Zoe and I went to Las Tablas today to get 4 things. It took 6 hours.
November is just around the corner and that’s the big month for parades in Panama. They celebrate independence from Colombia and from Spain, plus all kinds of other things. To prepare for this the schools start getting their band members and baton twirlers together for practices starting in September. Zoe loves any extracurricular activity that involves a uniform so she signed up to twirl right away.
I went to a parent meeting at the school and I learned that the uniforms for the twirlers would be made by hand and the parents would need to buy the fabric. A week or two later I get a text from the teacher telling me which store I should go to in Las Tablas and which type of material to get. Daniel was doing his weekly Escape The House during the art class we host for the kid-pats so I gave him the errand of getting the material for Zoe and for her friend Ashley. He took with him a picture of the text from the teacher and simply showed it to the ladies at the fabric store. They knew just what to do and he returned successful.
About a week later we get a note from the teacher saying we needed to buy two colors of thread and a zipper. Ashley’s mom, Candace, was in Las Tablas that day so I sent her a picture of the note and she went in and got the supplies. Two for two!
About a week after that I got another note that gave me a list of things that were needed, including thread (got that!) and a short and long zipper. What? Well, Candace didn’t know if she bought a short or long zipper so I decided I’d just buy both since they were pretty cheap. The note also said I need 4 pairs of something but even with my dictionary I could not understand what the pairs were. I showed the note to Marta, our cook, and she agreed that the note didn’t make sense. She told me to send the note back and ask “4 pairs of what?”. So I did.
The note came back with printed handwriting. They only write in cursive here so this is my first clue that they were dumbing it down for me. The note was written as if I was 4 years old but that’s OK, I was not offended. It explained that there were these “aplicaciones” (patches?) that the kids needed for the uniforms and to go to the fabric store and tell them our school name and they’d know what we needed. OK!
We also knew that baton twirlers need batons. So far Zoe had been practicing with rolled up paper, a PVC pipe and most recently a towel bar. But she was anxious to practice with the real thing so we asked her teacher where to get the baton. The teacher replied “At the department store called MM across from the boutique in Las Tablas”. OK! There are no addresses here so that’s a typical direction you get. I asked a few people about this MM department store but no one knew what it was. I figured we’d do some searching today while in Las Tablas.
Zoe has also taken up karate (again, an extracurricular activity requiring a uniform) and she insisted she needed to look the part, so we were searching for a karate uniform.
So off we go to Las Tablas today with a list of 2 zippers, patch-things, karate uniform and baton. How hard can this be????
We get to the fabric store (the same one that Dan and Candace have both been to) and get the zippers. Easy! Then we ask about the patch-thingys, which at this point I still don’t know what they are but at least I have a note explaining it in the words of a 4 year old. The fabric store clerk says they don’t have those patches but another fabric store does. Where are they located, I ask.
“Down the road that you take to Pedasi, across the street from the department store that I don’t know the name of”. OK. Well, since this area of Las Tablas has a department store every 3 feet (which mysteriously all sell the exact same thing) I figured it would be a miracle if we found it.
When you get directions sometimes you have to put in your own landmarks so I asked her where it was in relation to the Claro store where we buy our cards to recharge our phones. “Down the block from there”. OK! Got it! So Zoe and I head that direction. Have I mentioned the weather at this point? It was hot. So hot. And humid. Instant sweat. Ugh.
So we head down the block and don’t see it so after the Claro store we asked again. You have to do that here. Just. Keep. Asking. So that lady said it was just a few more stores and wah-lah we find it! We walk in, say we are from Pedasi and the lady pulls out a little bag of gold patch type things. OK! Looks good! I buy two of them to spare Candace the hassle and as we are leaving we ask if they know where we can buy the baton. The worker says we can get it across the street to the right. At the department store. Of course!
So we go to the department store and look around and finally ask but they don’t have batons. But they have sports stuff so we ask about karate uniforms but they don’t have those either. They tell us to go across the street to the electronics store for the baton and down the street around the corner past the shoe store across from the bakery for the karate uniform.
I feel like we are on a treasure hunt at this point, getting one clue at a time. So off we go to the electronics store. They have the batons but they have only 1 and it’s damaged. We ask where we can get another one and they direct us to the hardware store across from the grocery store. Alright then. Is anyone else wondering why batons are reportedly sold at a department store, an electronics store and now a hardware store? Yeah, me too.
But first we must see if we can hunt down the karate uniform. We pass the shoe store, see the bakery and find the sports shop. We ask about karate uniforms but NOPE. Not here. They suggest Chitre, the large town down the road a little further. We figured we might have to go there so our suspicions were confirmed.
But first it was time to hedge our bets. We had to check for the baton at the hardware store because if they didn’t have it we might have to buy it in Chitre.
We find the hardware store but it doesn’t look like a place that would carry batons. Wrenches, hammers, weed eaters, but not batons. But we ask. Do you carry batons? Zoe makes the twirling motion with her hand to make sure we are asking about the right thing. They said no, but the hardware store next door (next door to the hardware store we are currently in) has them. OK!
So we go over there and wah-lah, tucked into a corner is a bucket of batons! Perfect! We ask for 2 and then the clerk drops the bomb:
WHAT? Are you freaking kidding me? I finally find the batons and now I need to know their size????
Well I was not leaving there without 2 batons in my hot sweaty hand so Zoe picks one for her and a slightly smaller one for Ashley. At that point we got a few disapproving clucks from people around us. What? What don’t we know? Well I guess we are all supposed to purchase the same size baton. Well, we don’t know what size and God knows when we will ever find these batons again so we threw caution to the wind and bought two. The gringas stand out anyway, I’m pretty sure the wrong size baton won’t surprise anyone.
So now we are 75% done with our mission and off we go to Chitre for the karate uniform. I haven’t driven Chitre too often so Zoe gets a crash course in navigating. And with Waze you really need a partner navigator. It goes something like this: “You are going to turn soon. In a little while. Another little while. TURN NOW!”. So Zoe learned how to direct me pretty well.
We found the department store that was recommended and they had uniforms. They had two sizes that turned out to be the same size – too small. They told us to go to the mall. OK, off we go. At this point I tell Zoe that this is my very last stop. I’m done with this wild goose chase. But first one more try.
We get to the mall, have lunch and then go to the sports store. We find the uniform, she tries it on, it fits and we buy it. BOOM! And just like that we were done with our errands.
We walked past the biggest department store in this area and Zoe begs to go in so she can “check out the latest fashions”. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she probably wouldn’t find the latest fashions in Chitre, Panama, but OK, we can go in.
$46 later, Zoe comes home with 4 pairs of pants and 3 tops. Clothing is very cheap here but it also doesn’t last too long. That’s OK, she’ll wear it out with sweat and dirt from playing outside or grow out of it anyway. She was a happy camper.
Zoe navigated me out of Chitre and after a quick stop at the grocery store (where I got everything on my list – SHOCKING!) off we went to Pedasi. While we were gone Haley killed the big spider that Zoe missed this morning.
So all in all it was a productive day here in Panama.