That title is a way to say that I couldn’t think how to title this blog. I have no idea where to begin…
Let’s start around 4:00am today. I woke in a sort of oddness. It didn’t take me long to recognize that the electricity was out. When that happens — not infrequently — my neighborhood takes on a very different sound. There is the quiet from my air conditioning being off. But more than that . . . The dogs and chickens don’t make their usual morning noises. Everything is darker for lack of whatever artificial light flows out from nearby houses. And there is, of course, the impending blanket of heat that follows from no AC and not even the possibility of a fan.
”Perfect,” I thought. “After everything else that’s going on.”
What is going on, here as everywhere, is the burgeoning Coronavirus. At last report, Panama had 14 cases, including one death. So far, all are in Panama City, but everyone assumes there will soon be cases spread throughout the country. Yesterday morning, several nurses came to school to drill the students on hand washing and all the other information about the virus and aspects of care. By the afternoon it had been decided, by the government, that all schools would shut down until April sometime. Long after I depart. If . . .
Peace Corps has ordered us to stay in our sites. Panama City is strictly off limits. But, of course, in exactly two weeks I am scheduled to be on a plane leaving from the airport of that very city. We, who are supposed to be closing service, simply wait to hear the plan. A plan that, whatever it is, will surely change daily.
I think I have mentioned my primary English teacher counterpart, Edwin. Edwin was with me when I was sworn in to Peace Corps service … a time that now seems so long ago. In another situation, I suspect I would not like Edwin so much. He is clearly very conservative, both politically and religiously. At home, he would probably make me crazy . . . if I had anything to do with him at all. But here, he has been a treasured part of these crazy, intense years. My school guide. My friend. An impressive teacher from whom I have learned much. No doubt our relationship has been helped by the fact that my limited Spanish keeps me from fully understanding all his beliefs and politics!
Edwin is a religious conservative. Not technically an evangelical, but of that same stripe. As such, he is something of a Judeophile. He long ago asked me if I would bless him before I left Panama. He knows that the Bible says that God has blessed the Jews. So, therefore, if a Jew blesses him . . . I promised that I would. I expected to do so next week, my last week here. But by yesterday, as it was becoming clear that school would likely be suspended, I promised him his blessing today. I wasn’t quite prescient enough to know that by today school would already be called off. Edwin came in to school, anyway — the only teacher who did — just for his blessing.
So, there I was. Tallit unfurled over Edwin’s head. Invoking the Priestly Benediction in Hebrew, English, and Spanish. And in spite of promising myself otherwise, I was an uncontrollable mess of tears . . . as I am, even as I write this.
What a crazy ending — yet to be fully written — to this insane adventure. Occasionally I forget how intense this experience has been. And then the dam breaks . . .
Panamanians, as this blog has frequently documented, are amazing at throwing parties! Despedidas — Going Away Parties — are no exception. My despedida, at school, would have been next week. Now the school is empty. The teachers are planning to return, to send me off with at least their more scaled-down presence, next Friday. My community guide and her family are planning a picnic dinner send-off in our town’s central parque this Sunday. But who knows? Day to day things change here as, I am sure, everywhere.
It’s hard to know if I’m leaving with a whimper or a bang. And that ambiguity seems perfectly emblematic of this entire experience.
I came home from blessing Edwin and said an admittedly irreverent prayer for the return of electricity and water (when the lights go out, so does the water). And, lo and behold!, all was shortly restored; I write this in comfort.
And I am well. As I pray are all of you. Please take care that you stay that way. The awfulness of this pandemic certainly makes my selfish, immediate concerns seem very small.
I read a lovely prayer, to that effect, on Facebook this morning. I will try to post it next.
In the meantime, it seems that I not only don’t know where to begin … I also seem at a loss as to where to end.