October 10th, four years ago, I boarded a plane for Panama to start a new life. I was excited and looking forward to the future but I had no idea what a good life this would turn out to be!
It’s interesting that after four years many things are still new. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t see something for the first time, learn about some aspect of life here, learn a new word, see a new bug… it’s always something. But, this has also become my normal life. Daily activities are no longer new. I have friends and relationships here. This is home in every sense and it feels good.
I’m very comfortable here. I feel a strong sense of community and acceptance. I love how people greet and acknowledge you even if they don’t know you. I love how easily people make friends. In the US you are judged by so many things – religion, political affiliation, economic status, race, appearance…. we think we are accepting of everyone but in reality we have a ways to go. Here though, religion and politics are personal choices. No one seems to care if you are light or dark (though the men are fascinated by women with white skin and green eyes). No one cares if you are big or small, or where you are from, or how much money you have. They only care if you are kind, respectful, and friendly and will return your kindness many times over.
Do I plan to stay here? Oh my YES! I would be heartbroken if I had to leave. We came because we can live comfortably on our limited income and it’s great to not worry about money, but the benefits have been so much more than that. On surveys of the happiest countries in the world, Panama is always close to or at the top of the list. Happiness is contagious! If I need a dose of happiness all I have to do is hop on my bike and enjoy the greetings and smiles of everyone I pass.
Everyone has their own experience in Panama and it doesn’t work for everyone. People leave for health reasons, because they miss family, but also because they just haven’t found the happiness they thought they would have here. There are challenges of course, but I have found them so minor compared to the benefits. I am thankful every day for the life I have here.