Just when I think I’ve acclimated to living in Central America, and I really got this, I hear myself say something to someone that’s just totally ignorant. Pfffft! And I wanna kick myself! Ya know? Sometimes I have the hardest time with really remembering just what a different world some of my new friends, workers and neighbors live in. Maybe I should give myself a little credit, I shouldn’t say I don’t understand, as much as I just sometimes, somehow, inexplicably sorta forget. As I spend time with Panamanians and feel as though I’m making friends and bonding with our crew of workers I occasionally get a little reminder of how foreign my ways must seem to them. I forget sometimes that we’re from a different culture and that our way is soooooooo not EVERYONES way. I don’t know why or how I could forget such a common sense truth, but, the truth of the matter is, at times, I just do. Humph… As much as I desire to assimilate and to fit in here with respect and admiration of the culture of my new home, I may never quite be able to shake what I’ve grown up with as my ‘normal’. It will always be a part of me in some way. My hope is that one day the many glaring differences may not seem quite so ‘different’ to me, because Its my goal to learn to acclimate to this place I now call home. Maybe someday I’ll have fewer of these ‘foot-in-mouth experiences. For the time being, I just gotta laugh at my faux pas and try to live and learn…
Here’s where it all goes so terribly wrong…. Oftentimes I think we’re all the same in many ways. When I say, “we”, I mean… you know, all of us people living on this here planet. Hah! I believe that, in part, this is sorta true and at the same time its sorta foolish to think such things. I think,(and Im aware that I could quite possibly be wrong), that when we get down to the bare bones of wants and needs in this life which we’re all living together, don’t we all want much the same basic things? Health, happiness, basic necessities like food and shelter. We all feel sadness, and happiness, we all hurt, we bleed, we’re all human after all, right? Doesn’t everybody want to love and be loved? So far, I don’t think I’m completely off base. And then I begin to think about some of the things in life,( well in life as I see it), that are basic human necesities ….like warm, dry shelter, food, and clean water, clothing, electricity, transportation, education…am I doing okay so far? Yep…but then here’s where I see that maybe what ‘I’ may see as ‘basic’ needs, just might not be exactly what many folks around me in my new life, necessarily feel they ‘must’ have in their life. I’ll just go ahead and tell you about what’s brought on this post…
The other day as I was driving my workers down the hill I said to them, “Cable Onda esta llegando a mi casa!”. Let me stop to explain to those who don’t live here in our little town..you see we have a few different options here for our internet and cable TV providers, which I may add to me, is a basic necessity (see where this is going? humph!) . Some more reliable and affordable than others. But the best, most reliable, and most cost effective is Cable Onda. Which until recently has been very limited to a few areas of Boquete. We currently use a satellite dish type of internet called Planet Tel-com. which we receive about 2megabits of internet speed for $150.00 a month. With this other company, Cable Onda, one can get 15-20 megabits of speed for about $30-40 per month! yikes! Thats a huge difference, right ? So, this last few weeks we’ve been watching as the cables have been installed up the hill towards our neighborhood and now we see it coming down our street…yippee! Everyone we know (well, okay, the gringos we know) really really want to have this particular internet provider where they live. Up until now only the lucky ones had access to it and now it looks like its about to become much more accessible.
So, back to my car full of my Panamanian employees and my foot-in-mouth experience. As you can imagine I’m quite happy about the prospect of getting a much faster and less expensive internet provider at our house. Wouldn’t you be? As I expected them all to relate to, cuz’ shrug, doesn’t everyone want faster internet at their house? Duh! So, as we drove past the guys on ladders installing the cables up to our neighborhood I mentioned how excited I am about it. I then asked them if they all have Cable Onda at their houses…a small laugh from the back seat, and then Javier, who was sitting up front with me looked over at me and smiled (silly gringa) and said, “no”, “no internet at our houses”….I said, “Really?”…and Javier says, with a smile on his face, “No, no internet, we have newspapers!”…hahahahahahah the back of the car breaks out in laughter! hah! No, they weren’t joking, they don’t have internet at their houses….Ugh..Oh! Um….sorry…(feeling pretty stupid)
Silly Gringa! What would make me just assume that everyone has internet at their houses? They earn an average of $115-120 a week. Most of them live their lives week by week and more often than not ask for small loans each week because they need it for something last weeks paycheck didn’t cover. They, mostly don’t have checking accounts, and most certainly have never even thought of having a credit card. They work to feed their kids and to contribute to other family expenses. And having internet is most likely not a common thing to have in their homes, and most certainly not a ’necessity’. They buy food and clothing and pay for school for their kids or their siblings. The money they make doesn’t go towards luxuries. Of course the occasional night at the local bar for beer is a huge splurge, which I know they naturally do indulge in now and then. Many of the guys and their families have hardly even explored outside of Chiriqui provence, or even seen the Caribbean side of Panama. They don’t think of going on vacation or of seeing the world. These people live life in a vastly different way than we do. They don’t aspire to have lots of material possessions the way we do. Not to say they don’t want nice things, but what they consider to be nice is not necessarily the same as what I would consider nice. We see life very differently in many ways. And this fact sometimes, to my horror, temporarily eludes me.
And that wasn’t my only foot-in-mouth experience this last week….nope, I had one other one that had me shaking my head at my propensity to assume some things. This time it was with Silberio. My new gardener, he’s a twenty one year old young man who grew up on the Comarca. As I’m sure I’ve written about before, the Comarca’s here in Panama are similar to the Native American Indian reservations in the states, but much more remote and primitive. He’s never worked for gringos before and was admittedly a little nervous when he first started working with me in my garden. He was very serious and seemed shy and extremely timid. I could feel his uncertainty of me and Scott as well as of the other workers who like to tease and harass each other all in good fun. “No me gusta bromas!” he told me one day with a very serious look on his face, when all the other guys were teasing him as they walked past in the morning. (I don’t like jokes). But now, about a month or so later he seems to have lightened up and understands that the guys are actually trying to befriend him with their teasing. I see them shake his hand in the morning and he’s managed to become one of the gang. This makes me so happy to see him warming up to this new experience. But, that’s not what I wanted to tell you… where was I?
Oh, yes…so, I was in the garden taking some pictures of the flowers with my iPad. Silberio asked me if I could print out some of the pictures for him so he can show them to his friends and to his mother. I said, “I can share them with you on Facebook.”……. Blank look of confusion…gulp! He had no idea what Facebook is! Nope. Can I hear…Silly Gringa! one more time…Ugh! Here I go again, assuming he’s just like any other 20something youngster I’ve come into contact with in the States. Not to say that kids here don’t use Facebook because many, and maybe even most are just as into social media as anyplace else in the modern world. But a young man who spent his life growing up someplace where electricity or indoor plumbing would be a huge luxury very likely would not have grown up using a computer and surly doesn’t have a Facebook account. I know this. But I still just assumed Silberio was on Facebook. Not surprising, but still kinda made me pause and take stalk of my knee-jerk assumptions.
I’ve been living in Panama for just over two years and I love it here so much. I’m learning and adapting and looking forward to the day that I have a deeper sense of feeling like I actually belong here. As for now, I’m still a newcomer who doesn’t know everything about living in a country other than the one where I grew up. But, my desire to learn and to adapt and assimilate to this new culture is one of deep and genuine determination. I didn’t move to Central America to continue experiencing life as I know it. I moved to another country to experience the way the local people live and to respect and understand it as best as I can is what I plan to continue to strive for with each passing day. I know I’ll never be Panamanian, of course not, I’m an American and that fact never changes. What can change is how I think and what I know about my new neighbors here in this warm, accepting place I now call home. Each time I have one of these foot-in-mouth experiences I learn something about not only the people and culture here but about myself. I learn about how narrow my own way of thinking can be and how much I still have to learn. And this, my friends is one of the BIG reasons we decided to become expats and to embark on this awesome Adventure! There’s so much to learn and to experience and each day I’m reminded that my capacity for learning and growing may never end, and this makes life so great! Not always easy, and sometimes a little embarrassing….But So Great!