Friday, March 30, 2007

So Much For Cultural Sensitivity

My E-Mail:

Dear __________,
I have to back out on Tuesday. I didn’t realize that this was the same day as the first day of Passover. I have a commitment at my synagogue at 4:30. Sorry!

The Response:

So sorry to hear you will not be able to attend. Thanks for the heads up. Have a great Easter Break.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Schools in Panama

I will start out by stating that I am no expert about the school system in Panama so I won't even begin to try and describe what goes on in the educational system. My comments here are merely obsservation from an outsider.

We were in Panama to witness the first week of the school year. As an educator here in the U.S. many of the things I observed made a great impression on me. Here are some of those things:

1) Uniforms: EVERYONE wears one. NO EXCUSES! I love this. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this. Girls wear a skirt or jumper (usually navy in color)- no pants. Boys wear slacks (also navy)unless they are very young and then they wear shorts (light blue) . Everyone wears a button up white shirt except for the junior high kids, they wear a light blue shirt. There are strict requirements on the length of the skirts and jumpers. There is no deviation to the button up shirt except to add a school emblem or tie. The uniform guidelines are very clear and people don't really think twice about not following them.

Uniformed Kids

On the second day of school, I read a summary of the First Day of School happenings. There was mention of girls who were sent home because there skirts were not the right length or that the shoes were not appropriate, etc. I shared this information with my aunt and my cousin and asked there opinion on it. They fully supported the enforcement of the uniform guidelines and said that most people would as well. They thought that it was just silly that anyone would waste their time and try and get away with trying to bend the uniform law. My aunt said "why waste your time with that when you should be worrying about studying?" I couldn't agree with her more!

I love seeing all of the kids in their uniforms in Panama. The kids look so fresh and clean. They also look like they are young professionals who are focused on their studies. Something that surprised me was how clean the kids looked, even after school!

School Schedule:
I am not really clear on the daily schedule and how it works but I do know that the schools don't run on the same type of daily schedule that we do here in the U.S. Students in Panama don't have a full day like our kids do here in the U.S. There are two shifts, a morning shift and an afternoon shift. I believe the morning shift is from 7 - 12:30 and then the afternoon shift is from 12:30 - 6:00. (something like that) Students from different grades go at different times. I imagine that this allows the school to be able to accomodate more students. It also gives the students more time in the day to study. A friend of mine in Panama is the mother of two high school students who are on two different shifts. I asked her if this wasn't a nuisance. She said that she really liked it because she was able to dedicate time for each child.

Books and supplies are not supplied by the school or government. Parents are responsible for this. The school or teacher chooses the texts that they want to use and the kids receive a list of things to purchase. This is HUGE! When you make parents responsible for the materials, ownership and usage of the materials has to be much higher. I went to El Machetazo on the Saturday after the first week of school to buy some books for Sabi to use. BIG MISTAKE! EVERYONE was there at the same time to buy for their kids. I can't even begin to explain the mayhem. It was 100 times worse than a Day After Thanksgiving day sale at Wal-Mart! I learned how to push and shove on that day! Parents bought everything that the kids needed. (books, erasers, pencils, crayons, paints, paper, pencil boxes, and more)

The total price for the school materials was shocking to me. I picked up about 5 books at around $12 a piece. It wasn't super cheap but it was affordable for me. I looked was wondering how these parents were able to do this for their kids in a country where most people make $8-$10 a day. Imagine if they have more than one child in school! How is it done? I asked my cousin this question and she quickly responded that parents find a way to get it done because it is important. Some kids may not get all of their books right away or at all. If they can't afford then, the books are available for use or for copying at the libraries. One of my cousins did this last year. Everyday after school she would go to the library to borrow her school books there. I also witnessed another means of gaining access to school books when I was there. A 13 year old boy in my aunt's neighborhood was selling "chance" numbers to earn money for his books. He was selling numbers at 10 cents a piece for a win or $2-$3 dollars. He would profit about $4 in the end. I bought two tickets from him and then later in the day when I found out why he was selling the numbers, I handed him $5 to go toward his book fund.

Promotion to the next grade/Parent Involvement:
You don't go to the next grade if you don't pass the end of year test - no excuses. This is huge! parents get involved in their children's education because they want them to succeed. I have to admit that I feel there is some peer pressure among parents for their kids to pass. I got the feeling from listening to people talk that you are labeled as a bad parent if your child is retained. The children also must feel the pressure because if they don't go on they know that they will be disappointing their parents. I can't help but think that is good pressure! Imagine what it would be like to be a teacher there where all of your students had all of the basic requirements to be in your class. WOW...everyone starts at the same level!!!!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Hospital Craziness

I was happy to hear that my Mamacita was in the new hospital in Aguadulce. I didn't know how new it was but the fact that it was new sounded good to me. I was shocked to see this sign outside of the hospital.
Hospital Sign - Aguadulce, Panamá
(Responsible Parents Don't Bring Healthy Kids to the Hospital) I just kind of laughed it off as a silly Panamanian superstition. I was indeed going to bring Sabina in to see Mamacita because it would be her last chance to see her, ever. I didn't bring her at first though because I wanted to check the scene out first and then prep her for it.

Well... I am SO glad that I didn't bring her with me...that sign was no joke! The hospital sucked! The patients have to supply their own items such as toilet paper, wipes, sheets, pillows etc. The place wasn't necessarily dirty but it didn't seem totally clean either. I couldn't put my finger on what was missing until I had to help change Mamacita. After I assisted the nurse in changing Mamacita I did what any American germophobe would do and I went straight to the bathroom to wash with soap and water. Guess what? NO FLIPPING SOAP! When I say no soap, I mean NO SOAP IN ANY BATHROOM! I went nuts. I asked the nurses for soap and they said that you have to bring your own soap. WHAT? This was a HOSPITAL? I asked the nurse if I could use some of her soap and guess what - she had none! I was about to explode! How do they keep things clean etc? I then noticed that all over the hospital were old diswashing liquid bottles that had the labels scratched off and had the words AlCOL written on the front of them. I of course had my handy dandy bottle of Purell in my purse so I was able to take care of myself but I just couldn't understand what was going on in the hospital. One of the nurses took pity on me and decided to fill me in on the no soap policy. Apparently there once was soap in the hospital. However, the soap dispensers kept getting vandalized or stolen so they were not replaced.



La Capilla en el hospital nuevo   Aguadulce, Panamá
One of my first stops on our trip to Panamá was a visit to the new hospital in Aguadulce to visit my grandmother, Mamacita. Mamacita is very, very sick. She has been in poor health for many years but last November, she was one of the Panamanians who took some poisoned medicine and has been on a downhill cycle ever since. She was hospitalized in November and then was sent home a few weeks later. About 4 weeks ago she was hospitalized again.

When I visited her I was in shock. I brought my camera along because I wanted to take one last picture of her to remember her by. I was not prepared for what I encountered. My grandmother was in a room with 6 other women all around her age and with similar symptoms. My dad had to point out which woman was my grandmother to me because I couldn't even recognize her! She looked nothing like the Mamacita I knew and remembered. My once robust and healthy grandmother was thin and fragile. She is receiving oxygen and liquid nourishment. Mamacita is unconscious and the doctors said to "be prepared" as she is on her way out.

Sadly, my relationship with my Mamacita has never been close. I remember more arguments and unpleasant memories with her than sweet and loving ones. That being said, I know that she was very proud of me. I in return may have never loved her as most people love their grandmothers but I greatly respect many qualities about her. It was very painful to see her as she is in her current state. While she is unconscious, she is still visibly in pain. I could do nothing except caress her hand and forehead, rearrange her pillows and talk to her hoping that she might pick something up along the way.

I don't know how long my Mamacita will be able to go on this way. Whatever happens, I hope that her suffering will be kept at a minimum. Thanks so much to my Tía Élia who goes in each and every day to be with her.
Mamacita y Tia Elia - At Tocumen Airport?
For those of you that are interested, click here to read my mom's great post on Mamacita in her better days.

Friday, March 23, 2007


The fruit in Panamá is fabulous. One of the things I love about visiting is that I know that I am going to have the best, freshest and juiciest fruits available. Here are my favorites:



If you like pineapple, you MUST have some in a Central American country. There is nothing like it. The pineapple is pure sugar without the tangy touch of sourness that comes in pineapples here. We went on a long trip in Panama from Chitre to David. (About 4 hours) We picked up some pineapples at the beginning of our trip. (2 for $1.00) We dined on pineapple at a rest stop and were completely satisfied. YUM!


This is the cashew fruit. It comes in different colors. The taste is awesome. It is a sweet citrus-y flavor fruit. It is jammed packed with liquid but at the same time has a very dry taste. My dad has a tree at Keruasa. I found the tree and was in heaven. I had plenty of these. I also picked a huge bag and took them back to Panama Viejo where my Cousin squeezed the juice out and blended it with the pulp of the fruit. This fruit is too dry for her so she then added freshly squeezed oranges to the marañon and made an AMAZING drink.



This is my Tia Yaya's favorite fruit. We found a stand on the trip back from David and picked up a bunch for her. I had never eaten it before so I tried it. It was good. It was sweet and creamy. It is absolutely amazing to look at.



What can I say? It is absolutely wonderful. Sweet, juicy and refreshing in the hot Panamanian weather.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Right before we left for Panama I bought some VHS tapes and set the VCR to tape my novela, Zorro. I am too hooked on this new show. I had it all set up perfectly. The tapes were all labeled, the tv was programmed and my mom graciously came in to change tapes from time to time. Perfect, right? No!!! I forgot about the time change and didn't get my shows! I watched the show for the last two nights and am completely lost. It is funny because you can miss about 6 months of an American soap opera and still know what is going on. If you miss even one night of a novela though watch out - a lot happens in a very short time.

Today I had the bright idea of checking out Telemundo's website to see if they had a message board. I figured that I might be able to get some clues about what happened in the 7 days that I missed. Guess what I found? The episodes that I missed!!! I can watch the episodes online - Yay!!!

¡Gracias Telemundo!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Say a Prayer

Today I took Sabi with me to the grocery store. As we were getting out of the car we witnessed a horrible scene. A man was cursing violently, loudly and hatefully to a 2 or 3 year old in his care. The boy was crying non-stop and was extremely scared. Apparently the boy was not watching where he was going (more like the adult in charge was not watching the boy) and was almost hit.

Without repeating the profanities, the message the man said to the boy was basically that it was his own fault for not watching where he was going and to shut up. He also verbally put the boy down at least 10 times while we witnessed this scene. The mother then stepped in and wanted to know why the man was saying these things to the boy and she also started screaming profanities at the top of her lungs at the man about what a jerk he was and told him"that's why you don't got no kids."

I got out of there with Sabi as fast as I could because I didn't want her witnessing anymore of that mayhem. I was horrified that she (we) both saw and heard what we did. I then spent the next 5 minutes holding her and telling her how much I love her and tried to process the scene we just witnessed for her and for me as well.

I felt really awful about that scene for several reasons. One is that I am saddened that Sabina had to see and hear that ugliness. It felt to me like a part of her innocence was robbed from her by watching that. I also feel guilty for not trying to do anything to help the little boy. I am not sure what I could have done exactly but I wish that I could have done something. I reacted on my gut which was GET SABI OUT NOW!

My heart goes out to this poor child. I can't seem to get him out of my mind. This child is being raised in an environment where he most likely does not know that he is special or loved. He probably hears hateful speech and mean spirited tones from the people who are supposed to care for him. How scared, sad and lonely he must be. Who hugs him? Who tells him and shows him with actions that they love him? What will become of this child as he enters school and society? As an adult will he be the same as the people who are caring for him now?

All I can do is send hopeful thoughts towards this boy and all other children that are in similar situations. G-d bless them all. May they find love, peace and happiness sometime soon.

Food Cravings

I had a hard time in Panama finding typical Panamanian food. There are so many non-Panamanian food places now like TGI Fridays, Domino's, KFC, etc... that it was tough. The one place I could count on though to always carry comida criolla was the supermarket deli! It was pretty good too!

Today I am on a mission to make sancocho de pollo. After I drop Sabi off at school I am going to look for otoe (taro root), yuca and ñame. I hope that Safeway will have them. Wish me luck. Here is a picture of the sancocho my cousin Edy made for us. I know that mine won't turn out as well but I will give it a shot!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

We Are Back!

Sabi and I got back last night (actually, this morning) at 3:00. (Thanks mom and Ruben for picking us up)

I am exhausted but can't sleep. Hopefully I will get some zzz's in tonight and then start blogging about our trip later this week. In the meantime I will leave this picture from our trip and a list of things that I didn't want to hear yesterday.

Things I Heard Yesterday That Don't Like to Hear When I Am Traviling By Plane:

1) Thank you for flying _________ The expected forecast for (destination) is cloudy with a chance of rain. (scares me)

2) "Mommy! I am NOT going to sleep at all on the plane! I am going to be awake the entire time! (exhausts me!) Luckily this didn't happen. Sabi got some sleep and when she was awake was the most perfect traveling companion.

3) (while on the plane) "Ladies and Gentlemen, please return to your seats and fasten your seatbelts as we are experienceing soem Turbulence!" (AACK!)

These last two take the cake though...

4) "Ladies and Gentlemen, we are not sure when will be boarding as the plane's door is broken!"
(Double Aack!) We ended up flying out 2 hours late and taking a new plane.

5) (stated by the man sitting next to me) "Mam, could you hand me your Barf Bag if you are not going to use it?" (Triple Aack! yes...he used it!)

Friday, March 09, 2007

Vacation Time!

We are leaving at midnight for Panama. Since I don't have a laptop yet, this will be the last post until we return.


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Second Grade Crush

This week I have been teaching Intersession. Intersession is a summer school type of class that is offered when we are off track. Many of the kids in my class are my homeroom kids but a few are from other rooms. It is kind of a strange situation because while I know my kids very well, I really don't know too much about the kids from the other rooms.

Today, I let the kids play some skill based games with a partner. I like to choose the partner so they actually get some learning done. Usually, this means a boy/girl partnership. When I paired up one particular girl with a boy she came up to me, looked me in the face and said very seriously, "Ms. V., I don't want to be his partner." I of course asked why and she responded "because he likes me and he makes me uncomfortable."

WOW! I was speechless for a few minutes. I was surprised to hear her say what she said. I was proud of her for asserting herself. I couldn't help but be shocked at her great use of English as well because she has only been here in the U.S. for 9 months!

Yes, I did give her a different partner. I noticed that when I did give her a new partner, her original partner looked a bit disappointed. I had to laugh at that. The little boy by the way is a very sweet little boy. I am sure that he just has a simple little crush on her. All the same, I wanted the little girl to feel comfortable to partner up with someone who she felt safe with.

This was definitely one of this things that make you go "Hmmm." Something you don't expect to encounter in second grade!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

I am going crazy

I hate packing. I always overpack. Everytime that I travel I always think "this time, I will pack light." Yeah right! I never know what I will want to wear or what I will need. To make matters, I have to pack for two. Ugh!

In addition to packing, I have a million other loose ends to take care of before I leave on Friday. I am looking forward to getting on the plane just so that I can finally exhale.

Two more days...

Monday, March 05, 2007

I'm Old People!

Today I received an e-mail from a high school acquaintance that I never see but hear from via e-mail from time to time. She wanted to let me know that our reunion is coming up and we need to get our names in to the people who are planning the event. I stoppped to think about it and it will be my 20 YEAR REUNION!!! That is just disgusting. Where did the time go???

I e-mailed the contact person and said that I could help out with the planning. Now I am thinking that I would rather hideout and not even show up at the reunion at all. 20 years??? Ugh!

Good Luck Dollar Bill

On Saturday a friend of mine found out that I am leaving for Panama on Friday. She ran to find her purse and came back and handed me a dollar bill. I asked her what the dollar was for. (I was trying to figure out what she wanted me to buy her for $1!) She then explained that as soon as I arrive in Panama, I need to give the dollar to the first poor person I see. It is a mitzvah (a good deed) and it is a way to ensure my safe arrival in Panama. If I have a mission (giving the money to someone needy) ...I need to be able to get there to fulfill it.
I have never heard of this before. It was a very sweet gesture.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

What Girl Scouts Should Create...

Well, it is Girl Scout cookie season. This year between my mom and I we purchased about 12 boxes of GS Cookies. That is WAY more than we need. (I said no to many GS during ordering season too!)

Now that the cookies are in, Girl Scouts can be found posted in front of every single store front in town. Then they really get you in their cute little uniforms and rosy cheeks asking you to buy cookies. I always feel like a loser when I tell them "Sorry... I already bought cookies..."

I think that when you buy Girl Scout Cookies they should come with a badge or a sticker like the one that you get when you vote that says "I bought cookies!" Maybe that would help....

By the way...did you know that Girl Scout Cookies are on MySpace??? I guess that EVERYONE (and everything) has a MySpace account now!

Saturday, March 03, 2007