Difference between pages "Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Nicaragua" and "Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Panama"

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==Communications ==
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==Communications==
  
 
===Mail ===
 
===Mail ===
  
Relative to the service in most developing countries, mail between the United States and Nicaragua is dependable.  Airmail takes about two weeks; surface mail can take months.  Packages sometimes mysteriously disappear in transit, and sometimes they are opened and the contents stolen. It is best if packages do not exceed two pounds. Padded-envelope-sized packages work well. Don’t have money, airline tickets, or other valuables sent to you through the mail. Sensitive items should be sent via an expedited—and insured—courier service such as DHL or UPS. You can consult with in-country staff on how to do this, if necessary.  
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Please see below for some correspondence options to share with relatives and friends.  
  
It is usually not worth the effort to have large packages sent from the United States. Volunteers are responsible for paying customs fees on larger items, which may exceed the value of the items sent. Retrieving a package often means an entire day’s travel to the city. There are modern supermarkets and other well-stocked stores in the capital that should supply all your needs.
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(by regular mail)
 
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Your address during training in Nicaragua will be:
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“Your Name,” PCT  
 
“Your Name,” PCT  
  
Voluntario del Cuerpo de Paz  
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Cuerpo de Paz/Panama
  
Apartado Postal 3256
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Apartado 0834-02788
  
Managua, Nicaragua
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Panamá, República de Panamá
  
Central America
 
  
  
Once your site has been identified, you will be responsible for sending the address to family and friends if you decide to have your mail delivered directly there.  
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(by FedEx, UPS, etc.)
  
===Telephones ===
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Peace Corps/Panamá American Embassy
  
International phone service to and from Nicaragua is good relative to service in other developing countries. ENITEL, the Nicaraguan telephone agency, has offices in most municipal centers and in all cities. International telephone calls can be very expensive; however, Internet cafes throughout the country offer good communication services at more reasonable rates. For telephone communication to the States, most Volunteers use Internet cafes or have family and friends call them at a local number. Others call home collect, using international calling cards from companies such as AT&T, MCI, and Sprint or the local version from ENITEL.  
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Edif. 95, Ave. Vicente Bonilla
  
Many of the families who host Volunteers during training have telephones in their homes. If not, there is public phone access in all of the training communities. Nicaragua also has two extensive and growing cellular phone services, Claro (Enitel) and Movistar. All Peace Corps staff members have cellphones, as do all Volunteers (nowadays most volunteers buy their cell phones while they are still in training). Cellphone service is available in all departmental capitals, but because of mountainous terrain and scattered populations, limited service reaches the more remote areas. As a result of fairly wide coverage, or at least accessibility in the departmental capitals, nearly all of the Volunteers choose to have cellphones.  However, differences in technology make many (mostly Verizon) U.S.  cellphones incompatible with the Nicaraguan system. Where cellphone service is unavailable, local communication methods are sufficiently reliable for Volunteers and are compatible with the Peace Corps’ view that Volunteers should live modestly at the level of their local colleagues.some people living there have gotten used to the fact that cellphones can only be used in case of emergencies and need of help.
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Ciudad del Saber, Clayton
  
===Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access ===
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Corregimiento de Ancón
  
Local Internet providers exist in the capital, in nearly all major cities, and in some smaller towns. As a result, cities and towns throughout the country have Internet cafes that offer access to the public by the hour (for a small fee). Connectivity charges in some towns may be higher than in cities if they do not have a local server and have to make long distance calls to connect.
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Ciudad de Panamá
  
Most Volunteers have regular (weekly or monthly) access to e-mail. For most Volunteers, e-mail is the primary form of communication with friends and family in the States.  Additionally, the Peace Corps office in Managua has four computers with Internet access for Volunteers to use.
 
  
==Housing and Site Location ==
 
  
Housing options and site locations vary greatly depending upon your project. TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and Business Volunteers tend to live in towns and cities throughout Nicaragua ranging from 1,000 to 100,000 residents. The location of health and environment assignments varies from medium-sized cities to remote rural communities. And agriculture Volunteers generally live in small, remote communities (as few as 200 residents) concentrated in the northern region of the country.
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República de Panamá
  
Most(but not all) Volunteer homes have electricity, and most have running water. However, both electric and water service may be intermittent. A few homes even have telephones and, rarely, access to cable television. Volunteers in very rural sites may have to haul water to their home from a communal pump for their daily water supply. Your Volunteer assignment description provides greater detail about potential housing and site realities for your project.  
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Tel: 507.317.0038 Fax: 507.317.0809
  
Peace Corps/Nicaragua’s site and housing policy guides the selection of safe and accessible locations for all assignments that have viable work options. All Volunteers are required to live with a host family throughout training and during their first six weeks at their project site. Due to remoteness, and/or few housing options, some sites will require Volunteers to live with families for the duration of their service. The Peace Corps recommends that Volunteers live with a family throughout their service, as it enriches Volunteers’ Peace Corps experience while enhancing their safety and acceptance by the community. When independent housing options are available, Volunteers are permitted to rent homes that meet the Peace Corps’ housing criteria. While some sites have two or more Volunteers, only married Volunteers can share housing during their service. Most Volunteers live within a one- to two-hour walk or bus ride from another Volunteer.
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Atentamente: Your Name
  
When you are sworn in as a Volunteer, you will be required to submit a site locator form that will enable Peace Corps to locate and communicate with you throughout your service.  Peace Corps staff will periodically visit you at your site to provide personal, professional, and medical support and guidance.
 
  
==Living Allowance and Money Management ==
 
  
As a Volunteer in Nicaragua, you will receive four types of allowances. The first is a living allowance to cover your basic living expenses, such as rent, utilities, food, household supplies, clothing, local travel, recreation, and entertainment.  
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Once you have been assigned to a site and sworn- in as a Volunteer, you will be responsible for sending your new address to friends and family. We recommend that you establish a regular pattern of communication with friends and relatives in the United States, since they may become concerned if they do not hear from you for an extended period of time. Mail service to or from Panama is fairly unpredictable—it can take 10 days to more than a month for a letter or package to arrive.  
  
The living allowance is reviewed once a year through a market survey to ensure that it is adequate. The amount of the allowance varies based on the cost of living in different regions of the country, and is paid in local currency. It is deposited once a month into a Nicaraguan bank account that you will maintain. You are likely to find that you receive more remuneration than your Nicaraguan counterpart or supervisor.
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===Telephones ===
  
If the Peace Corps asks you to travel for either programmatic, medical, or other reasons, you will be reimbursed for hotel, transportation, and meals. The administrative officer (AO) will determine the appropriate amount and method of payment. Volunteers used to receive a vacation allowance of $24 a month deposited into a separate bank account in U.S. dollars, but Peace Corps Headquarters no longer allows this, and the $24 is supposedly deposited in with the normal monthly living allowance.
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International phone service to and from Panama is good compared to many countries. Virtually all large cities have reliable phone service, and many small towns have public phones from which residents can make and receive calls for a fee. International calls are very expensive, so most Volunteers call home collect or use a calling card (such as those from Sprint, MCI, and AT&T), which can be used only in some locations. Some Volunteers will have a phone in their home during training or service; others will have to visit a nearby town to make a call. Cellular phones are widely available and reasonably priced, but many Volunteers live in places outside of their signal range. It may be more expensive to reprogram a cellular phone bought in the United States than to purchase one in Panama.  
  
Most Volunteers find they can live comfortably within the monthly living allowance, although some bring money from home to help pay for out-of-country vacation travel.  Volunteers are responsible for managing their own resources.  The Peace Corps expects Volunteers to maintain a lifestyle similar to that of the people with whom they live and work.  
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The phone number of the Peace Corps/Panama office in Panama City is 011.507.317.0038; the fax number is 011.507.317.0809.  
  
To obtain cash (in córdobas or U.S. dollars), a variety of ATM machines are available in Managua and in select large cities throughout the country. However, it is more difficult to use a MasterCard, as the two major banks (BanPro and BanCentro) are Visa only. Citibank is also more prevalent in Nicaragua. Travelers checks are increasingly more inconvenient to use, and can only be cashed for a fee at a few banks in the capital. U.S. dollars are accepted at most businesses in Managua and other major cities. Credit cards are accepted in many establishments in Managua and in some major cities throughout the country; they are useful for vacations and travel.
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===Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access ===
  
Trainees and Volunteers are responsible for the safety and replacement of their own property and personal documents. The Peace Corps provides information about personal property insurance at staging and will, upon request, arrange a withdrawal from your readjustment allowance account to pay insurance premiums. Insurance should be renewed every year.
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Internet access in Panama is spreading. All provincial capitals and many other large towns have Internet cafés. Connection speeds tend to be slow, but the service is reasonably priced and otherwise reliable. Internet access for Volunteers is available free at the Peace Corps/Panama office. Some Volunteers can access the Internet in their homes, but this is the exception. A few Volunteers have computers of their own, but most do not. Computers are probably more useful for community economic development Volunteers than those in other projects. Laptops are preferable. If your site has no electricity, you will need batteries that are rechargeable using Peace Corps a solar panel. A voltage regulator is also a necessity. Generally, you will not know if your site will have electricity until later in pre-service training. Should you choose to bring a laptop, it is your responsibility to maintain and insure it; the Peace Corps is not liable if it gets damaged or stolen.  
  
==Food and Diet ==
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==Housing and Site Location ==
  
The staples of the Nicaraguan diet are beans, rice, eggs, dairy products, meats, and foods made with corn (e.g., tortillas, nacatamales, and pinolillo, a popular beverage made with ground corn and cocoa). A wide variety of fruits and vegetables are grown locally, from cabbages and carrots to pineapples and papayas. Their availability varies by the season and access to markets. As a result of the endemic poverty in Nicaragua, most Nicaraguans’ daily diet consists of gallo pinto, a mixture of red beans and rice fried in vegetable oil, which might be accompanied by corn tortillas, cabbage salad, a small amount of meat or chicken, or locally made salty cheese. Most dairy products are made in a traditional fashion in rural settings and thus are not pasteurized.  
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The small and medium-sized communities (populations of 300 to 10,000) in which Volunteers live and work are located 1 to 16 hours from Panama City. Like most Panamanians, Volunteers live in simple concrete-block houses with cement floors and corrugated tin roofs or wooden huts with dirt floors and palm thatch roofs, depending on the location of their site. Since living with a family provides special insight into Panamanian culture, improves language skills, and facilitates integration into the community, you must live with a host family during training and your first three months at your site.  After that, you may choose to live alone.  
  
The food generally is not spicy, and many Volunteers find that Nicaraguans use too much oil, salt, and sugar for their taste. Many Volunteers enjoy frescos—a concoction of freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices mixed with water and sugar that comes in many distinct flavors. In coastal areas, Volunteers find fresh fish and occasionally even lobster or shrimp. Beef, pork, and chicken are widely available throughout the country, but cuts of red meat differ greatly from those found in the United States. It is difficult to find meats that meet U.S. standards for flavor and quality.  
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Indigenous communities generally have the most rustic living conditions, and they can be remote. Sometimes getting to a community may require at least a two-hour walk or a ride in a dugout canoe. Most houses in urban and highly populated areas have running water inside or outside the house. In some cases, it is necessary to boil water and add chlorine to make it safe to drink. In some rural sites, and in many indigenous communities, water must be obtained from springs or streams. Many homes have a simple pit latrine, but latrine construction is often one of a Volunteer’s first activities. Electricity also varies depending on the site. You must be flexible in your housing and site expectations and willing to adapt to the discomforts that come with rural living.  
  
It is possible to maintain a vegetarian diet in Nicaragua.  However, there is greater variety and availability of certain foodstuffs in Managua than in outlying areas. It is important to note that Nicaragua is a beef-producing country, and some Nicaraguans, particularly in rural areas, will not understand vegetarianism. As a vegetarian, you will need to develop a culturally sensitive approach to declining to eat meat.
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==Living Allowance and Money Management==
  
Since you will be living with a Nicaraguan family during training and the first six weeks at your site, you will be immediately exposed to Nicaraguan eating habits and methods of food preparation. Host families receive information regarding any special dietary concerns Volunteers have but are not expected to prepare U.S.-style meals for them. Although the families are generally quite accommodating, you should be prepared to have less control over your diet while living with a host family.  
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During your first three months in Panama, you will receive a weekly allowance to cover the limited costs you will incur in your training community. Once you finish training and are sworn-in as a Volunteer, Peace Corps/Panama will open a bank account for you and deposit your monthly living allowance in U.S. dollars (which are used as the local currency) into this account. This allowance is intended to cover all your living expenses, including food, rent, work-related travel, some clothing, and other essentials and incidentals. You will also receive a one-time settling-in allowance to help buy household necessities such as a bed and kitchen supplies. Some Volunteers maintain a bank account in the United States, but it is not necessary to do so, as Volunteers are expected to live at the same economic level as the people in their community. Peace Corps supports the idea of Volunteers not supplementing their incomes while in-country. Note that while Panama is inexpensive relative to the United States, it is expensive compared with many of its Central American neighbors. Prices in Panama City are comparable to those in the United States.  
  
Some Volunteers who are living on their own cook for themselves to have more control over their diet. Volunteers who cook enjoy exploring new ways to use the local foods available, and often share these recipes with their Nicaraguan friends and family. Other Volunteers may pay a local family to take meals with them.  
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==Food and Diet ==
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The Panamanian diet varies according to the region and the ethnic makeup of the population but most often consists of rice, beans, bananas or plantains, yuca (cassava), and corn. Rice and beans (kidney beans, lentils, black-eyed peas) is the staple dish. Corn is served in many guises, but is usually ground, boiled, or fried. Sancocho is a traditional dish (somewhere between a soup and a stew) prepared with a variety of vegetables and chicken. An array of fruits is available in season in most rural areas, including mangoes, Peace Corps papayas, pineapples, avocados, oranges, and guanavanas (soursops). The availability of garden vegetables such as tomatoes, sweet peppers, and cucumbers varies according to the region and the season. The most common meats are chicken and beef, which are often deep-fried or stewed. These meats, when served to Volunteers, are often intended to express appreciation for their friendship or work. The rural poor rarely eat chicken and beef, and indigenous communities in particular customarily have a more limited diet that may consist primarily of boiled green bananas and root vegetables like yuca. Fish is available sporadically in coastal regions and riverside communities.  
  
==Transportation ==
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Most larger towns and cities have at least one restaurant that will be familiar to you, such as McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Subway, or Dairy Queen. Most also have supermarkets where you can buy a wide variety of foods and imported goods.
  
Most Volunteers travel in Nicaragua on commercial public buses; a very small number of sites are accessible by ferry or panga (passenger only) boats. For the vast majority of Volunteers, traveling to and from site entails a ride in an old school bus, which may be overcrowded, slow, and sometimes unreliable. At more rural sites, Volunteers may be required to travel in converted flatbed trucks, as the rough terrain makes bus passage impossible. Volunteers are not permitted to own, drive, or ride on motorcycles or to own or drive other motorized vehicles at any time during their service. Only when Volunteers are on authorized vacation may they drive, should they choose to rent a vehicle. Violation of these policies may be grounds for termination of service.  
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Some Volunteers are vegetarians, but few Panamanians follow these diets. Volunteers generally must make do with the food available at their sites, but they sometimes can buy food in Panama City or a provincial capital.  
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==Transportation ==
  
Most Volunteers get around their site and visit nearby communities on foot or use locally available transportation methods. Some Volunteers find that travel by bicycle is the most practical way to get around at their site, and purchase them with their settling in allowance. Though bicycles bought locally are not of the same quality as those available in the United States, they are more than sufficient for Volunteer transportation needs. Volunteers may bring a bicycle from the U.S. if they pay any additional air freight costs. (Note that bringing a bicycle from home is not recommended for several reasons: 1) it is impossible to know the realities of your site and transportation needs until you actually get there—a bike may not be appropriate or necessary; 2) it may be difficult to find the appropriate parts for maintenance; 3) owning a bike that is not available locally will set you apart from your host country colleagues and friends; and 4) it can make you a target for crime. If you choose to ride a bike, helmet use is mandatory. Noncompliance with Peace Corps’ worldwide mandatory helmet use policy can be grounds for administrative separation.  
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Most sites are served by regular public transportation, but Volunteers assigned to indigenous or very rural communities may also travel by boat, chiva (minibus or truck), horseback, or foot. Chiva transportation is generally reliable in the dry season, but may be more limited in the rainy season. When muddy road conditions limit access by chiva, some Volunteers have to walk for one or two hours to get to their sites.  
  
In very few instances, Volunteers also own or rent horses to travel from home to isolated communities and farms. You should familarize yourself with your site and consult your program manager regarding appropriate methods of transportation.  
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For recreational travel, bus service is available from Panama City to almost all domestic destinations and places to the north through Costa Rica. Tourist destinations in Panama that are not reachable by bus are accessible by plane. International flights leave from Panama City and David.  
  
 
==Geography and Climate ==
 
==Geography and Climate ==
  
Nicaragua can be divided into four geographic areas: the coastal area between the lakes and the Pacific Ocean; the Great Rift, a low depression in which Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua lie; the central highlands to the north and east of the rift; and the Caribbean lowlands, which account for more than 40 percent of the land area but only 10 percent of the population. The climate varies with the region, but Nicaragua generally is hot and tropical, with cool, comfortable nights and a very short dry or cool season. The eastern third of the country, composed of the eastern slopes of the central highlands and the Caribbean lowlands, has a wet, tropical climate, with little or no dry or cool season. The climate of the central highlands is locally variable because of its ridge and valley topography, but generally it is an area of moderate temperatures and year-round rainfall. The Pacific area experiences a distinct tropical wet season (May through November) and tropical dry season (December through April). Temperatures there are more comfortable in the dry season because of lower humidity.  
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Panama has a tropical climate, so you should prepare for rain, heat, and humidity. However, the severity of these conditions differs according to the region: The higher elevations are cooler, the Caribbean coast in the north receives more rain and humidity, and the southern peninsula is relatively hot and dry.  
  
 
==Social Activities ==
 
==Social Activities ==
  
Social activities will vary depending on where you are located and the size of your site. Nicaraguans are generally kind and open, and thus celebrations of all types are common. You are encouraged to become a part of your community and participate in family celebrations, local dances, and folkloric activities as long as they occur in safe environments. The U.S.  Marines introduced baseball to Nicaragua in the early 1900s, and it is now the national sport. Most communities have baseball teams and weekend games. Soccer and volleyball are growing in popularity throughout the country among both men and women.  
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The most popular social activities in Latino areas usually are dances (bailes) with traditional típico music. Larger towns periodically invite bands to play and gather over two or three days to watch a bullfight (much less bloody than the Spanish version) or cantadera (a freestyle singing battle) and reconvene at night for a dance. Because of Panamanians’ willingness to share their culture, even Volunteers with no talent for dancing are likely to leave Panama knowing how to dance to típico. A common way to bring the community together in rural sites is a junta, in which people complete an activity such as build a bamboo or wooden house or harvest rice. Food and drinks (usually alcoholic) are provided to the participants, and festivities can last well into the night. In Afro-Antillean areas, dances also are popular, though the styles of music are much more diverse. Probably the most popular date on every Panamanian calendar is Carnaval, the equivalent of Mardi Gras. For the four days leading up to Ash Wednesday, Panamanians gather in certain cities to celebrate under the sun and watch elaborate floats parade through the streets at night.  
  
You will be expected to fully integrate into your community. This means you will spend the vast majority of your time in your Peace Corps site, including weekends and most of your free time. Volunteers occasionally visit nearby Volunteers or go to a regional center to watch a movie, use the Internet, have a special meal, buy needed supplies, or just relax in a place with air conditioning. Volunteers are discouraged from spending leisure time in Managua because of the heat and security concerns. Peace Corps/Nicaragua maintains strict policies regarding trips away from site.  
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Formal social activities are less frequent in indigenous communities than in Latino areas. Elaborate dances are rare, and dancing is usually reserved for important community functions. Spontaneous get-togethers at people’s homes are probably the most common activity. Often, community meetings are the only occasion for which an entire community convenes.
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The Peace Corps tries to place Volunteers near one another for support, so it is possible to socialize with fellow Volunteers. Beautiful beaches are plentiful, and outdoor activities are available almost everywhere. When visiting Panama City, Volunteers have numerous opportunities for diversion, such as movie theaters, coffee bars, restaurants, public basketball courts, and dance clubs.  
  
 
==Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior ==
 
==Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior ==
  
A Volunteer assignment is a professional position. Although a few of you might work in informal settings, you will be expected to act and dress professionally. Almost all Volunteers spend some of their time working in local schools, and thus are seen as community leaders and mentors. More specific information on dress codes and teachers’ roles is available in your Volunteer Assignment Description. You will receive an orientation to appropriate behavior and cultural sensitivity during pre-service training. As a Volunteer, you will have the status of an invited guest and thus must be sensitive to the habits, tastes, and taboos of your Nicaraguan hosts. Your effectiveness as a development worker, satisfaction as a Volunteer, and safety as a foreigner living in a community will all be enhanced by professional behavior. Behavior that jeopardizes the Peace Corps’ mission in Nicaragua or your personal safety cannot be tolerated by the Peace Corps and could lead to administrative separation—a decision on the part of the Peace Corps to terminate your service. The Volunteer Handbook provides more information on the grounds for administrative separation.  
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Wearing proper attire in Panama helps establish your professional credibility and reflects your respect for the customs and lifestyles of the people with whom you live and work. Remember that you will be judged by your appearance.  Neatness and cleanliness are very important in Panamanian culture, and Panamanians may be offended by an untidy appearance. Dress is less formal in rural areas than in the capital, but it is important to remember that you are a representative of the United States. It is especially important to dress appropriately on the job and when you meet with government or other officials. Leisure clothing can be worn in the privacy of your own home, but should not be worn for work or travel. When doing physical labor, you will need sturdy shoes and clothes that protect you from scratches and insect bites. For more specific clothing recommendations, refer to the packing list later in this book.  
  
Nicaraguans consider personal appearance an important individual characteristic. Proper dress can help establish your credibility as a professional, and it reflects your respect for the local customs and expectations of the people with whom you live and work. Inappropriate dress, like inappropriate behavior, is something that can set Volunteers apart from their communities.  
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During all training activities and Volunteer service in Panama, you will be expected to observe Peace Corps/Panama’s guidelines for dress. Shirts and shoes must be worn at all times, and shorts may not be worn in professional settings, including the Peace Corps office. While dressy sandals for women are appropriate, men should not wear sandals during professional/ formal occasions, in accordance with local custom.  
  
The best guideline is to dress as your Nicaraguans colleagues do. Nicaraguans dress professionally casual: neat, clean, ironed. You should bring casual professional attire for all venues when you are working. Appropriate attire may include cotton pants (nice khakis are acceptable), nice cotton shirts and/or blouses (not T-shirts), and as much as possible, cotton skirts or dresses for women (not mini length). Neat blue-jeans (dark and not bleached out) are acceptable but can be hot in this weather. Neither shorts nor faded T-shirts are appropriate for male or female Volunteers in the workplace. Dresses or shirts that are tight or spaghetti-strap tank tops are also not appropriate work attire. Comfortable walking shoes or sandals are suitable; however, Nicaraguans view “Teva” or “Chaco” style sandals as inappropriate for the work environment.  Shorts and tennis shoes are acceptable sports wear but should not be considered appropriate for work.  
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You will not need to change your entire wardrobe, but you should realize that U.S. citizens almost always stand out.  Because of Panamanians’ views of tattoos and body piercing, you will need to keep any tattoos and piercings out of sight (earrings for women are okay). Men with long hair may be met with suspicion, so it is advisable for male Volunteers to keep their hair relatively short. As a result of the previous U.S. military presence in Panama, Army surplus pants, jackets, backpacks, and so forth should be left at home. All Volunteers will need work-specific clothing, which will vary by project sector, and casual clothing.  
  
During training, you will be expected to observe the same clothing guidelines. Shirts and shoes must be worn at all times. Shorts and spaghetti-strap tank tops may not be worn at the Peace Corps office or for any official Peace Corps activity. Visable body piercings are not permitted for trainees, nor are they appropriate for Volunteers at schools or other workplaces. Earrings, dreadlocks, and ponytails are not permitted for male Volunteers during service.
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The following are some specific work clothing recommendations for people in each project:
  
Keep in mind that conforming to local norms is a small sacrifice for the great adventure and lasting friendships that await you.  
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*Those in community economic development should dress in business-casual clothing while working with businesses and government agencies. Men should wear pants with short-sleeved polo-style or button-down shirts. Women can wear pants, dresses, or skirts (slightly above the knee is fine) with nice shirts or blouses. Sneakers and flip flops are not appropriate for men or women during business meetings, but are appropriate for casual occasions.
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*Those in community environmental conservation will sometimes work in the field, so a pair of good shoes, some work shirts, and long pants are necessary.
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When working in schools, Volunteers should wear business-casual clothing. Flip flops are inappropriate and very short skirts and dresses should not be worn as they will attract unwanted attention.
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*Those in sustainable agriculture and environmental health are likely to work in areas with a lot of mud and high humidity. These Volunteers will frequently work in the field, so work clothes are a necessity.  Some Volunteers wear hiking shoes; others wear non-insulated, knee-high rubber boots. Although Volunteers should wear business-casual clothing when attending meetings with agency partners or conducting seminars, people in very rural or indigenous communities tend to dress less formally than elsewhere in the country.  
  
 
==Personal Safety ==
 
==Personal Safety ==
  
More detailed information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is contained in the "Your Health Care and Safety in Nicaragua" section, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks.  
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More information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is contained in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security incidents. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help you reduce your risks and enhance your safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in Panama. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.njjjn  
 
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Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security incidents. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help you reduce your risks and enhance your safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in Nicaragua. While we provide you the tools and information to minimize risks, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.  
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==Rewards and Frustrations ==
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Being a Volunteer in Nicaragua can be both highly rewarding and terribly frustrating. This is one reason why serving in the Peace Corps is often called “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” A trainee often arrives with idealistic notions of wanting to save the forest, find new ways to increase food production to decrease hunger and malnutrition, or develop new local products that will make a community or business owner rich. But then frustrations often arise over the difficulty of getting things accomplished, the lack of support from local counterparts, and the obstacles of poverty and poor education.
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You might struggle to perfect the language, adapt to certain Nicaraguan customs, or find sufficient financial resources. The family or church just down the street from your house might play loud music every night, or the rooster next door might begin crowing each morning at 2:00 a.m. You are certain to miss your family and friends back home.
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But over time, your initial idealism is likely to be replaced by a sense of practicality. Saving the forest becomes planting a few trees to protect a watershed. Feeding a nation becomes feeding a family. Revolutionizing a business becomes helping a business run better. One hopes that you will not see this as a loss of idealism but, rather, a realization that development comes from small but significant steps taken in partnership with your community.
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To be successful as a Volunteer, you will need to be flexible, resourceful, and patient. You will be given a high degree of responsibility and independence in your work—perhaps more than in any other job you have had or will have. You will often find yourself in situations that require an ability to motivate yourself and others with little guidance from supervisors. You will learn to take joy from the little things: the smiles and laughs of children walking to school, the welcome sound of rain on a zinc roof, the sparkle in a child’s eyes when he realizes that saving a tree means saving a bird, the comfort in a mother’s face when her baby is healthy and well nourished, the satisfaction of a business owner when she is able to pay her debts and save money.
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==Rewards and Frustrations==
  
When you complete your service in Nicaragua, you will leave knowing that you have not only overcome frustrations and obstacles but also made lasting friendships and helped people build better lives for themselves and their families. If you are committed to integrating into your community and working hard, you will be a successful Volunteer.  
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You must be sure that you are willing to commit yourself to two years of service in a foreign country, living in harmony with the local culture. You must also learn to be patient, as change comes very slowly. Many Volunteers have difficulty adjusting to the slow pace of life and work in Panama. You may have to repeatedly explain your role as a development worker to many people. You may encounter a lack of understanding or technical support from your community or agency partners. You may also be annoyed by frequent delays in almost every aspect of your work, by the lack of privacy, and by being perceived as a rich foreigner. You will be thoroughly briefed on these matters during training.  
  
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The romance and excitement of working in a developing country can wear off quickly. The obstacles to accomplishing one’s goals can be formidable. The key to satisfying work as a Volunteer is the ability to establish successful interpersonal relations at all levels, which requires patience, sensitivity, and a positive, professional attitude. Remember that while you are full of energy and motivation, you will be here for only two years. Your Panamanian colleagues will continue to work at the same jobs, probably for low pay, long after you leave, so they may not have the same level of motivation as you do. Immediate results will be hard to quantify. Much of the impact of the work you do will not become evident until after you leave Panama. Nevertheless, you will surely be rewarded with a great sense of accomplishment when activities are successful, whether small or large. The successes are well worth the difficulties. Volunteers’ presence in Panama is making a difference and has certainly contributed to improving the conditions in rural areas.
  
[[Category:Nicaragua]]
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[[Category:Panama]]

Revision as of 09:29, 8 December 2015

Country Resources


Communications

Mail

Please see below for some correspondence options to share with relatives and friends.

(by regular mail)

“Your Name,” PCT

Cuerpo de Paz/Panama

Apartado 0834-02788

Panamá, República de Panamá


(by FedEx, UPS, etc.)

Peace Corps/Panamá American Embassy

Edif. 95, Ave. Vicente Bonilla

Ciudad del Saber, Clayton

Corregimiento de Ancón

Ciudad de Panamá


República de Panamá

Tel: 507.317.0038 Fax: 507.317.0809

Atentamente: Your Name


Once you have been assigned to a site and sworn- in as a Volunteer, you will be responsible for sending your new address to friends and family. We recommend that you establish a regular pattern of communication with friends and relatives in the United States, since they may become concerned if they do not hear from you for an extended period of time. Mail service to or from Panama is fairly unpredictable—it can take 10 days to more than a month for a letter or package to arrive.

Telephones

International phone service to and from Panama is good compared to many countries. Virtually all large cities have reliable phone service, and many small towns have public phones from which residents can make and receive calls for a fee. International calls are very expensive, so most Volunteers call home collect or use a calling card (such as those from Sprint, MCI, and AT&T), which can be used only in some locations. Some Volunteers will have a phone in their home during training or service; others will have to visit a nearby town to make a call. Cellular phones are widely available and reasonably priced, but many Volunteers live in places outside of their signal range. It may be more expensive to reprogram a cellular phone bought in the United States than to purchase one in Panama.

The phone number of the Peace Corps/Panama office in Panama City is 011.507.317.0038; the fax number is 011.507.317.0809.

Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access

Internet access in Panama is spreading. All provincial capitals and many other large towns have Internet cafés. Connection speeds tend to be slow, but the service is reasonably priced and otherwise reliable. Internet access for Volunteers is available free at the Peace Corps/Panama office. Some Volunteers can access the Internet in their homes, but this is the exception. A few Volunteers have computers of their own, but most do not. Computers are probably more useful for community economic development Volunteers than those in other projects. Laptops are preferable. If your site has no electricity, you will need batteries that are rechargeable using Peace Corps a solar panel. A voltage regulator is also a necessity. Generally, you will not know if your site will have electricity until later in pre-service training. Should you choose to bring a laptop, it is your responsibility to maintain and insure it; the Peace Corps is not liable if it gets damaged or stolen.

Housing and Site Location

The small and medium-sized communities (populations of 300 to 10,000) in which Volunteers live and work are located 1 to 16 hours from Panama City. Like most Panamanians, Volunteers live in simple concrete-block houses with cement floors and corrugated tin roofs or wooden huts with dirt floors and palm thatch roofs, depending on the location of their site. Since living with a family provides special insight into Panamanian culture, improves language skills, and facilitates integration into the community, you must live with a host family during training and your first three months at your site. After that, you may choose to live alone.

Indigenous communities generally have the most rustic living conditions, and they can be remote. Sometimes getting to a community may require at least a two-hour walk or a ride in a dugout canoe. Most houses in urban and highly populated areas have running water inside or outside the house. In some cases, it is necessary to boil water and add chlorine to make it safe to drink. In some rural sites, and in many indigenous communities, water must be obtained from springs or streams. Many homes have a simple pit latrine, but latrine construction is often one of a Volunteer’s first activities. Electricity also varies depending on the site. You must be flexible in your housing and site expectations and willing to adapt to the discomforts that come with rural living.

Living Allowance and Money Management

During your first three months in Panama, you will receive a weekly allowance to cover the limited costs you will incur in your training community. Once you finish training and are sworn-in as a Volunteer, Peace Corps/Panama will open a bank account for you and deposit your monthly living allowance in U.S. dollars (which are used as the local currency) into this account. This allowance is intended to cover all your living expenses, including food, rent, work-related travel, some clothing, and other essentials and incidentals. You will also receive a one-time settling-in allowance to help buy household necessities such as a bed and kitchen supplies. Some Volunteers maintain a bank account in the United States, but it is not necessary to do so, as Volunteers are expected to live at the same economic level as the people in their community. Peace Corps supports the idea of Volunteers not supplementing their incomes while in-country. Note that while Panama is inexpensive relative to the United States, it is expensive compared with many of its Central American neighbors. Prices in Panama City are comparable to those in the United States.

Food and Diet

The Panamanian diet varies according to the region and the ethnic makeup of the population but most often consists of rice, beans, bananas or plantains, yuca (cassava), and corn. Rice and beans (kidney beans, lentils, black-eyed peas) is the staple dish. Corn is served in many guises, but is usually ground, boiled, or fried. Sancocho is a traditional dish (somewhere between a soup and a stew) prepared with a variety of vegetables and chicken. An array of fruits is available in season in most rural areas, including mangoes, Peace Corps papayas, pineapples, avocados, oranges, and guanavanas (soursops). The availability of garden vegetables such as tomatoes, sweet peppers, and cucumbers varies according to the region and the season. The most common meats are chicken and beef, which are often deep-fried or stewed. These meats, when served to Volunteers, are often intended to express appreciation for their friendship or work. The rural poor rarely eat chicken and beef, and indigenous communities in particular customarily have a more limited diet that may consist primarily of boiled green bananas and root vegetables like yuca. Fish is available sporadically in coastal regions and riverside communities.

Most larger towns and cities have at least one restaurant that will be familiar to you, such as McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Subway, or Dairy Queen. Most also have supermarkets where you can buy a wide variety of foods and imported goods.

Some Volunteers are vegetarians, but few Panamanians follow these diets. Volunteers generally must make do with the food available at their sites, but they sometimes can buy food in Panama City or a provincial capital.

Transportation

Most sites are served by regular public transportation, but Volunteers assigned to indigenous or very rural communities may also travel by boat, chiva (minibus or truck), horseback, or foot. Chiva transportation is generally reliable in the dry season, but may be more limited in the rainy season. When muddy road conditions limit access by chiva, some Volunteers have to walk for one or two hours to get to their sites.

For recreational travel, bus service is available from Panama City to almost all domestic destinations and places to the north through Costa Rica. Tourist destinations in Panama that are not reachable by bus are accessible by plane. International flights leave from Panama City and David.

Geography and Climate

Panama has a tropical climate, so you should prepare for rain, heat, and humidity. However, the severity of these conditions differs according to the region: The higher elevations are cooler, the Caribbean coast in the north receives more rain and humidity, and the southern peninsula is relatively hot and dry.

Social Activities

The most popular social activities in Latino areas usually are dances (bailes) with traditional típico music. Larger towns periodically invite bands to play and gather over two or three days to watch a bullfight (much less bloody than the Spanish version) or cantadera (a freestyle singing battle) and reconvene at night for a dance. Because of Panamanians’ willingness to share their culture, even Volunteers with no talent for dancing are likely to leave Panama knowing how to dance to típico. A common way to bring the community together in rural sites is a junta, in which people complete an activity such as build a bamboo or wooden house or harvest rice. Food and drinks (usually alcoholic) are provided to the participants, and festivities can last well into the night. In Afro-Antillean areas, dances also are popular, though the styles of music are much more diverse. Probably the most popular date on every Panamanian calendar is Carnaval, the equivalent of Mardi Gras. For the four days leading up to Ash Wednesday, Panamanians gather in certain cities to celebrate under the sun and watch elaborate floats parade through the streets at night.

Formal social activities are less frequent in indigenous communities than in Latino areas. Elaborate dances are rare, and dancing is usually reserved for important community functions. Spontaneous get-togethers at people’s homes are probably the most common activity. Often, community meetings are the only occasion for which an entire community convenes.

The Peace Corps tries to place Volunteers near one another for support, so it is possible to socialize with fellow Volunteers. Beautiful beaches are plentiful, and outdoor activities are available almost everywhere. When visiting Panama City, Volunteers have numerous opportunities for diversion, such as movie theaters, coffee bars, restaurants, public basketball courts, and dance clubs.

Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior

Wearing proper attire in Panama helps establish your professional credibility and reflects your respect for the customs and lifestyles of the people with whom you live and work. Remember that you will be judged by your appearance. Neatness and cleanliness are very important in Panamanian culture, and Panamanians may be offended by an untidy appearance. Dress is less formal in rural areas than in the capital, but it is important to remember that you are a representative of the United States. It is especially important to dress appropriately on the job and when you meet with government or other officials. Leisure clothing can be worn in the privacy of your own home, but should not be worn for work or travel. When doing physical labor, you will need sturdy shoes and clothes that protect you from scratches and insect bites. For more specific clothing recommendations, refer to the packing list later in this book.

During all training activities and Volunteer service in Panama, you will be expected to observe Peace Corps/Panama’s guidelines for dress. Shirts and shoes must be worn at all times, and shorts may not be worn in professional settings, including the Peace Corps office. While dressy sandals for women are appropriate, men should not wear sandals during professional/ formal occasions, in accordance with local custom.

You will not need to change your entire wardrobe, but you should realize that U.S. citizens almost always stand out. Because of Panamanians’ views of tattoos and body piercing, you will need to keep any tattoos and piercings out of sight (earrings for women are okay). Men with long hair may be met with suspicion, so it is advisable for male Volunteers to keep their hair relatively short. As a result of the previous U.S. military presence in Panama, Army surplus pants, jackets, backpacks, and so forth should be left at home. All Volunteers will need work-specific clothing, which will vary by project sector, and casual clothing.

The following are some specific work clothing recommendations for people in each project:

  • Those in community economic development should dress in business-casual clothing while working with businesses and government agencies. Men should wear pants with short-sleeved polo-style or button-down shirts. Women can wear pants, dresses, or skirts (slightly above the knee is fine) with nice shirts or blouses. Sneakers and flip flops are not appropriate for men or women during business meetings, but are appropriate for casual occasions.
  • Those in community environmental conservation will sometimes work in the field, so a pair of good shoes, some work shirts, and long pants are necessary.

When working in schools, Volunteers should wear business-casual clothing. Flip flops are inappropriate and very short skirts and dresses should not be worn as they will attract unwanted attention.

  • Those in sustainable agriculture and environmental health are likely to work in areas with a lot of mud and high humidity. These Volunteers will frequently work in the field, so work clothes are a necessity. Some Volunteers wear hiking shoes; others wear non-insulated, knee-high rubber boots. Although Volunteers should wear business-casual clothing when attending meetings with agency partners or conducting seminars, people in very rural or indigenous communities tend to dress less formally than elsewhere in the country.

Personal Safety

More information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is contained in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security incidents. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help you reduce your risks and enhance your safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in Panama. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.njjjn

Rewards and Frustrations

You must be sure that you are willing to commit yourself to two years of service in a foreign country, living in harmony with the local culture. You must also learn to be patient, as change comes very slowly. Many Volunteers have difficulty adjusting to the slow pace of life and work in Panama. You may have to repeatedly explain your role as a development worker to many people. You may encounter a lack of understanding or technical support from your community or agency partners. You may also be annoyed by frequent delays in almost every aspect of your work, by the lack of privacy, and by being perceived as a rich foreigner. You will be thoroughly briefed on these matters during training.

The romance and excitement of working in a developing country can wear off quickly. The obstacles to accomplishing one’s goals can be formidable. The key to satisfying work as a Volunteer is the ability to establish successful interpersonal relations at all levels, which requires patience, sensitivity, and a positive, professional attitude. Remember that while you are full of energy and motivation, you will be here for only two years. Your Panamanian colleagues will continue to work at the same jobs, probably for low pay, long after you leave, so they may not have the same level of motivation as you do. Immediate results will be hard to quantify. Much of the impact of the work you do will not become evident until after you leave Panama. Nevertheless, you will surely be rewarded with a great sense of accomplishment when activities are successful, whether small or large. The successes are well worth the difficulties. Volunteers’ presence in Panama is making a difference and has certainly contributed to improving the conditions in rural areas.