It is finally time for my last Water for Panama internship update!Bittersweet as though it may be, the trip to Panama was an amazing experience, and I’ll recap it for you here:
We started the trip on Saturday August 9. We flew from St. Louis to Panama City with a layover in Atlanta. We were supposed to catch a plane from Panama City to David Saturday, but due to the fight being in a different airport and our plane landing late, we were unable to make the flight, despite our cab driver weaving at top speed through rush hour traffic in Panama City. We had to stay the night in Panama City, asking our cab driver to take us to a hotel close to the airport. The disappointment of the first day of the trip not going as planned was tempered slightly by meeting an awesome american who was working in a ministry in Costa Rica, Neil, who kindly joined us for dinner, and by the hotel’s rooftop pool.
The next day we departed from Panama City and flew 45 min to David (a 6-8 hr drive). Once we arrived, Yolanda, Juan’s daughter picked us up from the airport, and took us to Juan’s church for Sunday morning service. It was entirely in spanish, so I didn’t get much out of it, but there was a lot of singing. Near the end Juan came up to give a sermon that was translated for us.
After church we planned to visit a village in the mountains. We checked into our hotel, dropped off our luggage, then popped back into the car for more travel! The village we were supposed to visit is two hours outside of David. When we were about 30 min away, it started raining with a ferocity rarely seen in the states. Juan informed us the road to the village is impassible in the rain; it goes though a creek. We were unable to see the village, so as not to have waisted our time, we visited a beach nearby for a few moments to touch the Pacific Ocean before heading back.
That night we wondered around the city near our hotel looking for an open restaurant. We saw the warm neon glow that read “Pio Pio”, and we knew it was finally time to try the foreign fast food joint. Pio Pio is a fast food restaurant that serves chicken, similar to a KFC. We had seen them all over the cities on other trips, but now was our opportunity to actually try the food. My meal of fried chicken, chicken soup, and chicken fried rice, was fairly delicious, although I’d take taco bell over Pio Pio any day.
Tuesday morning we embarked to the island villages. We (Ken, Rachael, Josh, Juan, Yolanda, the translator Betsy, and I) piled into a bus and began the 2 hr drive from David to the port of Chiriqui Grande. The drive took us through the mountains, past waterfalls and spectacular views. At the Port we touched the Atlantic ocean; we touched both the atlantic and the pacific ocean in less than 24 hours! From the port it’s an hour and a half boat ride to the islands in a tiny open boat. We spent the day traveling to different villages around the bay. Some, like Urari and Catavela, were sites of previous water projects. Others, like Kenani and Palma, are being considered as future sites for water projects.
At each village we visited we viewed where the people were getting their water from, whether it be a windmill aqueduct or a hand dug well, asked them questions about the water, and took a sample of it. We used the sample to do petrifilm tests. The petrifilm tests use a few drops of water, and grow e coli colonies. If the water is contaminated, colonies will grow in little dots. If the water is clean there will be no dots. For this test to be successful, the tests need to be incubated for 24 hours. Luckily, they need to be incubated at body temperature, so we were able to properly incubate them by making a pouch that would sit around someones waist. We also did a patoscreen test. We use 100 mL of sample water, and added the PathoScreen Medium powder pillow, and allowed it to sit for 24 hours. If the color of the water changes from yellow to black of black precipitate forms, then the test is positive. If the test remains yellow the test is negative. A positive test indicates the presence of hydrogen sulfide-producing bacteria, including Salmonella, citrobacter, proteus, edwardsiella, etc. They showed contamination by coliforms and e coli, which normally indicates fecal contamination of the water. We kept the pathoscreen tests in a cooler to reduce the fluctuations in temperature, and shield them from contamination.
We spent the night on Patterson Island, the island we stayed at last year. I got to see some familiar faces. I spend most of the evening hiking around the island. After it got dark I went down to the dock and splashed around in the water. The movement stimulated the bioluminescent algae, and the water looked like there were stars in it.
Wednesday morning we took the boat back to the port. Before we headed back to David, we took a detour to a village close to the port in the mountain. The village was planning to get a gravity aqueduct, and was one of the largest villages I had seen.
We then took the 2 hr drive back to David, that almost everyone slept through this time around. Rachael, Josh, and I then headed to Las Lajas to meet with Danny, a minister from Panama who served in the US Navy for 20 years. He contacted us to help bring clean water to a couple of schools he works with in the Comarca. We visited Oma, a school on the side of a mountain. We had to slide down the steep path from the road to see the school. They have a gravity aqueduct, but the water is often contaminated by other people that use the system and the spring runs dry during the summer. We think the best corse of action would be to get an inline chlorinator installed into the system before it reaches the school to clean the water they get from the spring in the winter. The in line chlorinators are cheep, and the chlorine tablets they require are supposed to be free to people in the comarcas from MINSA. As for the problem of it drying up in the summer, we are looking in to drilling a well at the school.
As we were leaving a boy from the village approached us, and told us his grandmother was gravely ill, and needed to go to the hospital. We told him we would take her if they could get her up to the road. The family put her in a hammock attached to a pole, and carried her up the hill. Josh, Rachael, her son, and I sat on benches in the open back of the truck while we sped toward the hospital. Racing at 60+ mph through the mountainous jungles of Panama at dusk was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.
We dropped the woman off at the hospital, then headed back to David. We told Danny to let us know what happened to her, but so far we haven’t been updated.
Wednesday morning we flew from David to Panama City. We had a meeting with a woman from the US embassy in Panama at a restaurant in the mall near the airport. While we were waiting for it to be time for the meeting (our flight landed at 9:30 am and the meeting was at 1pm), we had Yosimar, a translator from our last trip, meet us at the mall, and go shopping with us. He showed us all the shops Panamanians traditionally shop at, and told us stories of the blatant racism that plagues places like the mall. People with lighter skin are presumed to be rich, and are welcome in all stores. People with darker skin, like him, were presumed to be poor and are often asked to leave or are kicked our of higher end stores.
The meeting with our embassy contact went spectacularly. While we were talking she came up with a list of organizations and people she could put us in contact with to help our cause.
After the meeting we headed to old panama, part of the city from when it was under the control of the spanish. This part of the city is very european looking, and consists mostly of tourist stands and shops. We walked around, and bought our tourist junk to take back.
We then headed to our hotel near the airport for the night.
Thursday morning we left for the airport at 6 am, flew to Atlanta, and finally returned to St. Louis around 4 pm.