My first week was spent learning the ropes at Azuero Earth Project (ProEco/ProEco Azuero), practicing my Spanish, and getting oriented in Pedasí and I have already learned so much. ProEco is a small organization, located in Pedasí, Los Santos. Their focus is in reforestation and environmental education. From what I can tell, most of my days will be spent working in the office with Sandra, the program Director, who is also heading the Eco-Artisan project. Currently, we are working on putting together a second workshop for the Panamanian artisans. The goal is to teach them innovative practices that utilize local, natural materials that can be cultivated in the Peninsula.
Obviously, I have had to both listen and speak in Spanish. Most of my co-workers speak at least a little bit of English or Spanish, so communicating within the organization is not difficult. However, many of the locals, landowners, and artisans only speak Spanish. The Panamanian accent is similar to a Caribbean accent, where parts of words are dropped. So, the question (how are you?), “¿Como estás?” can sound like “¿Como está?” or (be careful) “cuidado” sounds like “cuiao.” It is often difficult to understand them, especially if the speak fast. I’ve come to learn that native English-speakers are much easier to understand in Spanish than native Spanish-speakers. The campo (rural) accent is especially difficult to decipher. As the week has gone by, it is getting easier to speak and listen to Spanish. I can only hope I will be fluent by the end of the 10 weeks.
Pedasí is a quaint little town on the tip of the Peninsula. During my first week I have not had much time to explore, but I will explore in the coming weeks. It is an upcoming tourist spot. Many retired expats have come to live here. There are a lot of hostels that visitors can stay at while they are here. The closest beach is about three miles away, an easy bus ride. The cost of living here is much less expensive compared to the US. I would be easy and cheap to come visit me!
Here is a short run-down of what I did my first week:
I completed part of a GIS (Geographical Information Systems) workshop on Wednesday, which was taught in Spanish. GIS will be essential to the creation of the map for the Eco-Artisan project. I will eventually to go through the workbook on my own, so I can have a better understanding of the software. On Thursday, I traveled to Panamá city with Sandra, the program director, to run a table at a fair at the Technological University of Panama. Many of the students dressed similar to how we do in the US, which is a contrast to how people dress in rural Panamá. The campus was huge, but reminded me of my own college experience. Friday was spent working from Sandra’s restaurant, as there was a planned power outage in Pedasí.
The majority of my weekend has been spent traveling with Ruth, the executive director of ProEco, to different towns and talking with landowners. One of the main goals of ProEco Azuero is to create a forested corridor in the Peninsula to help the surrounding environment and to save the endangered Spider Monkey, which is the mascot of the organization. This is corridor will be accomplished through working with landowners to help reforest their property. The majority of the land in Azuero has been converted to cattle farming land, creating pastures of grass rather than the dry forest that used to cover the peninsula. So, Ruth, Macie (another volunteer), and I visited a few ranchers to discuss reforesting their properties in the town of Bajo Corral and Miel.
Overall, I am super excited to be here. Of course I am nervous about using Spanish and the tasks I have ahead of me, but I am going in with enthusiasm and a passion for what I am doing.