Start at the beginning, Part One.
It took about ten seconds once the plane landed in Panama for me to realize I wanted to take the next plane back to the States. No one spoke English, or at least they pretended not to, and the airport was not very passenger friendly. I wandered around helpless until I saw a long line of people and decided to join them, in hopes that it would lead me out of the terminal. After what seemed like hours, but was probably only 30 minutes, I was through the line and on my way out of the airport. Dh and a friend (the one who was driving us to our house) were waiting for me near the exit.
As soon as I stepped outside I was met with the most intense humidity I had ever felt in my life. Everyone was covered with a sheen of sweat and soon I was too. I got in the car which of course had no air conditioning and prepared for the 2.5 hour drive to the other side of the country. As we drove through Panama City, I talked nonstop about how much I already didn’t like it and made sure to point out every flaw and problem. Then we entered the “country.” My constant complaining was silenced by the extreme poverty that surrounded me. We passed neighborhoods in which every house was made from cardboard boxes. Garbage piled ten feet high lined the streets and the medians. Dogs ran wild and children did too.
My shock turned to terror as we then began passing checkpoints with Panamanian armed guards, and it became obvious there was a good way and a bad way to make it through the roadblocks. The good way involved pretending to speak no Spanish (even though dh is fluent) and the exchange of some money. The bad way… well I did not want to find out.
At some point we reached the Panama Canal. I thought this would be the highlight of the drive until I realized that if you arrived at the canal at the wrong time you could sit in your car for up to two hours while ships passed through the locks. I probably don’t have to tell you that we arrived at the wrong time. By the time we started moving again I was a complete sweaty, scared mess that wanted to close my eyes, tap my heels together 3 times and end up back in Kansas.
Finally we reached the base, I was relieved since now I would be living under the protection of the US Army, but of course I was wrong again. The base was guarded by the Panamanians and was open to everyone. As we entered the gate the driver started telling me stories about all the recent break-ins that had occurred on the base. I decided right then I was never leaving the house without dh. My only hope was that we didn’t own anything worth stealing anyway.
As we drove through the windy roads of the base I started noticing how beautiful and green everything looked. I guess 100% humidity is great for the environment. The flowers were the brightest colors, the trees a deep green, it started to resemble paradise and I forgot for a moment that I was melting in the back seat. Then out of nowhere I was jolted out of my fleeting fantasy. Large cinder block buildings appeared around the corner. They were old, but more importantly bullet holes marred every building. Apparently this base was occupied by the Panamanians when we invaded a few years earlier. The ransacked barracks still stood vacant along the road. I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to those who had lived in those barracks, did they live, did they die, did they leave behind a family?
Finally we pulled up to the house. It was a yellowish color stilt house with a tile roof. I remembered thinking it was pretty, sort of… then I noticed that under the house there was a carport that also housed the washer and dryer. As I walked by I remember thinking that since I had already decided I would never leave the house alone, dh better get use to doing the laundry. The washer and dryer were covered with a film of dead bugs and other items I didn’t want to touch. I hurried up the flight of stairs ready to see my new home and lock myself inside it for the next two years.