“It has been nearly four years since I moved from Tucson, Arizona, to Boquete, Panama,” writes new Panama Letter Editor Lee Zeltzer.
“Looking back over my experiences, the operative word is ‘change’…in Spanish, cambio.
“Panama has changed in the time I’ve been living here, but more rhelevant to me is the change I’ve experienced.
“I came to Boquete with my wife to start a new life when our last of four children moved on to university. Within 18 months, my wife had left. For many reasons, she has not returned. Big change.
“Before she left, we’d purchased a small piece of property with a marginally livable house above Boquete. Compared with our suburban life in Tuscon, where we lived in a much larger home, this, too, was a massive change.
“The move from dry heat to wet…more change.
“The move from suburban to rural…change.
“The shift from 33 years of marriage to living alone…change.
“The only course in which I earned a ‘D’ in college was Spanish. Now I am learning to speak Spanish to survive. Change.
“Without the need for discovering religion, I have been reborn. What a nice change.
“During my university days, I was considered a student activist, very political and aware. During my years raising a family, I was totally focused on earning and surviving. Now, at this phase of my life, I have learned to accept what I cannot change. On a micro level, I have had some influence, but it’s nothing that will have a long-term impact. Years ago I shook off the illusion that any of us in the polity, the masses, shaven or not, can alter the grand scheme of things on this planet.
“Stripped of the need to change the world and largely free of the rewarding shackles of raising four children, I’ve discovered in Panama my opportunity for personal change. It is not that I, or you, could not experience this kind of change ‘back home.’ It’s just easier when everything around you, every element of your life, is different. You learn quickly that you must change or leave.
“And this is my point. Unless you are willing to undergo a grand transformation, this part of the world is not the place for you. It is different here in Panama. If you are set in your ways, a driven type A personality, and cannot adjust to the idea of nothing working as you anticipate, visit for a holiday and then go back home.
“I can live comfortably here on my Social Security income. Back in Tucson, that check might have covered my utility bills. But there are trade-offs. In retiring to Panama or another place with a low cost of living, you can live a lifestyle that you could not afford in the States, for example. But you’re going to need to make adjustments.
“If you are considering retirement in Latin America, the first and best piece of advice I would give you would be to learn Spanish. You will never really integrate into the culture without the language. Without that change, you are limiting your experience to a small English-speaking community. Make the change, though, and you will discover that the wonderful people here will welcome you.
“Sell your car, sell your stuff, come here to start a new life, and be ready to live longer and happier. Learn a new culture, learn a new language, learn to cook with seasonal ingredients, learn to dance the Salsa, try the good local rum, eat sancocho…
“Dr. Andrew Weil has written about how, as we age, we need to keep our brains growing to avoid dementia. Not a problem moving to a new place like Panama. You can try something new every day.
“My life in Panama has been one big change after another. My children and friends back in the States say I look and act younger today than I did four years ago when I left.
“It hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve enjoyed the changes Panama has brought me, and I plan to keep changing and growing.
“Perhaps it could be a good change for you, also. But only you can make that call.
“If you know you cannot change, do yourself a favor. Try Green Valley or Sun City instead. Don’t come to Panama. You will hate it here.”
Kathleen Peddicord www.liveandinvestoverseas.com