A 21 – Year old Peace Corps Volunteer in 1966

A typical event during a few days in 1966 for a 21 year- old Peace Corps Volunteer  in the village of Remedios, Provincia de Chiriqui, Republica de Panama

I had been Panama for nearly two years when I was asked to help a newer volunteer,  Gary R., on an assignment. He was to set up a site for a rural health clinic in the mountains above the town of Tole. The site, Llano Nopo, was located in the Reserva Indigena of the Guaymi Indians. I had worked in another area with the same people and was already accustomed to how things  transpired in working with the local and national bureaucracy in Panama. I was also asked to help Gary as he spoke almost no Spanish yet and he had broken his arm shortly after arriving in Panama a few weeks earlier. And by the way, he was a very tough young fellow from Montana and former smoke jumper for the forest service people.

We were to ride from Tole and pick up his gear from a Guaymi village called “Buenos Aires” where he had been assigned to work initially. We carried our gear – food, cots, and such – on a pack horse and he rode a horse and I rode a mule. A mule! Yeah, and I found out the value of mules as we spent these many miles on narrow, muddy mountain trails. Mules make you feel secure! We also had a guide and a member of the “Guardia Nacional” with us – there were dangers but, when you are 21 years old you can do anything!

The round – about trip to Llano Nopo meant we spent the first night at an American Seventh Day Adventist mission. The two American missionary ladies were a dentist and a doctor. I’ll always remember the foot-powered drill – no electricity so far away into the mountains. I guess we were a great “break” from their isolated routine and they helped me understand why people do the extraordinary things that they do so far removed from the fallacy of a comfort zone! It has always made me feel that a person could do the far -beyond  – normal and not feel special for having done it! I’ve met many such people over the years so it makes whatever I’ve done “pale” in comparison. But I digress!

We arrived at the llano on the second day and were met by a few of the men who would help us for the few days we would be there. Our task was to clear an area that could be used as a landing strip for a small, Otter aircraft. This is an airplane that could land and take off within a minimum space. This field would be used by the project’s sponsors, C.A.R.E, the Peace Corps and the U.S aid programs. The plane would  transport building supplies and such to get the edifice constructed and then bring health personnel in and out as well as transport some seriously injured or ill people. Oh, and Gary; he was the overseer of the building and running of the project.

We spent a couple of days laying out a landing strip. We removed “tons” of rocks and piled them to the sides as limits of the cleared area. We had no tools other than shovels. This was a crude – but typical – project that succeeded because it was the best that could be done at the time and place. We slept in a thatched – roofed hut made with large bamboo poles. Gary would improve on this as he progressed in building the more substantial clinic. We cooked and ate typical “campesino” fare of rice and beans and such. Nothing unusual in that by the way, food can be simple but prepared well. The nearest store was a long hike or ride out of there.

After the few days of work there we left on our animals back to Tole and the highway. We were accompanied on our trip back by a seriously injured Guaymi who had a terribly dislocated shoulder. A local medicine man (and I’m not belittling the efforts and successes of such people) had finally used a heated nail point on his shoulder in a final effort to cure the injury but this actually resulted in a very messy infection. We left very early and forced ourselves to make the trip back in one day and turned the injured man over to local health clinic  in Tole, returned our animals and ended that part of our adventure – no, not an adventure but rather – what was a typical event b y Peace Corps volunteers in the early 1960’s.

Gary eventually finished the clinic and stayed for his tour in Panama. I have heard a little from him over the years.  I returned to my village of Remedios and soon after returned to the U.S. I spent a few months back in the states and then, late in 1966, joined army for “next”. I find that what Gary and I did wasn’t anything notable, we just did what you were supposed to do! No glory because there is a world of other common people everyday doing what they are “supposed to do”. Nice catch phrase, I think I’ll use it!

Allan W. Lockridge – U. S. Peace Corps Volunteer, 1964 – 1966

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One Response to “A 21 – Year old Peace Corps Volunteer in 1966”

  1. almadelagitana Says:

    wow- neat! how long did it take Gary to learn Spanish? how long did it take you to move the tons of rock?

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