April and Kevin in Kuna Yala, the northeast coast of Panamá

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Linda´s Visitor View

The following Visitor's View was written by our good friend Linda, from our Maryland Search and Rescue crew. She visited over Christmas (I know, we're trying to catch up from visitor sets two, three, and four!) with Tabassum, whose reflections are in their own separate post.

Q1: How was Panama what you expected?
It mostly was. I definitely expected it to be a mix of developed and undeveloped states and a culture that was mostly latin with some American influences. Other things I expected: seeing open air markets, seeing a contrast between money and poverty, and being stared at for being Asian/American.

(Linda and April in the boat to the island on an amazingly smooth Christmas Eve)

Q2: How was it different than what you expected?

The cost of living was cheaper than expected, the cities were smaller than expected, and the food was really salty, but the water really is safe to drink ;)

I was also surprised to find that Panamanians don't eat much veggies.

(Linda with a plantain bunch; Panamanians do eat lots of fruits)

There were also parts of Panama that felt like they belonged in Europe, like the touristy place (was it called Panama Viejo or Casca Antigua?) where cruise shippers go shopping. It was a pleasant surprise. I was not expecting something like it, but perhaps because I wasn't really expecting to spend much time in Panama City. Speaking of cities, the cities definitely did not feel like cities to me, perhaps because they're smaller than what I normally consider a city. Santiago felt more like an urban town, like a smaller city that spread in two-dimensions instead of three.

(Kevin, Linda, Tabassum, and April in the ruins of Panama Viejo)

Culturally, Panama was different from what I expected because there was a bit more diversity to it. I had no idea about the existence of so many different ethnic groups in Panama.

(Linda and Tabassum in a trendy part of Casco Antigua, with traditional ethnic Kuna Yala handicrafts displayed behind them)

Q3: What struck you about the USA when you returned home?

Things are much more regulated back home. There's better customer service, and there is an established system for everything. In Panama, it seems like you may not always get what you thought you're paying for. Example: In Panama, who knows if a taxi ride someplace will cost $2 one day or $6 the next? Or what could possibly be done if the postal service lost your mail? Prices and services are not well-defined, which bothers me a lot. At home, they are, and when things go wrong there is a system in place to right it (like when our luggage didn't make it back home with us. Eventually it was shipped back. I suppose this is comparable to the Panamanian postal service losing the mail, except you'd be lucky to ever see that lost mail.)

Q4: What was your best moment in Panama?

Hmm... I'd have to say it was towards the end of the trip, when we were at Tocumen International Airport. We were playing games, like Alien Baseball and the people at the airport were looking at us like we were crazy people. Normally I'm self-conscious and don't like doing things that draw attention to me or make me seem unusual to others, but I learned to just enjoy doing things in life with people I care about because people are free to look and think what they will. (Not that we didn't draw enough stares already).

(Linda at the airport to leave, behaving herself)

Q5: What did you find most interesting or most notice about Kevin and April's life in Panama?

Compost Toilet. There's a psychological barrier that I think would have to be overcome before people could use the compost from a compost toilet for their garden, and from a practical standpoint it makes sense to use it. From the standpoint of a slightly germ-phobic person like me, that barrier is pretty tough. After seeing (and using) the compost toilet and the compost pile in the yard though, I am a lot more comfortable with the idea of eating food grown using that compost.

(Linda and the machete, chopping down a banana tree to add to our compost pile)

April and Kevin's ability to rapidly speak in Spanish also struck me. I would have to say that being stuck on an island and having to use a language that I had only started to learn months before is a pretty impressive feat.

Q6: Free response - anything else you´d like to say about your trip and time here.

Amazing trip with amazing people. I just wish we had more time =) Oh, and the culture shock wasn't bad. It's interesting to see that Americans really are prudish compared to other cultures, but I find it interesting that violence (editor´s note: Linda may be refering to the fact that movies here tend to favor the violent themes.) and interesting fashion are both ok in Panama.

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