Sunday, January 29, 2017

reflections on life away from home

Last week we passed the halfway point of our time in Panama. We also recently made the decision not to renew my contract and extend our time another year. The decision came after a lot of indecision, mixed feelings, and uncertainty about the future.

There are so many aspects of this situation that I love. I've never had such autonomy in a job. I decide what projects to take on and how and when to complete them. I don't have a set schedule, especially during the summer vacation, so I come in early some days, later other days, and also work from home. As a family, we have this same freedom from a schedule and obligations, so we can travel and explore on days off. Our days are full of new experiences, which feeds my soul.

We're all coming along on our Spanish. While I know another year here would solidify what we're learning, I think we're all making great progress. E is more motivated than I've ever seen him to learn and practice a new language, even if he's still reluctant to speak it. The girls also don't speak much, but they constantly surprise me with what they know and understand. Although I do most of the interacting in Spanish on behalf of the family, I really don't speak much Spanish at school because everyone wants to practice English with me. And that's OK. I just need to make an additional effort to interact with Spanish. We're all going to give it our best effort for the next few months.

While we love the new experiences, the country, and the culture, parts of living in the interior of Panama are hard. Our city has all the basics, but it feels run down. We've found it difficult to find great support for the girls like we're used to. Education, activities, and facilities just don't compare what we have at home, and while we're making the most of what we can find here, we miss the ease and abundance of resources for kids. We also miss seeing our family and friends!

All of our needs (and more) are met at the accommodations provided for us. We have a huge house with room for visitors, a beautiful garden with fruit, amazing outdoor spaces, a washer AND a dryer, and lots of A/C units. But it's an old house and needs a lot of maintenance. Because the windows don't really shut, it's hard to keep clean, and there are bugs everywhere. When you have a house that's the opposite--every detail put in place by you and the ability to take care of problems on your own--it's hard not to miss it.

There are so many rewarding experiences in my job. When I work with an enthusiastic group of teachers, I'm on cloud nine. I'm involved with an English initiative at the national level, which has a huge impact. Students are excited about the language, and institutions show so much appreciation when I work with them. But there are hard days. I'm still learning the system, so logistics of organizing workshops and meetings can be frustrating. Most things are done on paper, so sometimes it feels like communication isn't efficient. Teachers have multiple commitments and varying priorities. Sometimes the organizing feels like an uphill battle. But then I walk outside my office and remember how amazing this place is that I come to everyday. The school building is grand, with a grand mission: to educate future teachers to work all over Panama, and I get to be a part of that.

As much as I love the work here, I feel pulled more and more towards home and what I can do professionally there. I love Jacksonville, and I believe in its diversity and potential. I hope that after our adventure, I'll find the place where I can contribute to Jacksonville's progress. With that goal in mind and professional changes for Earl on the horizon, I still have so much more adventuring I want to squeeze in before we settle down in Jax again. After Panama, we're planning to travel a bit more, and I know when we do get home, I'll already be planning our next trip!

For now, Santiago is home, and I love documenting the details of life here, including:

  • seeing (and photographing) everything through a very tinted windshield
  • the girls' propensity for writing on everything since we've been here and our ornate furniture!
  • the turquoise house I admire every time we eat at our favorite restaurant
  • the drawing we found on the wall of that restaurant, by 9-year-old Victoria, its namesake. Look closely!
  • the ubiquitousness of trucks of animals and fruit, even in downtown.

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