About the TP

I’ve failed to yet post on this subject.  Perhaps because it’s a bit “delicate.”  But more likely because, to anyone who’s ever traveled in Latin America, this is old hat.  (Yipes, what a mixed metaphor!).  But . . . plumbing systems in these parts of the world are pretty delicate.  So . . . you can’t flush the toilet paper down the commode.

What, then, do you do with it?  Well, beside every toilet there’s some kind of a garbage can, and you throw it in there.  Come garbage day, you take that bagful out with the rest.

Most public places have signs, posted in their bathrooms, reminding/imploring customers not to throw the toilet paper in the potty.  Not surprisingly, one of the first Spanish verbs I learned was tirar (throw). Also, papel higiénico.  Which means toilet paper.  Important information, should you find yourself in need in a Spanish speaking country!

Is this an informative blog or what??!?😆

And in the spirit of making the sublime out of the ridiculous, said waste vessel in my little place is absurdly pink and polka dotted, as you can plainly see.A8B54C62-BCC0-48D8-BD4E-62AA0C3B4788

The serious side of this is another one of those “count your blessings” moments.  How blessed are we who can toss our TP down the toilet without a moment’s second thought!

And speaking of blessings, what we call Semana Santa (Holy Week), in these parts, is just a bit over a week away.  I will joyously be celebrating Passover with Reno friends and Jewish community.  To those who celebrate whatever manner of holiness — be it Passover, Easter, or the spring melting of snow — may your blessings be many and the sanctity abundant!

And a slightly early Shabbat Shalom to my Jewish readers as well!✡️

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WDSD

43D80FC5-D2ED-4D0D-B580-7FBAA46AE49CI had no idea.  Today, March 21st is World Down Syndrome Day, being celebrated  around the world with an initiative called “Rock Your Socks.”  The date of March 21st (3/21) was chosen to symbolize the uniqueness of the triplication (trisomy) of the 21st chromosome which causes Down Syndrome. The whole “wear a pair of crazy mismatched socks” thing was begun by an organisation called Down Syndrome International to encourage people to start a conversation about diversity, uniqueness, inclusion and acceptance, as mentioned by downsyndrome.org.au.  The website of Down’s Syndrome Scotland suggests further that chromosomes look like socks, thus giving birth to the idea of a worldwide ”Lots of Socks” campaign, to honor the victims of Down Syndrome, who have an extra chromosome.  The presumed added benefit is that people will see those wearing these fun socks and ask what’s going on, providing the perfect opening for conversation and education about this genetic syndrome.

So I had no idea, but my wonderful students at the Aguadulce Extension of Panama University apparently did.  Check out their cute feet.3FB20B48-5EBE-42D7-8120-85CBD3D0A4CC

I’ve had the joy this week of of offering an English Conversation class, to some two dozen first year students, every afternoon for 2 hours.  Preparation has taken an incredible amount of time, and I end the day pretty exhausted.  But these kids are really terrific with impressive English skills too.  And as every teacher knows, our students often teach us more than we teach them.  World Down Syndrome Day was just such a lesson for me.

Tomorrow we wrap up the class.  As always in Panama, with brindis (snacks) and the presentation of certificates.  And, I presume, wearing duly matched pairs of socks.  Too bad . . . .

Thingee 2 Revealed

There were lots of good guesses, but none of you quite got it.  Except for another Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala.  And she had a bit of an advantage, no?

So, here’s the context…  Many small towns in interior Panama have no garbage pick up.  Or, if they do, the few dollars a month fee may be too much for the gente.  So, what do these folks do?  They simply burn their garbage in the yard.  No, this is not pleasant for the neighborhood.  Nor is it good for the environment.  But so it goes.

My town does have regular garbage collection.  Once a week on Fridays.  Though I should more properly say “irregular” garbage collection, since many weeks are missed.

But stiil, it’s a community service that, thankfully, we have.  What we don’t have are any of those big green, wheeled Waste Management garbage cans (Ok, that was a Reno reference.  But the rest of you get the picture, right?) to roll out to the curb.  (Actually, we don’t have much in the way of curbs.  But that’s an observation for another time.). So, everybody just puts out however many plastic bags of trash they’ve got.

But we also have loads of wandering community dogs.  Not to mention a free-for-all of chickens and roosters.  Garbage left at ground level would soon be picked open and strewn all over the place.  Enter, Thingee 2, which is high enough to be out of harm’s way of the local animals.

So, Thingee 2 is a Panama trash barrel, you might say . . .

And now it’s off to bed for Yours Truly.  It’s been a long day whose highlight was a very fun first-day English Conversation class at the University.  I’m actually glad that, in typical quintessential Panama fashion, the Directora decided just this morning that English classes, at our primary school, won’t start until next week.  The day could have been a lot longer.

Buenas Noches!

P.S.  In spite of not winning the contest, you all are welcome at my Panama B-n-B any time!😁

Quintessential Panama

This is what greeted me this morning, right outside my front door, as I headed to my local SuperMini to buy some eggs. BB9963F7-E4F0-40DF-9453-E70F0A245DEB

I don’t know why this tickles me so, but it does.  And it has also noodged me to write this blog post about some of the quirks that are just normal operating procedure here.  Some examples . . .

“Decorum” just isn’t a concept in the Panama lexicon . . . at least not as I think of that term.  I’ve already shared one example of what I’m getting at here, when I wrote about the fumigating guy who showed up at the end of Cowboy/Girl Camp.  Never mind that my kids were an hour away from their big presentation.  He was there to fumigate.  End of story.  Another Peace Corps friend tells of running a workshop with some High Schoolers when a guy walked in to repair/weld a pipe.  Blow torch, super-noisy electric saw and all!  “Hey, I’m teaching a class here!” says my buddy.  Say what?  There’s a pipe here that needs fixing.  And that’s that.  Lest you think this indicates a Panama inclination to get projects completed promptly, think again!  Most things take years to get done. But when it’s time (as determined by nothing or no one logical or orderly), it’s time. . .

And speaking of time…  We call it PanaTime, which is shorthand for ”always late.”  My favorite story of PanaTime comes from Peace Corps colleague, Donna.  She had a 2:00 class, but was in the classroom, preparing early, at 1:00.  At 1:27, a student came in and respectfully took a seat at his desk.  “You know, don’t you?” Donna said, “Class doesn’t start until 2.”  He had thought it started at 1:00 (which is why he showed up at 1:27, right?).  So, off he went to play for a while.  Mind you, he is now right outside the classroom door, kicking around a soccer ball with friends. So, when does he return to class for the 2:00 lesson?  You got it — 2:27!  PanaTime at its best!!

Finally, a funny Myra-trying-to-get-Spanish story.  My only-basic Spanish is just a part of my ongoing language challenges here.  Another part is the reality that we Peace Corps Volunteers are always in small town, interior Panama where education and literacy aren’t necessarily high.  So we’re not exactly experiencing the “King’s Spanish.”  Add to that the idiosyncrasies of grammar and spelling (in any language) when texting — with WhatsApp being a main form of communication here — and you may be starting to sense where this anecdote is heading.  It was the evening before my last day of  Cowboy/Girl Camp.  My community guide was going to buy the snacks for our closing celebration the next day.  She texted me something about “jodox.”  I had no idea what “jodox” could be or what she was trying to tell me.  I forwarded her message to my Spanish-maven friend, Sue, who had not a clue either.  When I searched for this word in my online Spanish Dictionay, I ended up at the verb “joder,” which means “to fornicate.”  That, I knew!, couldn’t be right!!  I sat at my desk repeating “jodox, jodox, jodox” until finally the light dawned!  HOT DOGs!  She had decided not to serve hot dogs, but was going to go with sandwiches instead.🤣

All of which may or may not explain my tickled pinkness to find a guy on horseback out my front door . . . .

 

 

24 hours until the “Big Reveal” of Thingee #2.  Still time to submit your best guess.

Hasta luego!

Thingee, Part 2

“Guess the Panama thingamajig” returns with these two photos, variations of the same thing.  So, what is this?8B3A44E2-82F3-4090-8704-2250FB93463E.jpeg310F0623-07D5-420A-97EE-CAD06D7BBFC5

First correct guess wins an all-inclusive weekend at the fabulous Soifer Inn in beautiful Cocle, Panama.  All inclusive may not, however, guarantee running water.  (Ya’ just never know, from day to day. . . ).  And, for sure,  there will be no HOT water.  Tho’ the temperature has returned to so sizzling that my water, yesterday, was downright warm.  So, the winner might get an upgrade!! 🤣  Guess early and often!

In the meantime, an advance Shabbat Shalom to all!🙏

Bocas

ECF2AD30-C9B7-4136-A588-1FE58290E955Bocas del Toro is a province of Panama made up of an island chain off the Caribbean coast, plus a section of nearby mainland.  Isla Colón, the main island, is home to the capital, Bocas Town, a central hub with restaurants, shops and nightlife … and where we’ve spent the past two days and nights.741E7305-DB1D-4578-87B3-25556D69955D

This is a very different part of Panama.  Quite unlike anything I’d yet experienced here.  The “feel” is  altogether Caribbean.

We hired a private boat today and went island hopping.  Again saw lots of wildlife and nature including dolphins, star fish, sloths, and mangrove forests that formed whole islands.

We also hung out, on one of the many beaches, for several hours.  We’re home now, pinkly sunburned and tired.  It’s a tough life!😏

Tomorrow, Gunter and Sven are picking up a rental car, dropping me off at the central bus station in David (to head home to El Cristo), and then heading off for a few days in Boquete.  They’ll swing by my place for a two night visit before ending their stay in the Old City part of Panama City.  I think they are incredibly brave to drive in this country, especially  with not a word of Spanish.  Such intrepid Europeans!

For me, it’s “back to school,” as the new semester begins.

Monkeying Around

Today was another tour.  First to Monkey Island and then to an indigenous Embera village.

Monkey Island is actually a large number of small islands, all of which resulted from the artificial lakes created by the flooding that made the Canal.  They are filled with wildlife.  We saw howler and capuchin and tamarin monkeys, agoutis (a kind of rodent), snail falcons, iguanas, crocodiles, and even a sloth. 

Oh, and Israelis!  We were powering along in our little boat, when I was sure I heard Hebrew.  I thought for a minute I must be hallucinating until I heard it again.  There, in the boat pulling up beside us, was a couple from Haifa!  Shifting from Spanish to Hebrew actually made my brain hurt.  But it was fun … and one of those “Who’d a thought?” moments.

Anyway, back to the animals.  Here are a few monkey shots.

Next we went to an Embera village.  The Embera are one of Panama’s indigenous people.  Their original home is in Darien, way east in Panama on the Colombian border. Many, however, have moved in closer to Panama City and live in the national park that surrounds the Canal.  They live pretty much isolated from other Panamanians, with their own language and culture and customs.  Their main source of income is from tourists like us.  They welcome a group a day, to their village, and teach about their culture, present some dance and music, and sell crafts.

We three felt some real ambivalence and discomfort with this part of the day.  It’s troubling to be the “audience” for folks who have pretty much turned themselves into a kind of museum-like spectator show.  And yet . . . this is pretty much their only source of income.  I’ve felt conflicted about this sort of thing in the past.  Visiting the Masei, in Kenya, comes immediately to mind.  But there we were nonetheless.  And here are some photos.

We had beautiful weather today, for all of this.  But the day was long.  And tomorrow morning, we are off to Bocas.

So, for now, buenas noches.

Like a Tourist

Some while ago, a volunteer friend saw a bus load of tourists pass by.  For a moment, she thought disdainfully that these folks had no idea what the true Panama is like (unlike those of us working in communities of the *real life* country).  And then she had the sudden realization that, not so long ago, she would have been on that bus with them . . . .

Much earlier in this blog, I wrote about visiting my dear German Lutheran pastor friend, Gunter, in Hamburg.  He and his partner have returned the favor and are now here visiting me.  And yesterday, our first tour was the height of touristy — a transit through the Panama Canal.  And it was super!

The Canal is really an amazing construction accomplishment.  I had read David McCullough’s terrific book, The Path Between the Seas, before I came here.  So I was aware of its complicated, and often troubling, history.  And I’ve driven by the canal, looked at it from the Visitor’s Center, and gone through the museum.  But sailing through those locks was quite something else.

It’s hard to show this in photos.  But here is one showing where we started before lowering into the locks.3E5EACBC-DC34-4819-99DF-E02196A1A3E6

Now look at the wall to my left for some idea of the drop.F503F75C-D91F-454B-B856-7D2B928C9579

And here are a few shots as the gates open to let us through.

And finally a look at the “tight fit” of the container ship just behind us.  (No wonder a new, larger lane was added in 2016!)24CEBACE-1065-4D62-8636-594C8E987A9F

Ok, despite the real life inaccuracies, this “tourist thing” isn’t so bad.  Not to mention the nice hotel stay (including trustworthy hot water!).8ACDD53A-9B20-4D1E-BB49-307D8DBF77C8

Stay tuned for more, as my friends’ visit continues.

One Year In

February 21 was the year anniversary of me, and my cohort, arriving in Panama.  Quite an unbelievable realization that . . .

Over this year, I have learned:

To get pretty much anywhere in Panama on public transportation.  (And looking back to one year ago, I marvel at how brave — and utterly terrified — I was at that prospect …)

Way less Spanish than I might have hoped.

To “just say ‘Yes!’” to most every opportunity that comes my way.

A lot more about privilege — especially the First World kind — and a bit more about how that plays out in the real world (of Panama, at least).

That I’m kind of a spoiled brat when it comes to lifestyle and creature comforts (see “privilege” above), but that I can manage ok without … (again tempered by that luxury of privilege).

That turning on the faucet and knowing, without a second thought, that water will come out is a magnificent blessing.

That “doing Jewish” outside of community is even a bigger bummer than I would have guessed.  (In fact, community of every kind is a subject I think much about.)

That I’m not nearly as talented as I once might have thought, but that’s ok.  Really.

To always carry a roll of toilet paper.

That kids are adorable everywhere!!

That my Mom is with me always.

That I never, ever, ever want to live in heat and humidity again.

That until you are 6 feet under, growth remains a magnificent (ok, terrifying too) possibility.

That no blog post is long enough to do more than scratch the surface of this past year and all I’ve learned.

That I am very grateful and mightily blessed.

Instagram

No . . . I don’t do Instagram either.  But one of my professional organizations, the Women’s Rabbinic Network, has an ongoing series highlighting the variety of women Rabbis.  And I’m the latest feature.  Check me out at: #ThisisWhataRabbiLooksLike.  You shouldn’t need an Instagram account.  But if you have any trouble getting there, just ask your nearest millennial. . . .