Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Graham, Why Is The Clock In Freezer?

For the past 8 weeks we've been able to settle in to a new life with what many would consider to be optimal weather conditions.  The weather was so oddly consistent that I thought our wall clock/thermometer was broken on 79 degrees. It didn't change for four days (day or night).  So naturally, I did what any freak would do and stuck the clock in the freezer for a minute to see if it really worked.  Of course freaks forget about putting clocks in freezers and Nicole found it later, thus begging the question.  The normal weather here was sun, flowers blooming everywhere, the occasional afternoon drizzle.  One thing that was different to us was the breeze.  I should rather say, wind. We've kept all of the screen-less windows wide open 24 hours per day to let the breeze in.  Even with the lights on at night and the windows and door open, we would only be visited by the occasional moth or mosquito, but nothing of much consequence. It was hard to believe how few bugs actually came in and bothered us.  One thing that blew our minds was the wind.  During 'the dry season' most of the time there was a constant 10-20mph wind with very low humidity.  It was heaven for me, but Nicole would sometimes even get chilly at night.  Sometimes the wind would get serious and bring 30-50mph gusts.  We imported a heavy, king sized, down pillow from the states. The wind could easily blast through the window and would regularly blow it right off the bed.  

Saturday that all changed. The dry season is over.  It rained for REAL. I guess that's what they meant by the rainy season. Rain coming down in actual clumps of water. So heavy I was looking in vain for hail on the ground. I took the time to record what was easily 90 decibels of water slamming against the tin rooftops. The rainy season introduced me to another first.  Bug clouds.  I saw no less than 100,000 termites flying 12" apart from one another in a cloud towards and around our house. Weirdly they seemed to go around the house.  I still ran around slamming the windows to the room where Simeon was sleeping. The bugs weren't ominous, just abundant. Kind of looked like mayflies. The rain-soaked ground cues all insects to leave terra firma and take flight.  Our landlord, Mario said this is the norm all season. I have to believe there will be some respite. It was a cloud. Birds were sacrificing their bodies in the torrential rain for the winged-feast that was clumsily dangling in front of them.  Guess it's time for window.

On a related topic we had another Panama moment that very night:  We discovered a colony of 1" flying termites in the door and doorpost to Simeon and Canaan's room. We realized they were there when they all took flight yesterday evening (Canaan was already down). After Nicole's head stopped rotating, I got to work on exterminating, getting the door taken outside and the aftermath cleaned up. Nicole was still a little frazzled as a few dozen of the little flyers kept coming out of random holes. We cleaned the entire house. Ugh. To put everyone's mind at ease we put Canaan in our room and both of them were under mosquito nets.  This was also so Nicole could live with herself. What a night!

Walking bridge to a local swimming hole/waterfall.
Insert 'Temple of Doom' reenactment here. (sans alligators)

Follow up:  No bugs for two days and the windows are back open for the time being ;)

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Triumphal Entries (part 2)

Continuing with the triumphal entries theme, My 38th birthday (March 28th) has been a metaphor for this entire Panama experience.  There is adventure around every corner. There’s waterfalls, mountain climbing, hot springs, exotic bird watching (even Toucan Sam lives here!!), plus jungle canopy tours, just to name a few.  But by far, the best part is the opportunity to move into such a cool culture and connect with amazing people who have a completely different worldview as us.  Who knew that the adventure of following Jesus would have our family moving to Panama, diving into the local community here and me jumping off a cliff into a remote waterfall?  

For some reason, the younger I get, the more physical harm I feel needs to be inflicted on my body, especially on my birthday.  Well, just getting to the remote waterfall was an adventure.  Only four-wheeled vehicles can get there.  After the asphalt road ends, It’s about an hour ride straight into the mountains.  When I say road ends, I mean it.  There are five stream crossings, and many of the hills you drive more closely resemble landslides than thoroughfares.  I'm talking actual boulders in the road.  Chuck was driving, and the trip got interesting very quickly when his brakes went out going down a hill.  Fortunately, his parking break and transmission were there to grind us to a halt until the brakes cooled off for the rest of the journey.  Yes, we voluntarily got back in the car and yes, I was white-knuckling the door handle. The amazing irony is that this remote area is considered by the locals to be more of the ‘suburbs’ of El Valle.  One mother of three regularly leaves her home at 5am and carries her infant child for over three hours to get to church by 8am. That chick is serious.

After a hike down we arrived at the falls.  There is no one around for miles.  Crystal clear water pounding down from one pool to another until it reaches the fifth and final waterfall and connected pool.  This is absolute paradise.  It is a slot canyon with vertical ascents on either side.  Conveniently, a multi-story rock bursts vertically out of the ground right above the fifth deep pool.  There I had my crisis of faith: cliff jumping.

See, it is not natural to voluntarily exit the integrity of a perfectly stable landmass with enough airtime for you to realize you are still falling …and you don’t want to be.  Come to think of it, in that utterly helpless moment just dangling out there in space you realize that you didn’t properly check the depth of the water you are falling into.  Sure, everybody says it’s fine. NO, IT IS NOT FINE! There’s also the all-important time it takes to scream like a 12 year old girl at a One Direction concert. This is clearly a defining moment.  One of those triumphal entries that you can look back on during a future trial in life and say to yourself in 2nd person, “Davis, you jumped off a freaking cliff in Panama, you can do THIS!”  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Triumphal Entries (part1)

Happy Easter Week everyone! We will first begin this triumphal entry with the best one in history: The Davis family into Panama.   I kid.  Actually, Palm Sunday was mentioned very little yesterday at church.  This faith community is a major reason we felt led to move down here.  They have referred to themselves as an exploded Bible study.  That’s about how it happened.  The bible study started 3 years ago with two believers, David and Lisa Carter, who drove out 2 hours from ‘the City’ every weekend and began teaching English and the Bible with one local here in town.  Yesterday, there were more than 90 people who came to worship.  Like we’ve said before, it’s an authentic group of people from every walk of life that have one thing in common, the desire to follow Jesus.  There are a few gringos sprinkled in the church, but it’s mostly Kuna, one of the many indigenous tribes here in Panama, as well as local Panamanians.   I say Palm Sunday wasn’t mentioned much because this church hasn’t had enough time to get stuck in annual tradition.  Tradition has its merits, for sure, but it can also cause dust to accumulate on faith communities.  Everything here is absolutely fresh.  We were busy blazing through the book of Acts (Hechos).  In the Book of Acts, the simplicity of the early church trying to figure out what to do next is quite kindred to the path we are taking at our church.  The leadership is being very intentional about not asserting an American religious construct on this faith community.   The goal is simple: teach the Bible and let the Holy Spirit direct the congregation as to how we will live out Jesus’ teachings in our paradigm.  In other words, none of the gringos or more mature Panamanian Christians are asserting, “Well, we had a choir in our church, so YOU need to have one too!” or, “This is how you do the offering.” etc.  It’s beautifully fresh and easy.

Saturday, we celebrated Canaan’s triumphal entry to earth 5 months ago. (11/12/13)  He has been an absolute gem during this major life transition for our family.  Nicole love’s ogling at him. I like making him laugh, Simeon likes saddling him up and riding him like a flat pony, and he likes trying to roll over.  What we never expected is how integral he would be to our relationship with our landlords, Mario and Esther.  It’s hard to call them ‘landlords’ because they have fast become our friends.  Remember, they live within the same fenced in ‘compound’ as us.  So, similar to the U.S., if you wanted to avoid your apartment neighbors all the time, you could here as well.  Fortunately, the exact opposite has happened.  Our door is almost always propped open where Mario or Esther feel free enough to come over and share a laugh with us and the boys. They are both locals here, with all of their extended family in this town.  On multiple occasions, Esther has come over asking for Canaan, scooped him up in her arms and disappeared in her house for 30-45 minutes at a time.  It is truly the highest compliment to us, that they feel so comfortable with us to just walk away with our baby.  But even me being Mr. Congeniality, when this happened the first time, my paternal protection flag went up.  

Mario and Canaan
Mario giving Canaan a bottle

Connie Holton squeezing Canaan tight.
Here’s where Nicole showed once again why I married up.  After 30 minutes had passed with Canaan still gone behind the closed door of this new friend/stranger’s home, I thought she might want to poke her head in and go make contact or something. “Nope.” Nicole said, “This is an opportunity to show her that I trust her. She can keep him as long as she’d like.”  Well played, Nicole.  It worked.  Yup, with language still being a big barrier, we’re trying to take every opportunity to show them our open arms of friendship.  Just tonight, I broke out my imported guitar rig and jammed on the porch with their two oldest sons.  Just like a squishy-cute baby, Metallica ‘Fade To Black’ translates in any language.  

Simeon rockin' out with G and the Boyz

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Did You Feel That?!


Hey all,  Thanks for your concern.  This is just a quick post to let everyone know we're just fine from the earthquake.  We are a 4 hr drive from the quake's epicenter in Chiriqui, the beautiful rolling hills of Panama.  

We were each sitting alone working online at our friend's home (they have better wifi) when the sway came.  It was so gentle that everyone there thought they were having an inner ear issue and felt 'woozy'.  The whole ordeal lasted about 15 seconds. We all jumped up saying, "did you feel that!?"  The only real confirmation that it wasn't in all of our heads was that the chandelier in the hall way was rocking back and forth.  One of the additional perks of El Valle, is that there are no fault lines (big quakes), hurricanes, nor tornados. In the end it was more of a celebration that we didn't miss the tremor than anything else. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

We are here!

We made it! We've been here in El Valle, Panama safe and sound for 4 weeks now and have already had so many wonderful experiences!  Obviously, we've had a lot on our plate settling in.  In the future we will try to provide updates shorter and more regularly to keep everyone posted on this incredible journey.  Here are some initial highlights of our transition.

Well, Nicole, Simeon, Canaan, and I embarked on our adventure.  We flew out of Dulles Monday, March 3rd on Copa Airlines.  After several last minute changes to our airline tickets because of yet another snow storm (495 was unplowed!), the Davis family, in classic style, rushed through the airport praying that the plane wouldn't leave without us.  We were the last ones to board and of course had two screaming kiddos and a bazillion bags, strollers, etc and of course the guitar.  After all that, we sat on the runway for 1.5hrs for deicing.  Joy.

In any case, praise God, and a special thanks to Lightening McQueen, we had a very smooth five hour direct flight.  The flight attendants (actually) liked Simeon and Canaan, and gave us TWO adjacent rows to sprawl out on the half-full flight.  Touchdown Panama City (PTY).  At around 11pm, our friends Chuck Holton and his 16 year old son Mason were kindly waiting to pick us up 'on the other side of the rope'.  However, right out of the gate, we encountered our first very interesting (i.e. insanely frustrating) moment. This story is worth telling:  

As we were shuffling through the long line at customs we finally made it up to the desk of an immigration lady who was checking our passports and documents.  This slouching, and clearly tired, coed decided to take special note of us.  Were we too smiley? Too American? Too attractive?  Who knows.  She wasn't satisfied with our explanation as to why we had not written an address of our exact destination within Panama.  We explained (in broken Spanish) that we were staying in El Valle at a friend's house, but didn't have his actual address.  Not good enough.  With the crowds of weary travelers groaning as they piled upstream, she just sat there and stared at us.  We smiled and stared back.  ....OK, let's stand here and text Chuck for his address.  Fortunately technology worked and he was able to respond.  

"WHAT?! There are no addresses in Panama!!"  

That didn't help, Chuck, give me something, we're just standing here staring at this lady.  

"OK, how about this: '5 calle de panadaria'" ...which literally means 5th house on the street with the bakery.  

Not good enough. The lady erupted (exclusively in very rapid spanish) that this was not a true address, then awkwardly continued to stare at us.  She refused to let us pass.  No melodic vocalizations or hand gestures, no batting of eyes, nor girthy interpretive dance worked.  There was nothing that we could say or do to change her mind.  She just stared at us as both of our children, sitting on a giant 3-wheeled 'imported' tandem stroller, began screaming out of sheer exhaustion.  The immigration officer gave no alternative.  Yes, she had decided in her mind that this was not a real address and she was not going to let us through.  What were we going to do?!  We're off the plane, but have not even made it INTO the airport-proper.  Are we just going to float here without identity off the grid?  Somehow exist in this void tangential of the space/time continuum?  At this moment we even have less identity than Edward Snowden, that guy who's fleeing U.S. capture seeking asylum in a Russian airport!  At least he's IN the airport!!!  ...Get it together, Davis, we still have our cunning to survive.  Not to mention the guiding hand of the Creator of the universe.  OK, no we weren't that worried.  In our defense, the fact is true.  There are no addresses in our town of El Valle, nor most of Panama.  So before my head started to rotate and Nicole consumed the immigration lady with blue flames shooting out of her eyes, she came up with a wise alternative. 

"Let's just leave!" Pretty original thought when you really think about it.  I mean we were Temple Grandin-esque cattle being directed down this pseudo-calming meander of lines where we all have to follow the rules and not get in trouble, and there my sweet bride just throws in a game changer. Boom.

So, following the directive of 'the neck that turns the head' I simply turned around with my family, walked back and got in another line.  To make sure Nicole's 'passion' didn't get us in any trouble, I told her to 'stare at the ground, not look back, and be that little bubbly southern belle that I married'.  Within minutes, another customs agent oblivious of the tumult that happened just a few desks away, called us to his desk and processed us immediately.  Wow.  Yes, that will go down in the annuls as our first official 'Panama Moment'.  This we have discovered is a cultural passion of many here, to say, 'no' without giving an alternative option.  Oh the joys of a new environment.  But you know, we'll take that quirk for the joy of sharing life with this beautiful people group.  We'll share more about the people here in another post.

Now on to the great blessing of this new venture, the Holtons.  The Holtons (Chuck, Connie, Kiernen, Mason, Nathan, Joey, and Amy) are our kind and wonderful friends who have lived in El Valle off-and-on for a few years now and have bent over backwards to make our transition a smooth one.  El Valle is somewhat of a destination spot for Panamanians and gringos alike.  The average population is 5,000-7,000, but during celebrations can ballon up to 30,000.  It is in the crater of an extinct volcano (the second largest in the world), and at an altitude of 2,900 ft is therefore significantly cooler with less humidity and more temperate than much of Panama.  There are dramatic mountains surrounding the entire 5 mile valley floor (El Valle translates "the valley", much like for your Chris Farley fans "el Nino" translates to ...."the Nino").  During June-December, though sun peeks out occasionally, it rains each day mostly with afternoon showers.  January-May is the dry, warm season, although every season is warm and beautiful here.  So we have been enjoying incredibly beautiful weather since we've been here.  The nights here are very breezy this time of year, so we sleep with our windows open with a constant 10-20 mph breeze, but sometimes 30-45 mph gusts of wind.  Despite the occasional barking dogs, neighbors up till all hours, and roosters crowing at 4am, the boys are sleeping amazingly.  The first week we arrived was actually the big week of Carnival, which is the big celebration week including the last week of their summer and also "Fat Tuesday" and Ash Wednesday, so there were  a ton of extra people vacationing in town.

Our house is a humble two-level concrete home with two bedrooms upstairs.  The downstairs has a small kitchen, dining room, living room, and bathroom.  The house is perfectly situated in a 'family compound' of three other single-level houses in a fenced in area behind ours.  We are the only gringos in the neighborhood, so it's kind of like, 'come see the gorillas that have just moved next door', but with EVERYONE in the culture being so kind and respectful, it is endearing.  Though we are on the 'panamanian side' of town,  we are the first group of houses off the main road, so everything is very accessible and safe.  It is AWESOME for Simeon because he can run in an out of the house as he chooses and just stays in the yard, saying 'hola' and 'buenas' (the local greeting) to folks passing by.  Panamanians are very respectful of the gates, so no one comes in unless they are formally invited.  That first day we met our wonderful landlords, Mario and Esther.  More about them later.

The home was 'not a gringo house' when we moved in.  Gringo, you know, like when you open the bathroom door it DOESN'T stop half way in, banging into the sink.  So, the entire first week was spent scurrying around purchasing items for the house to get it fully functioning.  And yes, we did swap out the door so that it swings open the right way.  Chuck and I made several trips to Coronado, the biggest town 'down the hill' about 45 minutes away to purchase a stove/oven, washer, and fridge.  Connie took Nicole all around to get stuff for the kitchen and bedrooms.  The house came with bunk beds in the kids' room (a very uncommonly kind gesture from our owners), a bed in our room, two chairs and a couch downstairs.  Chuck and Graham built shelves for our bedroom and the kitchen, did some repairs, and hooked up all the appliances.  Our dining room has a very fancy, expensive white-plastic card table with two plastic chairs:).  The Holtons were kind enough to feed us three square meals a day the entire first week until we got ourselves situated.  Thank you to them.

On our first Friday, we took Simeon to the open house at the local preschool down the street. They had an event to prepare for the first week of class which started the following Monday.  We arrived and there were 20 or so families in front of the one-room school house.  It has buried tires to play on in a fenced in yard (next to a bull pasture, at the base of one of the coolest mountains, La India Dormida "the sleeping Indian").  Someone had set up an inflatable pool, and somehow everyone knew to bring their kids in their swim suits.  Simeon was interested, but not willing to jump in there with them.  We ate some delicious chicken and rice they were selling for $1 a plate.  This school is not funded by the government, so the parents help out frequently to help fundraise and sell things to support the school.  We decided to send Simeon Monday, Wednesday, and Friday every week, 7:30-11:30 in the morning.  It cost us a whopping $15 per month.  Yes, we did the math.  It costs $0.31 per hour to send him to pre-school. He is the only "fulo" (blondie) that goes to the school, so he blends right in.  Zero English speaking teachers, Zero English speaking kids.  Talk about throwing him in the deep end!  He did what every 2.5y/o does.  Cried for 10 min when his parents left him, then ran, colored, and played with all the kids for the next 4 hours.  Simeon is a champion in every language.

Everywhere we go people point at and comment about the fair haired boys.  Women just grab up Canaan as fast as they can, especially in church.  There were literally 7 women surrounding Canaan this past Sunday.  It's a sight to behold.  We have really enjoyed the small church community we have been going to and are looking forward to diving in more as time goes on.  We've already worshipped multiple times there.  Every service worship is in 3 different languages (Kuna being a tribal mountain tongue) at this only bi-lingual evangelical gathering in town.  It has a couple of American missionaries facilitating, but in a scenario (rare evangelical church in town) with so many different backgrounds represented, every one has to concede their picture of 'church' ultimately to the foundation of the gospel and to how the locals recieve and interpret it. So far, that has manifested itself in a simple, 'campy' feel, where the Bible is preached, testimonials are very raw, community is transparent and authentic, and people really care about, and for, one another. Much like it happened in the New Testament.  We love it. Nicole has already been pursuing a few lucky local girls to share life with. 

Since getting here we have had the most incredible fortune with our safe/humble home, kind landlords, and especially our dear friends, Chuck and Connie Holton. They have set us up to thrive here by loving us and helping us get our house in order, finding the best places to shop, childcare, etc.   There's plenty more to share in coming posts, but know we love and miss sharing life with (and worshiping with) our friends and family at home.  As of right now our internet is very LO-FI, but we muddle.  The good news is that we can receive incoming calls for free here!  So if you can find an acceptable international calling option we can talk for relatively cheap and would love to talk!

Our PanaGraham number (see what we did there?!) is (Five Zero Seven) 6457-9897. Yes, more digits than in the States. Remember you need to dial Zero-1-1 when calling out of country. Love y'all!!! Call any time! We are one hour behind during Daylight Savings Time. Because there's no need for that here, haha!!

More to come soon!

Graham, Nicole, Simeon & Canaan

Thanks for your prayers.

Simeon and Daddy hiking through the jungle and up a local mountain.

Our little girthy niƱo

Nicole & Canaan cooking platanos (plaintains) a local norm. That little gas stove was $106!

Sim and Lightening braving the flight
My sweet bride and her progeny

our sweet diggs!
guy smiley