Sunning on the quiet island of Bastimentos, an island away from Bocas del Toro in Panama, we spent the afternoon with a group of Peace Corps volunteers from the States. These government volunteers were stationed in Panama for two years. Many of them were working in remote villages with the indigenous population.
As they told us about their unique, exasperating, life-defining moments, there was one story that really stuck in my head. A friend of their’s had been stationed in the Dominican Republic near the border to Haiti. After returning to the States, he began to look for a job and went through a series of interviews…. all of which would always ask about his experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Dominican Republic. This seems to be the biggest problem for the volunteers that we met – how to describe the experience to outsiders? Like a veteran of war, they had experiences that were hard to share with the “normal” population.
So, as a way to sum up his experience in Dominican Republic, he told this story at job interviews: One day an indigenous man was electrocuted, but mostly unharmed. In order to combat the evil demons that had then entered his body through electricity, he slit his wrists. As the blood drained from his body, the demons went with it. In the final moments, the volunteer stood and watched as the man bled to death. This is Dominican Republic.
Would you hire him after hearing that?
On a separate but similar note, we had a small taste of superstitious ritual on the island of Bocas del Toro. On the last night of the Carnival celebration (also known as Fat Tuesday), people dressed up as devils and ran down the crowded streets, while a line of people whipped them, and I’m not talking symbolically whipping them. I mean blood dripping down lashed legs. As an outsider, this is all hard to understand. Even if I had the experience of two years as a volunteer in an indigenous village, I still don’t think I’d understand. Instead, I return to the bathwater blue waves that bring such peace to my mind.