Panama and America

This trip toPanamataught me a lot of the different things.  I learned how to get by on $18 of cash for 5 days, how to navigate a city with only about 10% of the roads marked by road signs, combining English and Spanish and charades simultaneously to communicate with the same person, and many other things.  However, I also was reminded of one important thing while here… how good we have it inAmerica.  Below are just a few things that I think many of us take for granted… or at least I know that I do


  1. Grocery shopping – There were two different places I could shop for food while in Panama that were within a 5 or so minute walk from the hostel.  I did my best to only buy enough food for a week, but still have enough variety to get all the nutrients that I needed.  I ended up eating a lot of eggs, lentils, and split peas for protein, peanuts and peanut butter for fat (in addition to the egg yolks), and rice and corn tortillas for carbohydrates.  The trick was to buy a bunch of food that didn’t need refrigerating since there was only so much room to use in the small dorm fridge that was shared by everyone.  However, when it came to finding a large variety of fruits and vegetables to choose from, the stores were lacking.  One of the stores only had some lettuce, carrots, green beans, and peppers for fresh vegetables.  Anything else was frozen or canned (which wasn’t much to speak of)..  They also didn’t have a large variety of peanut butter to choose from.  I only found on natural peanut butter, the rest were laden with hydrogenated vegetable oil and sugar.  It’s crazy to think that I can walk into almost any grocery store inLouisvilleand find fruits and vegetables from all over the world any time of year, countless different kinds of peanut butter or another nut butter, and a large variety of different brands of corn tortillas in either white or yellow corn or flour.  The one thing the stores did have better than US stores was the over abundance of eggs that came from chickens that were fed correctly.  How could I tell?  The eggs were brown and the yolks were an orange-ish color instead of a bright yellow.


  1. Pool availability – I sometimes find myself grumbling that the pools don’t open up early enough on the weekends for me to get a swim in before work.  I also complain that Mary T. Meagher isn’t open on Sundays.  I also wish that I could get a swim in after work sometimes, but by the time I get off and drive to the pool, I’d only have a 30-45 minute swim.  Lastly, I think thatLouisvilledoesn’t have very many pools for the size of the city.  I feel as if I have no room to complain anymore.  InPanama City, I think there are only two pools that are open to the public, one on each end of the city.  The three times I went to the pool, I only successfully got one swim workout.  They have such strange hours that vary from day to day.  The pool closest to me is closed on Mondays, and open from 8-11:45 am and again from 1-2:45.  The first time I went, I arrived at 2:15.  No sense in changing to swim for 15 minutes.  I found their hours posted and decided to try again the next day when they opened up at 1.  I showed up at 12:45 and discovered the whole facility was empty.  Someone informed me there was a soccer game on campus and the pool wouldn’t open this afternoon.  I know that soccer is huge in every country other than theUSA, but I find it weird that it shuts down a whole campus.  When I life guarded at IWU in college, even if there was a big basketball game or soccer game on campus during normal pool hours, the pool would be open.
  2. Open roads – I nearly died a few times trying to ride my bike in town.  After one try, I realized it wasn’t safe or effective.  It took me a good hour or so of driving to get out of town far enough to find some roads that weren’t heavily traveled.  And of those roads, only a handful of roads are paved well enough for road cycling.  I know that several people in the States get riled up about not having a bike lane on roads, or complain about traffic.  Even though the roads in Louisville don’t have much of a shoulder to ride on and many don’t have bike lanes (and the ones that do only last for a few blocks and then stop, getting you to… well… nowhere), I’m just thankful to have the ability to ride on virtually any road and have it paved well enough to allow me to ride on them.
  3. Running – The whole time inPanama, I saw two people running for the sake of running.  I don’t blame the rest of the population within the city.  I tried running the morning before I left to shake out my legs a little bit.  They were still a bit heavy from Sunday’s race, but I also felt that high level of smog and exhaust within the city made it hard to run.  The sidewalks, if the roads had them, often had uncovered manholes to the sewer system below.  I nearly stepped in a couple of them the first time I went out for a jog at night.  The cars are parked on the sidewalks and they zip in and out of the businesses without even looking for people… or they just don’t care figuring the pedestrian will get out of their way.
  4. Housing – what’s that “reality” TV show that people go out and look for their dream home… or first home?  House hunters, or something like that, right?  The person/people often time have a hard time deciding if 3 or 5 bedrooms are enough and if the bathroom is big enough, or whether or not it should have a pool and/or hot tub.  I often thought that these people were a bit over-the-top, but it struck me again when I was out riding my bike back and forth a short patch of road in the country that was safe enough to ride on.  I passed by a few “villages” that had families living in a shack about 10 x 10 ft that was literally scrap metal, fabric, pieces of wood, or some other sort of old building material leaning against each other to form some sort of shelter.  You see these things on TV now and then, or maybe in a movie, but how sad it is to actually see it in person.  We complain if the room is too cold/hot, if the appliance breaks or malfunctions, or if we don’t like the color of the walls.  I wonder what things these families complain about.  Probably a lot less than we do and they don’t have heat/AC or running water in their houses.

These are just some of the things that I’ve noticed.  I think that it’s important, as an American, to remember that we have it really good back home.  We should bite our tongue and remember those less fortunate.