Although Panamanian culture has a very easy and slow-going mentality, things here are always in motion. As I use the internet at New York Bagel, the password catches my attention: turnitoff. Turning it off is something I have not been doing since I was little, and it is a hard habit to adopt. People in the city are either working or taking a break, constantly interacting with each other in a friendly yet brisk manner. They can communicate faster than anyone I know in the states. Not only is the Spanish here spoken quickly, but the nonverbal communication is more powerful and passionate than what North Americans are used to. Friendly words are spoken with harsh gestures, and angry words are shouted vehemently. Conflicts are quickly resolved, mostly because a common understanding of right and wrong is evident and respected. It is exciting to finally feel like a part of a place rather than a blatant outsider, but it most definitely takes time.
Similar to the city, San Miguel language is heartfelt and direct. We are still the gringos of the town, but as we get to know more of the people the process of understanding becomes easier. Gaining the trust of a community is a delicate process, and can easily be broken. As a part of the Community Outreach team, I have had the opportunity to interact with many people, most often the kids but also their parents, who mostly work in town in fondas or stores. Parents care for the wellbeing of their children, and teaching and coaching is hopefully making a positive difference in their lives that the parents appreciate. The kids we teach in the school are some of the most energetic, smart, and loud youngsters I have ever seen. I have often heard the phrase “children are the future,” yet have not felt it as strongly as I have here. The parent/child resemblances are uncanny, and watching children growing up together in a small community as peaceful as San Miguel gives me so much hope for their future as well as that of the place they live.
Coaching soccer and teaching in the school have been hectic at times, but the nonchalant schedule of Panama and San Miguel in particular gives way to an easier and more enjoyable way of life. On Wednesday we got the chance to go to La Mesa to watch our kids and other schools in the San Martin county participate in a desfile, or parade, of ecology (Lea’s blog Desfile Ecologico). We spent the day like proud moms, taking pictures of the costumes and drum lines. There was an assembly of speakers and performers showing their appreciation and concern for the well-being of the environment, and the winner of the best mural won a digital camera or television for their school. The boys had a soccer game in La Mesa after, which they did really well in.
My main intention has been to not worry and turn off anxious thoughts while still living in the moment and learning from my mistakes. Taking time for myself or going on walks down the river with different people is a necessary and relaxing activity, but I find myself bonding with everyone no matter what we are doing. All I know is that the more time I spend in San Miguel and Panama, the harder it is going to be to leave.