Today is our third day in the lovely City of Knowledge where USF Health is located and we are staying during our time here in Panamá. The USF Health office came to the City of Knowledge in 2006 and since then they have been providing research, education, and healthcare to the country of Panamá. We took a bus tour around the City and learned about all of the amazing opportunities and resources offered here to students and the people of Panamá. I had no idea the city had so much to offer! They are currently doing health education programs in the Comarcas, educating the residents about basic personal hygiene that will improve their overall health status.
I was filled with joy when I saw so many international organizations right next door to one another. UNICEF and UN Refugee were the two I am most interested in looking into. When I saw those offices I even said “My life is changed!”, because I really could see myself here using my second language of Spanish to my advantage. After seeing what Panamá has to offer, I would not mind making a career dedicated to serving the rural areas here in Panamá. Several of the organization’s regional offices were located here in the city. I love how much diversity the city has to offer; there is something here for everyone from Special Olympics to PAHO. Many of the students in the group today were interested in finding internship opportunities here. The City of Knowledge has been opening the doors for so many people and providing support to people all throughout Panamá and the world. When the earthquakes occurred in Haiti and Chile almost all of the international organizations in the city left to go provide relief support. This shows the heart and passion of the city. The city in my eyes is based around the ideology of passionate serving to your neighbors and striving for new ways to meet their needs by providing excellent education.
The City of Knowledge is growing faster every year. On our tour of the city we saw a lot of construction from new biotechnology laboratories to simply a new commercial area with food for the residents. I thought it was interesting how the City of Knowledge, once known as Fort Clayton, which was once the largest military base in the America’s has now turned into this area where people from all over the world are getting together for the enhancement of Latin America.
After eating a delicious meal at Mira Flores on the Panamá Canal what a better way to spend it than shopping at a Panamanian market. The time had come to put our bargaining to the test. We were all excited to see all the intricate pieces of art and shop for our families and ourselves. When I first walked in to the market my eyes were blown away by so many beautiful colors. I made a mental note of what I really needed, but you all know how those mental notes work out. I walked from stand to stand being greeted by the friendliest Panamanians I have met thus far. Their friendly greetings made me want to buy from them. Let’s just say it is too easy to convince me. Luckily, I did not bring too much money so I was able to control my spending.
As I approached a stand I realized a lot of the items being sold appeared extremely similar to some of the items I had seen yesterday at the Embera tribe. That is when I realized it is because the items were the exact same ones! The lady who was selling them was an Embera. I engaged in conversation with her and she began to tell me she was from the Darien and travels to the market for economical reasons. She currently lives in the city but goes back to community frequently. She was a genuinely sweet lady. She was wearing modern clothing and listening to salsa. I felt bad for her because she has to be away from her family for the sole purpose of getting income. However, as I walked from stand to stand I saw more and more Embera women and men. There seemed to be a good amount that travel together. Another surprising thing I noticed was the price differences in items at the market compared to at the Embera’s at the Chagres River. I started to think that the reason the prices are more expensive at the tribe at the Chagres is because too many people bargain here and they end up having to lower the prices.
My favorite part of today was the market (although the canal was amazing!) because I was able to practice my Spanish and form some connections with the vendors. They were all so willing to help. One of the ladies was also even telling me about her life and introduced me to her daughter. I felt so welcomed and accepted. However, I did notice the difference from the way I was treated and some of the tourists from the cruise lines were treated. I felt I was treated with more of a kind heart and they were treated as targets for good money. Despite some of the negative things I witnessed, I came to the conclusion people in Panamá are some of the nicest people I will ever meet. I really hope we will be able to go back to the market!
By: Mitzy Gonzalez
The Panama Canal
Today, I was blessed with the opportunity to watch several ships embark on a passage through the Miraflores Locks of the Panamá Canal. Due to the immense size of the container ships, I thought that they were buildings until we actually arrived at the canal. It is mind boggling to think that each of these ships are carrying goods that will be received by various destinations across the globe. In all likelihood, we have all consumed or utilized a product that has crossed through the Miraflores Locks. This concept was reinforced in my mind when I saw ships labeled with Chinese caricatures, English names, and Spanish phrases. It is amazing to thinks that we are witnessing international trade in progress.
Beyond just witnessing international trade and transport, the actual ingenuity of the engineering of the Panamá Canal is astonishing. The Panamá Canal operates using two lanes that act as elevators for large ships. Watching the ships rise and decline with the changing water levels within the locks was surreal. It is one thing to hear a lecture about the canal or view a film and another to actually see it in action. The truly amazing thing about the locks is the absence of electrical power; the canal relies on gravity to move water from Gatun Lake through all of the locks to transport vessels.
The canal museum offered many unique experiences. The first exhibit contained various artifacts from the construction and inauguration of the canal. In addition the historical memorabilia and placards, the museum had a computer system that would allow you to look up the names and birthdays of people that worked on the canal. Although this was all informative, my favorite moment of the day occurred when I was transitioning from the first exhibit of the canal museum to the second exhibit. To reach the second exhibit, I had to venture up an escalator that was located next to a large window. The window was so close to the canal that the sight of a giant blue container ship that was headed my way startled me. It seemed like I was close enough to the canal that I could reach out and touch the ship.
The trip to the Miraflores Locks also consisted of a buffet style lunch that allowed us to sample various types of traditional Panamanian cuisine. I was surprised by how delicious all of the food was. Even if I did not know what something was, I piled it onto my plate so that I could taste it. My favorite dishes included a type of fish that was covered in this marvelous tangy sauce and topped with limes. The other Panamanian food that I enjoyed trying was ceviche. After watching the Anthony Bourdain video in class, I knew that I wanted to try ceviche and it was even better than I expected. In addition, the conversation that I had with one of the waiters at Miraflores was the first real test of my Spanish skills. At the conclusion of our short chat, I was surprised by how much I was actually able to manipulate and understand the language.