Sunday, August 12, 2012

Exploring Panama

In between the public health and medical portions of the trip we had 2 days to explore some of the communities in the area and get all of our meds ready for the upcoming clinic days.

A picture of the group after our hike up a small "mountain" to get an aerial view of the Embera village below. This is one of the indigenous tribes in this area of Panama.

The Embera village... the people recently moved their homes to be closer to the only road that goes through this part of Panama called the Panamanian highway. Because of this some of their farms are 2-3 miles away from where they live. That's a long commute to work on foot.

We were able to visit with a family in the village and ask them about how they practice medicine. The older guy in the middle sitting on the chair we guessed had to be over 100 years old because he could remember the Panama Canal being built which was finished in 1914. His daughter is to his right and she said she was in her 80's. They would speak in their indigenous language and then her daughter would translate into Spanish for us which would finally be translated to English. The daughter was in her 30's but she looked like she was 16. Finally, she had her children there so in total there were 4 generations living in that house! That was remarkable. They all looked very young for their age... the doctors with us on the trip told us it was probably because they have not been exposed to so many pollutants as we are. What was even more remarkable was how white their teeth were and that the woman in her 80s still had a mouth full of teeth! Apparently they chew on this gum from one of the trees and it turns their teeth black for a couple of days but it eventually comes off. Only recently have they started to use toothpaste. They thought their teeth were getting worse now because there was a shop nearby that sold Coke!

It was really interesting to talk with this family because I was able to get a different perspective on medicine. The grandmother was very cautious about sharing information with us and she didn't want to give away their culture's secrets and she didn't want to be told if we thought their customs didn't really work. Their medicine is completely plant based from the various trees and grass that are around them. The entire village also participates in the medical care and each family has someone that is a special at some sort of medical ailment. This grandmother seemed to be like the midwife and helped deliver babies when there was a problem. Other people in the community dealt with other ailments.

A couple of days later a bunch of the members of the Embera community came to our compound dressed in their traditional gear and explained more about their culture and beliefs. That was really cool because as an indigenous community their experience is so different from ours. This lady is wearing their traditional dress. The paint on her body is made from a nearby plant. I think they said that because she has writing on her stomach that means that she is not single and I guess her husband picks the certain pattern that is painted on her.

They played music and showed us one of their traditional dances. In this community only the women are allowed to dance while the men are in charge of playing music. After this we were able to buy various artifacts and crafts made by the village.

One of the days we saw a sloth trying to cross the road so one of the Global Brigades staff helped him move along. Apparently if a sloth has it set that he is going somewhere he has to go there so we had to move him across the road towards the tree he wanted or else he would have just jumped in front of traffic again!

We went on a mini hike in the Latin community where we built the latrines and saw the monkeys. You can hear them from so far away!

It rains every day so we saw a lot of rainbows. I really liked this picture because it showed the beautiful landscape of Panama.

A picture looking down from our hike in the rainforest one morning. This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. This is only about 2 miles from where we were living... we definitely were staying in the middle of the rainforest!

During our hike we saw the tree that the Embera people use to make their houses and everything else out of wood. This tree is so special and important to their culture and it was really cool to get to see it first hand.


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