For Granted

gamboa schoolhouse

Gamboa Schoolhouse where we stayed.

First I’d like to explain… even though I was going to blog about my daily experiences and reflect on my handwritten daily journal from my trip, we decided to go in a different, and hopefully more interesting, direction.

So post trip, I’ve had some time to reflect on my trip. And at first I couldn’t decide what was most important to write about (so, I’ll post several blogs…haha). Then I was trying to think what stories I could tell, but also, and most importantly, what lessons I learned from them.

I think today, I wanted to talk about the lesson that most completely changed my life. (There are many, many memories that I will hold onto from the trip, but this particular lesson actually changed my “everyday” reality.)

I considered myself to be fairly grateful. I mean, we all take advantage and get greedy on occasion, but most days I remembered to thank fate and everyone around me for what I have. I am also very aware that there are many many others who have far less than I do. I’ve been involved in community service since I was in elementary school; working with homeless, animal shelters, mission trips through church, buying books for fellow students, cancer walks, fundraisers, the list goes on… but being aware, and living it are two very different things.  Awareness brings compassion, empathy, and most times makes you a little more humble. But in Panama, there were times I was actually living it.

restaurant

Bocas del Torro restaurant served fish right out of ocean and used buckets and ocean water to flush outhouse toilet.

There were places, mostly on the islands, in Panama that have no electricity. I’ve been without internet before. (I’m old enough to remember when my family got our first computer.) I’ve never had cable or dish or 300 channels to choose from. There were times when my family didn’t have air conditioning in the summer time. But here, there was NO ELECTRICITY. It’s crazy to imagine how much electricity I use at home without even thinking about it. At night, (and we had to be up all hours sometimes to patrol for turtles) you had to dress in the blackest dark you’ve ever not seen. When you returned from patrols you had to shower in the same conditions using a bucket (there was also no running water). If you had to go to the bathroom you went into the woods or had to flush using the same buckets you showered with. No toilet paper… EVER. It clogs the primitive pipe systems they use. Even though it was 90 degrees with 100% humidity there were no fans.

It became a running joke among the group to try to out stink the others. Most of us were greasy and sweaty. Since there was no running water (and you wouldn’t dare waste the little water you had to wash clothes), we all wore our two outfits over and over again. There was a weeks worth of sweat, sand, and sea-breeze soaked into our clothes that I don’t think I will ever be able to wash out.

And at the end of it, it was all completely worth it. Every time I use the bathroom I smile and thank God I don’t have to go get a bucket of sea water to flush it. Every time I put on my clean clothes (and I have so many clothes!) and then am able to wash them it makes me happy. My life is so much more complete now. Every little thing I used to take for granted, I fully appreciate and it has made me a much better roommate (because I’m so much cleaner), daughter (because I thank my parents more sincerely now), student (I put a lot of effort into my projects), and person (I’ve alive and I’m happy.)

tree house

Tree house in Bocas del torro.

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