Community and Acceptance

When on a bus or plane for hours, what do you do? Write blog posts!

My friend Haydee was at my house the other day and had an interesting question. She was watching a TV show from the US and there was a scene of a church service. She wanted to know why everyone in the church was black. Could it be possible that black people live separately from white people?

I explained that yes indeed, it is usually the case that most black people live in one part of a city, and whites live in another. What about Latinos? Yes, they also often live together in their part of town. I explained a bit about efforts to integrate schools and workplaces, and how hard black people have had to work for what equality they have.

Haydee was genuinely shocked. She could not imagine why someone would be treated differently because of how they look. She had never seen a church of people of only one color. She says in Panama everyone lives together, white or black or whatever color, big or small, rich or poor, Panamanian or foreigner, church going or not, straight or gay. If you are a nice person and treat other people well, you are welcomed. It is a very “live and let live” culture and they are quite unconcerned with personal differences.

It was very interesting to have my impressions of this culture confirmed by a Panamanian. I have always felt like a foreigner in the US. After 17 years I knew most of my neighbors but it took years. As an atheist Buddhist I feel very excluded by the ubiquitous Christian religion, and I resent the lack of separation of church and state. I do not conform to the expectations of appearances, consumerism, and constant striving for a higher rung on the ladder. The more I tried to be true to myself the farther I drifted from the mainstream culture and the less I felt I belonged.

It is so unexpected and wonderful to feel at home in Panama. Who would ever imagine in a heavily Catholic country, a different culture, and a different language that I would feel like this. People ask me about my beliefs and feelings, maybe ask a question or two out of curiosity, and that’s the end of it. I have never felt that a relationship has changed one bit because of any differences. No one has ever asked me to change a thing to align with their beliefs. Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses – after refusing their offer of literature twice they have never asked me again. They just seem genuinely happy to see me, ask how I am, and make general conversation before proceeding on their way.

I am thankful beyond words that we have come to Panama. Living here is a joyful and life altering experience in so many ways. It feels really good to be home.

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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21 Responses to Community and Acceptance

  1. Sunni Morris says:


    I never knew you were an atheist buddhist, nor does it mattter. Buddhism has some very good points that all of us should follow. I would say i’m more of an agnostic wiccan person, a great believer in nature and karma. I’m glad to hear you can fit into your new country so well, the majority of the people being devout Catholic.

    My husband is very religious, raised up in a family where it was church every Sunday and Wed. His family lives and breathes religion 24/7. Sometimes this is a thorn between us, as I wasn’t raised in this fashion and thankful I wasn’t. To me it’s impossible to have a clear view of anything when your mind is crowded with organized religion.



    • I heard the Dalai Lama speak once and he said it is so good that there are many different religions because people are different, and each can find what works for them. I can see how it would be difficult though if you and your husband are on very different paths.


  2. Anonymous says:

    Not only am I getting familiar with Spanish I may convert to Catholicism on my path to eventual retirement to Panama. Oye! Hey Kris, do you or Joel recommend lawyers? The only one I have is out of Richard D’s book. Any suggestions? Thank you. David.


  3. oldsalt1942 says:

    As a fellow expat in Panama you pretty well summed it up…


  4. John & Susan says:

    Wow Kris… another great reason why I like you so much!
    Your are a true kindred spirit!
    Well written.


  5. susanpazera says:

    Kris, I just had a chance to read your blog post and – although I love all your entries, even the ones about bugs and snakes 🙂 – this one has really resonated with me. Unlike John, I believe in God or some sort of higher power. But the way so-called “Christians” in the US have hijacked our government and people’s good sense makes me sick. I don’t know a lot about Jesus, but if he were alive today and could see what people are doing, supposedly in his name, I think he would have second thoughts about inventing the whole damn religion in the first place. I was raised Presbyterian but there’s almost nothing left for me to identify with in today’s Christian world.

    I think religion is a very personal thing and should never be forced on anyone else. And I completely agree with the Dalai Lama – everyone has to find their own path to God and perceive him/her/it in his or her own way (or, as the case may be, reject the whole idea of God altogether, if that’s their thing). It would be a really boring world if we were all in lockstep on everything.

    We have many reasons for moving to Panama, but we have really had it with the narrow-mindedness, lack of compassion, and overall ignorance of so, so many fellow Americans. Case in point, those poor, poor little immigrant children that are trapped at the border. It’s so very sad.


    • For me at least, I knew I didn’t like the attitudes but until I experienced this I didn’t know how different it could be. Panamanians also believe religion is a personal thing and may ask out of curiosity or respect,so they don’t say anything that might offend, but they wouldn’t ask you to change your beliefs.
      Immigration, another subject. I would think a country with so many resources could help our neighbors in trouble. I just saw an article that Panama and Mexico are making a deal where Mexicans can come to Panama to work. Interesting


  6. Linda says:

    Such a great post Kris. Thanks so much. So happy for you to be in such a loving and accepting community. Xx


  7. Harry says:

    Kris , I can identify with what you have experienced , particularly the state / church relationship , and I`m half way around , and under your part of the globe.

    I feel the same way you do about this , and was particularly pleased to read about your ” non conforming ” ways .:) I am Atheist all the way .

    Regards ,
    Harry from Southern OZ.


    • Interesting. I didn’t realize it was similar in OZ. Maybe you too will end up somewhere more tolerant. It is really nice.
      Thanks for stopping by and for your comment 🙂


      • Harry says:

        Right wing extremists have gained government in Australia.
        Many people are unhappy here now. We already have unaffordable housing and ridiculous energy bills. I`m not on welfare , and never was , but there have been savage cuts proposed
        to welfare and health care etc . Creationism now to be taught in schools .Private ( read religious ) schools get more funding ….Tony Abbott leads this ship of fools as our ” prime minister ” He dabbled in Catholic theology .before politics.Did I mention he was a sexist pig ?

        There have been demonstrations of thousands here in the streets against his budget proposals with placards reading ” Resign Dickhead “…….He will never get re- elected.Everything bad in US
        politics has landed here now.

        End of rant . take care.


      • Harry says:

        Forgot to mention Kris , we are making our own little place here , regardless of politics and other distractions.



  8. Carole says:

    Thanks for your thoughts on religion in Panama, another good reason to move there. I am a catholic but don’t practice it in church every Sunday, I feel I don’t need to be with a lot of people in Church to feel close to God. My husband is an atheist who doesn’t believe in any God at all, so we are totally different on our religious beliefs. It is nice to know that Panamanian people are so open and not pushy about their religion.


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