Back in Panama

Whew! I made it home very late Monday night. It was a fabulous trip and I had a great time, but I’m happy to be home. I’m still tired so I’m looking forward to resting up a bit and getting the house in order a little more.

Of course the US feels like home. I lived there all my life and have many connections there. But, now, Panama also feels like home. It’s interesting to feel ties to both places. I’ve been thinking about how it feels in each country and what is different. I’ll try to write down the main points that come to mind.

  • The language, of course.
  • Greeting people. I had a hard time in the US ignoring and being ignored by people I passed on the street or in the park. I am so used to greeting everyone I see. It may sound like a small thing but it makes a difference in how I feel. When I am always met with smiles and friendly greetings it makes me feel welcome, included, and a part of the community. I was surprised at how much I missed this.
  • The sounds. The US for the most part was very very quiet. I woke up in Panama to dozens of different birds, and the whistling cicadas making a racket (apparently whistling is not just for sunset now). The neighbor’s dogs were barking. I could hear the rooster down the street. Before my eyes were even open I knew exactly where I was!
  • The US is more orderly. The streets are cleaner. There are traffic laws. There is zoning. There are regulations about almost everything. In Panama there are laws of course, but it feels generally more relaxed. People are left to make their own decisions a lot more.
  • The US is predictable and familiar. I know what is in Walgreens, or a supermarket, and where to find tomato plants. In Panama, sometimes things are in places you wouldn’t expect and things are done differently. It’s only a learning curve though, and one day I’ll be as familiar with Panama.
  • Different driving styles. Some people say driving in Panama is difficult. It really isn’t once you are accustomed to the style. If there is an opportunity you take it. If you need to do something you do it and others accommodate you, and you do the same for them. In the US you don’t always know what to expect of others, and there is little tolerance for others on the road. They honk if you go too slow, or do anything else they don’t like . In Panama a honk is a courtesy thing – hey I’m just letting you know I’m passing you, or I’m over here, or you’re clear to merge, etc. I think this reflects the generally more laid back general attitude of Panama and their inclination not to fuss about what someone else is doing.
  • The cost of things! I took a taxi in Vegas from the airport to a hotel I could literally see from the airport. $13.30 before tip. In David I took a taxi ride from the bus terminal to the airport which is all the way across town and then some – $4.
  • Security. The US has so many rules about everything, but not so many people watching over things. Here in Panama there are security people everywhere. When I went to pick up our car from the airport parking lot I was approached by two security guards who asked what I was doing (it was late at night and there was nothing going on at the airport, so I’m sure it looked a bit odd). At first I thought this must be a very dangerous place to have so much security everywhere. Now though, I feel taken care of. I know the security guard in the supermarket parking lot watches me get out of my car and will say something if anyone else tries to get in my car. There is an armed guard at the bank and ATM to be sure nothing happens to anyone. It feels like an extension of my neighbors who will question anyone they don’t know who stops on our street. Maybe it’s because anytime I have asked a security person or policeman for help they have gone out of their way to be helpful and courteous. Maybe it’s because I have had no bad experiences with these people. I have come to appreciate having them around.

I think those are the main things that come to mind. This afternoon I’m off to the fair with my neighbors, so I’m sure there will be more stories coming.

And, I am happy I’m not HERE (check out my husband in Maine digging the car out from under the snow!)  Brrrrr

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About Kris Cunningham

We live in David, Chiriqui Provence, Republic of Panama! This blog is about some of our experiences in our new country.
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9 Responses to Back in Panama

  1. Amy the Daughter says:

    I’m glad you are getting settled back home. Since you left I’ve been thinking about we all ignore each other on the street. Its been better lately, only because I’m pregnant and strangers smile or say hello a lot more. But, I’m going to make an effort to say hello more often.


    • Kris says:

      It’s just the culture and custom in the US, but on the other hand you’ll brighten the day of some people with a friendly greeting so why not give it a try.


  2. indacampo says:

    Great post Kris! Welcome home!


  3. Kati says:

    i sure relate to your feelings. After all these years in Latin America, I know how hard it would be to go back to the US to live. I love to visit but life there is so different from here. Guess it gets in your blood.


  4. oldsalt1942 says:

    re: Security in Panama. If you read certain sites, i.e. Boquete ning, or the Yahoo Group “Gringos in David,” it sometimes seems as though crime is rampant here. That we are living in conditions like the days of “wild west.” Sure,crime happens here. Houses and cars are broken into and things are stolen. An elderly woman was murdered last week in nearby Volcan (you never hear of something like that happening in Sarasota or Fort Lauderdale, do ya?). By and large, though, I feel a LOT safer here than I did in Lauderdale or New Orleans. Why? Because things are different here.

    I first became aware of this on one of my initial exploratory trips to Panama. I spent a week in Chitre (it would be my second choice of a place to settle). One evening I went into the center of town for supper. It got dark while I was dining and walking back to the hotel I took a street paralleling the main drag. It was a dark street with only a street light here and there and I began to feel a bit uncomfortable and a little like I might be a target for someone looking to do some mischief. Then I noticed a couple of young teenage girls coming my way and there was also a couple walking with their young child toddling along between them. They weren’t worried and then I slowly realized why. At practically every house I passed people were sitting out on their porches, dark though they were. People do that here in Panama. They don’t closet themselves inside their houses in the air conditioning watching reality t.v. shows. They sit out on their porches talking to each other and with their neighbors. NOTHING is going to happen without someone seeing it. Neighbors look out for each other. I see that here in “mi barrio.” NOBODY comes down this little street without it being noted by someone, and they know if you belong here or not. My neighbors, when they see me sitting on the front porch puffing one of my stogies will wave to me from half a block away and say, “hola Richard.”

    Are we somehow magically immune from something bad happening to us here. Not at all, but all things considered I really believe the chances are a LOT less here than in the States. And you don’t have to be living in a city there to have something horrible happen. Don’t forget the Clutter family in Kansas. If you don’t know who they were check out Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood.”


    • Kris says:

      I agree, I also feel safe and secure here. Of course no place is guaranteed free of all problems but I feel like you do, that people here look out for each other. And no, I don’t read those certain sites (unless Joel points out something I should read) They tend to fuss too much.


  5. Great post my friend. I can relate to this, ” It’s interesting to feel ties to both places. ” Beautiful memories of home where ever we go will always be in our hearts.


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