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Sandy Spring Friends School Panama 2017

June 27, 2017

We drove for 30 minutes from the airport to the hotel observing the tall buildings, construction work, and beautiful scenery such as the ocean and palm trees. After settling in our hotel rooms and grabbing a quick snack, we went to Casco Viejo or “the old city” where we met our tour guide, Gilberto. Gilberto showed us some of the colonial sites and attractions in the city. He spoke only in Spanish, so some students stepped up and translated. Some of the sites we saw were an old convent, a bridge that connects the trans-American highway, which runs from Alaska to Panama, and La Plaza de Bolivar. It was beautiful walking around as it was just becoming dusk and we could see the sun set over the Pacific.

We ate at a small restaurant named René Café where we were filled with a three-course meal that included a plantain Spanish tortilla to start and a tomato crepe to finish. We were all starving and it was an amazing and fancy dinner!

After dinner we made our way back to the hotel on our bright yellow bus, looking out at the skyline of the city. We had a quick reflection on what surprised us about the city or Panama. Some students said how many stray animals there were, how the rich and poor areas were very close to each other, and how many of the signs were in English and how we felt very welcomed. We were lucky to have been able to go to Casco Viejo today because a few years ago it was unsafe and taken over by gangs.

Tomorrow we are headed to Santa Fe where we get to meet our host families for the first time! We are all having a blast already and can’t wait for the adventure that awaits us in Santa Fe!

-MacKenzie & Olivia

June 28, 2017

This morning we woke up to a delicious breakfast that was prepared by the restaurant’s hotel. We had the option of different types of eggs with bacon or fluffy pancakes. Some also got a first taste of Panamanian coffee. Yum! After breakfast we finished our trip orientation and began to focus on our Homestay, for which we were leaving for today. We did some activities looking at the different levels of comfort people in our group had with different things we would be experiencing. We also acted out some funny skits of potential scenarios that could happen when we were staying in our new homes. We ended our orientation by anonymously sharing things that we hoped for, fears we had, and goals we had for the trip. Some common themes were people feeling nervous about speaking Spanish with the families and also the food.

We departed on a bus from the city and drove for about 6 hours to our home stay town of Santa Fe. It’s in the mountains and the drive was winding and beautiful. It was raining when we got here and felt much cooler than the city did. Our families were waiting for us in a palm thatched hut. We were introduced to our new families and gave our first awkward hugs and hellos. We all left for our houses where we had dinner with with our families. Some of us ate chicken, many ate fried plantains, some of us even celebrated a birthday with cake!

The language barrier is a challenge but we are all communicating and getting to know our new Panamanian family members. Tomorrow will be our first day of work at a school in the community! It’s been a long and full day and we are excited to see what the next days bring.

June 29, 2017

This was our first morning waking up with our Homestay families and quite an experience it was – hearing the roosters around 4am! This was also to be our first full day of service! We worked hard all morning in our main service project at a small school in a nearby rural community called El Carmen that does not have a lot of resources. Here we are laying the concrete floor for a soccer court where the school generally just has a muddy field that the students cannot play on. We mixed cement in the hot sun, learning the process and making good progress for the first day of service! In the afternoon we went to the local high school where the group broke in two: one to give English lessons and another to participate in the school’s PE class. The English teachers were very successful and the others played a muddy but thrilling game of football with the Panamanian students.

Our full day with ended after dinner with our families in the Community Center for a game Night. We played cards, drew pictures, made bracelets, and generally just bonded with our host brothers and sisters. It was a nice ending to our first full day in Santa Fe.

June 30, 2017

The day began with breakfast at our homestays (usually pancakes, eggs or Panamanian tortilla). Then we all walked to La Plaza , which is a little town square to meet up with our other classmates.

A driver named Chalelo picked us up and we went to the school where we were working and we were greeted by many little kids in their school uniforms!

We helped out in the school and played with the kids and taught them many English phrases. We got to work mixing concrete for the fútbol  (or soccer) pitch and helping to prepare the school garden for planting. At 1pm, we return to Santa Fe by bus to have lunch with our families and get ready to go to a waterfall!

The hike through the jungle was beautiful and very muddy and lasted for about 15 minutes until we arrive at the waterfall. We all went swimming in the freezing cold water and everyone felt so much better afterwards. It was a great bonding experience.

We returned home for dinner and then went to Avis’ house, one of the Homestay mothers. She gave us a cooking lesson on how to make hojaldre, which is a typical Panamanian fried bread. It is similar to funnel cake because it is fried and you put powdered sugar on it. By the end of the night everyone had made their own hojaldre and the entire house smells like a state Carnival!

The night ended with a meeting for worship and Leah posed a query about gratitude. Most mentioned how grateful they were for the experiences we were having and for the hospitality of their Homestay families. Afterwards we all walked home .together and went to sleep.

-Amelia & Kelise

July 1, 2017

Today we went to the school for our last day of service in our homestay. Everyone came to our work day. We worked really hard on finishing the concrete turning for the futbol pitch. This was the hottest day of our time working here and we had to push through. We also finish planting vegetables in the garden for food that will go to the school.

The people were very grateful for the work we did. One of the men who worked with us, the director if the school, gave us all certificates from the school to show their appreciation. It was so sweet.

After that we all went home and had lunch. We had a few hours until our goodbye party (despedida) so we were allowed to spend the time with our families and explore the town. Many of us went to the Central Square to play soccer with each other, others passed the afternoon with their families. Around 7 p.m. people started to show up for the goodbye party. The party was a lot of fun! The food are host parents made was amazing – a spred of meat, rice, salads and cake! It was cool meeting new friends and other host families. We had some difficulties with the music playlist but ended up dancing a lot, even learning how to dance a little bit of typical Panamanian dance! We also wrote thank you/farewell letters to give her host families in the morning when we left.

It was so nice socializing and dancing with our host families and enjoying our last night in Santa Fe. Although we are going to miss our host families, we are ready to go back to Panama City and head to the islands!

-Daniella & Arielle

July 2, 2017

Sunday morning we bid goodbye to what had,  for the past four days, become our homes, marking a bittersweet moment in our journey.  Over tge past few days, our homestay parents had helped us through the trials and tribulations of translation,settling into life in a different country, and for some of us, even being sick. It was hard to say goodbye to the people who had opened their homes and their hearts to our little group, and by the time we got on the bus, having exchanged cards and gifts and contact information, everyone was feeling a little sad to leave Santa Fe.

Never the less, we were also excited to be headed back to Panama City for the next leg of our journey.

We piled into to bus, connected our music to the Bluetooth, and set off  on our 6 hour journey to the hostel we would be staying at for the night  before going to the San Blas, or Kuna Yala Islands.

After a quick pit stop at a grocery store for the bathroom and snacks,  we went to a buffet style lunch at Ari’s impromptu suggestion. Hunger satiated by pasta, chicken, salad, jello and the like, we hopped back onto the bus, cranked Up the music and set off once more.

That afternoon we stopped at a souvenir stop for hammocks, gifts, Hats and clothes. Everyone was hot and sticky in the store but left laden with new found gifts.

Pretty soon, the mountains met the ocean and the one story houses gave way to skyscrapers.  We knew we had arrived back in La Ciudad de Panama!

We celebrated with a delicious dinner at a place called Crepes and Waffels and everyone got to sample a delicious crepe and ice cream dessert!

-Bella & Renana

July 3, 2017

The day started out with all of us getting breakfast at the hostel. Some of us got up a bit earlier to help set up. We filled up on yogurt, cereals and fresh fruit. We all packed our bags for the San Blas islands, where would be staying on our own private island called Nubesidub.

Next we all got ourselves ready for our morning dance class! Some of us were a bit tired of nervous, but we were all ready to dance. The teacher was named Alina, she was so nice and just a really good dance teacher! She taught us how to dance bachata, salsa and merengue. At the end of the class we were all feeling confident about our dance skills and all were quite sweaty. We had a lot of laughs and learned the Latin rhythms.

After that we had some Panamanian style Greek food, which tasted amazing.

We had a brief overlap with an other Global Works group and it was fun to exchange stories!

We proceeded to pack our three SUVs with all of our luggage and jugs of water. We got in the Vans and drove off to the San Blas Islands. Our drivers talented drives, weaving in and out of traffic! We were biting our nails the whole car ride, amazed at Panamanian traffic.

The road taking us to the port of the islands was so curvy and winded through the Jungle: it was amazing none of us got sick, but we all made it through! Then came the boat ride, which was about 30 minutes long. We arrived to Paradise! The island was so beautiful and just big enough for all of us. The island was truly heaven, covered in white sand, thatched huts and palm trees.

After the long drive we finished our day with some swimming in beautiful clear Caribbean water and eating fresh caught whole tried fish for dinner.