In my travels, one of my favorite things has been meeting and befriending the local residents. The only way to truly know a country is to see it through the eyes of someone who not only lives there, but who is from there and has the land in their blood, someone who was raised there and knows it inside and out, not because they've studied, but because they feel it so.
When we came to Panama, we expected to make lots of Panamanian friends.
But we haven't.
Oh, we've made a few, and we love them dearly. But for the most part, our friends are fellow ex-pats who have also decided to call Panama their new home.
Sometimes I hear people get negative about this -- there are so many ex-pats, it's just like Little North America in the beach area. They're coming in, they're changing it, they're making prices go up.
There are a lot of ex-pats, and there's no doubt that their (our) presence has changed Panama's cultural and financial landscape, probably for good. But good people are good people everywhere -- no matter where they live or where they're from.
The friends I've made here are some of my nearest and dearest -- and most of them are from the US or Canada. Not only that, but if I were in trouble, I would not hesitate to call any number in my cell phone and I know that the person would be there for me as soon as possible. Thinking back on my life in the States, where I have many good friends -- many of them are spread out all over the country and I rarely see them; others that were close by I've come to realize were good acquaintances, but not people I would call if I were in a bind, or who would call me, either.
The way this community cares for the other members is extraordinary. When one couple got into a car accident, the bilingual members of the community got on the phone with the lawyers and the doctors, many went to visit the couple, and everyone did what they could to ease the trauma. No one was too busy to help them.
Once, one of our friends said on a Wednesday that he was going to throw a surprise birthday party for his wife on Sunday. Even in the tight-knit community, she didn't find out about it until a couple of hours before it started, and 60 people showed up that day to celebrate with her. I was back in Denver last Christmas for six weeks with nothing to do, and in that time I couldn't manage to get three of my girlfriends all together with me for dinner just once.
We've already, after just a few months, found our place -- our home -- in this beautiful community, and daily we celebrate life with new friends we've discovered once lived right down the street from where we used to live, friends who don't even speak Spanish despite living in this Spanish-speaking country, friends we love and count on, friends with whom we're uncovering the wonders of our new country.