Agua, por favor
(Can I just say I love this picture!!)
In honor of Funsy Friday, I wanted to share a funny that also teaches a lot about perspective. We moved here to Panama on March 15th. We moved into our apartment on March 19th. Tony left for Illinois on business on March 27th. He took with him several of his new employees for training. Only 1 of these new people had been to the United States before this trip. I asked Tony to really pay attention to their reactions of central Illinois- which, for the record, looks quite a bit different from Panama.
He came back with the expected answers. "It's (the traffic) really slow here." "There's so much space." "It's so quiet." I was really disappointed. I thought maybe they would say something about the corporate headquarters or the corn fields. Maybe comment on everyone speaking English. But he didn't have anything too fun to report.
Then, they all went out for dinner. Their choice? Mexican. I don't know why, but this struck me as odd. Probably because I lumped all of Latin America into a they-eat-Mexican-food-all-the-time category. (I now know that Panamanian food bears little resemblance to Mexican food. And even the thought that Latin American food is all the same is ridiculous when you think about it. You know, since European food all tastes the same. May not want to mention that to the French. Or Italian. Or Spanish. You get the point.)
Back at the restaurant, Tony was struck at how thrilled the waiters were to have native Spanish speakers ordering. He said you could see a calm come over them. (I understand this now. Our Pastor refers to this calm as "hearing the language of your soul." It just puts you at ease.) The other thing that struck Tony? His Panamanian colleagues wanted to check with him about something. They wanted to know if the water was safe to drink.
Water Department jokes aside (a shout out to Uncle Steve and his serious chemist-for-the-water-department skill!), I found it almost unfathomable that someone would ask about the safety of the US water supply. (And I didn't consider myself an America-is-the-center-of-the-whole-world person.) Tony assured them that the water was fine. We had a little chuckle over the whole event.
And then it struck me. At that point, I had lived in Panama 2 weeks or so. I had never had a drink of tap water. Never had an ice cube. I even brushed my teeth with bottled water. I kept my prescription stomach upset medicine with me at all times. It makes me wonder if they had a chuckle over the silly American who thought there might be something wrong with the Panamanian water supply.
The lesson here? That cliche about we are all more similiar than we are different? I am still not sure that's true, but we definitely have more similarities than you might expect. For them, coming to the United States was not only different, but a little scary. I know I felt that coming to Panama, but it never occurred to me that people coming to the US would feel that way. It's the US afterall. But there is no afterall. It's not home for them. And home will always feel safer. All the way down to the water. (And I wonder how many of them also said a silent prayer that night when they went to bed that they wouldn't have to use the traveler's diarrhea medicine they kept close by.)