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Tuesday
Apr012014

ALICE BETH: More Freedom in Panama? Sure Feels That Way.

Disclaimer: The opinions in this article are not based upon the legal system of either the U.S or Panama, but rather my lifestyle experiences. So don’t get yourself arrested and blame it on me, chief.

“Are you ever coming back to the U.S?”

It’s a question I’ve been hearing for nearly two years.

At first, my answer had a built-in pause. “I don’t know…” I would mutter. “Maybe.”

These days, it’s shifted to a steady: “Why would I do that?”

The sentiment is further rooted during my annual visits to the U.S. It seems that Panama has spoiled me. With its advantageous atmosphere and empowering sense of freedom, I feel suffocated when I return “home.”

It’s the little things, as well as a few major shifts in mindset and lifestyle. There are things I do in Panama that I just can’t do in the states. At least- not without fighting an uphill battle.

The Little Things

The little things are the hardest to explain. When we fall in love, whether with a person or a country, it’s often thanks to the “little things” that we can barely pinpoint yet refuse to live without.

So, what are Panama’s little things? I’ll do my best to describe.

  • It’s the freedom to drive onto the beach to reach that faraway surf break, with no one to yell at you and (barely) any people to hit.
  • It’s the freedom to build a bonfire, pitch a tent, let your dog off the leash, or bring a flask to that same beach (or other public space) with no one to tell you off for it. The police drive by and wave- why would they care?“Hope you’ve got 4×4,” they say, “call us if you get stuck.”
  • It’s being able to walk into a store and have your smartphone unlocked, because you don’t want a 2-year contract, thank you very much. $15 a month, pay-as-you-go, sure beats that monthly $89 bill.
  • It’s affording a weekly manicure, because for $8, why the hell not? You’ll use that time to practice your Spanish, anyway- two services for the price of one.
  • It’s bringing your non-service dog on a public ferry, it’s riding a horse wherever the hell you want, because who are you to tell me I can’t?
  • Sure, buy a freshly-killed chicken from the farmer two houses down. Sell kabobs by the side of the road. Permit? Bah. The FDA won’t bother you.

The U.S is suffocating, with its pussyfooting philosophy. No dogs allowed. No beers on the beach. No sneaking snacks in the theater, and absolutely no monkey bars on the playground. Don’t you dare start that bonfire. And you! You’re trespassing. Get out of this…uh….forest. You’re up to no good.

Land of the free. Home of the brave.

Except everyone is terrified of lawsuits to the point that the country is idiot-padded and accident-proof.

Nevermind the fact that the 9 out of 10 casualty-free scenarios are stripped away from us. Nevermind the concept of, oh, I don’t know, doing what you want so long as you’re not hurting anybody else.

Life Changers

Little freedoms are nice. It’s only when combined with life-changers that a fun place to visit becomes a better place to live.

Living in Panama has enabled me to have a conscious control over my career, the direction it goes, and the rate at which it progresses. I’m not hungrily grabbing at whatever opportunity comes my way. With so many opportunities, I get to pick and choose.

I needn’t operate at the mercy of the economy, the market, and all its fluctuations. I operate according to me.

At 23, I’m in the initial stretch of my freelance career- but you wouldn’t know it by my portfolio. I spearhead projects that most people can’t touch before years of climbing the corporate ladder. The U.S is saturated with bureaucratic bullshit. Bide your time, pay your dues, wait for that promotion, your moment will come.

In Panama, you opt for the grab-what-you-want-by-the-cajones path instead.

The economy has grown dizzyingly fast. Businesses are racing to keep up, to expand, to offer more, make more, and maximize on this historical period. They don’t care how many notches are on your belt. They care that you’re able to grab the reins, bring something new to the table, and produce results.

I’m sure some would say the same about the States- and I don’t doubt them. But I also don’t envy freelancers or job seekers in the U.S- particularly those who are still earning their stripes, or competing against more people for less openings. Fighting to burst their head through a sea of contenders, just to grab the attention of some company who’s probably not hiring, anyway.

My life in Panama has afforded me a level of autonomy, both personally and professionally, that I’ve never had in the States. My no-handcuff, high-profit lifestyle has become my definition of freedom- and it’s given me little reason to ever look back.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON PERMANENTLY PANAMA


Alice Beth

@_AliceBeth

Alice Beth arrived in Panama in 2012 with a few hundred dollars and a backpack stuffed with books and red lipstick. She gradually turned into an adult against her will and is now a freelance marketing strategist and founder of the ever-cheeky PermanentlyPanama.com. She's obsessed with dogs, productivity, and surfing- even though she's not very good at it.

Thursday
Mar202014

TARAH WATERS: Live Without Illusion

Traveling from Boumalne to Rabat reveals a great deal about Morocco.  A 12-hour journey leads you across most of the country; it gives you insight to the complexity of life here. The first leg of my journey took place in a grand taxi (generally an old Volkswagen and or Mercedes) and six passengers - five men and myself.

As the driver called out to the others, I slowly began to realize that I was going to be sitting in the front middle seat. Climbing into the vehicle I tried to position myself perfectly so that one leg could stretch out, and one could rest on a cushion. Foolishly I forgot there was a gear stick, and my cushioned leg lay directly in its path. Before I could process and react, the seat next to me was filled. The old beat up Mercedes coughed to a start and our four-hour journey began. 

As English music filled my head, the Moroccan landscape did the same for my eyes. Beginning with desert rock lands of red and light brown, and slowly moving into fertile green lands and snow-capped mountains. The journey is breathtaking. However, silence eventually took its toll, and one my fellow passengers requested to stop. We pulled over in a small village where busses packed with tourists swallowed the road.

I climbed out and walked stiffly over to the hanut. The shop owner and I exchanged greetings as I scanned the goods lining the walls. Knowing we still had a very windy road ahead, I settled for water. The man sitting next to me slowly finished his cigarette and as he released his last cloud he uttered, “you are from Boumalne yes?” My response followed a familiar pattern of, “yes, I am the new volunteer in town.” He gave me approval and revealed that he too resides in the small town hugged by the mountains.

We shared a peaceful silence as we both observed tourists snapping photos. Then a sudden burst of laughter broke out, causing me to turn and look at my new friend. He was pointing to my seat and exclaimed, “That seat is ugly.” I laughed in agreement and we both climbed back into the car for our last push to Marrakech. 

Marrakech was packed with vendors, donkey carts, range rovers, and tourists. The heat rose, reminding us that summer will soon take its toll. As we zig-zagged through traffic I couldn't help but observe the contrast of life. Donkey carts packed full of people doing their weekly shopping, riding side-by-side brand new Range Rovers and Audis. Marrakech holds tradition but breathes modernity and as our taxis came to a stop; I climbed out and joined the ranks. The next leg of my journey was a four-hour train ride to Rabat. I made it to the train station just in time to catch the 1pm train.

“3mmr (full),” the word repeated to me as I traveled from car to car. After passing through 4 cars, I settled on a spot near the door where I could enjoy fresh air. I set my backpack down between my legs and attempted to find the most comfortable position to stand. 

The train shuffled to a start and slowly scenes of diverse landscapes filled the open door. From dry desolate land to rolling green hills to a distant view of the ocean, Morocco seems to have it all. I sat and watched the world change before my eyes, as my headphones complimented the mood. The experience was meditative and peaceful. 

By the last hour of the journey, our small standing room was packed full with about 20 passengers. Sitting in the center was a proud Berber woman breast-feeding her second born girl, with the first, a 3 year old, clinging tightly to her mother’s leg. Her eyes were piercing with innocence. Black pearls revealing far more than words could describe. Untouched by the realties that surrounded her, she clung tightly gazing up at the mighty giants that stood around her. 

I couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast between the young girl and the young woman that stood beside her. Innocence defined by a 3-year-old girl dressed in beautiful Moroccan sweaters and mud stained leggings. Modernity defined by a 17-year-old young woman dressed in tight designer jeans and a Burberry button up, accessorized with a new iPhone and Ray Ban sunglasses. This is Morocco. 

A country strong in tradition yet pushing toward modernity, Morocco holds truths of ancient pasts and distant futures. As I sat on the newly built tramway racing through Rabat, the contrast became quite clear. Everywhere you look you can see women and men dressed in jellabas and caftans, filling the streets with brilliant shades of yellow, pink, blue, brown, and green. Mixed with those who choose to wear designer clothes and fashionable t-shirts.

When I turned and looked back into the tram, I saw a young university student gripping tightly to his iPhone, sitting next to an older gentleman dressed in a white jellaba, gripping tightly to his worn wooden cane. As I sat and watched the young man jam out to his favorite tunes while sending a message to a friend, I noticed the older man sitting quietly, gazing out at the passing city streets, his eyes revealing his curiosity. From my perspective it looked as if he was digesting the new world as it swallowed up the old. He paused for a moment and turned to the young man sitting next to him, first looking to his phone and then to his face. He shook his head and looked to the sky as if to say, “this man is missing the world. Life is passing before his eyes and he is completely unaware.”

Read Tarah's first Moroccan post 'Open Up and Let Fear Rush in' HERE.


TARAH WATERS

@watersaveslives

Tarah finds her roots in Colorado. She has lived in South Africa, studied in Rhode Island, and now lives in Morocco. Itto, as some call her, is a soul-searching world traveler, photographer, writer, and Peace Corps volunteer based in Boumalne Dades, Morocco. As for the future, she has no idea who she will be, maybe a published author, maybe a coffee house owner, or maybe a forever vagabond.

 

Tuesday
Mar182014

EMILY STONE: Vote to Bring $30,000 of Peace and Mindfulness to At-Risk Youth

Lineage Senior Teacher Chia-Ti ChiuThe Lineage Project, a NYC non-profit offering yoga and mindfulness practices to at-risk and incarcerated youth, is nominated to win $30,000 through Health Mart's Champions of Care challenge. Health Mart has chosen Lineage senior teacher Chia-Ti Chiu as a finalist for their Champions of Care campaign. All of the fifteen finalists made one-minute videos explaining the various charities with which they are aligned. The video with the most votes moves on to the next round to win the thirty thousand dollars. 

As it stands now, Lineage can only afford to teach yoga and meditation to the kids in the detention centers and alternative-to-detention centers once a week. It's our goal to bring these mindfulness practice to the kids at twice a week or more. These are the kids most at risk of losing their lives to jail. Many of them have attested to the profound effect of these practices on controlling their anger and anxiety in a number of harrowing situations: whether in front of a judge, in various life-threatening conflicts, or even going to sleep at night under less than ideal circumstances.

I am on the board of Lineage and can attest to its powerful life-changing effect not only on the lives of students, but also on the teachers who get to know them! Please take a nanosecond to click the link below and vote for CHIA-TI CHIU! If her video gets the most votes, Lineage gets the 30k. Voting is open every day for the next week. Please also feel free to share the link with your networks!

http://www.healthmartcommunity.com

Blessings, maha love and thanks for voting,

Emily Stone and the entire Lineage Community

 

EMILY STONE  

Born in New Orleans and raised in Brooklyn, Emily Stone is a writer and yoga teacher living in New York City.  She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Hunter College in 2006. Currently she is a senior teacher at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in NYC and SF where she also teaches teacher training. Books include: Visvamitrasana: Volume I of the Sage Series (Inflextion) and Did Jew Know? Up next: writing an ebook about the Hindu sages and gathering oral histories for The Whole Hole.

Monday
Mar102014

BRANDI RYANS: Unawatuna Beach

I went to Sri Lanka almost two weeks ago. The whole experience was very overwhelming and beautiful. It's been a little daunting trying to figure out what part of it to address first.  But talking about Unawatuna Beach is important considering it's disappearing.  But first, Hanuman.  There is an epic story called Ranayama. During a battle with the demon king Ravana, Hanuman,  the monkey king lept to Sri Lanka to acquire healing herbs to save his dying friend. He couldn't figure out which ones to bring so he brought a whole mountain filled with them with him back to India.  In the process part of the mountain "fell down" in the location of the beach and the village derives from that story, Unawatuna literally meaning "fell down."

Unawatuna looks like something out of a Hindu epic. It's gorgeous, surrounded by palm trees and boasts a beautiful coral reef. Unfortunately I didn't dive, and the beach while beautiful looked a little scarce. When we first arrived after a long drive from a sunrise safari we wanted to go to the beach first. When the host we were staying with paused before telling Lauren, our gracious group leader, which way to get to the beach she asked if it had moved? Well unfortunately, things happen. 

Back in 2004, Unawatuna and its surrounding district of Galle was hit with a massive tsunami, killing over 30,000 people along the southern coast of Sri Lanka.  After the desolation and lots of funding from around the world, it seemed the beach was trying to get back to normal. There was a brand new Buddha statue and Pagoda on the ridge and people were returning to the beach. 

However, last year, in an attempt to protect the beach from damage from any more tsunamis, the Coastal Preservation Department put up a wall enclosing the bay. Meant to help, it has done the opposite causing massive erosion which has destroyed the coral reef and has dragged three quarters of the beach into the sea. 

The little guest house we stayed at once opened up onto the beach,  but now the porch steps goes straight into the ocean and resorts further down have been forced to close before their foundations start to fall into the surf. All this happened within a year and nothing seems to be happening to remedy what is being done.

A few friends who were with us had just come from the Maldives, a group of islands in danger of being swallowed up by the sea. They said they wanted to see them before they were gone. It seemed to me we were standing on the same sort of fate right under neath our feet.  It's a microcosm, like Easter Island, something happening to the environment all over the world but slower so we don't have to really look at it. It makes me so sad. Its an amazing place. My feeble attempts at researching haven't found anything that can help the situation but the town itself is still worth a trip. More on my adventures in Una soon.  I couldn't skip out on telling you about amazing vegan food, getting massaged in a tree hut and most importantly, having lunch with some monks after repainting their school. 


Brandi Ryans

Brandi is a Licensed Massage Therapist. She infuses a western based massage practice with the ancient healing approach of Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda.  She tailors each session to her clients’ unique needs, employing the restorative power of essential oils to balance the mind and body. Her multifaceted approach to healing works to remove doubt and fear from the physical and spiritual self and opens the channels in the body to compassion, forgiveness and love. brandiryans.com

 

 

 

Monday
Jan132014

SCOTT JENKINS: The Peace Corps in Rwanda, Part 2

A Peace Corps Christmas in RwandaIn my last update, I talked a bit about the path that led me to the Peace Corps and the basics of the three-month training program that was my day-to-day life. For a while, most of that remained unchanged. After returning from visiting my final site outside Nyungwe National Park, I was back to the grind of daily Kinyarwanda lessons; classroom management sessions, and any other miscellaneous bit of training that the Peace Corps deemed necessary for its education volunteers.

I mentioned in my first post how the community-based training program, while undeniably effective when it comes to integration and language acquisition, can quickly leave you desperate for just a small taste of the familiar. As soon as we had the chance, we all embraced that ideal wholeheartedly with the help of surprise birthday parties, pumpkin carving for Halloween, a massive collaborative Thanksgiving dinner, and most recently coming back together for Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.

Admittedly, some of the days have felt long and drawn out, but it’s amazing how fast the weeks have flown by. As I write this, my training has finished and I have been officially sworn in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer. After three months of training as a group, we are now scattered around the country in the communities that we will be working in for the next two years. The whole transition is a somewhat bittersweet. While I’m experiencing a freedom that I haven’t had for what seems like an eternity, it also means separating myself from the people, both in my host family and training group, that I’ve grown close to over the past months. In addition, as an education volunteer, I was installed on site during the holiday break. This meant that for a while there was little for me to do but hang out in the school offices or walk around and introduce myself (a bit of a challenge since most of the people in the community assume, at first glance, that I’m the same volunteer that has been working here the past two years).

On top of the conflicts that come from simultaneous feelings of freedom, boredom, and missing friends, I’ve been finding that my site is in an unusual limbo of classic Peace Corps life and unexpected luxury. I can start my day with a bucket bath and hand washing a load of laundry, followed by browsing the web in my school’s modern offices. I can then head up a partially eroded hillside staircase past a couple troops of baboons and struggle to light a charcoal stove in order to cook dinner. I can lounge in my tile-floored house and watch a movie, only to be woken up in the middle of night to chase mice out of the room.

To be clear, none of these are meant as complaints; just the opposite. I was all set to be handling all these things and more, but my assignment here is most definitely not what I was expecting from the Peace Corps (in the best possible way). Just walking around the campus is an experience in itself, with forested hills stretching into the distance as far as the eye can see. 

I cannot wait to get started with my work here, although that still seems to be a long way off. While the semester for the rest of my colleagues started last week, I’m here to teach at a school for conservation and environmental management that has the students completing internships around the country for their first month. As a result, I’ve got a nice, long, and quite possibly cabin fever-inducing chunk of time off before I can begin teaching in February.

Thankfully, I’ve been able to stave off boredom by traveling for the holidays, visiting friends and getting to see a bit more of Rwanda in the process. The festivities made it a little more like home with the help of cheap Christmas decorations bought in the capital, a tiny plastic tree, and a can or two of white foam marketed as ‘fake snow’ (a surprisingly good substitute for a white Christmas, once you get past the lingering soap smell in the air). But now the holidays have come and gone and everyone is getting to work for the New Year, so it’s back to site for me. With any luck I’ll be able to find some projects to pass the time and supply me with some good stories moving forward.

READ SCOTT'S FIRST UPDATE ON THE PEACE CORPS IN RWANDA.

 

SCOTT JENKINS

Scott Jenkins grew up in Ridgewood, NJ and graduated from NYU in 2012 with a degree in Anthropology and Linguistics. His passion for travel, adventure, and helping others led him to apply to the Peace Corps in September of 2012. He was invited to teach in Rwanda, where he is currently serving for the next two years.