(Ginna, April, Kevin in Peace Corp office)
Panama was about what we anticipated, especially in the more rural areas. Although we had no initial expectations, based on what information K&A offered in their blogs and pictures, the rural areas were pretty much like what we had seen. Panama City was bigger and more urban than we thought with traffic heavier and noisier than expected.
We were also surprised at how far behind that major city was in infrastructure, such as sewer and water. Also surprising was the amount of construction going on. We were impressed by the public bus transportation system, not that it always ran on time, but that it always ran and that the driver would stop and pick people up anywhere along the way. Buses were crowded and noisy either with chatter or loud music. The people were friendly and beautiful.
(Boarding a bus with all our gear after shopping for supplies)
Q2: How was it different than what you expected?
The climate was even hotter and more humid than we anticipated. I (Ginna) often felt that it did not take long for me to appear worn out and in need of another shower.
(Ginna and Dennis after a long, hot walk)
Den thought there was more trash in the city than expected, Gin disagreed. It is always surprising to see so many “American” companies and eateries in a different country (Dunkin Donuts, Target, Subway, etc.)
I don’t think we could really get a feel for the island and those who lived there until we were actually there. Where were the comfortable chairs? You can only last so long in a hammock, but people there did not seem to miss “stuff” that we are used to. We were very impressed by the cleanliness of the people in such a warm climate – children in clean school uniforms every day.
And tales and pictures of beautiful, elaborate costumes for special occasions and parades.
We always felt “safe”, whether in a big city or small town – I did not anticipate this, and it may have been because we were with K&A who were familiar with their surroundings and able to communicate.
Q3: What struck you about the USA when you returned home?
All the English-speaking people – it does not take long to get immersed in a different language, not that we picked up any more than a few words of greeting while in Panama.
All the “stuff” and the high cost of things, especially food – although we had probably anticipated this reaction.
Q4: What was your best moment in Panama?
We did enjoy getting to see the Canal and Panama City and learning more about some of the history of the area.
Even more we liked the smaller towns where we were the only “gringos” and got to see everyday Panamanians and some of the beautiful scenery of the rain forest.
(Ginna in the rain forest)
But I think we would both agree that our favorite time was on the island – to have a chance to see what our kids have been doing, how they have been living, how they interact with their community, and to have an opportunity to get to know some of their neighbors, especially the children – and even to take part in a small way in some of their projects.
Q5: What did you find most interesting or most notice about Kevin and April's life in Panama?
We were very impressed by the inventiveness and creativity with which they renovated and furnished their living space. We were amazed that they were able to bring large, heavy articles to the island in a small boat and then get them ashore – things like concrete blocks, sinks and bed frames.
As inveterate recyclers, we are used to re-using and recycling, but they go to the next degree. Nothing is wasted – there are multiple uses for 5 gallon containers and plastic bags and bottles. With limited tools and supplies, they were able to complete multiple major undertakings.
We were also impressed with the way they have adapted to their living conditions and their ability to communicate and make their way in a different culture, both on the island and in the city. They appear comfortable navigating personal communication and travel arrangements, if not with total ease, then at least with confidence. We felt very comfortable with them as tour guides and hosts.
Q6: Free response - anything else you´d like to say about your trip and time here.
Other things that impressed us:
- Compost toilet was all that had been promised – non-aromatic, efficient and easy to use
- April’s efficiency in cooking on a propane stove in the dark
- How white, tall and skinny Kevin looked next to everyone else
- K&A’s ability to manage with no electricity
- Ginna’s ability to manage with no hair dryer
- Everything that a machete can do
- K&A’s ability to joke in a foreign language
- The wide range from apparent poverty to civilized comfort in the country (of course, this could be said of the US also)
Of course, the best part was just spending time with Kevin and April. Our visit really gave us a feel for what they are doing and experiencing. We (and all of their friends and family) miss them, so we feel very happy and fortunate that we were able to make this visit and have time to just talk and do things together, while learning more about Panamanian culture – and our own kids.
(Dinner in Bocas del Toro)
(Dinner in Casco Viejo)