Rio Coco | Update 2

The first days in Panama

 Quite soon after the decision was taken to not carry out the project in Nicaragua, we found an alternative location. After a week of contact with as many relief organizations in Central America as possible, we contacted GeoParadise, a foundation that offers assistance to indigenous tribes.

One of those indigenous tribes lives in the village of 'El Progreso', in the northwest of Panama. They encounter a similar problem with regard to their drinking water supply as the Miskito in Nicaragua. In Panamá, we start at the basecamp of GeoParadise, the home base from which various projects are coordinated.


Before we travel to the basecamp, we have one day in Panamá City. This day is dedicated to the final preparations in the civilized world: The retrieval of our 4x4, the purchase of building materials and our master plasterer a.k.a. construction specialist Simon joins us. The day is almost too short because in Panamá everything is tranquillo and mañana! All those cultural differences... We are of course not the only ones on the road when we pick up our rental car. Even the Panamanian way of driving does not make you fast through the city (it is a mess, overtaking right and cutting off is very normal here).


Miscommunications happen more often than you want, of course also due to the language barrier. Try to explain where you agree with your construction specialist when house numbers do not exist and street names are rare... Of course, he had forgotten a charger and his phone was empty. The moment we could not find each other, he went back home to charge his phone. With a charged phone in his pocket, we could – hours later than planned - happily arrange a meeting in a large shopping center.


Then the groceries, what a shopping we have done! We hope to arrange a sort of trade of goods in El Progreso. They get a rainwater storage tank, we shelter and eat. But we will first have to explain our thoughts behind it. Does the tribe understand our ambition for active participation, as to ensure their sense of responsibility for maintenance? And can they share their food with us? For that reason, we buy food for the first weeks. Only that food can already fill three shopping carts! Then Discovery Shopping Mall is the next stop, a typical American megastore which totally takes us aback. We spend most of our shopping time searching for each other in the maze of store shelves. Of course, before we left, we made a shopping list, but where is Joris with the list? At the checkout, we almost forgot our fifth shopping cart, an important one: there are our mosquito nets. The cashier is not too happy with us, because apparently, we have packed a great number of things without barcode, and to find that barcode every time a new colleague is called to search the whole store. Poor people behind us in line. In contrast, a lot of employees are very helpful when it comes to packing. Well, they do expect a small tip for packing afterwards. Oh well, we could also miss those few dollars. By now it was 17:00 and we still had to drive 3 hours to the basecamp, up at the Caribbean coast. Panamanian 3 hours of course, so actually almost 5 hours.


As soon as we reach basecamp, we flood Daniel with all our pressing questions. Which animals and insects should frighten us? Does the Emberá tribe mainly speak their indigenous language or can we communicate reasonably well with our (not to well) Spanish? What are we actually eating here? It was a nice first evening with the complete team and we are all very excited about starting the project. Do you want to know how our first meeting with the tribe goes and what we have already learned this first evening? Then read the next blog!


Hasta pronto!

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