so… this is really difficult to do… for me… and for us as a family.
One would think that 7 weeks off, in a foreign country, on the 10th floor of a fabulous beach condo would be an easy venture. On one level, it really is a beautiful adventure for us.
This is quite the adventure for us as a family. My wife and I are celebrating our 18th anniversary this month, my kids are 13 and 11 years old and we are making some of the most fantastic family memories of our lifetime. We have taken escapades to the beach together.
We walked for almost 2 hours down the beach and back, with nowhere to be in a hurry. We saw a loose herd of cows even walk through the gate in the fence at the beach and come out onto the sand to play in the waves lapping up on the sand. It was something we’ve never encountered.
We went to the zoo at El Valle de Anton to see the birds, frogs and ocelots. We were on our way to the market for our lunch when we met Becky who runs the Golden Frog B&B at the end of the road in El Valle. She asked where we are from and made a quick connection with us. She said, “Oh, I grew up riding my horses down 202 on Redmond Way some 40 years ago. I moved here to Panama 35 years ago, and bought this little bed & breakfast place 6 years ago. I love it here.” We are finding what a truly small world it is.
We drove to the Mira Flores observatory of the Panama Canal and spent a few hours learning about commerce, trade, and shipping. Some ships pay nearly $300,000 dollars to traverse the canal, which saves them nearly twice as much money in fuel from having to travel farther around the South American continent. One guy payed $0.36 to swim the canal in 1924 from one end to the other. Everyone pays a toll.
We have plans to visit much of the country, even to the Caribbean side of the Isthmus where they say Christopher Columbus landed to explore. One thing we are finding here is that the culture is very slow. Very slow. Much slower than anything we’re used to at home in the NW, which leads me to think, on another level, how difficult of a shift it is for our family to unplug… we aren’t used to this slow pace, or this inability to communicate with culture (in Spanish), or this exclusionary foreigner feeling we get when walking into a supermarket, or this constant ‘out of place’ sensation here.
It really takes some work to get used to living in a foreign country. Something we have noticed clearly now, numerous times, is the intuitive sense of being “inconvenient” to people here. When we ask for help with something, like finding an item in a grocery store… we get the similar reaction many times. A roll of the eyes, a quick exhale, a subtle shake of the head and then they walk past us directly to the item we’ve asked for, place it in our hands and walk away, all the while as if to say, “Are you kidding me, you don’t know how to find that? I bet you haven’t even looked for it yet have you.” It doesn’t happen every time, for there have truly been some who have rescued us from that desperate isolated feeling of “I’m feeling lost here”.
In this “learning to unplug” we are taking time to read, journal, pray, be silent and stay put each day too. The benefit of being foreigners in a slower country than our culture provides at home is this forced feeling of ‘slowing down’ to enjoy the relaxed pace of life too. It’s only been 14 days, but my kids each said today, “wow, time is going by faster than we thought it would.” Without all the creature comforts of home (Kris and I actually turned off our cell phones and left them at her parent’s house for the summer) hearing words like that from our kids is a good sign that we are still learning to unplug.
On the way out of town I pass by an aged blue truck (someone who knows trucks will be able to identify it and tell me what it is). It’s up on blocks, out in front of someone’s home, off the road, not even parked in the driveway. It’s like a metaphor each time we pass by. “Take time to unplug”, take the wheels off, get off the road, sit a while and just be present. Sure, this truck was made for more than this… to transport people and cargo, and to go places. But for a time, it’s okay to unplug, pull off the highway of life, unload your cargo and just be present with God. We are learning to do that very thing. May you come to find too, that God is interested in your lack of productivity for a while. It’s difficult, but we are learning how … together.