Monday, September 15, 2014

Missing Home

Sometimes it rains when I wake up and I think I'm back home. Then I realize the curtains are bright green, my dog isn't anywhere to be found and there's a gecko looking at me.

I'm not sure I should be missing home. Panama meets my expectations in every way. When I left Silverton for two years, I pictured myself working in a new and challenging school and traveling to tropical beaches on the weekends.

Check and check.

I love school. They demand so much more from than I'm used to, but give me ample time and resources to implement what they want. I feel in over my head, and insecure about my job performance for the first time in half a decade. Yet I can tell I'm growing. I've even had teachers come in three different times and say "I heard you're doing (teacher thing) really well, can you show me what you're doing?" What? Really? Ok.

The weekends blow my mind. This Saturday my girlfriend and I decided we'd go to the beach. Flipping through Lonely Planet, we settled on Kuna Yala, a semi-independent archipelago on the eastern end of Panama's Caribbean coast. We loaded up, and 2 hours later we crossed the continent arriving on the Carribbean shore.

Kuna Yala has over 400 islands ranging from the luxurious to deserted. Being late in the day, we didn't have many options, we joined a group of Panamanians and Colombians heading to Isla Ukuptupu. Why not?

30 minutes later our motorboat pulled into port. Ukuptupu was about the size of a football field with traditional thatch roofed lodgings. Quaintness aside, Cabanas Ukuptuku would not be categorized as luxurious. No fan, no mosquito net, and the toilets flush right into the ocean. I quietly renamed it Isla IckyPooPoo. That night I fell asleep sweating dreadfully, and awoke thinking a bat was attacking me.

Still, our hosts were incredibly kind. The Kuna speak their own language, have their own dress, and even make their own laws. Our host John, an elderly man of 77, spoke English and told me the story of how he learned my language while working on a US Army base in the canal zone. For dinner they served us freshly caught fish, and there was a litter of 6 new born puppies to make my girlfriend happy.

We didn't swim off of Isla Icky Ukuptupu, for obvious reasons. But each day they took us by boat to waters a little less fecal. The first evening we snorkeled off a little coconut studded atoll that held a single thatched hut and family. For the first time in my life I saw that thing I've always dreaded on the beach. The sting ray. This small animal has the world's most painful sting, I heard once.
They blend right into the sand, so they can be easily squished by careless ocean goers. One even swam towards us passive aggressively, no doubt wanting to get stepped on so he could sting us.

"I'm not your doormat!"
The next day we went to a busier island, quite a few boats dropped people off. The snorkeling wasn't as great, but Kuna fishermen did row by about every 15 minutes with live lobster, crab, red snapper and barracuda that you could buy and have cooked for you right there. Rebekka and I had two lobsters for $10.

Kuna Yala was amazing, thrilling, scenic and a little uncomfortable. Sadly, like all of Panama, garbage lay everywhere. I never want to buy a plastic bottle or bag again. It's one thing to read about giant trash islands in the middle of the Pacific, but another to swim with Diet Coke and Frito Lays.

With all the excitement, its hard to explain exactly what's missing. Or maybe not. My family. My dog. My house. My kids I've taught the last 7 years. That's all not here. But I've traveled before and loved it. I think. Maybe I'm forgetting all the times I felt homesick before.

More likely, Oregon has molded me over the last 7 years. I've become a part of it. My clock ticks to its seasons. Fall is for football and Oktoberfest, not tropical beaches. My fridge back home was full of blueberries from a kid I taught. And now its mangoes and pineapples. I had Oregon figured out, I knew its secrets. Why should I be surprised to wake up somewhere else day after day and feel like something's not right?

No doubt Panama will leave its mark. Will it ever become home, if only for two years? I hope so, but it has big shoes to fill 

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