Where Are You From? (Panama Trip- Part 1 of 3)

It’s been a month since I wrote my last blog post in which I told you all about my anticipated ten day trip to my motherland- Panama (Read here if you missed it: http://bigsisterdiaries.com/2016/05/tell-the-world-im-coming-home/ ) As soon as I got back, I jumped back into my busy routine. I tackled my what seemed like an endless inbox of Emails, handled some work crisis affairs, and completely failed to carry the serene state of mind I so desperately wanted to hold onto despite my impossible attempts to avoid stress at all cost. Does this happen to you too? Don’t you hate that?

Several of you have asked how my trip went and I’m so flattered that you care to get an update. My trip was overall incredible, inspiring, and eye opening in so many ways. Frankly, there are so many great things to share; I figured I would split up the posts. So here goes part 1:

Mami and I deplaned the Copa Airlines aircraft and followed the determined crowd into the Panamanian airport. We both agreed to stop in the restroom for some freshening up after traveling for ten hours before greeting our family on the other side. We walked into the crowded ladies restroom when one lady asked the other lady for the time. The stranger responded politely, “It’s two o’clock.” Mami and I immediately looked at each other as we couldn’t help but overhear their conversation.

“Did you hear that?” mami asked.

We smiled in the unspoken acknowledgement of the same thought.

“Yes.”

I knew exactly what mami was asking. She wasn’t referring to the time. We both knew what time it was. It was the familiar Panamanian accent that neither one of us is used to hearing. It’s so distinctly recognizable and brings us both so much comfort. Neither one of us carry the dialect that fondly reminds us of home. What a warm welcome!

Mami and I formed the lines to get through customs. I had to choose between Panamanian or Tourist. I quickly analyzed and made the decision within seconds. I have a U.S. Passport and I’m technically a visitor so I proceeded to get into the tourist line. It made the most sense to me. When called up, the Panamanian gentleman reviewed my passport and looked at my face with a puzzled look. He asked in Spanish:

“Why did you get in this line?”

“I have a U.S. Passport. Am I in the wrong line? I’m sorry.”

“Were you born in Panama?”

“Yes”

“Well then, you’re Panamanian”

“You’re exactly right”, I responded in obvious shame and a timid smile.

“You’ll always be Panamanian.”

He flashed me his crooked smile and marked my passport.

“Enjoy your trip in your beautiful land.”

“Thank you,” I responded graciously.

I smiled back at him understanding that once a Panamanian, always a Panamanian- no matter what my home address is.

Welcome sign after getting through customs
Welcome sign after getting through customs

That brief interaction as I was welcomed into my homeland got me thinking about the strange limbo state I sometimes find myself in.

I’m a proud first generation immigrant and I currently live in North Carolina. I’ve lived in North Carolina for fifteen years and this is the longest I’ve stayed in one place. Before North Carolina, I lived in New York, Pennsylvania and obviously Panama.

Have you ever read those articles that quiz you on your hometown or state? You’ve seen them right? “38 Signs you’re from (enter location here)” Anytime I click on those silly quizzes or buzzfeed articles from a place I’ve lived in, I read through them. I can usually relate to a lot of the points, but never all of them.

As an overachiever and a person that tends to put a lot of pressure on myself, I can’t help but feel a little embarrassment for not knowing every answer or relate to the culture in places I’ve lived.

I lived in the mountains in Pennsylvania in “snow country” and never went skiing. Most of my classmates hit the slopes on opening weekend and many came back in crutches the following Monday and throughout the season. I was honestly always scared to try it for this reason.

My husband once called me over to the window a couple years ago when he spotted a couple deer walking across our yard at night. He was excited about it, I thought it was so cute. It didn’t faze me because deer in the Poconos, PA. is an every day, multiple times a day typical sight.

If a bear ever showed up to rummage through our trash bins, I would be very surprised, but not at all frightened because this too is a typical occurrence in the Poconos.

Although I appreciate a snowless snow day in NC, I’ve experienced being truly snowed in for two weeks with five feet or more of snow outside. Thank you Mt. Pocono for showing me what real snow is like.

When my husband craves Bojangles, I give him the biscuit that comes with my meal every time. How can I live in the south and skip out on the biscuit? Do I bring shame to my current home state? I don’t have a favorite Nascar driver, but I love grits and drinking tea. Do I get some cool points for that?

When I go to NYC, I appreciate the overstimulation of all my senses. Visiting the city brings me back to when I used to spend every other weekend there in High School. In the city, I learned to walk fast paced. My husband thinks I’m a weirdo for walking so fast when out and about but I can’t help myself. Public transportation was our primary means of transportation for many years and if you don’t walk fast, you get left behind.

While in Panama during my trip, staying with family, and completely submerged in the culture, I was reminded of why I sometimes do, think and react in certain ways. It’s because Panama is my country of origin. It’s the culture I was first exposed to. It’s the people who raised me. It’s the humbleness, love, and joy I cherish. It’s the pride I never want to lose.

When people ask me, where I’m from, it’s sometimes difficult for me to answer because it’s never a one word response for me. I’ve lived in NC for fifteen years. At what point do you claim the place that you’ve lived in for the longest period of your life? Sometimes I respond with “well I used to live in New York and Pennsylvania before moving to North Carolina. I mostly answer, “I’m originally from Panama” because I realized that that’s the answer most people seek when they ask me where I’m from.

Where is home to you? Is home where your heart is? What does that mean to you? Where is your heart if the people you love are spread out around the globe? Where are you from?

Mami and me heading to board our flight to Panama. Check out the Panamanian flag up top
Mami and me heading to board our flight to Panama. Check out the Panamanian flag up top.

 

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