“Why I Chose Panama”

Crackle! Pop! Fizz!

It isn’t my morning cereal talking to me. It’s midnight on February 14, and the sound of fireworks has us all running to the balcony. Over Panama Bay, we watch flower and star-shaped formations explode into the night sky, then cascade into the Pacific.

Back in the States, Valentine’s Day would hardly be cause for such jubilation, but in Panama it is Carnival season. The dates change every year, so festivities can take place during the four days preceding Catholic Lent. One might say that Panamanians mark their calendars religiously, but Carnival is not about being good or saintly. Quite the opposite, in fact.

It’s the biggest party of the year…and like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, a rather debaucherous one. Today we’ve decided to watch—or listen—from above, rather than dive into the crowds milling about below. Salsa music is blaring from giant speakers, and I see kids, moms, grandmothers and grandfathers dancing in the street. From our vantage point it seems the pure joy of music and dancing has enveloped the city.

Growing up in Oregon I never saw anything like this. Life was quiet and our neighbors were (forgive me) too uptight to handle this kind of hoo-ha. The thought makes me smile, because it’s what I love about Panama. There are a lot of things that happen here that would never happen back north.

I could have moved here for the excellent healthcare…I remember not being able to afford a simple filling for a painful tooth when I was last in Virginia. Here I’ve found good dentists that will do it—do it well, and pain-free—for 50% less than what I paid in the U.S. over 10 years ago. But that’s not why I moved here…not really.

I could have moved here for the cost of living that makes it possible for me to have a cleaning lady or hire a physical therapist (to come to my home!) without worrying about making ends meet. It’s a nice plus…but not my main reason for staying here.

I could have even moved here for the solid infrastructure. The high-speed, wireless internet that makes it possible for me to research and write these articles and send them in so I’ll get paid. Or the electricians that rushed over as soon as I called in a power line that seemed about to fall.

But it’s the easy-going attitude that makes my life here a good one. It’s such a relief to be free (well, relatively speaking) from worry and stress.

Panamanians are truly kind, and don’t worry about being “PC,” so I never worry that I’ll unwittingly offend anyone with naïve questions.

If I have one of my “famous” curry nights and things get a little loud, I know my neighbors won’t complain. They’ll shrug and say: “it’s not every night…let her have fun.”

People here are forgiving about just about anything. If I can’t find my credit card at the supermarket, the next person in line doesn’t roll his eyes. (More often than not, I’ll get a commiserating “happens to me all the time” and a wink.)

If I have questions for my doctor, she takes the time to answer them, knowing that others will wait patiently.

And if at midnight on one of the best nights of the year, people want to set off fireworks, sing at the tops of their lungs, dance in the streets, or douse unsuspecting passersby with ice-cold water or even whipped cream—another Panamanian tradition that makes me smile—they absolutely can. No one complains, least of all me.

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