My Boquete Epiphany by Jeffrey Willius

I‘m in the sweet little mountain town of Boquete, Panama for two weeks, part of my quest to experience more of life and chase my elusive dream of Spanish fluency, whatever that is. Trips like this are always eye-openers for me. I get to see how the vast majority of earthlings live, and, recently, how the roiling confluence of that lifestyle with the relentless current of the new “world culture,” so long on aspiration but so short on patience, is affecting their simpler, purer—some would say more sustainable—traditions.

But this trip is already proving to be more than merely instructional. Just this morning I had an epiphany.

Habla Ya, the fine Spanish school I’m attending, arranged for me to stay with a local family. Señor Guillermo Bell Miranda is a coffee farmer, working the land atop the steep cerro just behind his home. He and his extended family couldn’t be nicer or more generous with their home, their time and their help with my Spanish. Nonetheless, I had just two requirements for my lodging: a bed at least six feet long, and WiFi (so I can keep up with my commitment to regular posting on OneMansWonder.com With classes taking up most of the day, and the prospect of a few excursions into the gorgeous area surrounding Boquete in the mornings, I was counting on being able to connect with the Internet every evening, in the privacy of my room.

The bed is long enough. But the Internet connection, a sluggish, intermittent, dial-up service, requires 17-year-old Antonio’s shoving a well-used CD onto my laptop and installing some huge program.

My reaction to all of this—well within reason, I thought—was to let Lorena, la directora of the school, know that we’d have to find some other arrangement that would accommodate my needs. After all, who’s the customer here? Wouldn’t anyone in his right mind hold a supplier more or less to the terms of a contract? I assured Lorena that the last thing in the world I want to do is to offend the Bell Miranda family, but work is work.

Just then, another staff member in the office, overhearing our conversation, came over to explain, in what I took as a paternalistic tone, that I couldn’t blame the Bell Mirandas nor any average Panamanian family for not knowing all the ins and outs of Internet connections.

My Spanish always collapses to the level of rank beginner when shaken by any degree of emotion. Explaining that to the young man, I let him know, in English and in no uncertain terms, that I wasn’t blaming the family at all. And I didn’t need to be told that the school’s inability to meet my very few requirements was my fault. At this, Lorena jumped in to suggest that they might, indeed, be able to locate another family with WiFi. I reiterated my concern with hurting the feelings of Guillermo and his family with my decision, but she assured me they could explain the situation to the family with minimal offense. So I agreed to that solution and thanked her.

I retired to the student lounge (where WiFi is available), and started writing about my first couple of days here. I couldn’t think straight. Too many feelings plucking at the edges of my concentration. I tried to imagine two weeks at my adoptive family’s home with nothing “productive” to do in the evening, especially considering that they all retire by 9:00 or 9:30.

I recalled, from all my experiences in Mexico, how enigmatic Latin American values can seem to a norteamericano, but how, at some level I’ve only occasionally been able to embrace, they made sense. Then I saw a crystal clear image of Guillermo’s and his family’s faces when they learned that I’d found their home unacceptable.

That’s what did it. In that split second of clarity, everything resorted itself in my mind. I released my hold on my frustration, disappointment and self-righteousness, and let acceptance and flexibility gently nudge them aside. And, after all that consternation, the answer seemed so beautifully simple. I wondered why I cling so to the illusion that I can control my life.

So now I’ll spend my evenings patiently and happily with this kind, generous family. I’ll write what I can without access to information and photos. I’ll read my book—very slowly, so it’ll last the two weeks. Then I’ll use my free mornings to get online at school. Self: see how easy that is?

The cosmos wasted no time in rewarding me for my little awakening. For the rest of the morning, as it turns out, in the busy student lounge, I had the chance to meet many of the staff and my fellow students I’d never have met otherwise. Lorena thanked me more than once for my understanding. And tonight, arriving home after classes, everything seemed different with Guillermo and the family. Was it just me, or can they see the change in my attitude?

Funny, you can read about how to behave gracefully in other cultures. You can learn some of the language and customs. You can try doing in Rome as the Romans do. I know these things, and have wrestled with culture shock before. But, at least for me, it’s taken that little extra jolt, that little injection of emotion followed by reflection, for me to actually get it. Now if I can only remember it.

Jeffrey Willius is a seasoned writer, graphic designer, inventor and inveterate observer of life. He produces the popular blog, One Man’s Wonder (http://www.onemanswonder.com/), his reflections on life, Nature and new ways of seeing. His first book, Under the Wild Ginger, is receiving wide acclaim for its exploration of the common ground shared by Nature and spirituality. Willius lives in Minneapolis and Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico.

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Spanish Family

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Office in Panama

Spanish man in kitchen

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10 thoughts on “My Boquete Epiphany by Jeffrey Willius”

  1. This is great Jeff! What a clear picture of how to transform oneself through experience! The good thing is that you were able to attend to that moment when you saw the faces of the family. You saw how your attitude (an afflictive state brought by holding on tightly to your planned ‘needs’) affected them and really let yourself measure that moment. You cared about the impact – about them. That allowed you to ‘let go’…and that in turn allowed you to experience a whole chain of things that were positive and that you would have missed had you missed that pause or reacted differently. Bravo! One can travel all around and miss all that.

    I can add that Jeff added his energy and talent to life in our small village in Southern Mexico guiding the children in the painting of a wonderful mural on our Children’s Library wall. Perhaps some of this went on there too…lol! Thank you Jeff! We think of you often when enjoying our beautiful Butterfly Mural.

    1. Oh yes, my friend, I learned — and hope to keep learning — a great deal from you about expectations. If that aspect of it wasn’t in my post at the time about our experience working with you, it should have been. I’d be interested to know: before you settled in La Barra, were you ever a control freak? Seems to me you might already have learned something about letting go before you even got there. Yes?
      ¡Mil gracias, Laura!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Carol. I know of both your and your parents’ need to learn these lessons as you immersed yourselves in a new culture. I admire you and them for all you’ve done to embrace Zihuatanejo, her people and her customs. You’re an inspiration.

  2. Jeff, what a great lesson in open-mindedness and how we can choose to cultivate it…and that while sometimes it requires some effort, it is so worth it. I can often get in a rigid rut while on my high horse and the person I hurt the most often when in that state of mind is myself! A wise woman recently told me her secret for dealing with situations that seem unacceptable–she asks herself “How can I look at this differently?” I love hearing about those moments of clarity when we can get outside ourselves. Thanks for sharing your epiphany!

    1. Meg — Thanks for the chance to share my reflections on curiosity and wonder with a broader audience. How lucky I am to discover your wonderful writing about how the sense of wonder has drawn you to travel and emerged as the common thread running through all your experiences. Can’t wait to read your latest post on the Yucatan!

  3. Hey Dad, Very nice to read – especially since (as you well know) I also struggle with how to mask my disappointment or indignation in any situation where expectations weren’t met or I feel “wronged” in any way. Bravo for catching yourself and allowing the experience to unfold, versus feeding that need to point out a situation’s shortcomings. I’ll bet next time you’ll catch yourself letting go even earlier – and then even earlier the time after that….. Way to GROW! I love you!!

    1. My dear daughter — I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to have you join this ever-broadening conversation about reclaiming wonder! I know you struggle with expectations too (Hey, the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree). But, as I’ve told you so many times, you, as a fantastic mom of two little kids, come out on top of your expectations all the time! Apply those little, perhaps unnoticed, lessons to other aspects of your life and see what happens. Let’s be each others’ coaches!

  4. Jeff: I am so envious of your venture into the unknown–and in awe of the fact that you are gaining so much in the process of understanding the people and culture. What a great experience. Mavis Voigt

  5. Hi Mavis — How nice to “see” you here on the “Pier!” I’m really tickled to see your comment. I should have known you’d appreciate my experience in Panama; I figure you probably already knew what I found out. But there’s so much more to learn, right?

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