Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Week 4/5

So much has happened in the last few weeks! I have gotten to see so many cool things, it's hard to believe I'm not even halfway through my time here yet!

I have been making some good friends here in my rommates and their labmates. About two weeks ago, I got to go with Erin and Alyssa (my roommates) and two of Alyssa's labmates from California to a tapas and flamenco restaurant that was super cool to see! Laura (Alyssa's labmate) used to take flamenco lessons, so she told us all about the history and culture of Spanish gypsies behind the dancing. It was super loud and percussive and really dramatic for such a tiny space! We also got pulled up on stage at the end of the show to try and follow along with the lead flamenca! (We failed.)

That weekend I also went on a small adventure into the city with one of my Panamanian labmates named Cynthia. We walked through a busy area full of street vendors to get to Casco Viejo, which is a beautiful historic part of the city. It was very interesting for me to see, because there are many pretty buildings right next to run-down and impoverished-looking ones. (I unfortunately wasn't able to get photos of the busier parts because it didn't seem safe to have my phone out at those parts). We walked through some craft booths, and I got to try raspado, which is like a snow cone made with ice shaved directly off a giant block, except they also put condensed milk on top! After that we went to Albrook mall to relish in AC, and I got to take some more pictures of all the fancy things there (because I still have not gotten over how huge of a mall it is).

Since then, I have spent some more time getting to see and taste Casco Viejo with my roommates. We went to a pizza place for dinner one night to celebrate Alyssa's last week, and there I tried bacon hazelnut pizza and made friends with a very fat cat that was clearly also a pizza fan. We also went to brunch a few days ago, and Alyssa took me to a really good gelato place where I tried an untranslated flavor that may or may not have been pomegranate.

I have also spent some time relaxing out by the Canal Administration Building reading and sketching. I found a really cute sketchbook that appears to be handmade out of sticks and shells with watercolor paper, so I've been excited to give that a little bit of love and use it as another means of recording my experiences. The last time I was out there, I noticed how accustomed to Spanish I have become when a man walking by with a camera asked to take a picture of me and my drawing and looked confused when I said that was fine. He then said "I'm from India" with a smile as he walked away, and I realized then that I had been trying to speak in Spanish with him when he was speaking to me in English!

My lab work has been going well; I have gotten settled nicely into the routine of things around here. A couple of weeks back my PI and I started talking about pets and how much she loves her dogs here, and after that she invited me out to come walk her three puppies with her, which was really fun! All of her dogs were once abandoned street dogs that she took in, and they were super sweet and fun to play with. It was really nice to get to talk with her about her experience with the differences in veterinary care here vs. in the states and Britain, and also about all of the different career options there are for me to combine veterinary medicine with my love of research, wildlife, and marine invertebrates. She also told me that she has some friends coming later in the term who will be conducting research on environmental influences on insect-born diseases hosted by dogs in the tropics for the University of Georgia's vet school, and that if I was still around she'd introduce me to them!

Perhaps most prominent in the last few days here has been Carnaval celebrations. Festivities have been going on in the city since Saturday, and tonight is the last and biggest night, with a parade and dancing. I didn't get the chance to check out any of the goings on for the previous nights, but this evening Erin and I and my labmate Jaime from Peru are planning to go down to the Cinta Costera (the costal strip which hosts all the celebrations) to check it out, so that should be super fun! It has been very interesting to hear about everyone's plans and opinions on Carnavales this year, because there is a nation-wide drought right now (as well as various other problems that have diminished access to clean water in certain areas of the country), and a main tradition of the festival here includes water trucks that spray partiers in the streets. People seem to have varying opinions on what should be done to conserve both water and tradition, so it will be interesting to see how they handle it in the city tonight.

Carnaval has also reminded me of just how friendly people are here. Something went awry with our electricity in la jaula last Friday, and as a result we experienced power surges and the internet stopped working (along with the AC, microwave, and fridges!). Because of Carnaval, we were told that it wouldn't be fixed until next week (although luckily it got fixed yesterday!). Because I needed internet over the weekend to check my emails, I walked up to a Smithsonian building nearby to use their wifi outside. While I was standing there, a security guard called me over, and I started to worry he was going to tell me to leave--I didn't have my work badge on me since I'd just walked up the hill from my dorm. Instead, he asked if I wanted to come inside, and when I said I was fine and would be done soon, he insisted that I take a chair outside to the spot I'd been so I didn't have to keep standing. He also wrote me a note saying that I was allowed to be there and use the chair and internet, in case anyone else came by and questioned me. It was definitely a silver lining to not having wifi access at home!

I will post more updates and pictures later! I hope everyone is well at home! :)

Carousel at Albrook mall
Flamenco performers!
Casco Viejo
The city from Casco Viejo
With Cynthia :)
More Casco Viejo
I made an iguana friend!
Many iguana friends!!
My quick sketch of the Canal Administration Building
My sketchbook! :)