We have been living in Panamá for just over 3 months now. We've spent the majority of this time getting settled into our new life. Daniella is thriving in her second international school, making me proud every day. And while she's busy doing that, I'm busy working on everything else from securing our Visas, catching up on doctor and dentist appointments, filling our apartment with necessities, and working more than full time at my corporate job. This leaves very little time for anything else, but I have no complaints. Rather, it's quite the opposite. For me, this entire process of immersing, adjusting, learning, and navigating life in a new country is one of the best parts of living abroad. While extremely frustrating at times (especially when you are also learning a new language), the journey has been filled with a lot of laughter (I mean a lot!). Going through this with my little soulmate has been exceptionally rewarding. but more importantly, it's giving us life skills that you just don't get from staying within the confines of your comfort zone.
This post is a collection of random thoughts about life in Panamá that have been the center of many conversations with my brave, amazing, resilient daughter.
1) We live on the 50th floor of this amazing high rise. And, many of our destinations outside of our apartment also involve riding in elevators. We have learned that it's customary to address everyone that gets on the elevator with "Buenas" (see next musing for more on this word, as this is a unique to Panamá thing). And, when people get off the elevator, everyone says "Hasta luego" or "Ciao". I watched a mother scold her young daughter for not saying a greeting, which indicates to me, that Mom was teaching her proper Panamanian elevator culture. Mind you, this is very different than elevator culture in NYC where Daniella grew up and I spent over 11 years of my life. There, people get on the elevator and either look down, pretend they are busy on their phone, or just stare straight ahead as to avoid human contact. I prefer the Panamanian way and it's super cute to hear Daniella say Buenas and Ciao! <3
2) In addition to the elevator greeting, "Buenas" is a greeting that is often used when you walk into a store, get into an Uber, pass someone on the sidewalk, greet the security guards, etc. The word translates to "Good". From a language perspective, it's usually followed with another word like "tardes" (afternoon) or "noches" (night). It felt weird to me to just say "Good!", but both Daniella and I have quickly adopted this greeting. When in Panamá do as the Panamanians do, right!?
3) Another unique Panamanian language nuance is using the word "Joven!" to get someone's attention. "Joven!" means "young". But here, even if you are trying to get the attention of someone who isn't young, that word is used. I haven't been able to bring myself to this yet. I say "Amigo!" or "Amiga!" Or I would say Senior or Seniora to someone older, though in all honesty in my 3 months here, I haven't had to get someone's attention, so we will see how this evolves with my continued time here.
4) The driving here is just crazy. I thought Manhattan driving was insane, but this brings loco to a whole new level. The first observation we made was the use of the horn! As Daniella says, "Panamanians are married to their horns!". For context, in San Pedro, Belize (where we lived the year prior to moving here), people use their golf cart horns to say "hi!", or because they think you're cute/hot. It took me a while to learn that, and I used to get stressed out every time someone would honk at me. I would think "what the heck am I doing wrong!". One night Daniella and I decided to have a little fun and we drove all over the island honking at men I thought were hot. We were dying laughing. It was one of those memorable moments that will stay with us forever. However, the use of the horn here is very much like Manhattan, but even more pronounced. When you walk outside, all you here is a cacophony of horns. I'm pretty sure people honk at the lights because they don't turn green fast enough! One day I was waiting for my Uber on the street and there were horns honking everywhere as usual. All of a sudden, a man crossing the street in my direction yells to me, "por acá!" (over there) pointing to a car that was directly behind me trying to back out. This car had been honking at me for a good 3 minutes and I had no idea it was because horns have become background noise (oops!). I think reading The Boy Who Cried Wolf should be a part of the driver's test to get one's license! Use your horn only when needed or it becomes useless!
5) Since arriving here, one of my biggest barriers is the language. However, in 3 months I have come such a long way! One of my favorite things to do is watch shows I absolutely love like Law & Order SVU in Spanish (La Ley y El Orden UVE) with different Spanish subtitulos! For some reason, this is really helping me learn! I write phrases on flash cards as I watch. And, hearing Ice Tea in Spanish is just hilarious. I've also started watching Chicago Fire (also in Spanish with different Spanish subtitles), and I'm proud to say, I can understand the entire show! Recently, I had to go to the electric company to dispute a bill. This place is 1000 times worse than going to the DMV or post office in the states. There was no one to help me and I refuse to use the real time translator apps. And, I did it! I also had to go to the bank to pay for Daniella's school uniform to avoid an international wire transfer. I nailed my Spanish! These moments make me so proud and they help balance the days that I feel like I'll never understand anyone here. Poco y poco, I'm getting there. I'm determined.
6) I absolutely love hearing Panamanians talk. While I seemingly chose a country where the Spanish is even more difficult, I think the accent and the way they talk is beautiful. One of my doctors here told me that Panamanians drop the last syllable of many words and blend all the words together. Couple that with the rapidness with which they speak and it can be nearly impossible to understand. But for some reason, I just love hearing it.
7) Since coming here, I've been to the doctor a gazillion times. I had to catch up on all my regular appointments that I didn't do while living on the island of San Pedro. Daniella and I finally got to the dentist; we are dealing with a mandibular issue she has; we saw an amazing child psychiatrist for Daniella's ADD; I had a chest x-ray; I had my routine bloodwork; routine female doctor, etc. While I have medical insurance in the states, I don't have it here, but am in the process of getting it for casualties that God willing won't happen to us. But the cost for all of these more routine appointments, labs, x-rays, and medications are extremely affordable. And, the doctors are top notch. Medical tourism is something Panamá is known for and something I've been able to experience first hand.
8) I absolutely love my apartment. We got the model unit in a brand new building, which means it's furnished perfectly. The views from 50 floors up give me an unprecedented sense of calm. On one side we overlook parts of the city and on the other, we have views of the Pacific Ocean. There is no window covering in my shower that has a floor to ceiling window. While no one can see in because it's so high up, it felt weird being naked showering with no window covering. But, now it feels a quite liberating. The building has amenities that allow Daniella to go hang out with her friends (that also live in the building) and I don't have to worry about her, because it's very safe here. And, she's even started walking home from school with her friends (something that still terrifies me because of the crazy drivers). However, this is my absolute happy place. (Some pictures below)
9) I absolutely LOVE the rain storms here. It rains a lot in Panamá. I was told that it rains ~200 days out of the year. On many days and nights, either around 2-4 PM or in the middle of the night, the sky becomes ominously dark. The storms are often accompanied by the most spectacular lightning show and roaring thunder that can make you stop in your tracks. Seeing this from 50 stories up has given me a view that I've never experienced and it never ceases to remind me of just how vast the universe is and how small we are in it. These storms are always thought provoking and inspiring to me. I'm pretty sure I'll never get tired of them.
These are just some of the random thoughts I've had since living here. Both Daniella and I are loving this journey of navigating our life in a second different country, so far. While we've definitely had moments of culture shock, we have each other and the strength of our relationship carries us through. We spend a lot of time talking about funny experiences we had living in Belize and in living here, so this house is not only filled with so much love, but also so much laughter. Our life journey took us here, but this is only home base. We are planning to go back to San Pedro in December and then we are still deciding where we'll spend her Christmas break. Costa Rica and Colombia are top of the list, but we will see where the tides take us. The summer may take us to Spain, Italy, and Greece, as this is the top of Daniella's list. What I do know for sure is that we will achieve our goal of seeing as many countries as possible in our lifetime. I'm eternally grateful to have the opportunity to do so and to have a daughter who loves traveling as much as me. This mother-daughter duo is going to conquer the world while enjoying every step of the journey as much as the destinations! <3<3<3
Daniella made this video which she'll continue to add to. There's a picture from every place we've lived (NYC, AZ, Belize, and now Panamá) with the backdrop being our song.
Some pictures of my happy place in the sky.