A Panamanian Woman with Third World Problems and First World Happiness

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A Panamanian Woman with Third World Problems and First World Happiness

I met the most amazing woman a few days ago in Bocas Town, Panama.7518833648_img_4509
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…
<3 HMD

About the Author:

On August 14th, 2015 I left my life in the United States behind with the intention to never look back. I had the "American Dream" and I woke up from it, to create a new reality for myself. I sought out beauty in a world that was increasingly dark for me at the time and ended up finding more than I bargained for. With only a backpack, I traveled across Europe, South East Asia and then on to Africa. With over 30 countries stamped in my passport, I've become an entirely new version of myself with a broader perspective on what it means to be a woman in today's world. My hope is that by sharing my stories and featuring women like me from around the world, we can inspire others to break down their own internal barriers and go cross a few international borders while they're at it. I truly believe travel can be healing to a troubled soul, empowering to the lost and rejuvenating for the exhausted. Perspective is everything, and I believe in the power of "going global," what about you? SheGoesGlobal.net is a site that started out with my stories and grew into a platform for women all around the world to tell their travel tales of trials and triumph. We all believe that the more you see of the world, the better you can be as a person who inhabits it. Women encouraging other women to grow, travel, evolve- that's what SGG is all about. ---> Read my very first blog post (see "Archives" for August 2015) to learn how this all began.


  1. chloeluye December 24, 2017 at 9:27 am - Reply

    This is truly amazing. It really shows us how much we have to be thankful for, especially around Christmas time, thank you for sharing x

    • Heather Ditmars December 24, 2017 at 9:37 am - Reply

      I completely agree! Something we all need to remember, especially this time of year. Happy holidays Chloe! <3

  2. chloeluye December 24, 2017 at 9:42 am - Reply

    Thank you Heather, I hope you have a lovely Christmas too! X

  3. Farah Al Zadjaly December 25, 2017 at 8:16 am - Reply

    This is great, I am glad someone is finally writing about this. In the end, the way we see our lives we need to be grateful for what we have. Its the first steps to happiness with a lot in your pocket or nothing in it.

    • Heather Ditmars December 25, 2017 at 10:11 am - Reply

      Completely agree! Thank you so much for this comment- it made my day! I hope you’re having a great holiday season and start your new year off with smiles, laughter and love. <3 HMD

  4. […] to one without the other.  The happiest people on Earth are not without misfortune- just look at that woman in Panama I wrote about this week.  They just have a different outlook, and have forgiven their pain […]

  5. Natalia G January 12, 2018 at 3:34 pm - Reply

    I also admire strong women, who meet challenges in life with a smile. It’s little things that make us happy and distract from big problems. Your wrtiting style is very engaging and outspoken. I enjoyed reading your article. Good luck on meeting more interesting people during your travels.

    • Heather Ditmars July 12, 2018 at 8:55 am - Reply

      Thank you so much for the encouragement Natalia! Wishing you a beautiful summer, wherever you are in the world. – HMD

  6. Elaine J. Masters January 13, 2018 at 7:50 am - Reply

    Loved meeting her and how you wove your inner dialogue throughout. Great message too. The people we meet on our travels can change us so much more than the places. Thanks for sharing.

    • Heather Ditmars July 12, 2018 at 8:54 am - Reply

      Thank you Elaine! I am reminiscing on this today and saw your comment again. You’re wonderful for taking the time to read and comment your encouragement. I hope you’re having a beautiful summer. <3 HMD

  7. Yissel R January 15, 2018 at 11:47 am - Reply

    Omg that’s so cool. My mom is from Panama. It’s so pretty over there. Hope you enjoyed it.

    • Heather Ditmars July 12, 2018 at 9:00 am - Reply

      That’s so cool your Mom is from Panama! She must be beautiful. I enjoyed my time so much I am reminiscing today wanting to go back!

  8. okiziabeyond January 15, 2018 at 12:12 pm - Reply

    Stories like these I love and encounters such as these make us see things a bit differently. Your posts is an inspiration to me because I hope to share such encounters that will help myself and others. A very important message that was reinforced for me was smiling or still being joyous in your struggle. It is hard for many to do so & I’ve also been guilty of allowing my circumstance to dictate my reactions. Bless her soul & yours!

    • Heather Ditmars July 12, 2018 at 8:57 am - Reply

      Thank you so much beautiful girl. I completely hear you and understand what you’re saying. I think we all have a tendency to avoid the present moment by distracting ourselves with other mental struggles. We’re human, and we’re flawed, but the biggest step is self-awareness and it sounds like you are right on point with that! I hope your summer is going well. – HMD

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