We are beginning the long, sad process of goodbyes here in Panama. Today was the last day of school for Zoe and Haley. I arranged to bring in cupcakes for Zoe’s classmates so yesterday we made them from scratch and I took them in today. The class was throwing a party for Zoe. Clearly they really enjoyed having her in class. There were sweet notes on the whiteboard, a crown, pop and cheetos and then gifts (including raisins. what?) and notes and money (the money part was strange too). They gave her a big box of chocolates and her teacher gave her an outfit. One of the boys made her a traditional Panamanian hairpiece, which her teacher told me was “very expensive”. They have no reservations talking about costs of stuff like that here. It’s hard to get used to.
It was all incredibly sweet and really meaningful. I thanked all of her teachers and the Directora (the Principal). They have been so patient as she learned the language and probably distracted the class on a daily basis. But to hear her speak to her classmates, barking orders in Spanish, you wouldn’t know she was ever the new girl. The class seemed to really enjoy it when Zoe and I spoke to each other in Spanish at the party today teasing each other about who would eat the chocolates at home. Their heads were rotating back and forth between us like it was a tennis match.
Haley was probably more happy to be done with school than Zoe. She did not enjoy it as much as Zoe, probably mostly due to her personality, as well as the different structure in school and more nomadic nature of the middle school students. But Haley made her rounds and said goodbye to teachers and the director and even the PE teacher, whose class she has been skipping for the last 6 months. He even joked around, pretending to cry because she was leaving. Funny man.
Putting the girls in the local school was probably the hardest, and yet most meaningful, thing we’ve done here. We plopped them in a year ago when they knew almost no Spanish. They returned to school (skipping up a grade) after the “summer break” from December to March and they attended pretty much regularly since then. I did what I could to cushion the blows of boredom, confusion, teasing, awkwardness and sweating. I could only stand on the sidelines and try to help them out as they navigated this part of the experience on their own. I know how they felt, based on my own experience when I was 13 living in Spain. But that didn’t really make their day to day lives all that much easier.
But the girls were troopers. They put on their uniforms day after day, headed out in the heat where they were stared at and loved on all at the same time. Dan and I are so proud of both of these girls for how much they learned and how much they persevered. I tell them that it will never be that hard again, that they now have the language skills so the next school we put them in (likely in Mexico) will be infinitely easier.
But for now, we’ll have a much needed break as we prepare to pack up and head north for new territory. We still have a lot of goodbyes left to say but the public school chapter is all done. Two thumbs up for the gringa girls. You survived a year of public school in Pedasi, Panama.
Here’s a link to a video, taken by Zoe’s teacher, of the class singing to her.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=seeMtpgdS2k