Facing fears in Panama

The feelings that I’ve experienced during my first four days here in Panama are very similar to what one might feel when traveling to a new city as a travel nurse.  Not so different being a ‘traveler’ vs ‘travel nurse’ in all reality. Adjustments to travel can be intimidating and scary, but in the end travel can be very rewarding.

My arrival in Panama left me feeling ready to cry. I felt alone, out of my element and wasn’t prepared for what lie ahead.  I don’t speak the language (I know…I’ve tried to learn Spanish and I just can’t get it) and the culture felt awkward, I didn’t know my way around and hadn’t researched prior to my arrival.  This all left me feeling so out of my element that all I wanted to do was sit at the hostel and converse with my ‘friends’ online.  So, what did I do?  I locked myself in the hostel and ate peanut butter with crackers for dinner, feeling lonely and embarrassed.

When it really comes down to it…I was afraid.

Afraid of what?  I really don’t know….  Maybe I was fearful of what others would think of the ‘gringa’?  Perhaps it was a fear of getting lost? I wish I could tell you what the root of the ‘fear’ was but I can’t.

When I first started travel nursing, many contracts began this same way.  Hidden away in my apartment or hotel, fearful of the unknown. For those that know me ‘pre-travel nurse’, they know that I was very shy and unsure of myself. Never wanting to ‘Step out of my Box’.  I’ve learned a lot about me and how to adjust to these feeling and experiences over the years and here it was all creeping back…why? I may never truly know.

My second and third days were not much better.  I ventured out a little but still held onto my fear.  Letting this feeling go was difficult. I tried to get excited about exploring a new city and experiencing new foods, people and culture and I couldn’t do it.

By day four in Panama, I’d had enough of my fear. I was done with it.  I pushed it aside (mind you it was still there nagging in the back of my mind), I had to get out of this funk I was in.  So I wandered the streets of Casco Viejo, explored the Mercado de pescado, and took a long walk through one of the parque.  I had an amazing day.  My camera was safely stowed in the bottom of my day-pack and there aren’t many photo’s. I wanted to experience what I was seeing and sometimes, it’s important to fix the experience in your mind’s eye…not the camera lens.

Panama City: Casco Viejo

A walk through Casco Viejo filled my eyes with a wonderful array of color, texture and realization that there is beauty in everything.

A small child playing in a puddle on the sidewalk, the way the vines overtook the broken down buildings, the rubble of the facade of what was onece a beautiful building, laundry hanging from balconies and dogs lounging in doorways.  The sounds of music floating from random homes, the chatter of conversations that I couldnt’ understand and the overwhelming pings of hammers and beeps from the heavy equipment from the construction everywhere. These sounds brought me ‘here’.  To the here and now.

Panama City: Mercado de Pescado (Fish Market)

At the Mercado de Pescado (Fish Market) the smells were overwhelming.

Panama fish market

In Panama’s 90 degree heat, the smell of dead fish isn’t the most pleasant.  But the chatter of the vendors and customers and the empty stomach I’d been feeding peanut butter and crackers for the past 3 days….lead me on.  Choosing a random vendor (they all looked equally as good to me), I ordered ceviche for lunch.  Not knowing which one I should try I asked for ‘recommendation’ from the vendor.  She didn’t disappoint.  The shrimp ceviche was amazingly tasty and filling.  I’d forgotten about the ‘dead-fish’ smells that were still wafting through the market.

After filling my stomach, I continued to walk through the market. Heading to where the locals buy their fresh seafoods. The vendors all greeted me with smiles and tried to sell me their fresh goods.  Declining politely and asking for a few photo’s, they were happy to oblige. I wondered to myself why I was ‘fearful’ when everyone I met was kind and helpful to the ‘gringa’.

The remainder of the day was spent wandering through the local park.  The children were laughing and the families enjoying each others company.  Even the police had a smile to share.  I sat and took it all in, their smiles were contagious….

How do you face your fear when Traveling?