Hi readers. I told you all that I had so much to tell you about my ten day trip to Panama in May/June in my earlier posts. (Read previous posts of my trip here: http://bigsisterdiaries.com/2016/06/where-are-you-from-panama-trip-part-1/ )
As you know, I had several worries going into my trip. I worried about traveling ten days without my husband, wanting to make the best out of my limited time with family members, and pressure to open up, become comfortable, and build relationships in the short time I was there. I don’t know when I’ll see them again so time was of the essence.
The time leading up to my trip I thought about how different my life would’ve been had I been raised by my family there. What if mom and I never moved to the States? Where would I be today? How would my profession be different? I wouldn’t have met my husband. I may not have the siblings I have today. What a crazy, strange world that would be?!
As I rode through my old town while I was visiting Panama, I wondered which apartment would be mine had I been living there. As I toured the Anton Valley, I dreamt of the possibility of returning as a retiree with my husband to stay at our vacation home that we would build and spend weeks at a time as we traveled around the globe.
All sorts of random thoughts crossed my mind, envisioning and day- dreaming of this alternate life that I would have if I only lived in another country.
I spent the first part of my trip with my mom’s side of the family. It had been strategically thought out and planned beforehand because well…my OCD kicks in when I don’t know what to expect.
Upon going through baggage claim at the airport, mami and I were greeted by my grandfather, aunt, and two cousins. Mami hadn’t seen her dad in two years. I hadn’t seen my grandfather in six. There were tears and hugs and a little bit of scurrying after some time, before we hurried to the car, as the airport charged three cents per minute for parking.
It stormed like I haven’t experienced before on the ninety minute drive in traffic to my grandmother’s house. The sky opened up above us and gave us her best as my cousin navigated us safely out of the busy city.
I observed the busy streets, cars committing all sorts of traffic infractions, insane amounts of tailgating, and honking that I’ve only other experienced in New York City. Mami reminisced her old usual stops in Panama city. She shared unsolicited stories of her favorite places to eat, her old college commute, and where her friends used to live. I took the sights in quietly from the back seat. The air outside was visibly humid and the greenery was bright shades I’ve only seen in Panama.
We drove up the gravel hill to my grandmother’s house, my old home. I can recognize that hill no matter how many years go by. Our family waited for us inside. We were greeted with lots of hugs and kisses on the cheek. The love, warmth, and affection this family shares is so comforting. It feels like an unfair luxury to know you are so loved by the family that you hardly ever see.
My uncle drove down to the bakery just for us. He knew exactly what time to purchase the fresh, hot bread, and white cheese for dinner. How did I forget where I got my whole breakfast for dinner tradition from? Of course, it all started here! I buttered my bread carelessly with the bright stick of butter. This was clearly not the Country Crock spread I’m used to buying. Calories don’t count while on vacation after all, so I hear.
I spent four days with my mother’s side of the family. I shared a room with my mom and my younger cousins. I slept in the same room I used to sleep in over twenty six years ago- so surreal. My aunt was sweet; she put the mobile fan in our room because she knew mami and I weren’t used to the Panama heat or sleeping without air conditioning. She handed us the OFF bug spray, my fragrance of choice for the next week or so.
I walked the property that I used to live in. It seemed so much smaller than what I remember it being. I guess when I was smaller, everything seemed so much bigger. I looked at where I watered the plants for my great grandmother everyday. My family still hangs clothes to dry today in the exact same place from years ago, except now it’s under a covered area. I used to hand my great- grandmother wooden clothes pins as she hung our clothes up on the line so many years ago. I looked out ahead where I used to run barefoot with my cousins all day. It brought me so much joy to sit and look out at the place where I have so many fond memories of.
To my surprise, each day I spent there, I found myself realizing all of the similarities of my life here and the life of my family members in Panama. For some reason, I got it in my head that we live life so differently. I failed to realize all of the similarities in our lives. And why not? Why couldn’t we have very much alike lives even though we live in different countries?
I got a tour of Colon city, my hometown, on my second day in Panama and again on my fourth day- there was so much to see. I was guided through my old residences, old school, dentist, and local places we frequented as a family.
I ate my way through the country, and was spoiled with all of my favorite treats. My cousins took me out for a night in Panama City, and I enjoyed getting to know them as adults. We learned that the three of us love to read and write- go figure (it runs in the family)! We chattered about each other and family and fearlessly touched on controversial topics to learn about how we think and process over a bottle of wine.
On my last full day at my grandmother’s house, before heading over to spend time with my father’s side of the family, my grandmother threw a large get together. Our uncle led us in prayer before our meals with a song that I swear I hadn’t heard in over twenty years. The words came to me and I sang along with a smile on my face in disbelief of the way our human brains work. This simple prayer song had the power to bring forth all sorts of memories.
Our family get together consisted of all of mami and my favorite Panamanian dishes and was followed with games. What started out as a lunch turned into an all day affair that ended at about eleven o’clock at night. We played card games, charades, and capped it with karaoke singing and salsa dancing.
Our family get togethers here in the States often turn into game nights and dancing and singing. Why did I think we were so original here? Mami looked so happy dancing and singing with her siblings. She gets into a zone where she dances and sings like no one is watching despite her crowded audience fully equipped with the stereo remote as a microphone. She was so comfortable; it was so much easier for her.
We gossiped and children played while the rain poured outside the sheltered space.
I’ve often wondered how different my life would’ve been if I were raised in Panama, and as stupid as it sounds, never quite focused on how alike our lives already are. We share likes, hobbies, worries, and stress. We juggle time between work, family, and volunteer work. We tour the world around us, eat the food we take for granted, and get angry about situations and at people in our lives. We get sick and we get better. We love our mothers, get annoyed at our spouses. We pray, we forgive, and move on to all the happy things, and the next worries of our busy world. So obvious, yet so far from my thought process.
Family isn’t perfect in Panama or in the States. Life isn’t perfect; it’s exactly what our life is supposed to be. We live similar lives, just thousands of miles apart. Why did this obvious thought not cross my mind before in amidst of my day-dreaming? How silly of me!