I met the most amazing woman a few days ago in Bocas Town, Panama.
It’d been a long few days staring at my computer screen and not interacting with anyone. I was feeling antisocial- I get like that sometimes. When I finally emerged from my dark hole of silence, I was hit by blazing sunlight as I walked down the main street to the nearest dock. It’s so damn hot on this island. Am I there yet? Finally, at the dock, I went into the tour office I’d had an appointment with, and there she was…
Glowing skin and long dark hair, smiling ear to ear- a true natural beauty.
This woman was the most friendly person I’d come into contact with lately- and not just because I hadn’t made much contact. She truly radiated positivity and excitement…but for what the…?
Why don’t I act that pleasant and happy? Am I missing something here? It’s hot as hell outside, I’ve got a headache and a long travel day ahead of me…I’m a bit lonely, tired, homesick..My back hurts. I’m truly a master complainer sometimes (you don’t have to tell me- I know).
And, still, there she was….smiling like she knew something I didn’t….perhaps she did.
“Is he yours?” I pointed to the young boy sitting on the ground by her desk.
“Yes, he is…”
Here, in this 5 foot by 5 foot office, this woman earns $3 an hour, higher than the national average of $2. She pays $750 in bills per month and works 7 hours per day 7 days a week. She brings her 8 year old son to work with her and let’s him play games on her phone while she helps customers. I was one of her customers that day, and I sat down to chat (and enjoy the AC). Suddenly, I was hanging on her every word. I was mesmerized, looking into the world of a woman who’s life could not be more of my opposite.
She says, “When you have kids, whatchu wanna to do… you can not do it. Sometimes I look at my kids…” she shakes her head and looks angry, but then she changes face, smiles and laughs wholeheartedly. She’s filled with love, and frustrations she’s clearly forgiven.
She has four kids, as it turns out, and this was the oldest of them. Thoughts of self loathing filled my brain. She’s the same age as me which means she had her first baby while I was out partying with a fake ID and pretending to be an adult. While she was nursing babies, problem solving, and “adulting” in real life, I was pretending to have my act together, buying my own bullshit and creating problems for myself. Then I looked back at her and listened some more.
She explained that she’s single and no longer with the Father of her children. For months at a time, she is separated from the youngest three children while they’re with their Father. At least he’s helping…Suddenly I tried to think positive, but the fact that she’s painfully without her children for so long was not lost on me. I remember how much it hurt my Mother when we first began visitation after the divorce, and that was for mere days at a time. This woman goes months without her babies, because she has no choice and we’re not in a country that “favors the mother’s rights.” On top of it all, the holidays are among us and surely these children would not be getting much. I thought about how life can be so complicated sometimes, cruel even…If she can be gracious, so can I. So can all of us…
She goes on to tell me that, “Here, men hit and cheat on women in Panama.” They do that everywhere, don’t they... I think to myself pessimistically. She says, almost nonchalantly, “…the police watch as men commit crimes in the street. They do nothing.” Okay, at least back home we can call the cops and they do something.
She says “men yell and curse at women,” and follows that with the statement “I do NOT want no man!” She shakes her finger with gusto, laughs some more, and says “Nope. Nah ah. Not this woman. I am happy on my own.”
She keeps her sense of humor about it all, and doesn’t take herself, or life, too seriously. She faces more trials than I could even imagine and yet, she has more optimism than I do, even on my best days. Here she was discussing true “Third World Problems” and personal dilemmas with no end in sight…with genuine laughter and light in her eyes. What on God’s green Earth have I been complaining about?! Why are “First World Problems” even a thing?
This woman entertained me with her stories for the better part of an hour, which flew by like seconds. With her, life seemed extremely complicated but simple at the same time. There would be pain today, tomorrow, and the next day, but it seemed she’d forever maintain her happiness, as if it were another one of her children she’d always protect and keep with her. She DOES know something I don’t…
Panamanians believe in general that the word Panama means “abundance of fish, trees and butterflies.” It’s a beautiful sentiment, and perhaps this lends to an overarching positive outlook, or maybe she’s just special…another angel sent from the Universe to teach me.
Amidst a world of dark, the woman keeps a bright lightness about her. Women like her are the reason I explore. I seek out people like her around the world. They inspire and enlighten me. They give me hope. It’s not governments or money or systems that make things work.. it’s people like her that truly make the world go ’round. This woman reminds me to complain less and be grateful instead- grateful for what is and always will be: laughter, love and life.
I learned more from this woman in minutes, than in year long periods of my life.
This interaction, like so many others I’ve had along my travels, ignite a fire in me to keep going- keep exploring and searching. You really never know who you’re going to meet when you’re in an Explorer Mode, that’s the magic of it. There is so much magnificence on this planet to be discovered and a lot of it can be observed by interacting with the people who inhabit it.
I wonder who I’ll meet next…