We used to have a quote on our fridge which read, “I like nature. I just don’t want to get any one me.” With our housing dilemma last week, I was worried that we would end up homeless and attempting to find shelter in the Panamanian jungle. Lucky for me we just signed a lease to ensure that all the dreaded nature surrounding us here in the tropics will in fact be kept to a well-manicured minimum.
But that doesn’t mean that we didn’t want to interact with it a bit before moving to the 'burbs.
In between teacher training, immigration paperwork, and other cultural adventures, we've managed to dive into the Panamanian wilderness a few times; the kiddos and I have hiked Ancon Hill and the Parque Natural Metropolitano while Sarah took the kids to Gamboa on the canal (while I planned 9th grade curriculum!).
Wanting to take advantage of our last few days living in the thick of the Panama City, I jogged over to Casco Viejo via the neighborhood of Calidonia, where I found a lively group of dominoes players.
Casco Viejo is full of beautifully restored mostly 19th century buildings. As well as some not quite as restored gems.
It's a hip-happening jumble of fancy bars and not-yet-gentrified bones of buildings waiting for what's next, and the neighborhood borders a very working class area which I'm sure causes no tension at all.
And finally, with only a few days left before the first day of school, we successfully moved out of the hotel in the city to a beautiful place just across the corredor (freeway) from our school. The house we chose ended up not being one of the two we thought, and indeed was the happy medium we were looking for. It's big enough for us to be able to take care of our kids and any visitors who might come our way (hence the "nuture" part of the title. Get it?!?!), and we're relieved that the housing search is over. We're settling in, and our shipment may arrive as early as this week. More pictures of the house after we unpack and decorate a bit. Whoopee!
We're still exploring our new space and excited to begin the new year of book learnin'!
So our new employer/school has been pretty darn awesome with the transition so far: the HR team has been taking care of us (and our kids) beautifully, and they put us up in a somewhat-high rise overlooking even higher-rises overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Not too shabby a place to land, but not a longterm solution to the housing puzzle. The International School of Panama is in the Northeastern outskirts of Panama City, and from what I gather, nearly everyone here really enjoys living far from where they work and sitting in horrendous traffic every day. Most neighborhoods where teachers live are about 25 minutes from school, but there's always the caveat of "unless there's traffic, when it could take you 3-5 days. Pack snacks." We’re anti-commuting freaks, which has limited our options somewhat.
We came to Panama with two possibilities already researched and in the front of our minds: Did we want an unnecessarily large house directly across from the school for more than we’d like to spend? Or did we want an unnecessarily inexpensive (and furnished!) house which is slightly smaller than we'd like just across the highway from the school? Upon arriving, we talked to more people, saw several additional possibilities, and found that this was, indeed, the conundrum. There would be no in between. We had to bite the bullet and make a decision.
We hemmed. Then we hawed.
Then we... put off making a decision and instead explored a bit of the the big city!
Here’s us in the Casco Viejo, where we spent a super quick afternoon last week to check out the crumbling, colorful old town. Fun fact: this is the newer old town, set up in 1672 after good ol’ pirate Sir Henry Morgan (or Captain Morgan for you boozers out there) sacked the original Panama City a year earlier.
And here’s us quadricycling along the Amador Causeway, connecting a few islands in Panama Bay.
Next we popped over to the the Frank Gehry-designed BioMuseo, a celebration of Panama’s special place as a crossroads of two continents, two oceans, and every product you’ve ever bought at Target.
And here’s us watching every product you’ve ever bought at Target on its way to Target.
A few pics of Warren's exploratory jog around our hotel's neighborhood:
This introduction to Panama all happened between us jumping through hoops for the Panamanian government (HR took care of all the heavy lifting, we just had to sit in the immigration office for a few hours), signing lots of forms that happened to be Spanish (it's possible that we accidentally signed up for a subscription to Cat Fancy magazine), and scratching the surface of the largest shopping mall in the Americas (we passed at least two Crocs stores, and we saw maybe a tenth of the mall).
We're finishing up the last few days of training just for us newbies - next week is whole staff, and then we get to start the actual teaching part. While the housing decision is certainly looming over us, we hope other distractions will clear the mind enough to make the answer crystal clear.
In the meantime, we're enjoying the view.
The last we heard from our intrepid adventurers they had just returned Stateside from Vietnam via a pit stop in The Land of the Rising Sun. That was way back in 2015.
But the world has changed.* The Schnacks have changed.
Firstly, the most obvious: all three offspring have, amazingly, continued to grow. The Eldest is still The Eldest, the Little Lady isn’t quite as little anymore, and the Big O is now even more aptly named.
The Eldest was able to rejoin his class at his public Waldorf school, thus greasing the wheels to get the twins past the waiting list and join him there. This incredible school is full of kids who appreciate weird creative stuff like The Eldest's Cardboard Challenge eleventh birthday party extravaganza.
All three dove into the knitting-and-dirt-based curriculum with gusto, acted in class plays, and tackled recorder and piano (sometimes all too literally). Alice Birney truly was a great place for them to grow into themselves, and it was tough to leave.
In our two years back in the States we checked off a decent number of American "must-do"s including requisite soccer, gymnastics, baseball, a tour of a Nevada silver mine, swinging hammers and paint brushes at a park in Berkeley, ski lessons, and sticking out tongues on major holidays.
What have the oldest Schnacks been up to? While Warren got his same teaching gig back at his same high school in Sacramento, inspiring and helping future leaders of America succeed in the present and the future (ideally…), Sarah went full corporate and became THE Gifted and Talented Resource Teacher for Sacramento City Unified. She got to wear pant suits (over her GATE Super Hero insignia) and teach teachers how to teach those future leaders. After all of this inspirational do-gooding, the summer of 2016 was a welcome respite.
We immediately hopped over to Chicago for a quick child-free visit with the Radulies, friends from the old country (you know - Vietnam).
When one has teachers for parents, what does one do over the long, boring summer? Drive to Missouri, that’s what!
Warren’s awesome and famous cousin organized a Schnack family reunion soiree in the Show Me State, which gave us an excuse to show our kiddos a bit more of their great homeland, with an emphasis on the National Parks of Colorado and Utah.
After a quick last-minute remodel of our front bathroom, it was time to say goodbye to our lives in los Estados Unidos.
As you may or may not have heard, we've now picked up and moved to a small but mighty Central American country, hoping that we might have more success learning the language than last time. Our temporary hotel home is in the heart of the city and the whirlwind of new friends, food, and levels of humidity has been intoxicating.
More to come!
* Too much, many would say...