MPH Panama Practicum 2013: Visiting the Embera

Gurjinder Dosanjh

July 14, 2013

Yesterday we had the privilege of meeting the Embera people who live along the Chagres River. I had been looking forward to this trip because I had heard about it from previous years and it was a once in lifetime opportunity. So it took a little more than an hour to get there and the road was bumpy because the roads were not paved as we went higher in elevation. I learned a very interesting fact on the way up, after a certain point most of the land belongs to the National Forest. Everyone living inside of it cannot sell their property to outsiders; they can only pass it down to their offspring in order to preserve it.

The bus dropped us off right by the river and from there we took canoes to get to the Embera Village. The canoe ride was breathtaking, it was so beautiful, and words cannot describe the scenery. I was in a dilemma the entire ride, should I just sit back and take in everything or should I take pictures so I can keep this forever? I wish I had a photographer with me so that I could completely enjoy the views and have somebody else capture them for me!

We stopped to take pictures by the river and I was doing just that until I tripped over some rocks and fell on the ground cracking my phone screen. Bummer. So mad for about five minutes. But then I realized that there wasn’t anything I could do right now and I shouldn’t ruin this trip because of this accident.

We finally arrived at the Embera Village and they were waiting for our arrival. I felt so special and almost bad for how nice they were to us, they picked us up from the bottom near the river and took us up with them. They were also kind enough to allow us to take pictures with them and of their remarkable village.

As soon as we entered, they performed their traditional dance for us and it was very different, had never seen many of those moves. They invited us to join and little children even came to encourage us to get up, which of course worked.

We were then taken to another area where they were cooking. They offered different types of food while they explained the history of their people. It was interesting to learn their migration history and how they were originally from Cambodia until they settled along the Chagres River. I could not eat the delicious fish everyone was complimenting, but I did have a lot of fruit.

I then got a traditional design painted onto my shoulder that actually didn’t stay on for very long (was gone by the time I showered). Then I began to explore the village and I was beyond amazed at the beauty of this region. I think its great that they live such a natural life and feel very blessed to have gotten this opportunity to visit such wonderful people who are trying their best to preserve their heritage and culture.

About the MPH Panama Practicum

A group of University of Southern California graduate students are researching public health in Panama City, Panama, for a two-week international practicum, organized by the USC Master of Public Health (MPH) program. This post was excerpted from panama.usc.eduView all posts in this series »