In June of 2013, Kelsey Paradise, a medical anthropologist joined the Floating Doctors for the summer to research the relationship of biomedicine and traditional medicine in the rural communities of the Ngäbe, an indigenous population living in Northwestern Panama. That July, Sam Shimizu-Jones was sent to document how the Floating Doctors used portable ultrasound machines in these rural communities. During this time, both Kelsey and Sam built relationships with Floating Doctors, each other, and the Ngäbe communities they were working with. Towards the end of their time in Panama, Ben LaBrot, the founder of Floating Doctors approached them about creating a Ngäbe Cultural Archive Project (NCAP) that would utilize Kelsey’s skills as a researcher and Sam’s experience as a documentary filmmaker.
Unexpectedly, Sam decided to stay onboard with the Floating Doctors and continued to work with them as the staff photographer and documentarian. In August of 2013, Haystofel, a young Ngäbe man approached Sam during a clinic in the remote community of Kusapin and asked if he could help translate. He spoke English, Spanish, Ngäbere, and some Mandarin. For the rest of the year, Haystofel assisted the Floating Doctors as a translator. During this time, Sam and he had many conversations about the Ngäbe language and culture and with time, spent every opportunity to talk with Ngäbe elders about their culture, their history and the changes that the Ngäbe face. Throughout this time, Sam kept Kelsey up-to-date about his progress and upon completing her studies, Kelsey returned to Panama.
Toady, they have formalized their goals and approach for the Ngäbe Cultural Archive Project, which will begin with Haystofel who is currently studying English in the bustling city of Changuinola. Witnessing the loss of culture and traditions around him, he is eager to continue learning about the Ngäbe traditions he has left behind, while simultaneously, moving forward with his studies. Our film will share Haystofel’s journey and embody the stories of many Ngäbe who are struggling to find the balance between leaving their families, communities, and traditional ways of life and finding work and education.