As you know, for the last few months, I’ve been living in a strange country with strange customs, language and laws (or unenforced laws – ie Stop signs are mere suggestions and lanes on the road are optional). I’ve been living in a place that is new and full of uncertainty, yet in me there is a distinct feeling of comfort, safety and hopefulness. Despite my lack of fluency in Spanish and knowledge of how things work here, I have felt at home since I first walked on the Panamanian soil. I felt welcomed.
I was remarking to my friend the other day while we were sitting in the mall food court that anyone from the States who was bigoted at all would have a difficult time here. They would be in culture shock. Everywhere you look, as evidenced in that food court, there is a sea of brown skin. All shades of brown intermingling with white skin and yellow skin. And white is the minority. It’s the complete opposite of where I come from. I see intermixed couples here all the time and it’s not a big deal. And you know what, the people are beautiful! They make such beautiful babies around here. The smiles that shine from their faces are beautiful. They’re a beautiful people, inside and out.
Panama truly holds the Melting Pot Title the US once claimed and no longer believes. The US seems to have become a nation that wants to close its ranks to newcomers when the original intent was to welcome all who came to our shores for refuge. It’s like we believe there is not enough to go around. Fear runs rampant. It pains me to see our wonderful country walk this path. Panama, on the other hand, welcomes all nationalities. It invites the world to join them, love with them, and prosper with them. And this after the Spanish invasion, the US trying to run their country, and Noriega doing a lot of damage.
It’s a true heartfelt welcome you receive. In the four months we have been here, I would say I have run across a handful of people who were not pleasant. Maybe they were having a bad day.
This place is a true melting pot that was ignited during the construction of the Panama Canal. All kinds of nationalities came here to build the Canal and then stayed, mingling with the locals and building families and businesses. All colors live here and mingle in their daily lives.
I love the friendly smiles and helpful attitudes of the people you meet as you go about your day. As long as you are respectful and polite, that is what you get in return. At the bus stations, in stores, in restaurants, in the grocery stores, on the streets, people look you in the eye and greet you, Buena or Buenas or Buenos Dias, but usually the short form Buena is used-which I liken to our casual Hi. It’s definitely helping me to overcome my reticence at greeting people. This is not a NY thing to do so it’s a stretch for me. And if you even look like you need help, understanding or directions, often someone will come over and offer aid. If you ask, they smile and help you if they can. It thrills and amazes me every time.
I ran across this blog entry today, it describes how I feel, and I was glad to read that it’s how the Panamanians feel as well.