I’m not great with animals. I have a pretty general I’ll-mind-my-own-business-if-you-mind-yours policy when it comes to neighborhood animals, in particular. But apparently that sentiment is not shared by the local doberman currently living across the street from me. So when I walked behind my new house to take a photo of the very pretty mountains, said Doberman decided to show me who the boss really was the best way he knew how – with his teeth.
They say that when you study a language abroad, full immersion is the way to go. Living with a family, interacting with others on a daily basis, all contribute to enhancing your language skills. Today I learned that the hard way, via trips to both the doctor and the local pharmacy, while repeating over and over to all my host mother’s friends, “sí, el perro me murdió.” (Yes, the dog bit me).
Welcome to Boquete, Panama. After years of just getting by on what is referred to as Survival Spanish, I finally decided to do something about my language skills. It’s not just that my family is Puerto Rican and I want – desperately – to understand a language that I sometimes dream in, with its pretty rrrrrrrs and open vowels. But also that I want even more ways to communicate.
When people ask me what I do for a living, it’s sometimes hard to explain that I’ve done a bit of this and that: feminist activism, foreign policy, public affairs, event planning, field organizing. At the end of the day though, I’m a writer. There are few things I love more than words – the way the music of their sounds trip off your tongue, the way they can inspire and motivate, the way they can both create problems and solve them, sometimes in a single breath. I may be an enthusiastic and outgoing young woman – a young woman, some would say, of action. But I experience no actions without my words to understand them.
And so now that the Presidential election has come to a close, I’m here. I won’t have much time before I’ll have to return to the more traditional life of a young professional, with bills to pay and all, but at least for the next month, I’m here. Here being the Western part of Panama called Boquete, participating in a program called Habla Ya.
Strangely, the country reminds me of Rwanda. The rainy season is just finishing, so everything is green and lush, with a shiny mist hanging over the land that makes you feel as alive as spring.
After a flight through Miami to Panama City, where I spent the night, I woke up early this morning to take another flight from the capital city to David, closer to the border of Costa Rica.
I admit – I didn’t have much time to learn as much about the country as I’d have liked before arriving. So I have much to catch up on. But I start my Spanish classes tomorrow (4 1/2 hours every afternoon, six days a week) and so I’ll have to get some reading done on the way to and from school. There’s also an enormous number of activities here – everything from horseback riding (which I hope to do a lot of once my leg heals), zip lining, hiking, rock climbing, white water rafting, and so much more. It’s truly a serene, yet adventurous place, and I want to make the most of it while I’m here.
I’ll need to do some shopping as well. I packed quickly, and after doing so, immediately realized the irony and perhaps slight awkwardness of the wardrobe I’d planned to bring. While my Barack Obama for President apparel has gone over well so far (my host family loves the President), I was probably right to leave all of my feminist t-shirts at home. Not that I’m not proud, but in a foreign country I know close to nothing about, phrases like “Vaginas are for Lovers” and “My Body, My Choice” are probably best not scrawled in huge letters across one’s chest. #TravelerTips. So I’ll probably pick up one or two things that are more suitable.
In the meantime, I’m here to relax my mind and refocus my life. Graduate school was an incredible learning experience for me, but the truth is that finishing up my thesis really sucked the life out of me. I used what last breaths I had to help re-elect Barack Obama, and now, both my mind and my soul need some tender loving care.
While I don’t have hot water, I do have internet access here at home and at school. And I hope to blog fairly often about my experiences. Mostly because, well, as we know, my experiences are not much without my words to understand them.
To my family in New York and my friends in D.C., thanks for staying in touch while I was out on the campaign trail. I promise I’m not abandoning you forever, I’m just taking a little time off from life for a while. I miss you all dearly and will keep you in my heart while I’m away.
P.S. If this photo looks a little blurry, well, you try taking a photo in focus while being attacked by a dog. That’s all.