#10, Fact: Looking back on old photographs can be a sensation stranger than living in another culture for months.

#10, Fact: Looking back on old photographs can be a sensation stranger than living in another culture for months.

January 27th, 2014


(At least, the sensation feels stranger right now after those months spent getting use to said culture. The first weeks especially felt a bit like my life had completely turned inside out, where as this was more awing/shocking/was-I-really-ever-like-that?/amusingly embarrassing.)


I was—oh yeah, I was in iPhoto for a reason. I’ll be right back.

*10 minutes pass as I search through all the events trying to remember why I got on my computer in the first place, with no luck*

Yeah, okay. Back to what I found hiding under a nonremarkable-looking photo of three kids at a table.


I was looking for something…specific…in iPhoto when I came across the photos from my 5th grade year at a local elementary. Thinking to take a quick turn down memory lane before returning to my quest for the information I knew a certain photo could bring me, I double clicked on the image of three girls—one of them a younger self—grouped around a white plastic table. It’s actually a video about our group presentation, but to be ignominiously honest, I can’t quite find the energy, motivation, or bravery it takes to watch what is the fifth video among the many photos our dedicated teachers took. I didn’t understand what I was getting into with the first video, but each video after only drove me furthered my reluctance to open up any more parts of my personal history past the part where I am an adorable, almost white-haired child with lips so red people asked my mother why she put lipstick on her year-old.

The girl who tried to convince viewers to buy a five inch thick dictionary (“one night a robber tried to get into my house and I used it to block the door!” *classmate whispers in her—my—ear* “Oh yeah, you can look up words or something in it too”), who wore her hair shoulder length and unruly (that is, unruly as painfully strait hair can get), the house key on the chain I finger-knitted the morning of the first day of school (probably making us late)… that is somebody else. Those thick t-shirts, cargo camo shorts, the bright blue crocks, ((woah, swear I’m not doing that on purpose, unless you think it’s cool)) the heavy, bright yellow wristwatch amid all sorts of bands and chains. The only thing that remains the same today is the ring I’ve worn for as long as I remember, excluding the few days it took to obtain it.

And yet… it is inherently, unequivocally, me. (The other word is impossibly.)

How else could opinions I haven’t thought about for years suddenly and without warning, without even making sense, pop into my head? While watching the opening credits making their way onto the screen with all sorts of flounces and flourishes (the product of a young mind in reverence of 24 different computerized styles), I watched as “World’s Worst Best! Commercial Products, by Phoebe, Emma,” hop on, quickly followed by “And Alex”. But since there was less writing on the second screen, Alex’s name was a lot bigger than Emma’s or mine. And of course, Alex gets the big title, I though without even realizing that I was thinking it. I kind of remember being annoyed about that when I was 11. 6 years ago. It wasn’t even that big a deal. Nevertheless, a little flare of, was that jealousy? Yes, it was! I haven’t spoken or seen Alex since the last day of 5th grade. She might been on the moon for all I know. (She’s probably somewhere in Tucson doing her boring American hot-showers-and-wifi junior year or whatever.)

All that being said, as surprising as it was to see myself, it was more of a surprise to see our class photo.

Going by the large witch hanging from the ceiling, I’m suppose this photo was taken at Halloween. There aren’t any obvious costumes, but several people are peculiarly dressed. (All though of course, I went to a peculiar, rather “alternative” school. It was probably just a class photo they told us about beforehand, which would explain why many people were just dressed nicely, not in halloween dress. That does not, however, explain the clown outfit, mix-matched stockings and makeup, or extremely disheveled look complete with one knee protector usually used for workers who kneel a lot.)

This is the first time I’ve seen most of these classmates for years. It’s particularly odd to look back on the ones who I know now, see how they’ve changed, and recall stories they’ve recently told me about their time there.

What must the teachers have thought? Did they see something similar to what I’m seeing now, or do I only see what I do because I know how these kids turned out, what they were thinking or trying to accomplish that year? I look at one of my best friends who lived with me in my community until she went to Germany and I to Panama. Ruby red skirt with a material I’ve seen a thousand times and don’t know the name, nice striped shirt, forrest green vest with cream silk lining she’s proudly displaying by turning sideways and holding it open in a fashionable way, soft, deep blue knit hat. She’s the “Artist Friend” who is by far the most dedicated person I know to anything artistic. The brunette girl standing with her blonde, then best friend, a poster child for whatever springtime clothing catalogue choose to go with the as-many-different-brightly-colored-layers-and-patterns-as-possible look. The brunette has a dark skirt over her dark tights and a t-shirt; just a few months ago (aka a few months before I left, so sometime more than half a year ago) I learned that she feels like she spent most of the year trying to imitate her blonde friend, without success. Despite that (or because of it) she now has one of the most individual styles I’ve seen, both in dress and mannerism, and I fear that one day soon, I’m going to look back on these years as trying desperately to copy her.

Is this what the teachers, all adults, saw? We children were oblivious to it all, but they, they would have already gone through all the grades that we still couldn’t imagine, like the ones in high school, and a lot of college too. Some had kids of their own. What did they think about the girl who’s father’s cigarette-y pervasiveness announced his presence whenever he entered the classroom? We students discussed it of course, but what conclusions were we suppose to draw? What conclusions could we draw?


Did the teachers see us, their charges, as rational members of society or lunatics? Did they see all this childness as just that, acts that children perform in their childhoods? Or did it honestly bother them that we wouldn’t sit still or stop asking the questions that people aren’t really suppose to ask? That time a few soldiers from the U.S. Army came to visit our school to give a presentation and one of my best friends asked the main presenter how many people he had killed… a chill just ran up my body remembering that. My friend, my crazy, socially and politically incorrect, 11 year old best friend, had done what few others can do, and with such aplomb that he rendered the room absolutely silent for a second: with complete innocence and no secret agenda whatsoever, had openly acknowledged the fact that soldiers are sent to kill people, and then return home to their “normal lives” with us “normal people.” This was a powerful moment in my life. Are those moments the ones that teachers live for, the entire reason they teach kids who are still developing “social grace,” or a reluctance to ask taboo questions, or are these the days that make them think about quitting?


Lastly, because egotism is such a part of our lives as human beings, I wonder what they thought about me. What they would think if they could see me today. Did they anticipate me ending up (like I’ve come to a stop and won’t grow anymore or something) where I am right now? Homework was, ahem, not my priority back then, so I wonder if they’d be suprised that I left sophomore year at the top of my class. Did they see that girl going from fully comfortable with her body to being so self conscious she didn’t wear anything that revealed skin above the ankle in public or to school from 7th until the end of 10th grade?


I’ve changed, a lot. Definitely for the better. To tell you the truth, the type of girl I use to be is one of my least favorite now. Or maybe everybody hates their past selfs; maybe that’s how we “learn from our mistakes”. Whatever the academic debate implications, there’s no denying that the girl who sits here now would have a lot to say to the girl who once—well, there’s too many examples to name. Did everybody else see this major shift in character down the line? I certainly didn’t. Did my mom? My dad? I don’t know why they let me continue living in the house if they didn’t anticipate some kind of change.


I’m probably being overly harsh on myself. There were some seeds of coolness and creativity planted way back in 5th grade that I saw tonight in some spectacular little plant pots I remodeled for a craft fair and in the heavy purple cloak I wore to school sometimes. Incidentally, I got about a 40% that year in homework, which is what you get if you indulge in activities such as just giving your homework to friends that lost it while refusing a photocopy, causing their dad to become very concerned on your behalf for the next year or so, or simply letting it sit in your homework folder, quite peaceful, not bothering anybody. Luckily for me, this lack of enthusiasm on my part for homework and tests didn’t affect me in any transcript-related way. While I’m sure it drove everybody who knew about it crazy—my next door neighbor who insisted I did, in fact, need my geography homework back; my lovely teacher who sat down with me after school one day to retake a spelling test because I, feeling hopeless, had written all sorts of things down, but they had to do with outer space or carrots or anything else that was as far from whichever word the teacher had read out (her patience was much more than I deserved and very fondly remembered, but I fear that as I had no desire to pass if it meant studying Central America to know where countries like Panama were or memorizing how to spell “ocean”, her energy would have been better spend on herself). My parents, on the other hand, are probably just finding out about it now, since as soon as I got wind about the Report Card I found myself suddenly and unexplainably galvanized to action, and, snatching it from my mother’s hand as she prepared to open it, locked myself in my room, closed my ears against her calls through the thin wood, and proceeded to subject it to any and all methods I could think of to destroy it, until I realized that (1) it might be in my better interests to keep it alive in case I found it would benefit me more to give it back to my parents, or (2) if I could keep it hidden from them forever, it might be nice to look back on.

I’m not sure where the remains are now. Probably in a box, along with everything else I’m missing, a product of frequent moves when I was young(er). I feel like the ti-folded pamphlet is in okay shape excusing some water damage, but that might just be an errant memory from the minute before I ripped it into shreds and flushed it down the toilet. Both of those possibilities seem real in my mind.

#6, Fact: “Chao” actually is the typical farewell here in Panama that everybody uses, not just those rich, elderly blonde ladies you see on television

Chao es mucho mas usual…

#6, Fact: “Chao” actually is the typical farewell here in Panama that everybody uses, not just those rich, elderly blonde ladies you see on television.
Sunday, January 12th, 2014

I’ll admit, when I first arrived and heard “chao” being used, I though that it was for my benefit, as something they had seen in American movies and figured that all U.S.-iens must use (or at least the rich blonde ones, and since I was estadoundiense (“from the U.S.”; look at it closely), I was incontrovertibly rich in addition to being unmistakably blonde). Then I wondered if it was just my host sister and her friends, both in their early twenties, trying to be chic. Finally, I was forced to acknowledge that this really was the true equivalent of “bye” in Panama, even if it sent me into quickly stifled fits of giggles every time I heard or used it the first few weeks.

Now it’s much more natural to use when saying goodbye. I hardly use “adios,” the standard farewell taught in spanish classes across the U.S., except when jokingly saying, “adios, amigos!” to friends, over-pronouncing each syllable.

I should also point out that it’s spelled “chao,” not “chow” as I thought it was for about the first 3 months. Remember this lesson, mi hijos, and you won’t ever look like a gringo in that respect at least.


#3, Fact Movies are shown on TV on the weekends, and they’re usually from the U.S. dubbed in Spanish

#3, Fact: Movies are shown on TV on the weekends, and they’re usually from the U.S. dubbed in Spanish.January 10th, 2014 Weeknights are usually reserved for Panamanian soaps and the news shows, or a national wrestling compition, but on the weekends, movies play all day and all night long. They’ll show a kid friendly, low-budget […]