Ten years ago, I got on a plane bound for Panama with a suitcase and a laptop bag. I had little idea what the future would hold. Ten years later I’m still here with Joel in the same city and in the same house, and I can say it worked out better than I ever imagined.
We didn’t do it “right” and explore multiple locations and spend lots of time staying in our favorites. We spent five days in Panama City – the country felt good but at our age, that was too much city. Then, we decided to try the next biggest city, David. We spent five days here and it looked like it would work for us. Decision made. What’s the worst that could happen? We would change our minds and try something else. We had gotten rid of almost all of our stuff so we were free and flexible. But, it worked out and we are happy here.
What has changed in ten years? My Spanish wasn’t very good when I arrived. I could ask basic questions and sometimes understand the answers but it was a struggle. I’ll never be 100% or say everything correctly, but now it’s much easier. I am confident that I can start a conversation with anybody and get along fairly well. This is huge because anything else that is difficult, you can ask these kind and helpful people and they will do their best for you.
We are much better at getting things done, now that we have done most things before. We know how to pay the light bill or renew the tags for the car, all those chores that need to be done wherever you live. But when you come here you have to learn new procedures, and sometimes these procedures can look confusing and inefficient to us. You have to learn where to look for things you need to buy, and where you find them may not make any sense to you. But in time, everything becomes more familiar and less stressful.
We are much more settled in. At first, we made many “field trips” to explore other areas in our new country. Now we have seen pretty much everything we think we need to see. Also, COVID taught us that we can spend months and months at home without a problem (well maybe it’s a problem because afterward it’s harder to get yourself OUT of the house 😯) but we are less driven to go out and do things and we are more content to just enjoy ordinary days.
We have learned SO much! At first everything was new, the food, the plants, the bugs, birds, jokes, greetings, everything! Now I pretty much know which fruits are what and which ones I like. I know how to get things done, or who to ask if I need help with something. Greeting people on the street is second nature. I have learned many of the local recipes, I have grown local food plants and flowers, and I have killed and cleaned a chicken (and made it into dinner). I’ve gone places and done things I never would have done or experienced in my previous life.
And, very interesting, I’ve looked at the USA through the eyes of my Panamanian friends. The USA is seen as a goal, a mecca of opportunity where you can earn good money. They believe what they see on TV and what they hear from people who have visited there. They often don’t understand that it will take every bit of that higher paycheck and more just to survive. You can’t walk into a public clinic and get seen right away for a few dollars. You can’t expect everybody to treat you with kindness and respect when they see your brown skin and hear you speaking with an accent. Many are surprised when I tell them that there are many things that are better in Panama. I love how the Panamanians love to laugh, how they love their family and friends, and how enjoying life is more important that working like crazy. They work hard and often put in long hours for not much money, but it seems like they usually enjoy their work and the people they interact with on the job. I used to tell people “don’t work too hard” and get puzzled looks in response. Life here just seems more relaxed and fun, and we appreciate the strong feelings of community. There are obvious and subtle cultural differences that I find very interesting, and I’ve found a lot to admire.
I think that’s the main points that come to mind at this moment. It’s a mix between comfortable and familiar, and new and different things which keeps life interesting. People often ask if we intend to move back to the USA at some point. No, we do not. Who knows what the future holds but I can say with certainty, today, we are happy here and plan to stay.