Going to Panama, one expects to find Panamanian culture. The molas of the Kuna people, the music in the parks, the colorful artwork that adorns city buses; these are a few of the things that define the distinct atmosphere of Panama and its people. Yet, visiting Americans like us won’t get too homesick, because America and other cultures have found its ways to almost every crevice of this nation.
While bowling in Panama City, we passed a movie theater showing all the latest American blockbusters. In case you were wondering, La Turista starring Senor Johnny Depp is currently playing. We could stop for some ice cream at Baskin Robbins, or even enjoy Space Jam and Spy Kids projected on huge screens while we sent our bowling balls hurtling down their lanes. In some kind of multi-cultural time loop, the Macarena even started playing.
But this is Panama City, the biggest city in the country, so one would expect to find these nuggets of foreign culture sprinkled throughout the metropolis. It can show up in surprising places though. We visited a mother and her child who suffered from cerebral palsy. In her apartment, not only were there Snoopy bedsheets, there were Hello Kitty toys. This family didn’t seem to have much money, but these worldwide icons had somehow found a way into their lives.
As we continued to meet more families, this trend did not disappear. We traveled a fair distance away from the city, to a community where we met a few more children with disabilities. As we trekked along the small path through the village, poverty was even more of an issue. One particular family could not afford the $20 to travel to Panama City and back for health care for their child, and they had not done so in six years. When they had enough money to buy food, the daughter with cerebral palsy was obviously given priority. Despite these financial woes, the family still had a working television and dvd player in their small home. They were watching it when we showed up. Far away from the city, in the middle of Panama, this impoverished family was still connected to the media and the outside world.
I feel like when we think of this project superficially, we just imagine people in the middle of nowhere with no technology and no connection to the outside world. If our experiences from today are any indication, this stereotype is far from true. The indigenous people of Panama are quite diverse in terms of the ways in which they live and interact with the cultures of Panama and of the world. When it comes down to it, we’re not all that different. Culture may be the way in which we distinguish people from each other, but it is also one of the best ways of showing how we all have a lot more in common then we may think.