We just returned from our retreat in Panama yesterday, about 30 hours after leaving the retreat site for the bus station. Not counting the five hours spent at the two borders, I whiled away the hours watching timeless classics such as Air Bud 3: World Pup.
Traveling to Panama was a bit of a culture shock. I always feel a little overwhelmed when I go into the supermarket in Managua and there's all this stuff and air conditioning. Panama was that times ten. I went to see a movie in a theatre for the first time in over a year. Panama City is enormous, with a skyline longer than any I've seen. The Canal was an amazing experience; the bathrooms were super clean and had soap AND toilet paper. And the locks that the ships passed through were pretty cool, too.
In some ways, it was wonderful. In Bilwi they say you can get anything in Managua. I would amend that to "anything except falafel." I had falafel and hoummus in Panama City, and it was positively heavenly. It was also really nice to find hair conditioner and gel. My head felt so light and smelled so good after I used it, I felt brand new again. There are little luxuries that make life much sweeter, which I didn't realize I had missed while in Bilwi.
Still, if I had to characterize my overall experience in the City, the words dizzying, headache-inducing, and overwhelming come to mind. While I did not miss the everpresent poverty, I missed the simplicity that comes with a lack of options for things to buy and things to do. I also realized that hot showers are best used only to help me adjust to the water in preparation for a cold shower, because cold showers really are much more refreshing. There's something a little bit wonderful about coming in from a hot day and taking a cold shower in water that I know comes from the well outside. It's more effortless; no energy had to be put into heating it.
Most of all, I missed the intimate connection with nature provided by buildings that are not sealed off and climate-controlled. Even the intransigent insects that invade the house incessantly provide a constant reminder of life's abundance, with the occasional coral snake or tarantula thrown in to remind of life's impermanence. It's comforting and addicting to be surrounded by so much color and so much life. If I'm sad, I can just go outside and look at the hibiscus plant threatening to annex our front porch, or the small forest of banana plants in the neighbors' yard across the street, from which hidden children shout their greetings. When I return to the United States, I think it is this intimacy with the natural world, which tires me out by 10 at night and wakes me up at 6 in the morning, that I will miss the most.