December 31st, 2013
The end of the year.
I’ve been in Panama for almost four months, now.
Looking at that statement, it seems like a lot. Has that much time passed already?
But then I remember how many new things I’ve tried, how much I’ve worked, how much I’ve learned; all those times when I just wanted to hop on the next plane to Tucson, all those times when I was so happy in my country I thought this was the best decision of my life. When you put all those things together, it does feel like four months, and more. When every day is a struggle—not something negative, but just difficult, you tend to remember more of it. For example, in a school year, you’ll probably remember the out of the ordinary days and field trips more than you will remember the every day going to classes. Looking back over the year, City High’s students will remember the first Mt. Lemmon trip, community days spent at Ben’s Bells or on the farm, singing performances in Whole School Meeting (I had forgotten about that…), the junior president elections, and the end of the year trip for their grade. There will be memorable classes, of course, but they will most likely be overshadowed by the “event” days. Follow me so far?
Now imagine that every other day was a community day, that every few weeks you went to Los Angeles, that shocking 31vocal performances were the norm between what few, extremely interesting and demanding classes there were.
That’s kind of how going on exchange is (especially if you go to Panama, where you’ve already got few classes every day). Almost every day is something new. Actually, every day is new, because there’s always more spanish to learn. I journaled every day for weeks, always finding something to write pages about, until finally I just ran out of time (with exams coming up) and creative juice.
How do I make you understand? I don’t think you really can, until you’re put in the same situation. Until then, just take my word for it.
For example… I went to visit my german gap year volunteer friend yesterday in her home, using either a taxi or a bus. It’s about 10 minutes away in a bus, past one of many plantain plantations in my area, and a bit less by taxi. Bus fare changes depending on where you get on and where you get off between the two end points in a bus’s route. I personally am amazed that the ‘porters’ are able to remember who got on where when they step off the bus. From Changuinola to the bridge (end of the line), fare is 80¢. From the midway town to the bridge or in the opposite direction, Changuinola, it’s only 60¢. From points in the middle, I think it’s also 60¢, but who knows. If you’re wearing a school uniform, fare is cut in half.
To get to my friends house, it costs 60¢ by bus. My host mom told me I could take a taxi, but not to pay more than 80¢. Since I didn’t want to try to battle the cab driver for the money while the other people in the taxi glared at me (taxis here pick up up as many people as they can hold, and if you want a private taxi you have to pay for the other empty seats), I decided to ask before getting in the taxi if they were going to rip me off what fare would be. I waited at the “bus stop” across from some construction workers who were only slightly bothersome (aka trying out their limited english vocabulary, which means the words “hey-lo” and “butiful” were mentioned in slightly raised voices. I had brought my sunglasses just in case of this though, so it was easy to pretend I was ignoring them. In truth, I was mostly wondering what my amazing friend Annamae would have to say about all the behavior from the men of Panama while trying not to laugh when the head construction worker ended up flagging the bus down for me, very courteously). In about 5 minutes, a taxi drive by and I flagged it down. I had to ask several times “cuantas?” because the driver kept trying to tell me to go around and get in the passenger side before he told me a dollar. Shaking my head, I said “no, gracias,” and straighten up. He might have shook his head before driving away.
How many other 16 year olds are figuring out taxi fare like that? Do you see what I mean? Every day is something new. Every single day is not as easy as it is in the U.S. You have to think about things you never imagined you’d think about. Parts of your life that you thought you really couldn’t live without will be taken away from you in the form of two plane rides and an overnight bus, or last week, newness was just a short taxi ride away when I switched host families.
Exchange is amazing, but it is also unbelievable, and unbelievable isn’t always easy.
YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND, I JUST KNOW IT.
Ahhhhhsdflskfdjlkgjhhggg I can’t explain…
I am very curious now, though, about how life in the U.S. is for other people. I think of my friends at home who speak english only as a second language, and I’m awed and proud of them, because it’s hard to have two languages in your life at the same time. By the way, did you know that several of my classmates here speak spanish only as a second language like I do (well, they’re a tad more completely fluent, but what to the evs)? There’s a really high indigenous population here, each with their own language. These students speak this language at home, and then come to school and the rest of the country and speak and write spanish….
I should just have a “random interesting facts” post.
Take a minute to look around you and try to find something really interesting to do today (or tomorrow if you’re reading this late at night). Make sure to document it with a short written entry or a photo. Share it, if you can.
Love from Panama.