Another guest post from Haley:
Imagine the smelly, sketchy hot dog stand in the corner of the state fair that everyone is avoiding. That would be the best way of describing my school’s “cafeteria”. Although, when I say cafeteria, I mean tienda, the spanish word for store. And honestly, the food there isn’t really all that bad, but the look is very off-putting. On my very first day at school, I was really unsure about eating from the tienda, but now it’s one of my favorite parts of the school.
One day, I came to school when it was raining really hard outside, which is usually pretty uncommon. As with every other day, I was quite hungry, so I went to the tienda. As I watched the tienda lady get my snack, I noticed that she (and the other tienda ladies, too) were walking very slowly and carefully. Then, when I look down, I see that the entire floor is flooded up to their ankles, and they are walking with no shoes on. When I looked around, I noticed that the other students had noticed this too, but they weren’t acting very surprised about it. I tried to ask why it was so flooded, but they were so busy I didn’t get an answer. I guess if you work at the tienda you better not wear socks!
This tienda is not somewhere that you would like to order something on a weekday at 10:00. That’s because 10 o’clock is break time. Break time means that the tienda will be surrounded by a horde of sweaty teenagers. The tienda has a special way of dealing with these teenagers. Nope, just kidding. They all come to the tienda and fight their way to the front, and shout their orders at the ladies. No menu, no nothing. Just plain and simple “Gimme a Coca-Cola” and handing over the money. Thanks to this system, I have committed (almost) everything at the tienda and it’s exact price to memory. The cash register is really unorganized, too. Well, it’s not really a cash register. It’s a cardboard box. What astounds me more is the fact that the ladies don’t look the least bit concerned about the horde of children on the other side of the counter. If anything, they look kind of bored. On some days I feel really sorry for the tienda ladies.
One day, I was very hungry at school, which, for me, isn’t that uncommon. I needed something to eat, so I went to the tienda. Every day, the tienda ladies cycle through a number of homemade plates, such as these: potato salad, soup and rice, rice and meat, hojaldres, etc. That day, they had rice and meat. I don’t know if you know this, but I absolutely love rice. I could go on and on and on about how much I love rice. The only problem is, I’m not a very big fan of meat, unless it has no resemblance of the animal it belonged to before. I have also had a fair share of tough/chewy/fatty meat in Panama. So this day I asked for rice only. They gave me very strange looks, but they gave me the rice anyway. They asked if I wanted anything on it, like ketchup or salt or something. I said no thanks, and went on my way. While I was walking around eating my rice, every single person I walked by was staring at me. It was as if I grew a third eye on my forehead or something. It was just a small plate of white rice! My friend offered to go tell the tienda ladies that they forgot the meat, but I told her that I wanted the rice only. She got a good laugh out of that.
There are a lot of differences between the schools here and the schools in the states, and the cafeterias are one of the biggest. Out of all the cafeterias I’ve experienced, both in the US and here, I can definitely say that the Panamanian version is better. Whether it’s because of the sheer amount of junk food, the good, healthy homemade meals, or the complete disorder of it all, I don’t know. All I can say is I like the option of plain rice.