Jackie in Panama

Jackie Wald has served as a lecturer in Spanish in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures in SMU’s Dedman College. She and her husband, Michael, have volunteered to serve in the Peace Corps in Panama for 27 months. Their assignment is to update the English Program at the Escuela Normal, which is Panama’s premier teacher training school.

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Journey to Panama

One duffel, one backpack, two and a half years of service. That’s how we started out our Peace Corps journey to Panama.

Our temporary home
During the training period, my husband and I are assigned a homestay (as are all the 46 volunteers in training from our group).

Our senora who hosts us is a 63-year-old widow who lives with her 28-year-old daughter, two dogs, 50 chickens, several turkeys, geese, a parrot. The rooster crows ALL night, every hour, joining a cacophony of neighborhood roosters who sing to each other.

Indoor plumbing is only a memory. We have to shoo the little chickies out of the latrine when we want to use it. Shower is a tin stall outdoors with a feeble dribble on the spigot or else we bucket wash. All laundry is done in a bucket and hung out to dry. The heat and humidity in Panama caused me to nearly buzz my haircut!

Teaching and travel
Training is rigorous. We must learn how to create sustainable development in this culture, how to assess community resources and speculate the needs of the area to which we will eventually be assigned. Language acquisition is a big part of Peace Corps training, but since that is not necessary in my case, I have been assigned to work in the school as a classroom assistant or tutor, whatever they need. I have met the director and she will place me this coming week in the primary grades. I’m psyched to do this!

Part of our aculturation is to visit established Peace Corps volunteers in other areas to see how they live and work. This weekend we are on our way to visit another married couple serving near the Costa Rican border. We are excited because it will be fun plus the altitude makes it a cooler climate, which will be a relief from the heat of the central part of the country.

The canal
Of course when we say Panama, we think of the canal. It is fascinating to see ships from all over the world pass through the isthmus. I think that David McCollough said it well in his book The Path Between the Seas:

“The creation of a water passage across Panama was one of the supreme human achievements of all time, the culmination of a heroic dream of four hundred years and of more than twenty years of phenomenal effort and sacrifice. The fifty miles between the oceans were among the hardest ever won by human effort and ingenuity, and no statistics on tonnage or tolls can begin to convey the grandeur of what was accomplished. Primarily the canal is an expression of that old and noble desire to bridge the divide, to bring people together. It is a work of civilization.”

I hope to write more later. Have a great summer, SMU!!!

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    2 Responses to Journey to Panama

    1. Ozzie says:

      Admiro tu determinacion. Yo nunca sobrevivir a este tipo de aventura. Ya estoy muy viejo para esto. :)

    2. April says:

      I have enjoyed reading about your experience. I am a high school English teacher who is traveling to Panama in late June. I will be working with about 25 English teachers there. I have no idea what to expect.

      I have been asked to do a workshop with them. I would love an advice you could give me. I need activities to do with them. Thank you!

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