Culture Creep

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pixbae

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. I’m finally becoming a real Panamanian. How can I tell? On my way to an appointment last week, I stopped for lunch at Deli Gourmet. I buy chicken salad and a bag of platanitos con limon, which I love, love, love and immediately scarf down.

Still hungry, I buy a dollar bag of pixbae, a squash-like fruit of the palm tree, from a woman in the street. I squeeze one in half, remove the tiny coconut pit and slather it with chicken salad. Delicious. Happily, I’m eating, driving and taking a pic of my lunch with my phone — at the stop light, of course. I then call a friend, get caught up in conversation and miss my next exit. No problem, I think, as I’ve learned from the best. I pull a quick u-turn and get back on track.

Unfortunately, I do this in front of a police officer while holding my mobile. Damn. I kind of deserve this one. But instead of fining me right away, he starts chatting and asks me why I don’t have a headset. I smile in a girlish way I’m not totally comfortable with and tell him I forgot it at home. I also offer him some of my pixbae and pollo — which he gladly accepts. Jajajaja — ticket avoided! Buying food while driving, flirting with a police officer and offering him tasty eats is not something I would ever have done in the U.S. But I’m experiencing culture creep, the slow and subtle integration of local norms, and seeing it as a good thing — even if my questionable driving habits are not.

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Notes on My One Year Panama Anniversary

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“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.

The Top 8 Ways Living in Panama Can Make You Sexier

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Panama consistently appears on lists of top places to live since it rates high as a retirement haven.  But did you know moving to Panama provides all of the elements to make you sexier — to transform you from humdrum to Don Juan?  Yes, our special mix of central geography, developing economy and international culture create the perfect storm for your animal magnetism to spring forth.  Come strut your stuff, feel invigorated and experience a level of sex appeal you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.  Here’s how:
1.      Secret Ingredients
Coconut Bathed Skin
Feeling sexy starts with looking good.  Clear skin, shiny eyes, and plump lips are easy to maintain when you feed your body the best stuff on earth.  Luckily, Panama has an abundance of local fruits and vegetables with healthy benefits to supercharge your appearance.  I know, this probably doesn’t sound very sexy, but trust me, it’s important. Your hair, nails, and skin will thank you for receiving daily doses of antioxidants found in Panama’s delicious tropical bounty.
Papaya, available year-round, is great for the skin; it helps get rid of ugly acne and unclogs dirty pores.  And coconut oil, another highly available super-duper food, gives skin a shimmery, irresistible glow when rubbed all over.  A full gallon – which is like a year’s supply – only costs $25 at Mercado de Abastos.  At this price, it’s easy to look younger and more beautiful.  Naturally, you will make people swoon.
2.      The Price of Beauty
Personal Training in Paradise
If you’ve ever had the experience that “it takes a village* — between a stylist, manicurist, masseuse, trainer, acupuncturist – to consistently look and feel good, then you’ll love all of the inexpensive services Panama has to offer.  Hire someone to do all of your cooking and cleaning for $120/week.  For lunch, order delicious, low-calorie French meals prepared by La Petite Diet.  They deliver lunch to homes and offices for just $10/meal.  Create a killer body with an at-home personal trainer for just $30/session.  Living like a celebrity is within your reach.
3.      Sultry Sports
With our without your own personal trainer, finding fun ways to exercise – which increases your stamina and releases feel-good hormones — is easy here.  Within City limits, you can take a dance class at PowerClub, run along the Cinta Costera, ride your bike on the Causeway or hike to the top of Ancon Hill.  Outside of the City, you’ll find plenty of world-class activities – like surfing, diving, and sport-fishing – to keep you engaged and help you attract more admirers.
4.     Ladies Got Back
But, hermanas, please, don’t overdo it with the exercise!  Panamanian men prefer women with curves so you can stop worrying about losing those last 10 pounds.  Yes!  This is true.  Quit spending hours trying to reduce the size of your rump because the more pert and rounded it is, the stronger the sexual signal to men.  Stop asking “Does my butt look big in these jeans?” and start asking, “Does my bootie look big enough?”  Bienvenidos a Panama!
5.      Heat and Greet
Short-Shorts are Always In Fashion
Panama’s favorable, warm weather offers the perfect backdrop for arousal.  Investing in a new wardrobe is inexpensive since you don’t have to buy pricey boots or coats to cover you in cold weather.  Go ahead and shop for sexy new dresses, skirts, trendy shirts and shorts.
Plus, since we don’t fear catching a chill, we’re totally free to show some skin.  Girls on Barlovento’s rooftop bar bring racy short-shorts back in style.  And to keep cool men leave shirts appropriately unbuttoned, which invites peeking in on macho pecs.  In February, when suckers in winter slumberlands are bundled up, complaining about shoveling snow, Panamanians are enjoying Carnival at the beach with friends.  If the choice is between a  parka or a swimsuit or pasty, colorless skin or sun-kissed skin, it’s really no contest on the titillation barometer.
6.     Stress is Out

La Vida Tranquila

It’s safe to say that expats in Panama lead relatively stress-free lifestyles.  Maybe it’s a by-product of Panamanians’ “tranquila” attitude or the ability to slow down from the rat-race most of us leave behind or both.  Whatever the reason, it’s possible to find room and time here to relax, to enjoy yourself and soothe your senses.  Plus, thanks to the positive effects of sunshine, people here are generally happier and smiling makes us sexier.

7.     Confidence is In

Sex appeal is about attitude — when you feel sexy you are sexy.  And nothing is more important to feeling sexy than self-confidence.  When self-esteem is low, we underestimate our own allure and overestimate other people’s.  When it’s high, we are captivating and charming.  When you move to Panama, your self-confidence will naturally increased.  Instead of feeling like everyone else back at home, here you’ll be different, not the standard issue of career and educational background, which will make you more attractive.  You’ll be free to take more risks here than back home.  Creating a new life in a new place is challenging.  But each new risk builds confidence and confidence is most certainly sexy.
And, men, thanks to more traditional gender roles, you’re free to *be a man* here — to show how useful and strong you are.  Shed the “identity crisis” that comes with living among serious feminist compatriots and return to your innate biological instincts to provide and protect without having to question and doubt your behavior.  Because gender roles are less progressive here, it’s easier for men to be confident in knowing what to do.  Nobody likes arrogance or machismo.  But everyone likes a self-confident man.
8.      You’re Not in Peoria Anymore
Rooftop Pool at Manray Hotel
Panama City is not Peoria.  Far from it – our international ethnic melting pot is loaded with bars, clubs, restaurants, high-end hotels and other big city temptations to seduce your senses and engage your desires.  Move your hips to salsa at Li Bar, loosen your limbs swaying to Cuban jazz at Vieja Habana, or make eyes with a fellow Latin Lover while dancing through the night on Calle Uruguay.  In Panama, the world is your aphrodisiacal oyster.
Care to join me?
This article is part of an expats blog writing contest which ends March 29, 2013.  If you liked what you read, please leave a like or comment by clicking here.
Gracias!

Driving in Panama — A True Adventure

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Nine months ago when I first moved here, I drove like an American.  I remember coming to a complete stop at an intersection near my home and immediately being honked at by the car behind me.  At the time, my reaction was “What the heck!?  Why are they honking?”  Now I have no reaction.  If I reacted every time a car honked at me on the road, I would be a trembling mess.
When Nikki Giovanni said love is the only true adventure, she’d obviously never driven in Panama.  For sure, driving in Panama is an *adventure* — and I use this word as a euphemism for *disaster.*  Between the other drivers, roads under construction, closed avenues, and rubbernecking past the daily car accident, navigating city streets feels like conquering a chaotic obstacle course.  Breaking, swerving and merging all seem to occur simultaneously.  Dodging street vendors and hefty potholes takes special attention.  So does driving behind someone distracted by txting or talking carelessly on the phone with little regard to the road you’re both sharing.
Chalk that up to a regular day.  Heaven forbid you’re caught in special circumstances like a seasonal flooding or that you venture out during “quincena” — one of the two major paydays each month.  Then you might as well surrender all expectations, give up hope in trying to arrive at your destination on time, and carefully start calling to apologize for being late.  Don’t worry.  “Tranque” as an excuse, although totally overused, is still absolutely acceptable.  Even the best planners — myself included —  get thrown off-schedule by unexpected road closings or the world’s worst gridlock.

driving4

Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad drivers here.  Even worse — a number of them are employed as city bus drivers.  In my experience, they are the most dangerous of all.  Unlike little, yellow, tin can taxis, buses are huge and carry lots of people.  But this doesn’t hinder their hack handlers from squeezing, merging and speeding in a way that both manipulates and ignores the traffic around them.  Do not play offense with them; they are bigger and stronger than you and they will win.
If you’re not much of a driver in the States, it’s safe to say you’ll hate driving here.  My advice to you: get a chauffeur.  If you have the means, I highly recommend it.  Personally, I do not have the means; plus, my personality isn’t that of one to be driven.  I like the challenge of finding my way around, getting through, getting away with things, getting by.  If you prefer to drive yourself like I do, then prepare to be surprised.  Every single day I see another driver do something shocking I’ve never seen before.  The day I feel totally confident in anticipating Panamanian driving behavior will be the same day I create my own accident.
And, trust me, accidents do happen.  My brother was in a serious wreck last month and spent several days in the hospital.  About one week ago, a friend of a friend was killed while driving his scooter.  It’s no exaggeration when I say driving in Panama is a matter of life and death.  The result is that I’ve actually slowed down, chilled out and heightened my awareness.  I strive to keep calm and carry on.  When someone cuts me off, I remember that arriving one second sooner is not more important than arriving safely.  In the meantime, I’m searching for a middle finger bobble head.  This will help me keep both hands on the wheel rather than having to lower my window to flip the bird.  Safety first!

In Panama You Are the Sky

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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.

BillySun

How to Be Younger Next Year

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For most of my adult life, I’ve been a fan of health and fitness.  I started running at Stanford my sophomore year, completing the 4-mile loop with increasing levels of stamina, and went on to participate in 5 full marathons in San Francisco, Honolulu and Los Angeles.  Living in chilly San Francisco over the past few years, I became a huge fan of Bikram yoga; I loved the heat and the incredible all-body workout so much that I willing put up with and took classes from*yoga nazi* Darius, owner of Funky Door (more like Funky Odor) as regularly as my schedule allowed.

Now that I live in Panama with aging parents — Mom is 72 and Dad is 91 — I am even more tuned-in to the importance of staying healthy.  Yes, I’m still terribly concerned with my figure, with being *as cute as I can be* and with staying in shape.  But I’m also newly motivated to be healthy and strong in order to enjoy the extended quality of life fitness offers.
About 10 years ago, Dad stopped exercising while living with Mom in Gardernerville, Nevada.  Since I wasn’t there, I’m not sure what happened exactly, why he decided to give up taking care of himself through exercise.  Mom encouraged him to continue his nightly walks, but being a somewhat stubborn individual, he chose not to listen.
He also stopped engaging himself in projects, stopped stimulating his mind.  For many years in St. Louis, Dad owned and managed apartment buildings which he was always busy fixing and renting.  After moving to Gardenerville, he no longer had his business to keep him occupied.  He also didn’t have any hobbies.  Dad didn’t play golf or tennis or go out with buddies to drink beer.  He was a generous person but not one to volunteer his time at non-profit or take up community activities.   Dad’s hobby was working, being up to things, making them better, and earning money.  Once he stopped doing those things, he slowly started to disconnect.
Mom, on the other hand, has always been a connector and, therefore, interested in staying connected.  She *retired* from medicine when she moved to Nevada and then started a totally new business in a new field and founded a non-profit organization here in Panama.  She witnessed Dad’s entire ageing process and made a personal commitment to create a different experience for herself.
Unfortunately, Mom fell and fractured her hip last year; she is still working very hard to recover.  Luckily her injury was not worse.  Did you know that twenty percent of women who fall down and break a hip die within one year?  Or that hip fractures kill more women each year — about 300,00 — than breast cancer?  Twenty-five percent of women who break a hip will end up in a nursing home.  And twenty-five percent will be at home, but dependent on a wheelchair or walker to get around the house, and dependent on someone else to get through each day.
I learned these facts reading Younger Next Year for Women, which I purchased because Suzanne Sieloff recommended it.  I don’t know Suzanne but came across her on BodyBuilding.com and was totally motivated by her transformation.  Here are her pics at ages 45 and 50.  Pretty awesome.

Younger Next Year stresses the importance of staying engaged as we grow older and also strongly encourage readers to exercise six days a week, two of those days reserved for lifting weights.  Through facts and anecdotes, it tries to create a sense of urgency around working out, thereby allowing us to avoid emergencies.

So start now.  Do something physical each day.  Do not give up.  If you don’t already participate in sports, find something you like to do and do it.  And go to the gym as well.  That’s where the big heavy weights are waiting to be picked up.  Don’t worry — you can put them right back down.  Yes, I know it’s not easy.  Even though I love to workout, I often struggle to fit it into my schedule or bail because I don’t feel like it.  Then I remember the alternative — eventual vascular dementia or fractures due to silent, creeping osteoporosis.

Suddenly a long walk or short run on the treadmill doesn’t seem so bad.