Thursday, September 29, 2016

Hot for Teacher!

Or more appropriately titled, Hot for School! C has started school here at a local public school. She goes from 12:30 to 5:30 everyday, which is taking some time to get used to. They say they do this because of the limitations on classrooms. I say Hot for School because as you can see the class rooms are not air conditioned and they leave the windows and doors open to get a breeze.

As with most schools there are many rules that must be followed. The first was figuring out the uniforms, they wear a skirt most days and depending on the day it is either the button down shirt or polo. With the exception of physical education day, they can then wear their PE uniform. The PE uniform is flannel lined polyester pants! Which seems strange since it is 85 degrees year around here. C is enjoying the uniform and getting to look like everybody else.

Her teacher speaks mostly Spanish to her and she does her best to understand. The style of learning here is very different with the teacher writing on the board and the students copying it down in their notebooks. There is not much instruction or discussion it appears just copying down what is written. So C just has pages of notes in Spanish! She is not sure what she is writing but doing a good job of trying to learn cursive. They start cursive writing here as soon as they learn to write. There is an English class everyday, but as C says " they are just doing easy stuff"! The teacher has already asked her to be her helper in English to help teach the class.

C likes having a friend at school, Victoria, that is in third grade. She is the daughter of a couple we meet that own a restaurant, Victoria's Restaurant that is open for lunch. He is American and she is Panamanian. It is really good food and at the most $4! They get to see each other everyday so that is good for C to have someone that she can easily speak to that speaks both Spanish and English.

Since there is no lunch at school we didn't think she needed a lunch box but that would be incorrect. She needed a lunch box for snack time. You can see what kind of lunch box she picked. As soon as she saw it she got excited and said that was the one she wanted in the midst of superheroes and princesses but choose this one for the sweetest reason, "for my daddy, since he loves the lakers so much I will get it"! Some things appear to be going right while raising her!


Monday, September 26, 2016

tough times

Overall, things have been great in Panama so far, but just before hitting the one-month mark, we ran into some tough times. After a week of travel for workshops and a conference, we came home to a dead refrigerator, no power in our neighborhood, the first week of school, and issues with our car purchase. I prepared myself for things being hard, really hard, during this trip, but I wasn't prepared for what would be hard. And eventually things being hard just gets old. It's a normal part of taking this type of risk, and you just have to hold on tight until it passes. And riding around in taxis until it passes is no fun.

Luckily, it's behind us now, and we were treated to a nice weekend with some pretty awesome visitors. Our new friends Paco, Stephanie, and Maya from Panama City came to Santiago to pick up their friends who are bicycling from Mexico to Argentina. We enjoyed dinner out, some good conversation (in English!) and then a visit to the waterfall in San Francisco. I have a fresh perspective on what 'hard' means after hearing about Erin and Mehedi's days on the road.

Things are looking up now that we have the car in our possession. It was a process to get it, and it's come with some surprises, but it represents a lot more freedom to travel and basic day-to-day comfort and safety.

I'll let Earl talk more about our house, but to me, it's comical how many things have broken/gone wrong. Here they are, in list form:
  • the shower head water heater
  • a broken window
  • no remote for the air conditioner
  • the sink drain
  • the sink drain again, with sewage smell
  • the fridge
  • the front door, including everyone getting locked out while I was out of town
  • no water, multiple times
  • no power just after washing the uniform the morning of the first day of school, the same day they were trying to fix the fridge
  • the running toilet (not important enough to fix, apparently)
And finally, some photos at our crazy house and the waterfall.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

the car hunt

Before arriving in Santiago, we never considered using anything but taxis and public transportation, but we have seen how different our quality of life as a family would be if we had our own transportation, so we're on the hunt. Last weekend, we rented a car to make sure we could handle the streets and traffic. It's nothing compared to Panama City, but drivers here are still more aggressive than back home, and riding in taxis means no car seats (and usually no seatbelts!) for the girls. Luckily, traffic means mostly slow speeds, and we think driving is manageable.

We spent a day meeting people in the parking lot of the grocery store to look at and test drive cars. One guy thought from my texts that I was Panamanian! We're still looking for the right car here as it'll be easier than buying in Panama City, but there are ten times more options there.

The next day we drove the rental car south to the beach. We headed for Torio, and it was breathtaking! But after an hour plus of winding hilly roads, Earl said, "You've gotta really want the beach!" We drove down the gravel road to the beach, noticing that we might not make it back out in our Toyota Yaris if it rained. So when we felt some sprinkles, we hurried back. We had an amazing fried fish lunch--the whole fish--and then stopped at Playa Reina, which was more populated, but narrower and not as clean as Torio.

We were hoping to see a bit of the folklore festival in nearby Atalaya, but when we came through, it was raining, and the whole parade (minus the cows and cart) was taking shelter under the awning of the mini mart.

Details to remember:

  • Getting into the car in Torio, we counted chicks in a family of chickens and passed a boy on a horse headed to the beach.
  • On the way home, a dog stood by the road, ready for a face off with our car! We were able to outrun him, but just barely.
  • Cora discovered that she loves patacones (mashed, fried plaintains) with ketchup.

Monday, September 5, 2016

the first quincenal

I always thought it was interesting to hear my students count time in increments of 15 days (when we would say two weeks or a month), but now I get it. Some services here are billed this way, and it's just how people count time. We've been here two weeks, a quincenal tomorrow.

When we lived in Japan, Earl and I wrote a journal, sometimes just in list form, and in some ways it jogs our memories more than any of the hundreds of photos we have. Going beyond sights, the words capture little experiences, smells, sounds that we might otherwise forget. Our blog here is going to serve the purpose of recording those details and also help friends keep up with our day-to-day life.

Our first three days in Panama City were pretty great: a hotel with a great breakfast and a pool, yummy restaurants nearby, sightseeing, and my own driver when I went to meetings. We hit our first rough day when it was time to head to our town. Even though our driver covered our luggage in the truck bed with a tarp, when it rain hard during the drive, some bags got soaked. We pulled over to rescue all the books we could, but it meant our clothes needed to be unpacked as soon as we arrived. The only problem was the house needed major cleaning. We're working through the house issues and have had the cleaner come back, the plumber visit to fix the sink, the a/c guy come twice, and the electrician replace a shower head water heater. Overall, it's functional for us, but definitely the biggest challenge so far.

That same day, Earl got sick. Ceviche? Salad? Whatever it was, he wasn't up for local food right away, so we headed to the McDonald's. For the first time in the girls' lives! They are now fans. This is funny: when I asked the taxi driver to take us to McDonald's, he headed in the opposite direction. I asked if there was another McDonald's, and he said, no, just the one. Still headed away from it. I kept questioning him, and we finally realized that he was taking us to the mercado, not McDonald's!

The next day was awesome, with my friend Yasmin from work. She took us to her husband's home town, where we saw a 600 year old church, a waterfall, and an artisanal baker at work. Just what we needed!

Speaking of work, my school is beautiful. The staff and students are enthusiastic, and most importantly, my co-workers are kind and warm. Their passion for English teaching really impresses me! I made a little speech in front of the school on my first day in Spanish and English, which was pretty cool.

Details we want to hold onto from these two weeks:

  • the nighttime sound of frogs (?) that sounds like hundreds of little car alarms
  • that the name of gym near our house is actually part of our address because there are no house numbers
  • the cousin-in-law who buzzed by with perfect English, saying "Yeah, I'm from New York"
  • that school children learn cursive only starting in kindergarten
  • me using the boys bathroom at school--oops!

Friday, September 2, 2016

we have arrived

Way back in college, I dreamed of living in a Spanish speaking country, but I had doubts about going away on my own, and never made it happen. A few years later, I talked my newlywed husband, Earl, into teaching English (it’s my field) in Japan for a year. He agreed, but only if we’d come back to our home town. Forever. 

For many years, I was satisfied with the memories of that amazing year-long experience, but once our kids started getting a little more independent, I began to long for another adventure. We agreed to make travel a priority even though anything longer than two weeks would be a challenge after Earl accepted a promotion last fall. 

This spring, we spent two weeks in Japan, and came back with full stomachs, hearts, and memory cards. We headed back to work, but something had changed for Earl, and he was ready to take the overseas leap again. We weighed our options and in May I started applying for jobs that would be a good fit for our family. By the end of June, I was matched to an English Language Fellow project in Panama, helping train teachers at a pedagogical high school.

So two weeks ago, we packed up everything into a bunch of suitcases, and left Florida for Panama. And now here we are, settling into life in Panama, learning new roles within our family, homeschooling for the first time. We’re all handling the adjustment differently and learning a ton. Can’t wait to see what the year brings!