By Lyna Lam, contributing writer
I didn’t tell many people about me going to Panama because I had been unsure myself if I was going; I was paranoid about some random occurrence preventing me from going, but then I found myself writing this on the floor of Tocumen Aeropuerto Internacional in Panama City at 6am, as I waited for my flight back to Newark. Now that I look back on it, I’m not sure how I had even come to the decision; all I remember is me telling my mom, “I’m going to Panama.”
She said, “okay,” so shout out to Mother Lam.
Whenever I told someone I was going to Panama, the first thing they’d say after their initial “wow” reaction would be, “So how much does it cost?” I have a better answer now, than a numerical estimate.
For the medical care and physical labor my group has donated, the smiles and gratitude I have received, the conversations had, the people I have connected with (both Panamanians and NJIT students), the memories made, the views seen (both nature- and perspective-wise), and for how much I have grown as a person from this experience, the true cost of such an experience cannot be defined.
As a result of this great experience, I give you 50 things I learned in Panama:
1. Spanish music rocks.
2. Fresh, more-organic-than-not watermelon with seeds is delicious.
3. A humble meal can be just as good as an extravagant one.
4. A bottle of drinkable water is precious.
5. Be thankful.
6. Panamanian coffee is so much better than the coffee I’ve had in America.
7. No, these aren’t all about food.
8. Dirt is heavy in large quantities.
9. Fresh, unprocessed orange juice is also delicious.
10. Be thankful.
11. Bottom bunk has its perks.
12. Being the last to shower also has its perks.
13. Girls can be unbelievably catty (especially when it comes to sharing shower time).
14. Girls can be unbelievably kind.
15. Be thankful.
16. Take as many pictures as you can!
17. You get accustomed to heat (and cold, for that matter).
18. Knowing a second language allows for valuable connections.
19. Music is a truly unifying language.
20. Be thankful.
21. Appreciate nature.
22. Don’t be stingy when traveling. Treat yo self.
23. Try new things!! Boiled yuca, napolitana de chocolate, hojaldras, tortillas de maiz, and cacao are yummy.
24. Be friendly to everyone. A new friend can be found in every person you see.
25. Be thankful.
26. Tarantulas are just as large in nature as they are on TV.
27. Making a child cry is probably the worst feeling ever.
28. Making a child stop crying is probably one of the best feelings ever.
29. An inflated latex glove and /pegatinas/ work wonders.
30. Be thankful.
31. The phrase, “like pulling teeth,” is a surprisingly good way of describing how difficult things can be.
32. Naturally grown Panamanian mangoes and pineapples are tasty.
33. Avoid inhaling deet at all costs.
34. Panamanian kids WILL beat you in soccer no matter how young they are and how old you are.
35. Be thankful.
36. Don’t forget to put sunscreen on the back of your neck.
37. Panamanians are incredibly generous regardless of what little they may have.
38. Starfish feel really weird to hold (and they make it through Panamanian airport security).
39. A weeklong break from wifi/social media is unexpectedly refreshing.
40. Be thankful.
41. Toucans are stunning.
42. Cold water is a blessing to your hair.
43. Painting others’ teeth with fluoride is kind of fun.
44. Buy ice cream.
45. Be thankful.
46. There is so much out there, more than both you and I can even fathom, for us to learn.
47. You will meet people from all walks of life. Carry their stories with you as you continue along your own path.
48. Travel. Experiencing others’ cultures and recognizing what makes theirs and your own unique will make you more perceptive and considerate.
49. Yes, I know the fact that someone has it worse than you doesn’t revoke your privilege to complain, but respect the memory of those who are immensely grateful for the little they have.
50. Give back.
When I first entered Panama, I read a sign that said, “Bienvenidos a Panamá, un país agradable, noble, y trabajador!” Each of these three adjectives sings truth, except the sign had forgotten /hermoso/. I have now seen the best and the saddest sides of Panama, but both are beautiful. It was so humbling to have experienced both, and I will never forget what the land, the people, and the culture have taught me. Te extrañaré, Panamá.
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