Thursday, December 01, 2011

Panama - Day 1 recap

Friday, 25 November 2011

Happy Birthday, Yvette! First things first, after all. It's my "bestest" friend's 43rd birthday today. Hope it's happy!

Yesterday's travel down to Panama was pretty uneventful. We even got all 5 of the hockey bags!

Downtown Panama City traffic is worse, and I do mean Worse with a capital W, than Montreal's. Same goes for Colon - and not even counting rush hour.

We picked up Major (retired) Shirla this morning in Paraiso, and brought her with us for an afternoon visit to the girls orphanage in Sabanitas, a tour of their school, and a short visit to the seniors home in Colon. Thank goodness we had Shirla with us today! She had Keith going left, right and avoiding traffic wherever and whenever possible. Without her, we'd probably still be sitting in a traffic jam somewhere between Panama and Colon.

Met Janilka, Anna, Melissa, Kimberly, Hiam, Nawal and ... I'm missing about 7 other names. Marlene is still in control at the orphanage and ready with a hug and smile for all. Us too! We arrived just as the girls were finishing lunch and I made friends with Janilka. She's 7 years old and is just the right size for a dress I got from somebody at work. While Joan and I were emptying the clothes and blankets from the van into the house, Janilka asked to help us and when she saw that dress, she held it up to her and said to me, "Oh, me gusta!" (Oh, I like it!). While many of the others were playing floor hockey with Joan and Keith, Janilka and I played on the swings and see-saw. My Spanish is pretty rusty but we somehow manage with our limited language skills and charades.

After a bit of a visit at the orphanage, we headed over to the school with Marlene to deliver some school supplies Joan collected from her own school in Montreal. We had over 1000 pencils to give out, plus red pens for the teachers and some other important things like erasers, tape and highlighters! We were warmly welcomed by the principal of the school and she let us go about our thing. She told us that the school runs in two shifts: mornings from 7:30am to 12:30pm, and afternoons from 12:30pm to 5:30pm. There are about 1300 students total, broken into those two shifts. Quite an operation. We arrived pretty much at the turnover hour, so it was slightly chaotic, as only a school can be. But we stopped in every classroom and gave pencils to each student. One of the funniest things I noticed while we were there was 2 little boys dripping glue straight from the bottle into a gutter, right in the middle of the school yard! Not shy at all, those two, and not worried about getting caught either! Boys will be boys, in Panama just the same as at home.

From there we headed to Colon for a visit to Hogar Jackson, the old folks home. We got stuck in traffic going there – this was about 2pm. Crazy. And it seems mostly it’s because of the Free Zone shopping. Apparently the toll highway will eventually come out to there but it’s not there now, so there’s traffic, traffic, traffic! Anyway, Hogar Jackson is looking good, all things considered. There are only 5 (or is it 7?) residents there now, all of whom are blind except one. Good old Mr. David Bennett is still kicking around there too. What a surprise that was! He’s still blind and down on his knees praying, but happy to talk to us and welcome us to Panama. Incredible.

On the way back into Panama, we had a quick stop to visit Shirla’s daughter at work and then to the shop where Shirla works (retired from the Army but now has to work 6 days a week to afford her retirement – no kidding). That woman is something. The shop is called Galeria de Arte Indegena, and is filled with the most wonderful indigenous baskets, carvings, molas, paintings and even a few of the usual tourist trap souvenirs. I went in saying I only needed two t-shirts for my niece and nephew. I came out with two t-shirts, 2 woven trivets, a pair of shoes, 2 rings, and a basket. Yeesh, there goes the budget! Everything in there was so lovely, I couldn’t help myself (and you wouldn’t have been able to either, Mom).

After dinner with Shirla, we headed back to the hotel for a rooftop swim in the pool (heaven!) and then wrapped the Christmas presents for all the kids. The Panama skyline seems to grow while you’re watching. There are more skyscrapers than ever. Pretty soon there won’t be much of a view to Caribbean left.

Great, great day. Tomorrow – water park with the kids. Should be … wet :)

1 comment:

Jeff Arkell said...

Shirla was my mother in law. I married her daughter Graciela. We reside in Canada. So nice to see those comments about her. She passed away shortly after your visit in Jan 2012. Blessings.
Jeff Arkelll