Posted February 21st 2014 at 4:10 pm by
in DLab Panama

One Day With The Kunas

Image by Poncie Rutsch

MIT’s D-Lab Waste culminated in a two-week trip to Panama’s Kuna Yala Islands in January 2014 where students worked with communities, two local NGOs, IDIKY and ANCON, and the Inter-American Development Bank to create a plan for a zero waste management system on four Kuna Yala Islands.

The blog posts in this series were written by five students who designed and implemented a zero waste demonstration site on the island of Tupile.

 

One Day With The Kunas

Dawn in the Kuna Yala Islands always broke with a rooster’s cock-a-doodle-doo. Not long after, Nixia and Matteo, the owners of the small, family-run hotel where we were staying, woke up to start their day’s work. Sometime after that, their youngest child, still a baby, started to cry in search for her mother. The sun rose to light up the sky as if it had just finished bathing in the ocean while the dogs resumed their fights from the previous night and a few morning birds stood by the ocean to stretch and freshen up.

Image by Tamanna Islam Urmi

It was at that time when we all gathered on the basketball court at one end of Tupile to workout. The dogs, who took the downward dog position with us during yoga, were particularly fond of our workout sessions.

Image by Tamanna Islam Urmi

By the time we returned from the basketball court, the molas (hand embroidered crafts) would be hanging on the wall by the dining table and the beautiful hand-crafted souvenirs would be carefully arranged on the table in the dining area near the sea for display and sale. The great aunt in the household, who came from Panama City to help her niece take care of the children, would return to her hammock at the corner of the room. She spent most of her day knitting gorgeous molas and cooing to the toddlers.

Image by Tamanna Islam Urmi

After breakfast we would return to mend the biodigester, work on the business model for recyclable materials, organize the garden, or run workshops on one of the four program islands. In the meantime, someone in the household had been out to the ocean to catch fish for our lunch. Food in Kuna Yala consist of a lot of seafood, plantains, and rice. We got to taste quite a wide variety of dishes during our two week stay.

This is a picture of Heidi, Nixia’s cousin, cleaning fish for our lunch.

Image by Tamanna Islam Urmi

In the middle of the day kids from the neighborhood would play together, filling the house with laughter and giggles. Even with their limited knowledge of Spanish and my even more limited knowledge of the Kuna language we managed to communicate about various things – the games they played, their toys, the nail polish on my fingernails, and the camera I carried around my neck. At one point they started calling me Hermana, which means sister in Spanish, and happens to be phonetically similar with my name Tamanna.

Image by Tamanna Islam Urmi

Our afternoons in Kuna Yala were also packed with work but we would always return to our Kuna home at Matteo and Nixia’s place by 6 in the late afternoon. A day on an island in Kuna Yala is bound to be colorful and full of joy, with the colors of molas and wide bracelets along with the sounds of laughter and the occasional music from the solar battery powered radios and audio players. The vibe often reminded me of small villages back home in Bangladesh. The tropical weather and the amount of fish in the diet only contributed to that vibe. However, there were also certain aspects of the culture, such as the chicha – a coming-of-age party for Kuna girls, and multiple others that were very new to me. It is both intriguing and quaint how certain aspects are tremendously different among cultures while others are so much alike. Just the way the people of Kuna Yala left a lasting impression in my heart, I hope that our students group and the different strategies we demonstrated for managing waste left a lasting impression in their hearts too.

Post by Tamanna Islam Urmi

Series intro by Libby McDonald

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