Today is the third anniversary of my Mother, Charlotte Soifer’s, death.  Mom died at 92, after years of being unable to get around and, I think, having become pretty much despondent over a limited life.  She had always been gutsy and adventurous.  It was hard for her when she could no longer be.

Two months after Mom’s death, I had applied to Peace Corps.  As Mom’s only living near relative, I could never have gone on this adventure were she alive.  Our relationship wasn’t always easy or super close, but I tried to be attentive.

I suspect that Mom would have both admired and, simultaneously, thought I was crazy setting out on this particular adventure.  Tho’ I feel certain that her inherited spirit is a large part of what brought me here.

And that belief was confirmed by my unintended ending-up in Panama.  Friends and readers of this blog will remember that I had planned to do my Peace Corps service in Rwanda, Africa. But when Peace Corps took too long to complete my background check, that plan had to be abandoned, and I ended up here instead.  You may also recall that Mom had once lived — very happily in a 55+ community — on Mariposa Way.  Butterflies became something special to her and “the theme” of just about every present I would bring her.  So, I was stunned to learn that “Panama” is an indigenous word meaning “Land of the Butterflies.”  When I first arrived here and was told this, I rolled my eyes heavenward and said, out loud, “Aw, come on, Mom!”

I’ve also mentioned before my wonderful neighbor Chon.  I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned that she’s a fabulous gardener.  When I first moved in to my side of our duplex, my half of the front yard was totally barren.  Since then, Chon has planted all sorts of flowers and bushes and greenery, and now my side is nearly as lush as hers.

And with all of that have come regular troops of visiting butterflies.  I walk in or  out of my front door, and there are my lovely Mom-reminders all over the place.613EDC66-5554-4C10-A618-066C3E684591

Yitgadal v’yitkadash . . .  This is my third year of saying Kaddish, the Jewish mourner’s prayer.  But Mom, I remember you every day.💕



I have WiFi!

’Nuff said . . .64F68C7F-54BF-45EB-A3EC-ADB824E97E3E

Cable Companies Everywhere

Big storm last Sunday.  Blew out — quite literally — several of my light fixtures.  And also left me without WiFi.

It seemed like there had been a lightning strike very close to my house.  And it appeared pretty clear that the router for my WIFi was shot.  No blinky lights.

Monday morning, my landlady sent her son-in-law over to fix the lights.  Since he is the busito driver, through whom I originally found this rental, I was able to hop a ride with him — router in my backpack — to the WiFi/cable company office in nearby Aguadulce.  Limping Spanish and all, I explained my situation to the nice cable company lady who fixed me up with a new router.  I headed homeward feeling pretty impressed with myself and prepared to write a blog post on the immense satisfaction of accomplishing mundane tasks when one is so totally “a stranger in a strange land.”

At this point, I can only imagine that the Almighty was giggling.

Because when I got home and set up my new router, still no WiFi.  All the blinky lights were fine.  Clearly, I needed a tech.  I called Cable Onda.  Fortunately, they have an English line.  So we set up their earliest appointment for Thursday.

Thursday it was pouring rain again.  So they rescheduled me for Friday afternoon.  Mind you, just like at home, these companies give you an hours-long window for your tech to show up.  Which means you are chained to your home because if you’re not there when they arrive . . .  So, I had to miss my After School High School class.  And . . . nobody ever showed.  I called.  They said my appointment, for no explicable reason, had never been confirmed in the system.  Whatever that meant.  They rescheduled me for Saturday morning.

Saturday morning.  This time I had to miss a university class.  Noon and still no tech.  I call.  They assure me he was just running late but was coming.  5:00 and I call again.  Now they insist that during my earlier call I had been told that there were no more appointments until the 23rd!! There was no such communication, believe me!  And, I remind you, this was all in English (so, language miscommunication was not the problem).  But that’s what the customer service rep wrote down in his notes . . .

By now, I’m livid.  So much for my cultivation of Panamanian patience.  I demand to speak with a supervisor.  The customer rep with, I dare say, a self-satisfied smug tone in his voice — informs me that the supervisors only speak Spanish.

Get that!  The clerks are bi-lingual, but the higher-ups not.  “Give me a supervisor,” I insist, thinking “I’m p.o.’d enough to do this in Spanish.”

And I was.  With the dubious result that I may . . . or may not . . . have another appointment tomorrow morning.  I’m waiting for a phone call that will let me know for sure.  Maybe.

I’m also waiting on a busito to take me to a coffee shop with internet in Aguadulce.  I desperately need to do some work on my computer.  And to get some food, since I couldn’t get to the grocery store for waiting on the tech.  And to download some more books for my Kindle which got pretty much read-out during all this waiting.  But it’s Sunday when busitos are few and far between.  So far, I’m not going anywhere.  I may have to wait until tomorrow to use the WiFi at my school.

But . . .  There is a small silver lining.  I have two 17 year olds that I tutor privately on Sunday mornings.  Coincidentally, both want to work for Copa, Panama’s excellent national airline which is also, apparently, a prized employer.  But Copa has very high English requirements.  Enter private tutor Maira.

Student Bryan was leaving near Noon, and my hungry stomach was wondering how it would be sated in my food-minimal quarters.  Bryan’s Mom knocks on the door, and in her hands is a big, full container of arroz con pollo.  So freshly-made that it’s still warm.  Arroz con pollo is the most typical of Panamanian food.  The rice is colored with some yellow seasoning.  Strings of boiled chicken and vegetables and raisins bulk it up.  It isn’t always my favorite food.  But this particular day, it was delicious! 55DA8E76-A4B2-46D9-A890-6D99C592A8FAAnd in the midst of an insanely frustrating week, this small bit of kindness had me practically in tears.

So.  I’m about to give up on the busito. I may or may not get my WiFi back tomorrow.  But I have enough arroz con pollo to last for at least a few more days.  And, sometimes, that just has to be blessing enough.

May we all have a good week!

Small Town Sweet

31B48BE0-4782-4316-B34C-7ED7C60A532E.jpegA3CBC560-B000-4919-A2B8-EC3C80A9AB81.jpegToday, August 15, marks the 500th Anniversary of Old Panama.  The whole country is celebrating the fifth centenary of the founding of Panama City.  So, of course, there are no classes as my school joyfully does the same.

Students came dressed in Panamanian folk clothing.  The girls in polleras — colorful and fabulously-full skirts and dresses that swirl magnificently during traditional folk dances.

Many wore the equally colorful and often intricate tembleque hair pieces that look really gorgeous in their long, thick dark hair.

I just learned that the traditional male outfit is called a Saloma, which is also the name of a kind of guttural shout common to the men in the interior countryside.  With all its colorful pieces, the Saloma too moves wonderfully to traditional folk dances. DC429A09-EF1E-4ABC-A66B-1DFA65FAFCD7Often the men also wear the much tamer straw hat that most famously comes from the town of La Pintada located in our province of Cocle.75196A08-A388-4B85-8411-9D14314C7852.jpeg

But my favorite anecdote of the day happened as we began our requisite town parade.  It was raining heavily when we first got to school.  So, the parade was postponed until the weather cleared a bit.  Maybe because of that postponement, or maybe because things here are generally rather “loosely” scheduled, traffic hadn’t been cleared.  We had to move to the side of the road to let a few cars and busitos get by.  Among them was an official municipal vehicle.  (The Municipal Office is the building right next door to the school.). The driver of said official pick-up stuck his head out the window and asked one of our teachers where we planned to march. And then, he went to the head of the parade and led us through town.  No “Do you have a permit?”  “Did you clear the route?”  Just “Where are you going?” and we immediately had an official escort!

There are days when I find this place quite delightfully dear!  Today is surely one.

English Week — the Grand Finale

E7FB1C6C-54E0-4FFA-A9AA-297BFB62CDF7Chaos reigned supreme — as it so often does in my sweet little school — as English Week came to its conclusion today, with Super Hero Day.

Let me introduce (or perhaps reintroduce) my school’s Panamanian English teachers, my Super Hero counterparts.  Pictured below on your left is Rebeca, new to the school and about as eager and open and willing-to-learn as anyone could ask of any teacher.  Captain America is Edwin, my permanent counterpart.  Edwin first joined me at my Peace Corps swearing-in, then accompanied me to my site and introduced me to the school and the community.  He is a wonderful, hard-working, and funny teacher and friend.  And then there’s me, on the right.937A1570-7892-4EFF-9986-20F6667C0164.jpeg

I have clearly not yet absorbed this Panamanian party thing . . .  Rebeca called me last night, apparently deeply concerned about no plans for decorating our gym’s stage.  Hadn’t occurred to me, to be honest.  But, by now, it surely should have.  No event here is complete without such decorative trappings.  So Rebeca had gone out and bought some balloons and foamie (a material previously unknown to me, but a staple of Panamanian creativity).  She and a few other teachers did a pretty good job of quickly sprucing the place up!DA0ADB84-4542-457E-8409-6701B37E1036

Then the festivities began.  First, the requisite parade, this one just around the school, which gave the judges a chance to see the various costumes and the competing classroom doors.

Next came the costume contest with prizes to individual grades, as well as two all-school winning Super Heroes.  I didn’t quite have it together enough to get orderly photos of the winners.  But here’s a sampling of the competitors.

Next was the door contest.  Each class had decorated its door to represent one or another Super Hero.  One winning door was supposed to earn its class a Cupcake Party next Monday.  The judges, however, were intent on selecting 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place doors.  Guess who will be baking all day Sunday?

Anyway, here they are.

1st Place.7734E83F-0B2D-4AA7-9AC1-C59B2C2639D1.jpeg

2nd Place.C5204634-FE64-4ADD-8286-63B1FA5FA2AB.jpeg

3rd Place.916C9D0B-221F-4318-AD69-3FC98D9CF0FF

And some pretty impressive also-rans.

So ends Maira’s first — and presumably last — Panama English Week.  Now all I need is the t-shirt: I Survived English Week!

At least I think I did . . .



English Week – Part 2

75A0A544-5BAA-4435-9D46-1F9344C7C3CF.jpegSo today, Thursday, was Día de Los calcetines locos or Crazy Socks day.  And, oh my, once again Panamanian creativity was in full view.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.  And remember that this is but a small sampling.





Did you spot my socked feet?  (Hint: Look for the cupcakes…)

The craziest socks, in each classroom, won a pair of colorful socks with a few small candies and toys inside.  Competition was so fierce that several classrooms had 2 or 3 winners!

And what English did our students learn from this?  Well, they can all say “Crazy Socks” now.  And their Peace Corps volunteer, who was pretty sure that the Spanish word for socks was calcetines, learned that in Central America the word medias is more commonly used.

As ever, the teacher learns from the students!

Tomorrow is Super Hero Day, the week’s big finale!  Stay tuned…

English Week – Part 1

74801A64-A883-46BE-8061-4A0F278C90E9English Week is sponsored annually by MEDUCA, Panama’s Ministry of Education.  Last year, my school somehow didn’t participate.  This year, I was determined to make it happen.  (Note my first attempt at a school bulletin board, above.  The Panamanian teachers — once again! — turn out amazing bulletin boards.  I gave it a beginner’s try.)

But . . .  Nationwide, English Week took place over a month ago.  With my planned trip to Florida, we decided to postpone our English Week until now.  We also chose not to follow the prescribed theme (which was so uninspiring that I can’t even remember what it was).  Instead I planned a different activity every day.  Some day, I really must learn that KISS — Keep It Simple, Stupid — principle.  But for now . . .

21E06F3E-ADE3-4827-AA61-161B6855DD2E.jpegMonday was Día del Color, Color Day.  Every student was encouraged to wear their favorite color.  (I, of course, wore RED!). And they had to be able to tell me — in English! — what that color was.  In each classroom, I held a mini-scavenger hunt where the students had to find a classroom object of a particular color.  The winner got a small red-white-and-blue hacky sack ball as a prize.  (Wave that flag, Peace Corps volunteer! 🇺🇸 😁)A1351F53-FE93-4E56-A364-DC905E26685B

47DB082D-633F-4116-AE0F-CA8C62CB303D.jpegTuesday was Día del Cowboy/Cowgirl.  I just can’t seem to shake this Old West inclination.  Students were encouraged to dress like buckaroos and bring their hobby horses to school. Basic cowperson vocabulary was reviewed in every classroom, with “Howdy” — the special cowboy/girl hello — and “”Yippee” — that  cowboy/girl shout of joy — being most enthusiastically received.  Likely because the crazy Peace Corps volunteer — that’d be me . . . — walked around all morning with jeans pockets brimming with temporary Western-themed tattoo stickers.  Students who stopped me with a correctly pronounced “Howdy,” were rewarded with a sticker, provided they committed to the follow-up exclamation of “Yippee!”  Yes, I was mobbed all morning long.  What was I thinking?!?470B1099-3263-47F5-9F7B-3DBFFF41C7BB.jpeg

Wednesday was supposed to be Día de professiones — dress up like your dream profession, but for reasons of a special administrative meeting, classes were canceled.

Stay tuned for postings on the rest of the week.

An OMG Moment

This is a short anecdote on the nuance (?) of language.

This has been a crazy week at school.  It’s English week, and every day has had a different theme with small, fun activities. More on that soon, in a future post.  The relevance, for now, is that I’ve been doing more running around than actually sitting in classes.  Today, during a pause in the running, I had a few moments to wander in to a 4th grade class.

My counterpart, Edwin, had been teaching present progressive verb forms.  On the board were scrambled sentences for the students to practice word order. And here comes the “moment of gasp.”

In one sentence, the intended subject was “Kike.”  Members of the Tribe (and surely others) will recognize this as a painfully ugly offensive name for a Jew.  “What could be going on?” I wondered.  So, I asked Edwin.

”Kike,” it turns out is a nickname here for Enrique.  It’s pronounced Kee-Kay.  And a very sweet Panamanian Dad, by that name, was hard at work on the classroom door for tomorrow’s Superhero door decorating contest.  So, Edwin used his name in one of the practice sentences.

Whew . . .

I shared my gasping moment with Edwin. We had an interesting discussion about this word, as slur, and its origins.  One Panamanian English teacher now knows a bit more about the uglier side of Jewish history.

And one volunteer knows to never jump to conclusions when operating in a different culture and language.  I’m breathing easily once again.✡️

Sombreros Locos

Once again, I’ve been wowed by Panamanian creativity.  (Not to mention some of the most original reasons ever for calling off classes!).  My first day back to school, after a lovely trip to Florida (Happy 50th, Jim and Marcia Rudin!), found me in the midst of Sombreros Locos Day.  That’s “Crazy Hat Day,” and there was indeed some wonderfully wild headwear.  No one could tell me why crazy hats were the order of the day.  But no matter.  I’ll let the photos do the explaining.  And know that this is but a small sampling . . .

I really do believe there is some innate Panamanian artsy-craftsy creativity gene. Which may be the best explanation for the why of this day.   . . .   Because they can!😆

The Cutest Ever

It’s San Pedro fiesta time in my site once again.  Pete is our local patron saint.  His annual celebration is a fine reason for music and dancing, parades, street food, fireworks, and general community merriment.

The majority of that takes place tonight in our town-center park square around the Catholic Church.  But our school kicked off the celebration on Thursday, also with a parade and food and dancing and fun.

And one other thing.

For reasons which no one seems able to explain, patron saints all over Panama get celebrated with a cowboy theme.  The kids get all decked out in boots and hats and vests, etc.

I am convinced that Panama has the cutest children in the world.  Here’s just some of the evidence.




And in addition to making gorgeous children, these folks can make arts-and-crafts projects out of anything.  Along with wearing cowboy duds, the school kids ride caballitos, or stick horses, some of which are truly amazing!

Readers of this blog may recall that I bought a stick horse, one that I thought was rather creatively tricked-out, for last year’s celebration.  I named him (or her… who knows?) “pollo,” which means “chicken” in Spanish.  At first, my school suspected that my gringa Spanish had reached an all-time low and that I just didn’t know a horse from a chicken.  But I developed quite a schtick about my horse being very confused and subject to deep psychological problems, because of said misnomer.  (My take on “A Boy Named Sue.”).  Pollo became quite the local celebrity!😁

Still, Pollo was a piker in the creativity department.  I just don’t have that Panamanian crafty gene.  But . . . if imitation is the highest form of flattery, then Pollo is blushing.  Pio Pio is Panama’s everywhere fast food chicken chain.  Check out this caballito (the one on the left, obviously), made entirely from Pio Pio chicken wrappers!

CB959FA0-A934-4F63-9AD6-7E5AD527AF38.jpegOr this one (on the right) made from coffee packaging.

AB012B04-D698-47C2-AB59-AE61281AF330.jpegOr, finally, this one crafted completely from kernels of corn.


Adorable children.  Crazy clever hobby horses.  Viva San Pedro!