Eight Things I didn’t expect….

As of yesterday I’ve been in Panama exactly three months. When I came, I had an idea in mind of what living in Panama would be like, but some things still caught me by surprise.

#1 Rainbows

I tackle an unfortunate surprise in #2 but I started with a lovely surprise: the rainbows! Panama has lovely and frequent rainbows. I’ve seen doubles, I’ve seen several in one day, I’ve seen brilliant stripes coming out of a stormy sky.

We had lots of rain back home in the States, but few rainbows. Here, there’s frequent sun and frequent rain, and usually at the same time. The perfect recipe.

#2 Poverty

I knew Panama was called a third world country, but wow, you really can’t escape the culture shock when you go from the U.S. to a third-world country.

There’s less options. There’s hungry kids. There’s children running barefoot and naked. There’s teen moms here, ages 11, 13, 15. So young…..I was definitely not expecting to meet girls younger than me who already have established families in their teens.

Not everyone is poor, but it’s more in-your-face than in the U.S.

#3 Kindness

“Everyone’s so crabby in the U.S.”

I’ve heard people say that. Mostly I just ignored it, or thought, “Well, you fit right in, buster.”

It was easy to ignore. I was immersed in my culture. I could no more look at it objectively than a goldfish could imagine life outside the fishbowl.

It’s really….widening? eyeopening? to live outside your country for awhile. You get new eyes to view your own culture.

I’m NOT going to sweep broad and say everyone here is friendlier, but I definitely have noticed a difference in the culture. People are quicker to smile, quicker to give you a ride, quicker to offer you fruit, quicker to let you go ahead of them in traffic.

Little things that add up to really big things.

#4 Fruit

The fruit here is different! You haven’t tasted pineapple until you’ve eaten Panama pineapple. It’s bright yellow, juicy, sugar-sweet, and tastes coconut-y. The papaya is bright pinky-red, juicy and slippery.

Oranges, on the other hand, are LESS orange, and LESS sweet, than in the U.S. They are yellowish-green, even. They are often uncultivated, wild, and more natural.

And my favorite….the lemons! The lemons here are different….lumpy, bumpy, weird-looking, all different. Completely different from carbon-copy grocery store lemons.

#5 Scorpions

I could have easily found this out, but nobody told me!

I didn’t know that most people in Panama have sticky pads to catch the little dudes.

I didn’t know that some people take flashlights to the bathroom at night.

I didn’t know that it’s NOT a great idea to walk barefoot here.

I didn’t know that you might just find a scorpion in your bed, like my friend George. (It stung him on the back.)

#6 I’m different

I knew I was going to a different country. But I’ve never done that before. I didn’t realize that I really am different. I look different, talk different, behave differently…it’s a dif culture. (And that’s fantastic, btw.)

What does that mean? It means that when I go for a walk, people notice me. Quite a few stare. But my favorite thing? People actually seem welcoming. In the States I walked a lot, but never saw anyone. Here, when I go walking, I often run into people. One day, someone offered me strawberry coke. The next day I got a big slice of watermelon.

Half the time I feel like a movie star. The other half, I feel like a very uncool and suspiciously regarded foreigner. But it’s cool. I tend toward self-consciousness, so this is helping me break out of that.

#7 Fewer people with cars

It seems like in the States, from age 16 on up, everyone has their own vehicle. I was so used to every single person having a car.

But in Panama, it’s so common to be car-less. How do people get around? Feet and taxis. You can walk if you want. Depending on where you are, it’s feasible to walk to quite a few places.

And taxis are everywhere. Sometimes the highway is a line of bright yellow zipping vehicles.

Taking taxis is a mixed bag. Why? On the pro side, they are incredibly cheap. I usually pay $.60, or maybe a $1.00. On the con side, you have to go out and sit by a stop and wait. If it’s a busy season, you could be waiting a while. Or you might get a taxi in one minute. (It makes reliability tricky. How do you plan for such an unknown?)

So yes, we don’t have car. It’s not usual for me to be tensely waiting at a taxi stop, jittering around and squinting at the highway horizon, searching for that precious, distant yellow blob.

#8 Difficulty of Learning Spanish

I thought I would learn Spanish like *that* because of immersion. But you know, is it really immersion when your family speaks English, many of your friends are fellow gringos, and most of your Panamanian friends are bilingual?

No, it’s not immersion. I’ve had to make many conscious decisions to force myself into Spanish conversations.

Immersion is immersion because you’re dumped in headfirst; you have to learn the language to survive. Surprisingly, I definitely do NOT have to learn Spanish to survive here. There are too many gringos here, too many Panamanians who know the basics of English.

Wrapping up…

Being in another country is priceless.

I can now see the United States, my country, with new eyes; fresh eyes. I can compare cultures, attitudes, lifestyles, mindsets, diets, personalities, etc etc etc. I hope that through my blog you can experience another culture as well.

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