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When I was 15, we moved to South America. School started much earlier than it did in Canada, so my Father sent my Mother and I ahead to get me started in school. Have you ever been to a South American country? Everything operates on a very different timeline. You just have to roll with it.

My first day of school was only a half day.  A driver from the Embassy took me on a 45 minute car ride through the city, up a mountain, towards the school. Most international schools are gated and have guards. They aren’t to keep kids in, but to keep people out. Our car, even though it had diplomatic plates, didn’t have a pass, so there was a lot of arguing going on between the guard and the driver. The driver didn’t want to drop me off at the gate, but according to his gestures, he lost that battle. So, he waited for me to get out of the car, and watched me walk past the guard onto the property, making the lineup of cars honk for him to move. I looked around at the unfamiliar territory, and listened to the language I didn’t speak a work of, but got the drift with all the motioning and over exaggerated hand gestures.

First days of schools became the norm for me. I was never excited, not really scared, but just tired of the newness all the time. School zipped by, I survived day 1. I then headed to the bus area (I had never taken a school bus before), found my bus and sat down at the very back. There were only a handful of older kids, and mostly 7-12 year olds. I remembered looking down, I could see the road underneath us, the floor of the bus had been patched up with ply wood.

The bus ride at first was uneventful. the first 20 minutes was actually interesting, I got to see the city. The only problem I had was that I was at the back of the bus, and we were going down the mountain, every time the bus made a sharp turn, the end would swing out and I realized I was actually seeing straight down the cliff. Something I never really got used to, but you learned to just ignore that your life was hanging in the balance. All of a sudden the bus stopped at the side of the road. The bus driver looked really panicked. He had no radio. He looked at his bus load of kids, and told us to lock the door behind him. I, not knowing any Spanish, looked around, we were not in a very nice area. One of my classmates got up ran to the front and locked the door behind the driver. It took about 5 minutes, but there were shouts coming from outside. I asked one of the girls sitting beside me what was going on. She said “well, we are in one of the worst barrios in the city, we are in danger”. It was so matter of fact it didn’t really register. A little blond girl of about 8 got up, and started to close all of the windows. Then she came towards me, and said “put your head down like me, don’t get up until the driver comes back.” What the heck was going on? Then the bus started to rock, there were men outside who were taunting us. The police showed up, but the girl beside me, said “don’t ever look at the police, they are not to be trusted, always give them your money.” well, I figured that wasn’t anything unusual, every country I had lived in was the same.

After hours of keeping my head down, I got to know a couple of my classmates really well, we all were all suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration. Some of the little ones cried and jumped on our laps asking if they were going to get home. We were all in one word, terrified.

It was hours before the driver came back. There was a lot of commotion outside. Eggs, and garbage had been thrown at the windows, we could see the police laughing. The driver managed to get back in. We had no idea what happened to the engine, or why we were trapped on the bus. I got home 5 hours late. From that day forward, I always had extra water on me, and a spare t-shirt.

I had definitely entered a different world, with its own beat. You just learn to go with it.

Lessons learned:

1. Know the bus route before you put your child on a bus. My Mother was without my Father in a country he wasn’t technically posted to yet, so there were complications to what the embassy would even help out with. Searching for me was not their top priority.

2. Form a relationship with the school before school starts, and ask about communication with the buses.

3. Make sure your child has some basic local language skills . Even if it is a tutor for a month before departure. Our Canadian system doesn’t pay for children to learn any language  before posting, which many families complained about. If you work for a private company, make sure you negotiate these things before agreeing to move. Having some knowledge of the language helps aide debilitating culture shock.

Travel lady with Baby