Living in Central America for 8 Weeks: Final Lessons (Part VII)

I thought I’d end this series with five brief lessons. Here goes!

It’s all America

I’ve stopped referring to the United States as “America.” Although we all learn that there is North America, Central America, and South America, quite honestly, when you say “America,” I think you’re talking about my home country. However, Central America can also be called “America.” I suspect the United States cornered the market on being the America, and I could probably pontificate on how and why, but I won’t. Living in Central America has reinforced the idea that I should just refer to where I live as the States.

Being surrounded by women who are shaped like you gives you confidence.

It didn’t take me long to notice all of the brown women in Costa Rica were short with wide hips. Panamanian women were more diverse looking, but most of them were just as short with wide hips. That’s how I look, and growing up, I really didn’t have anyone who was shaped like me. A lot of the time, I felt like a short, squat, fat girl. But seeing Central American women wear whatever they wanted at the beach or on the street helped me gain a bit of confidence about my own self. I’m fine the way I am, and I can wear what I want.

People will project their fears onto you if you let them.

While Dwight and I were away, a few people commented on how I’d “abandoned” my children. The “children” they were so worried about are nineteen and twenty-two. I thought they were joking, but one continued with “They still need their Mama.” After this happened a few times, I stopped defending myself. The way I see it, people’s comments always demonstrate more about their own fears, insecurities, and jealousies and less about me and what I’m doing. Plus, I know what real abandonment looks like, and it ain’t when your parents take an eight-week trip.

There are many ways to show care but doing nothing at all means you don’t care…about something.

Years ago, I got into an argument with my former therapist about this. Dwight and I discuss it frequently, and I’m sure he still disagrees lol During this trip, though, the concept was solidified.

While I was away, I could only speak with iPhone users easily. If you had a Galaxy or something else, then you had to download WhatsApp so we could talk. Several friends did this. Others did not because we communicated in other ways (Viber, social media, email, etc.).

Now, there is another group of people who I didn’t talk to for eight consecutive weeks because they didn’t download the app, leaving us with no way to keep in touch. I know there could be a million reasons why, but I firmly believe that if you know I was out of the country, and you chose not to engage (even though I asked you to get WhatsApp several times), then there’s something you don’t care about. Maybe our relationship is not a priority. Maybe you don’t care about talking and finding out how someone is doing (immediately). Maybe you don’t value virtual conversations. Whatever it is, there is a lack of care.

There’s no such thing as the “perfect” situation.

We stayed in an Airbnb in both countries. In Costa Rica, we lived in a house in the mountains. We were so high up that I could almost reach out and touch the hawks that flew by every afternoon. Because the owner had two mirrors, we woke up to a 360-view of the mountains every single day. However, it was noisy. A rooster crowed every day from about four in the morning to at least five in the afternoon. Someone’s car alarm sounded every afternoon around three. And because we were in the mountains, every so often you’d hear screeching brakes from a semi or old car. It wasn’t perfect.

In Panamá, we stayed in an area called Casco Viejo in a brand-new apartment. We were in walking distance from touristy shops and trendy restaurants that played music from Friday through Sunday. We were a $2-5-Uber drive away from two malls. We were minutes away from grocery stores that sold familiar products, such as Tide, cranberry juice, and trail mix. However, it was noisy. The apartment wasn’t just new, it was still being built. That meant Monday through Saturday, we were awakened to hammering, sawing, and yelling from seven in the morning until five in the evening. Making phone calls or attending virtual meetings were arduous tasks. Likewise, because we were in walking distance of restaurants and bars, we were also within hearing distance (from the terrace) of every type of music you could imagine from all directions.

This trip reinforced the idea that something will always have to give. There will always be something that will annoy you about places (or even people). The idea is to know what you can live with and go from there.

Agree or disagree…let me know what you all think.

Special thank you to each and every person who has read, commented, liked, or shared any of these posts. I’m very appreciative ❤



Living in Central America for 8 Weeks: “Crazy,” “Stupid,” “Selfish,” and other Judgments (Part V)

When I decided to commute to a job 360 miles away, my cousin was like “Kathy, that’s 360 miles away. Are you crazy?”

I did it anyway. When I decided to quit the same job, another family member offered unsolicited advice about why I was leaving. In her opinion, the reasons I’d shared didn’t warrant resigning.

That’s when I realized everyone will always have a judgment about who you are and what you’re doing, so it’s best that you get grounded, know what you value, and then live by that compass.

I’ve already explained how much I value freedom. It took me a long time to consistently live by that value, and just when I became solid in my understanding of who I am and how I want to move in the world, COVID-19 plagued the globe.

So, while cooped up at home, I began Corona Chronicles to process what I was observing. “You’re Stupid!” was about judging others because they’re not doing what you want them to do. When I wrote it, it was common to spew venom at and about those who refused to wear a mask or shelter at home.

As the year wore on, I recognized people’s opinions about how to act during a pandemic were shaded in nuance.

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For example, my cousin had a backyard wedding at the end of 2020. Dwight and I showed up masked, but by the end of it, we were barefaced and hugging people. Months later, the same cousin traveled to bury her grandmother. I guess someone said something to her about it, because later, she ranted on social media about how she’d never fly during a pandemic just for a vacation, deeming her flight for a funeral as a necessary pandemic trip.

We can justify anything, while judging everyone else, right?

This year, it seems we’ve switched to calling friends and family stupid, selfish…and maybe even crazy if they don’t get vaccinated, and depending on the news channel you watch, the same terms apply for people who do get vaccinated. Instead of suspending judgments, we seem to be increasing them, with global health or government manipulations as justification.

What does this have to do with us living in Central America for eight weeks? Well, I’ve thought at length about if I need to share my health choices. Do I need to passively reveal my vaccination status? Do I need to explicitly display the results of my COVID-19 tests? Do I need to qualify or refute CDC guidelines?

I’ve decided the answer is no. I stopped proving myself to others years ago, and I’m not about to start back now. Plus, it doesn’t matter. Someone out there is gonna think we’re crazy, stupid, or selfish no matter how I frame it.



Living in Central America for 8 Weeks: A Confession (Part I)

Dwight and I have been living in Central America for eight weeks. We spent four weeks in Costa Rica and four weeks in Panamá. This series isn’t about the touristy stuff. If you want to read about that, then head over to our collaborative blog Garlands Abroad.

This series is about my personal feelings, what I learned, and what was reinforced about myself and my existence in this world.

Let’s start with a confession/not confession.

Dwight and I had been planning a long stay in another country since we thought you-know-who was going to be president. It started with a casual conversation centered on what we’d do if he-who-shall-not-be-named won. People had begun having dangerous conversations in the States, and we live in the South where racism and other thoughts consist of more than media sound bites and empty threats. Dwight suggested buying a gun; I suggested leaving the country. We planned for the latter.

As you know, Biden won but we still decided we wanted to leave. We’re both free-spirited in that way and didn’t see it as a big deal. The only issue was the limited places that would allow US citizens to enter. Initially, we decided on Croatia, but long story short, we ended up with Costa Rica and Panamá.

My husband and I are different, so we handled leaving differently: He told his job he wouldn’t be in the country. I didn’t. I’m more of an ask for forgiveness type of person combined with a who cares mentality. I kept thinking, who cares if I’m sitting in my home office in Jacksonville or sitting in an Airbnb miles away, as long as I’m doing my job effectively, which I did, by the way. I had a student win second place in a research undergraduate conference, I successfully wrapped up Spring semester, and I began and almost completed Summer semester.

This doesn’t mean I didn’t tell anyone.

I contacted close friends and family, whom I assumed would want to know where I was. A handful of people knew this was a planned trip; others found out the morning we were leaving the country. I did it this way for two reasons. First, I didn’t want to hear anyone’s comments about our plans. I’ve learned that others’ opinions do sometimes affect me, depending on who it is. I get angry very quickly when people think they can offer unsolicited advice and tell me things I didn’t ask to hear, instead of just wishing me well or asking details. I don’t like being angry, so I’ve learned to do what I want and either tell people while I’m in process or after the fact. The second reason is because we had a failed Croatia trip, and I didn’t want to make approximately twenty-five calls and texts explaining to approximately twenty-five people what happened should this next trip not manifest.

Even though I went through all these changes, I’m still not a great secret-keeper, and I have an affinity for IG. To satisfy these two truths, I only posted about my trip to stories for the first three weeks. I saved feed posts for regular stuff, like info about my student and some beautiful Mother’s Day flowers I received. While my former director and a co-worker did see these stories, neither said a word.

Once Spring semester ended, I posted regularly.

Whew! There’s my confession/not confession. The next five posts will dig deeper into a few things I’ve learned while I was away.

The Greatest Thing about Being Married…

…is being with your best friend for the rest of your life, assuming that you’ve married your best friend, which I highly recommend.

If your spouse is not your best friend, then I’d suggest you and s/he at least be friends.

Here’s why:

You probably wanna be married to a person with whom you’d like to actually be around for long periods of time, and with whom you’d like to do activities. For Dwight and me it’s important because we enjoy traveling.

img_7647Our adventures together began twenty-two years ago when his parents paid for our honeymoon to Puerto Vallarta. We saw an ocean for the first time ever! We snorkeled. We partied. We rode motor scooters through the tiny streets where I thought I was going to face plant onto the cobble-stoned roads and die. To this day that memory makes him chuckle. Those were good times and there’s no one else I’d rather have done it with than my husband.

Since then, he’s chaperoned a study abroad trip with a group of high school students and me. Aside from keeping track of everyone, we ate really bad fish and chips, saw the Globe Theater, and visited the British Museum.

vegas2We’ve flown to Vegas four times and each time I’ve wondered how this trip could be any different than the last. Well, each one has been. Every trip has been at a different stage in our relationship, with different people, and for a variety of reasons. Sin City never disappoints, but quite honestly, neither does our affection for staying up all night, gambling, strolling up and down the Strip, and eating fine cuisine.

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For some couples, travelling stops once they begin a family. But not for us. In fact, the girls have joined us on a few trips. Years ago, when they were little, they went on their first real flight across the country to Seattle. We saw the first Starbucks, visited the aquarium, and watched fish fly through the air at Pike Place. By the time they were rolling their pre-teen eyes at everyone, they’d eaten authentic Philly Cheesesteaks in Philly and visited the Liberty Bell. And although it was a bit expensive, I insisted they come with us on our sixteen-hour flight to Japan. I wanted them to know the rest of the world existed before they left our little bubble.

I could continue recounting years of vacays, but the point is, there’s no one else I’d rather see another part of the planet with than my hubby.

Happy Anniversary Dwight! Here’s to twenty-two more years of sightseeing.

The Yin and Yang of it All

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Royalty free image

Here’s my second favorite wrap-up post from our 2015 Japan trip. Once I returned, friends and family asked a few questions. The first made me think about my authenticity as a blogger. The other two questions have helped me to further think about my own country.

Did I love Japan?
No. It’s a lovely country. I’ve shown the beautiful hydrangeas in a prior post. And I’ve talked about the food and its freshness. But the country, even when I was in major cities, like Kyoto or Tokyo, were a little too quiet and rule driven for my free-spirited soul. Usually when I land in a city, I feel the energy. Cities, especially over-populated ones, generally have a pulse of their own. There’s a busy-ness that grabs and encapsulates you. But not Tokyo. Sure there were a lot of people and a five story H&M. But it didn’t feel like a big city. Additionally, there was a Stepford Wife feel. It was as if  each person knew his or her place and dare not cross that boundary. Even the Harajuku girls were seemingly confined to one area: Harajuku.

Were the people nice?
Overly-so. I’ve written about the blatant respect and consideration I noticed while there. But after a conversation with my best friend, I quickly learned that the country is just as racist as any society that wishes to remain “pure.” It’s just not always overt. My friend recounted the story of a biracial Miss Japan who represented the country in the Miss Universe pageant. This was a big deal. It was important because she is what they call a hafu. Yep. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Kinda like calling someone a half-breed in America or as my friend pointed out, a nigger. Say it ain’t so! Apparently, the Japanese are pretty serious about keeping their culture, bloodlines, and subsequently, representation, pure.

Have you had culture shock upon return?
Yep. It didn’t take long either. Ironically, the very thing that fueled my dislike, the quiet, is also what I’d grown used to. Our flight to Japan was virtually silent. Even the flight attendants barely spoke above a whisper. Eleven (seemingly Japanese) children were in our immediate area. I didn’t hear one of them. Not one. The flight attendants back home were different. They were louder. WATER? COFFEE? TEA? They seemed to shout as if we were at a baseball game. The screaming children, with parents who refused to say anything also somehow seemed different. Once we made it to LA, we watched a little boy jump up on the tram’s bar and swing from it like a monkey bar. Then in Atlanta, we  witnessed a little girl pour a sugar packet down her throat and announce, “The sugar is all gone, mama!” I’ve been out of the country five times and this is the first time I came back feeling as if America has some work to do. I hate feeling like this. And I almost didn’t write about it because I feared the common response when one suggests America isn’t great. I figured someone would invite me to leave the country.

So, there it is. The unadulterated truth about my visit. I loved traveling to Japan cause it’s helped me view my own country and myself a little differently. I’ve been able to equally weigh the positives and the negatives. Would I visit again? Probably not, unless someone I loved lived there.

Japan: Respect and Consideration

Last year, my family and I traveled to Japan. Here’s one of my favorite wrap-up posts.

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Image. ©2015 K E Garland. All Rights Reserved.

Japan seems to foster a culture of respect and consideration. After 14 days of observation, I attribute the level of reverence they have to the homogeneity of the country and its religious practices. With 98.5% of the population actually being Japanese and with most of the country following a combination of Shintō and Buddhism (Tour, June 9, 2015), there seems to be little room to vary one’s beliefs. Consequently, it’s easy to see how respect and consideration can permeate an entire country’s everyday cultural practices.

I witnessed a culture of respect in action.

A culture of respect means bowing when you see someone. Some African Americans do a similar head nod. In fact, it’s so common that an episode of Black-ish is devoted to the practice. It’s a way to say, “What’s up” without opening your mouth. But in Japanese culture a brief bow-nod seems to be a common practice, for everyone. It seems to be a way to say, “I see you.” When you walk into a place of business, employees nod. If you conduct business, associates nod. If you decide not to purchase anything, they still nod. They don’t try to determine if you’ll actually purchase something before bowing. Instead, the Japanese recognize your presence as a respectful act.
A culture of respect means taking pride in your job. Repeatedly, I observed several employees go to great lengths to ensure our happiness. At a Kyoto hotel, our Internet connection wasn’t working. By the time we returned to our room, two women were there, shoes removed, kneeling and connecting all of our devices. A similar level of service occurred at the Max Brenner Chocolate Bar. My husband thought he’d ordered a mixed dark chocolate/white chocolate shake. This establishment doesn’t offer such a thing. But the employees were willing to create one. Making patrons feel comfortable seems to be a way to also demonstrate respect.

Additionally, I observed a culture of consideration in everyday situations.

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Kyoto Children. ©2015 K E Garland. All Rights Reserved.

A culture of consideration means that elementary-aged children can walk to and from school together. Unsupervised. I watched little children cross two major Kyoto intersections on their way to school. These little ducklings held their mini umbrellas, waited for the light and crossed the street. Although two made it to one side first, they turned and waited for the other two. Once together, they safely crossed the other way as a group. They helped each other and no one bothered them. I’m convinced it’s not only because of the common practice of traveling to school, but also due to the idea of considering oneself and others, even children. Because consideration is imbedded in the culture, parents probably feel secure knowing their children will make it safely to their destination.

A culture of consideration means that everyday businesses will also think about the children in that society. I noticed this twice in Tokyo. Once was at the New Sanno’s buffet. In addition to all of the typical adult buffet settings, it included a two-foot mini-buffet. It included mini-tongs for small kids to grab their chicken nuggets. I’ve frequented one too many buffets in my life and I’ve never seen one that caters to kids quite like this. Another example was at the Diver City Mall. While in the women’s bathroom, I didn’t see any mothers changing diapers or holding their children up to the sink. Here, there is not only a family restroom, but also a nursing restroom and a kids’ restroom. And if there happens to be a child in the ladies’ restroom, there is a kid-level sink for girls to comfortably wash their own hands. How considerate.

These are just a few examples. And in no way am I trying to suggest this country is perfect. But it does seem that America could benefit from including more respect and consideration. I’m not entirely sure what it would take to create this type of culture in the States. Our country’s racial, ethnic and religious values vary. However, respect and consideration are universal values. Perhaps we can begin with small acts that will grow over time. Speaking when you see someone is a good start. Doing your job at 100% even when you don’t feel like it is another. And putting someone else’s needs before yours might make a difference. The only way a culture can change is if the people change it. Perhaps America’s culture of respect and consideration will begin with this post. Perhaps it will begin with each of our actions.