“You must dance to the music that is playing,” our Director told us upon our arrival in Bocas Del Toro. Panama will play music of any style, speed, or volume whenever it so desires. Dancing to it felt a little awkward at first, but I suppose that is to be expected when trying to assimilate with a different culture. We have been here for a little under a month, and Bocas feels like home. I have fallen in love with the music here and the people dancing to it among the vibrant colors unique to Panama.
Isla Popa is a small, indigenous community of Ngöbe people. Their society is quite removed from our home on bustling Isla Colon. Women spend their days making baskets and bags from tree fibers, and men spend their days in the rainforest gathering timber and fishing. The local rhythms here were laid back; no one was in a rush. There were no cars on the entire island, just concrete walking paths.
It seems as though “modern” society has the tendency to label cultures like that of the Ngöbe people as simple, but this stereotype is horribly misinformed. The woman who showed us around had an extensive knowledge of the local herbs which could be used for medicine. It was humbling to experience this way of dancing, and even more so trying to dance along.
The Ngöbe people value human connections and family. They live in a world where you are not defined by what you do, but rather by who you are. Being exposed to this way of life has changed the rhythm I dance to, and the way that I see the world. Panama has changed who I am, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.