We are so grateful to our friend and fellow writer Molly Dupont for sharing this piece with us!
So, when did you find yourself? Because I’m still looking. I’m honest to God looking in places that I didn’t think she could hide. Right now I’m looking for her in a tiny backyard teaming with palms and even a creepy jungle rat slinking along the edge (eeew!). Anyone who knows me and my aversion to animals and outdoorsy stuff in general wouldn’t have thought to look here either. Yet, here I am and she’s here showing me how little I know about her even though it’s been 40 years. Forty years of trying to find out who I am and defining it. And wouldn’t you know it, I’m still looking.
School has always been my life and my home and my identity. So, what’s one to do when the school bus rounds the corner without you on board after 35 years? I’ll tell you what—cry. You stand there watching everyone else you know get on the bus and then cry buckets over the little things you miss like perfectly written nametags and pencils with perfectly unused erasers filling baskets around the room. You tear-up over the stacks of books all neatly placed in bins that are painstakingly sorted just knowing the whirlwind of small hands placing them in the incorrect bins will give your ultra-controlling tendencies seizures. Then you sob—all out ugly, can’t-catch-your-breath sobbing over the big stuff. It’s the children you’ll never get to read Charlotte’s Web to and snuggle next to as they struggle through the tough lessons inside and outside of the classroom. Maybe most of all, you cry for the teachers you left behind. They are more than friends and have become family. They’re really the only ones who get it, get you. They have seen you at your best while rockin’ out a lesson on making change for a dollar and at your worst when your husband called during recess with news that he needs open heart surgery next week. You cry for all you miss and all you know you’ll miss. Then you spend some time in mourning. Because really, a piece of who you were has died. Who am I, if I’m no one’s teacher? And that, my friends, is the big question I haven’t found all the answers to yet.
It was a decision to move to far away Latin America for my hubby’s job that ended a long career of teaching. It was a good decision, even though it was filled with a lot of sadness. It was time for me to move on. This crazy place with new foods, high humidity, and lawless drivers is the perfect place to start learning about myself. It’s my big chance to chase other dreams and find out what I’m made of (even if I found out that I’m actually made of much more sweat than I thought). So I’m seizing the opportunity to again find out who I am through my experiences here.
My first lesson came when I learned about driving…
Driving in Panama City is like driving in the Seventh Circle of Hell. There are no lanes and no rules, and I love rules (teacher, remember?) There are “Diablo Rojos” which are old school buses painted in bright colors, with working class folks hanging out of the windows and booming bass party music blasting out of the speakers that stop suddenly to pick up pedestrians sitting on the highway, yes sitting on the highway. There are thousands of fearless, yellow taxi drivers in dented jalopies cutting off cement trucks, horns blaring. There are motorcyclists with death-wishes weaving through blind-spots. There are potholes covered with wood pallets and open, coverless manholes. There are no shoulders on which to swerve to avoid EVERYONE who haphazardly crosses the median while coming at you. There are no rules, however there is an enormous book of “Panamanian Laws of the Road” that you are required to have with you in your vehicle at all time—oh, the irony.
So after riding shotgun with hubby at the wheel for two months and making him crazy with my fearful screams and yelps (each one of them warranted by the fact that I did think my life was coming to an end,) I did it. I drove. Why? Well because I needed to feel like I could be a mom and pick my kids up at school and I wanted part of my old life back—the freedom of driving. So, me and my white knuckles strangling the wheel got ourselves together and braved it. It was scary and I believe I probably channeled a satanic voice or two yelling at my kids to “Stop talking while Mom is driving!” I’m also a wee bit ashamed that my loud satanic voice also yelled, “I can still hear you. Stop whispering!” After successfully convincing my children that Panamanian traffic caused a demonic possession of their mother, I arrived at my first destination….Riba Smith Grocery Store (another story for another time, people.) Then climbing out and proudly slamming the car door I found I was profusely sweating. I’m not altogether sure if it was the 90 percent humidity or the driving that had caused the sweat that was pooling in my bra, but at least no one died. Score one for me!
As I said, I am a rule follower even if no one else on the road in the country is. Being me, I never drove too far from our apartment and I tried to drive at lower traffic times of day and would map out best paths. So feeling like I was finally getting the hang of it, I turned left ON A GREEN LIGHT and as I approached the top of a hill the policia pulled me over. I start getting hot (again, is it the tropical humidity or my anxiety?) and he approaches my window. I roll it down and say, “No hablo espanol.” That happens to be my family’s go-to phrase when speaking with anyone in our new home city. He proceeds to say lots of Spanish words and I shrug my shoulders and say, “No hablo espanol,” again and I hand him my passport and Wisconsin driver’s license. He goes back to his car for a LONG time and comes back to my passenger side door. So I roll the window down. He makes himself right at home leaning through my window onto the passenger seat. He keeps speaking Spanish and I am able to catch a few words here and there (because I AM taking Spanish lessons twice a week). I hear him say, red light. Well I knew I didn’t go through a red light and he was on the opposite street when I turned the corner so he couldn’t have seen me or the light. I say in my head, “Molly, now is not the time to argue you are right, even though you clearly are (and oh, that is a tough one for me!)” He talks more Spanish words and is now in my personal space. Close to my face he says “eat dinner” and points to me and then himself. What? Is this a dinner invitation? Then he asks if I want a ticket or go to jail. Uh, no. Then he says more Spanish words indicating I give him money. Again, umm no. I continue to play dumb and say my go-to line at least 10 more times as this interaction is lasting 25 minutes. Finally I say, “Sorry, I don’t want a ticket. Sorry, no hablo espanol,” one last time and he moves out of the car window and shoos me away with a hand gesture. Oh. My. God. The. Sweat. This time though, the score goes to Panama for scaring the living crackers out of me!
Good news, though. I think I found part of me. I found the brave part–the part that didn’t think she could do it–the part that is tough and strong in situations that would never come up in my Wisconsin life. I’m still looking for the rest of myself. So if you see a clueless blonde gal roaming the streets in a sea of brunettes in Panama City, say hi, it’s probably me.
About the writer:
Hello. Hola! I am Molly DuPont, wife, mom, forever teacher (because you can take a gal out of the classroom, but you can never take the classroom out of the gal) and US citizen residing in Panama for what might be the craziest year of my life. I am learning every day more and more about myself as I am constantly in search of defining who I am. I write as a form of personal therapy and also to chronical the tiny moments that help me discover who this Molly person really is. No blog yet, as I’m still contemplating if it’s the right thing for me, but I do post my trials and tribulations on Facebook. Hope you enjoy!