“There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” — Rumi
One year ago I moved to Panama on a whim. When Mom fell and fractured her hip, I immediately flew from San Francisco to Panama to be with her. While visiting for two weeks I received what I now refer to as *a calling* guiding me to move here. I was kind of shocked to consider this relocation since, at the time, I didn’t even like it here. Panama paled in comparison to San Francisco; it’s wasn’t nearly as beautiful, interesting, technologically sophisticated nor socially progressive.
But, as they say, no one leaves a great relationship. For all of the amazing things living in San Francisco provided me, the City and I were not getting along well. I wasn’t doing work I loved, I wasn’t being emotionally supported by my friends and family the way I wanted to be supported and I led an overly-independent, mostly single and often lonely life.
So after giving it just 2 weeks of thought, I packed up my California condo and brought Billy and The Maven with me to Panama. If I’d taken more time to think about it, I would not have moved. I didn’t have much of a plan, my Spanish was terrible and I would have to live with my parents. The transition was fierce.
So, yeah, I went from living alone to practically never being alone at home. Dad doesn’t get out much and there’s always someone here to help take care of him. I’d wake up in the morning and immediately have to talk to someone. Why are they talking to me? What are they saying? Is this really important before I’ve had my coffee?
I went from being surrounded by college friends, city friends and people my age at work to not having any friends at all. I socialized for months with family friends and people Mom introduced me to until I made new friends on my own. I accepted every invitation. I eagerly gathered numbers in WhatsApp. Every acquaintance was a possible BFF.
I also went from being overly scheduled to being able to fully control my time. Over the past year in Panama I’ve taken time to get settled — get a driver’s license, buy a car, get lost, find my way, register for health insurance, unpack, etc. — and to give myself a break from the hectic life I had created for myself. Back in the Bay each day was a long day due to work and commuting. Morning planning included tricky arithmetic as I tried to maximize efficiency in my personal life versus work requirements of me at work:
24 hours minus at least 9 hours sitting at a desk minus 1 hour for exercise minus 1 hour to get clean, dress and eat breakfast minus 2 hours for commuting minus 1 hour for dinner minus 7 hours of sleep =
an unsatisfying way to live
Undoubtedly, the best part of my new experience is that I lead a more fulfilling and intentional life. Surprisingly, my intent stems not only from a desire to create my Ideal Life but also from necessity. You see, it’s much harder for me to be a leaf-in-the-wind when I don’t like where the wind blows. Here I’m forced to figure out what I really want because the default kind of sucks. Things other people love to do or love about living here don’t really interest me. Not to sound like a snob, but chances are I’ve seen them done better or had a better experience doing that same thing somewhere else. I’ve bathed on beautiful beaches. I’ve partied at awesome street fairs. I’ve lived in and visited amazing cities filled with the best art and culture. Lots of things really are better over there.
But the incredible part of my intentional life experiment is that it’s actually working. About a year ago, I wrote a lengthy description of what my Ideal Life would look like. I remember feeling weird writing it, like who am I to declare to the Universe what I want? What makes me think I can actually have it? I mean, if it were this simple, why wouldn’t everyone do it? Don’t be silly, Laura, this won’t work.
Today I not only love reading my description but willingly share parts of it with others. Frequently I catch myself saying things like “My dream is to…” which I was way too embarrassed or scared to articulate before. And although I’m not yet doing exactly what I want to be doing, I’m certainly getting there. Here is a list of qualities I’m working to incorporate into my days:
Billy goes to work with me
I do not sit at a desk for 8+ hours each day
My days include doing more than one thing — I have several lines of works or projects
I work from home or office that is nearby
I have time for myself each day
My work and lifestyle allow me to be fully self-expressed
My work is location-independent and provides with me flexibility to travel
I work with people I like/ability to choose who I work with
I am respected in my community and have a positive impact
I enjoy sunshine and fresh air each day
I donate 5% of my earnings
The other amazing thing about my life is that I am opening to love. You know how I said I didn’t feel supported in SF? Well now I understand that being perfectly supported means being open to a deep level of love and support. Today I have more support than I could ever imagine simply because I choose to accept a level of support that has my greater good at heart. If abundance is being aware of and receiving what has already been provided, then I truly have an abundance of support in my life.
As I write this I’m nursing a slight cold. Mom and her scooter enter my room. “Laura, I have your honey and lime. And Naya is making you chicken soup.” Because I’ve already decided to juice for the day, the thought of eating chicken leads me to say something along the lines of, “No, I don’t want it. And don’t do me any favors.” Really, Laura?
You see, as much as want to be supported my ego still fiercely resists it. Yeah, I know, it sucks to be me. It also sometimes sucks for the people around me. A couple of weeks ago I met an amazing person at a party. We proceed to go on 4 dates in one week and one week later — since it was going so well, I suppose — I practically ruined everything one night for no reason. Crap. What am I doing? Why am I creating separation? While my change of location has created a real shift in my life, my complete transformation cannot occur until I change as well.
So that’s really what I’m up to, folks — self-discovery and transformation. Like it or not and whether I was ready for it or not, Panama is my crash course in creation and love acceptance. Not bad lessons to learn so I’m grateful to be in this ride.
You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather. ~Pema Chödrön
Hands down, my favorite thing about living in Panama is the weather. Of course it helps that I love, love, love the heat and totally prefer to sweat than shiver with cold. For 12 years I lived in San Francisco and, truth be told, I never got used to the chilly dampness there. I wore jackets year-round — heavy ones, like for skiing — and fell in love with my Bikram yoga studio because the heat greeted me like a bear hug.
If you’ve never visited San Francisco, it’s hard to imagine how chilly it can be considering it’s not only in California but also surrounded by warm areas like Oakland, Marin and the Palo Alto. Tourists regularly arrive in shorts and leave sporting $10 sweatshirts purchased in a desperate, trembling moment visiting Fisherman’s Wharf. Walking over the Golden Gate Bridge requires a windbreaker.
Here in Panama, numb fingertips, goosebumps and daily scarf wrapping are no longer part of my experience. My new challenge is to keep cool which means I wear sundresses and flip-flops most days and keep the sun off my face with a wide-brim hat. SPF is my new BFF. I look forward to going to the beach, swimming in my gym’s outdoor pool and enjoying the delicious breeze on nightly walks with my dogs. While friends complain about shoveling snow from their sidewalks in February, I plan a day trip to the San Blas islands.
Weather in Panama varies by location but basically we have two seasons — the dry season and the rainy season. The dry season lasts from December through May with temperatures between 80 and 90 degrees; our summer is winter in the United States, Canada and Europe — perfect for snowbirds. Mountain areas such as Boquete are cooler and windier and the Caribbean side of the country is more humid and rainy than the Pacific. The driest part of Panama is the Azuero Peninsula, where Mom and I attended the pollera festival, on the south coast. The hottest part of the country is around David, close to the Costa Rican border.
The rainy season lasts from May to November. Temperatures are about 10 degrees lower and we get rain most days — but usually just for a bit, like in Hawaii. At 1:00 pm I might think an evening bike ride will be canceled only to be pleasantly surprised by 6:00 pm that streets are dry and bikeable. Due to ample rain, vegetation here is lush. Trees and plants thrive. Panama never goes on Daily Savings Time as all days are the same length and we never gets hurricanes which is awesome.
Mom loves the blue sky. Each morning she gazes out her bedroom window and thanks the Universe for another beautiful day. Sometimes I walk in during her blue sky meditation and she shares her grateful thoughts with me. When affirming what is good here in Panama, warm weather and blue skies certainly are certainly at the top of my list – and Billy’s, too. Here he is sunbathing on the terrace. The heat is on, amigos. Come join us.
Yesterday was an all-around excellent day here in Panama.
Not only did I get to honor Mom, one of my favorite people, on Mother’s Day, but I received word that I won first place in the Expat Blog Awards 2012 for Panama.
Mom was excited.
Thank you, Mom, for always believing in me. And thanks to everyone who voted for me and reads my blog. I look forward to continuing to share my journey with you.
It’s a good life!
Dad always said, “Do what you love and money will follow.” More of a spiritual man than a religious one, Dad held deep faith in the universe and one’s own ability to be both self-fulfilled and financially successful.
From day to day, I’m not sure Dad understands what I’m doing here, that I live with him and Mom in Panama. Some days I enter the room and he asks, “How did you get here?” as if I just arrived from a long trip. Other days he asks me about school and when I will finish even though I completed my education over 10 years ago.
If I could, if I thought he would understand, I would summon up the courage to explain that I’m here to do what I love, that I’m finally taking his advice to heart by following my own heart. It’s not an easy road trying to figure out what ignites me and what I desire. And, of course, many days I’m filled with fear and doubt about whether this experiment, this enterprise, will work — if the money will indeed follow, if I’ll be able to permanently escape a traditional career path in exchange for one of my own creation, if I will be able to do work I love and earn a living simultaneously.
Some days I struggle to keep the faith that seemed to come so easily to Dad. Videos like this one are great reminders of what he knew to be true.
So fun! I wrote an article called A Born Again Panamanian and did English translation work for a new, stylish women’s magazine here in Panamá called Des Ubicadas. Here is a pic of my family, the magazine cover and article text.
A Born Again Panamanian
They say everything happens for a reason. What started as an accident turned into an opportunity to embrace change and create something new.
At 91 years old, Dad doesn’t leave the house often. Yesterday he woke up early and announced he was ready to go home. Sometimes this happens; he gets confused and doesn’t understand he is already home. Perfect time to take him out for a spin. I drive as Mom changes the dial to her favorite lite jazz station. I don’t know which I dislike more, lite jazz or salsa, but I’m having to adjust to both — and plenty of other new things — now that I live in Panama.
Even though I’d visited several times since my parents relocated to Panama 6 years ago, I had never considered moving away from California, my sister and friends, or even the United States. My parents left Panama when I was 2 years old so that my mother could pursue her dream of becoming a medical doctor. She was successful and fulfilled, in huge part to Dad’s relentless support and motivation. My sister Michelle and I enjoyed a comfortable and safe childhood growing up in St. Louis, Missouri. We both went to excellent universities and completed post-graduate programs. For 38 years, I led an incredibly blessed life abroad.
When mom fell and fractured her hip in April, I immediately flew here to be with her. Coincidentally, I was looking for looking for work at the time since I had just completed a one-year contract as an attorney at Google. Yes, working at Google was interesting, but eventually my experience became the same as with every other corporate job I’d ever had — totally boring. Plus, due to the long commute, every day was a long day. I was in the rat race and wanted out badly. So I finally gave myself permission to create my ideal life. I would only consider work that appealed to me. I would stop doing what I think I “should” do and start doing what I wanted to do.
Interestingly, I returned to Panama for the same reason my parents left it — to follow their hearts and create a better life for themselves and our family. I’ve returned to create a better life for myself, one filled with family and healthy interdependence rather than over-independence, stiff competition and stress. One could say I returned to the place I was born to be born again. I appreciate Panama now more than I ever have before because it offers me new opportunities, a chance for new ways of being. I’m getting to the know the culture I was never a part of before. My Spanish is improving tremendously. Together my mother and I are building a business. At the same time, I’m exploring my interests in foreign exchange investing, writing and teaching. My transition is taking place slowly but surely; Mom’s lite jazz bothers me less and less. All in all, it’s a good life.
Read more about Laura’s life in Panama at http://www.panamaguy.wordpress.com.
Today I realized I’ve been taking Dad’s nurse Ali for granted. Each morning Ali is on duty, Dad arrives at the breakfast table clean, shaven and dressed his four-course meal prepared and waiting for him to enjoy. Mom tells him how good he smells and that she loves him.
This morning Ali and I left the house early to shop at the farmer’s market leaving Mom in charge of Dad. When we returned about an hour and half later, our house was like a scene from the movie Mr. Mom. Dad is not shaven or dressed — he’s only wearing a white undershirt, no shorts and a has a towel resting on his legs for privacy. He’s sitting at the breakfast table, but there is no food for him. At the other end of the table lies a cereal bowl and yogurt container — Mom’s empties. With her back to Dad, Mom is sitting on the other side of the room playing Lumosity, her brainy video games. Billy, Sammy and Maven are excited to see me; they’re hungry and have no food either.
Ali, Dad’s second biggest advocate after Mom, assesses the situation and understandably is not pleased with Dr. Guy’s interim role as nurse. Mom admits she couldn’t really handle Dad this morning, that the best she could do was get him out of the bedroom, giving herself props for not leaving him back there all by himself. Ali points out that Mom ate breakfast but didn’t offer Dad anything — not even a glass of water. “But he just kept looking at me,” is all Mom can say. Apparently Dad was confused as to why Mom was taking care of him that morning rather than Ali. For sure all of us are grateful for Ali’s daily support; job security has never been easier to justify. For the record, Mom is not a bad caretaker. It’s just that some days are better than others.