I’ve come to realize that, when I haven’t posted in a while, it’s generally because I’m in one of my Panama-ambivalent “What am I doing here?!?” moods …
So, I haven’t posted in a while. . .
I feel most useful when I’m teaching. It feels most lacking-in-meaning when I’m not. There is too much of the latter, even while I work hard to cultivate opportunities for the former.
This past week, for example. We had no classes on Friday, as we celebrated my school’s 51stanniversary. Cancelling classes is a regular feature of the school system here. Pretty much any occasion will do. And since this is a country that loves to celebrate pretty much anything, the occasions abound. Last Friday’s celebrations included the requisite Queen contest, coronation, and subsequent parade through town – the queen and her court and their escorts on floats decorated in the “Frozen” theme. (No, I have not a clue why that bit of ice-cold fantasy is so popular in a country that never sees ice and snow . . . but it is.) From my culturally-biased point of view, this “queen thing” is seriously sexist and uncomfortably sexualizing of young girls. But that’s a conversation for another time. If at all. Maybe I am just being culturally insensitive . . .
In any case, there were no classes on Friday. For no reason that anyone could explain, there was also no school on Monday. Up until the last minute, I wasn’t sure about school on Tuesday either. There’s a teachers’ strike in Panama City, and sometimes our teachers don’t come to school in solidarity. But we did have school Tuesday, which gave me the chance to work with my six wonderful 6th-graders who are my school’s team for the upcoming Reader’s Theater competition. Readers Theater is pretty much what it sounds like. A short story is read by students. No acting. No costumes. Just reading. It’s in English – part of the effort for bilingual education here. Pronunciation and expression are primary. My kids are doing a cute little story called “The Bad Kangaroo.” They are working their adorable hearts out on this, and our Tuesday practice went very well. I was pleased, especially because I figured we still had a week to work on perfecting this. (The contest, among a dozen-plus schools, is on October 11th.) Ah, not so fast, Myra! The 6th grade class is gone, on a trip to Panama City, today. (Which functionally means that I have nothing to do in school today. So I’m home, writing this blog post.) And since they won’t get home until late, they aren’t coming in to school tomorrow, on Thursday, either. And since I don’t generally work on Friday, it’ll be Monday before we can rehearse again. Assuming school isn’t cancelled for some reason or other. Basically, we may have a day or two more, next week, to work on this. Or not. One simply never knows here.
Do I sound frustrated? Yeah.
I try to keep busy with things that do give my service some meaning. At the end of September, I gave two presentations at the regional TESOL conference. TESOL is Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. My presentations, to a total of 53 folks, were on “English Color Idioms.” Did you know we have a ton of them? Tickled pink. Feeling blue. Green with envy. Paint the town red. I had 14 pages of these, and that was a shortened collection. Anyway, the classes were fun.
My buddy Sue was contacted about doing a Basic English class for some students from a nearby town. Interestingly, this is being sponsored by our local office of the Labor Ministry. The motivation is that English is necessary for many good jobs here. Anyway, these are High School students, and the class meets late afternoon twice a week. We started last night, and it was fun. Though attendance was small, and I don’t know if the class will last. We shall see.
I’m trying to make contact with the English department in the nearby university. Haven’t succeeded so far. But I’ll keep trying. I did a class or two of Conversational English, at the University in Penenome, and loved it. Again, we shall see.
I’m hoping to do a bunch of classes on Thanksgiving at my primary school. Teaching a bit of English and some American “culture.” The problem is November. Our school vacation technically doesn’t start until the end of December (and ends at the beginning of March). But November is full of national Panamanian holidays, and school really effectively stops at the end of October. I’m told that there are very few students actually present during most of November and December. (Can you hear my frustration through the computer screen?).
I’m also thinking of doing a cowboy/cowgirl day camp for one week during vacation. Complete with Country and Western line dancing. For my primary kids. Mid-February, by which time I figure they (and their parents) will be mildly frantic with boredom. Lots of planning-bureaucracy necessary. So, again, there’s no certainty that I’ll actually pull this off.
In January, Sue and I are taking a week-long trip to Colombia. And the first week of February, I’m joining a group of volunteers who will be helping a Christian medical group, from the States, who come and do cataract surgery for some medically-underserved folks in a province to the east of me. Supposedly, I’ll be helping with translating. With my still-limited Spanish, that’s a bit dubious. But I’ll do my best.
So, I try to keep busy and wrest meaning from service that largely feels pretty insignificant. I have, for sure, experienced a lot of personal and professional growth. I’ve learned some stuff on the computer that has raised me from total luddite to minimally-dinosaur-techie status. I have certainly learned a huge amount about teaching. And I continue to be amazed and enriched by the skills of the other volunteers.
And I am comfortable in my little Panama rental. This is not, by any means!, the heroic Peace Corps service that many imagine. My water is back (yay!), and while the pressure is low and there is never any hot water, it *is* running water; and I am grateful. I have electricity, air conditioning, WiFi, and a washing machine. (No dryer. But that’s why God made clothesline . . . ) The insects, with whom I dwell, are minimal. Mostly ants (LOTS of ants!) and flies. A very occasional cockroach. Lots of moths. And a few other indistinguishable crawly things. But nothing major.
Still, it’s not U.S. luxury. I actually enjoy the occasional, silly challenge this poses. Like what to do with my earrings . . . Before coming to Panama, I somehow had the idea that this was a fashionless place. Nothing could be further from the truth. The women here “fancy up” in a manner that we would find pretty amazing. Footwear that would put my collection to shame! But since I seem to be walking a lot on unpaved surfaces, my shoe wardrobe has dulled down considerably. I’ve compensated with earrings. But they were all jumbled up in a plastic box-thing. So, look what I came up with!
And, yes, that’s a splatter screen (like for over the pan when you’re frying something . . .). Ok, I’m easily amused.
One last word on surviving Jewishly here, especially during the recent High Holidays. Thank goodness for live streaming! I have generally been “attending” worship at Central Synagogue, an amazing Reform synagogue in NYC. I can’t even imagine how my spirit would be surviving without WiFi and live streaming. I am, again, grateful. I also managed to get to synagogue, in Panama City, on the Erev Shabbat during the TESOL conference. It felt great to be in Jewish community.
So, there you have it. I continue to hang in here. I still love the people. And with all the horrors going on in the U.S. political scene, I’m not sure I’d want to come home either. I did vote, electronically, already. I pray for positive political change.
Sorry for the length of this. I’ll try to post more regularly. Love to all!