiving, when we heard on the radio, Voice of America,  the death of President Kennedy.  My friend (future husband) had a shortwave radio so I heard about it when everyone else did.  There were some grievances between Panama and the US that caused some problems for some PCV’s but  I just was advised to remain in the hospital just in case but I never felt threatened.  There was always something political going on in Panama and my husband’s family was political. By that, I mean that my husband’s father had been the diputado for the province for many years (congressman) He lost his last election and some said he lost it because of his son marrying a gringa. (that’s me)

Before I got to Panama….


Our group went to Puerto Rico before going to Panama for basic training.  I met so many really fine people in this experience,  I wish I had kept in touch with many of them.

We did physical stuff in PR. We repelled off a dam, I really liked doing that, it was so much easier than rock climbing where my hips and legs were black and blue from falling. Going We did drown-proofing and I jumped from a really really high diving board.  I am still a nonswimmer and though they nearly had to push me off I finally jumped.  A hike during which I nearly got heat exhaustion.  I had gone from Minnesota weather to Puerto Rico weather with a short break in New York (where we grouped)  and my body had trouble keeping up. We also did an obstacle course!  I loved this time in PR even when we had to get up early for exercises, no sleeping in!. After Puerto Rico, we had some classes, Spanish of course, the culture of Panama,   diet and music and dress, in Missouri, during which I was hospitalized with back pain and fever, thought to be dengue, endemic in PR. while everyone else went for a fun special event.

A quick trip home to MN to pack up and find out who passed, I did, and on to Panama.  Did I ever use those skills learned? Nope, but it did test our strengths and weakness and not all of our group was forwarded to Panama.

It was pouring rain when we arrived,  not an unusual event, dignitaries awaited us in the airport.  We ran.  This is when in a roundtable of identifying ourselves to the dignitaries, that   I introduced myself in Spanish saying I was sick instead of I am a nurse and only realized it when I saw smiles and questionable looks from everyone. From there we were housed in a hotel, very nice and met our leaders.  I bet that they had never seen a sheet hanging from the balcony.  I had a pretty severe case of Montezuma revenge. too much information?   We were assigned our ‘towns;  I said I would like to work with the Indians and was assigned El Real of the Darién province.   And that is beginning of my story.