Thursday, November 3, 2011

Better late then never, PANAMA!

Disclaimer; LONGEST POST EVER. But this is my journal.

 Panama was one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had. I will forever be a changed person. Some of the things I saw are things that will be with me FOREVER. I didn't start my first semester of college so that I could go on this trip. Not being in school has driven my crazy, literally. But I wouldn't have changed my experience for anything. Panama was so much more then I could have ever asked for, it was everything I needed in my life. I feel at times that it was kind of a sacrifice to not be in school, but I gained more in this two weeks then I could have in a whole semester of school.

 I left on Friday, August 26th. My parents took me to the airport, we said our goodbyes, and I was off. I was so ready, or so I thought. I flight went from Salt Lake to Houston. When we got to Houston I had a melt down. Seriously. I called my best friend crying. I was sitting in the airport, all alone. I was worried that the whole trip was going to turn into me being alone. And for that split second, I wanted to go home. But deep down, I knew I was where I was supposed to be. I felt peace.

 After a 4 hour lay-over we boarded the plane. Destination: Panama! LONGEST PLANE RIDE. EVER. I was excited, again. Culture shock hit soon after landing. "What was this place?" "Why aren't they speaking English?" "I'm supposed to understand you?" "You're supposed to understand me!"

Since we had to take all the Medical & Dental equipment us volunteers checked two bags full of equipment in our names and could only take a carry-on to get all of our stuff to Panama. That's right, a CARRY- ON. So waiting for luggage took forever! To get all of our stuff the the hotel we had to take to moving trucks. I can't even explain the mass of luggage there was.

This (bottom right hand corner) was just one of the moving trucks we used to move our luggage around.

Saturday morning clinic work began. We drove from our hotel to the stake center, a five minute drive maybe? The stake center had been turned into a clinic for the next 5 days. Including Sunday on which we didn't work. When we got to the church I became so emotional, okay, that's probably an understatement. It was one of the best moments in my whole life. Right in front of the church there were rows of chairs filled with future missionaries. All of which we would do work on that day. All of the Elders and Sisters that showed up that day came in their Sunday best. Like I said it was an incredible experience.

 I started out that morning assisting a dental hygienist. It was kind of slow because the dentists would usually just clean the teeth before her. So I got moved to post operation for wisdom teeth extraction! I LOVED IT. To be honest, I did things in there I don't think I could have done under any other circumstances. I had blood ALL over my hands, I took out peoples bloody gauze and then replaced it. I don't know how I did it, but I loved it. I made arrangements with the director of the clinic so that I could be in post operation the rest of the clinic days.

 I met so many incredible people over the span of this trip, I find it a little bit unfair that I will never get to see some of these people again. But, I fell in love with these people. They are the most genuine people and they would do anything for anyone. I think that the people are part of who made this experience so incredible. I love them, so much.

 The next day was Sunday. We went to a Spanish ward (once again, culture shock) for sacrament. And after that we did a little service project in which they went through the church. Starting out with a family picture and then going onto rooms that applied to their family. Primary, Relief Society, Young Mens, Priesthood. If they had people in their family that were in those age groups they got to go and get stuff from those rooms.

 After that we went to another church meeting and we saw all the people that we had worked on the previous day and all the people we were going to be working on through out the week. There were SO many people.

 Our night proceeded at the Panama Canal and we had dinner along the Canal. It truly is incredible. It's HUGE.

 Monday, Tuesday, & Wednesday. Were all a lot like Friday. Blood, gauze, tears, medicine, and 11 hour days.


  On Tuesday I got to go to a newborn hospital to give them humanitarian items and such, and I couldn't help but feel sad. Most of these women were so young, un-married, with no place to go. And to top it all off they were put in a room with 15 other women and there babies just hours after they gave birth. It was something I will never forget.

  I gave some blood?
Top left: Older men that couldn't afford dental work. The man on the right maybe had seven teeth. So sad.
Top right: In the oral surgery room, that's a wisdom tooth extraction going on behind me.
Bottom left: So tired. Glazed over.
Bottom right: This story makes me cry. This boy had been a member for ONE month, he came into get stuff done for his mission and getting a haircut is part of it. So when he came in that morning his hair was past his shoulders, and he cut it ALL. Just so that he could serve the LORD. After only being a member, for one month.

Tuesday night, I GOT PIZZA. I hadn't eaten much this whole trip, to begin I'm already a picky eater, but then on top of that the food scared me, I didn't even know what most of it was and trying new foods is not my forte. I ate a lot of granola bars and pringels. So this pizza, let me tell you. It was a treat!


 While we were sitting in the post operation room for the first people to start coming out of surgery I was looking over the pictures on my camera. Then I started to check out my settings & I accidentally REFORMATTED MY CARD! Reformatting = all my pictures gone! I went into shock. Then I started crying. I was devastated. I was on the trip of a life time & all of the pictures and memories of it were gone! I went to a guy that was in the group and used his phone (it could call out of the country). I called my mom crying, being selfish. Then in the middle of our conversation I thought of something I had seen earlier that week. A family living on the side of the freeway, with nothing but an umbrella. I cried more, suddenly my problem didn't seem so big. That vision of those people living there will forever haunt me. It struck a chord with me. & for that, I am so grateful. I ended up getting my pictures back from a website called & the help of Stuart Tucker. Hero. But I think that experience was something I needed to learn from. Even though I lost some pictures (very few) I am grateful for that moment that brought everything back into perspective.

 This guy in all the pictures above was, incredible. He was the perfect example of "they will do anything for anyone". He taught me how to Salsa dance, well he attempted to teach me, it didn't go very well. I think he was frustrated. But we had fun together. After our little dance lesson he came up to me and gave me his "HLJ" ring, which translates to "CTR". He told me that he could never re-pay me for all of the good we had done. That we were angels, and that he would never forget the good we had done. I'm crying just thinking about it. But HIS one simply act could have made my entire trip. Since coming home we have been in contact through Facebook & he has told me multiple times that his home is my home & that my family is always welcome. I love this man.

 I was fortunate enough to get to leave the clinic twice to go on humanitarian visits. The first one, the newborn hospital, it was great! But on Wednesday I had the opportunity to get to go do home visits. Best experience EVER. I remember getting to the first house & just crying. "how come people live like this"? It was such an emotional/ spiritual experience. Despite all of the bad circumstances they are still so loving. At the first visit (top set of pictures) the kids were really that ladies grand kids, the mom had died only a few weeks prior and the Grandma had just gotten out of the hospital two days before we visited. I just kept thinking to myself, why am I so blessed?! I still have no idea. But I bonded with these people. At the second home, (the second set of pictures) the little girls LOVED me. They kept telling me how I looked like their dolls, and how beautiful I was. They even cried when I left. The worst part about leaving them was that I knew I would never see them again. I cried, I loved these sweet girls. A few weeks after we left this family was sealed in the temple for time & all eternity.
 That night we went to the mall across the street from our hotel and got some McDonald's. But it was kinda yucky. But I was so grateful to have food in my stomach at that point.


 On this lovely day we ventured down the Panama Canal, like actually in the Canal, how cool?! It was incredible. The Locks are massive. I don't know how someone even had the idea to make them. It was pretty fun though, except that night when I was laying in bed I felt like I was still on the boat rocking. Worst feeling ever.

 That night was a closing banquet since the next few days were just to relax & have to ourselves. We had a nice dinner, watched the slide show & listened to a little talk by the group director. It was kinda sad though, my trip was coming to an end.

Friday, Saturday & Sunday:

 Friday morning we had the opportunity to go to the Panama Temple. It is so beautiful! We had to go ever so early, I was falling asleep sitting up. But being there was incredible.

 After the temple we headed to the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. It was incredible. I kid you not when I tell you it was like the legit rainforest. I felt like I was in Jurassic Park. There was wildlife all over the place; tucans, monkeys, sloths, spiders, alligator, and some other animal that I have zero idea what it was. But it was so nice to just relax, after 5 eleven hour days.

 We had the whole day to do whatever we wanted. Some people rode bikes, some went on tours but most went swimming. What did I do? I slept, ALL afternoon. I was beat. That night my roommates and I watched Criminal Minds. We're in a foreign country in the Rainforest and we choose to watch Criminal Minds? Yep. Lame.

 Saturday morning the cute Vogl family took me on the Monkey Island tour, it was awesome! I saw a monkey like 2 inches away from my face. A little too close for comfort.
 Later that afternoon we went back for lunch & hung out by the pool, ALL day. Playing volleyball, drinking Pina Coladas, Basketball, and just kicking it. It was loads of fun.

 That night we had a little bit nicer dinner. & then we played games with EVERYONE, in the game room that night. People started dwindling away so a few of us went back to our room and just chatted about the trip.

 Sunday was head home day. It was bittersweet. I was ready to see my parents, tell them stories, eat be back in America. But I didn't want to leave Panama & it's people. I really have missed it, so much.
 All in all I am a different person because of my experiences. I am not perfect, but I grew, I grew a lot. My testimony was strenghtened. I fell in love with the people. The Country. & the people I traveled with. I am so lucky to have had this experience.


BradJ said...

Glad you had that experience Jen. When you see what you saw - it does make you wonder why you're so blessed. You were good to go and serve. I'm proud of you.

hbentley said...

What an experience. So glad you were able to go and be apart of it. It looks and sounds amazing. I love all your pictures.
About time you got to this post.
love ya!!

Jamie said...

So amazing that you got to have that experience. I'm sure you will never forget all the things you saw and learned. So proud of you for doing it!

Amy said...

Awesome. Thats all I have to say, just awesome.

lilia said...

hI! that´s greats!! thanks for describe your experiences and talk about of my beatifull country .
greetings!! :)