I am back – back home, back in Pedasí, back to writing on my blog! After a week in Los Angeles, California, I am definitely glad to be back. I went there to celebrate my youngest sister’s birthday. Debi is 53 now, and it will probably be her last birthday. After fighting adrenalin gland cancer for a year, there is nothing else short of God’s miracle that the doctor’s can do but keep her comfortable. A few days, a few weeks – who knows. So I wanted to see her while she was still coherent and alive. My other sister and nephews arranged to have a birthday party for her at her favorite restaurant, BJs, but unfortunately she had been admitted into the hospital a few days before due to dehydration and pain. But thanks to the hospital staff, a family visitor room was reserved for the party instead. Most of my family flew or drove out for the party – my son and 3 daughters, son-in-law, and 3 grandchildren, my brother (twin of Debi), niece and nephews. I arrived in Los Angeles a couple of days before the party, so I spent some time with my family as well as my sister Debi.
I had bought a dress for Debi per her request; she wanted to look somewhat presentable knowing that she now had lost 120 lbs. and nothing at home really fit anymore. Because of the last minute change of venue for the party, we did not expect as many people to show up, but they kept on coming. My last estimated count was 75, all crowded in a closed-door room that probably was meant for about 30. Many people were Debi’s co-workers from her past two schools where she was school librarian; others were long-time friends and family members of her husband. What a tribute to show Debi how much she is loved! Debi rallied her strength during the entire 3 hours. It was a wonderful celebration and I am grateful that I was able to come.
The next few days were full of drama and emotions. Except for my sister Geri who stayed behind, it was somewhat hard saying goodbye to each family member as they left for their homes. Mikkel and I still plan to travel to the U.S. in November-December, so we will see them again soon. The biggest emotional challenge was being with Debi and saying my goodbyes. She is home with her husband, son, and 3 dogs now, hopefully resting and spending valuable time with her family.
This trip was the first time I have been back to the U.S. since we moved here, so it became a trial-run for our trip in November. Mikkel drove me to the Chitré bus terminal where I caught a comfortable air-conditioned bus to Panama City (cost-$6.30 for Pensionado). From there our preferred driver Luis met me as my bus arrived at the Albrook bus terminal and drove me to Riande Aeropuerto Hotel, close to Tucomen International Airport, where I stayed overnight before taking an early flight out on Copa Airlines. The hotel has a free 24-hour shuttle to the airport and is a very nice retreat for travelers. I was previously able to get 25% off my round trip flight with my Pensioanado visa and Copa airlines flies directly to LAX. Then I rented a car for the week and drove to San Fernando Valley, north of L.A. where my sister was.
I used to live in Sherman Oaks near my sister, so I knew how to get around. But everything seemed like “deja vu” (a feeling that I had been there before, but not sure when or the circumstances). Restaurant, grocery, and housing prices are much higher, but gasoline prices were about the same as Panama. Still I felt like a visitor now. And I caught myself speaking Spanish instead of English sometimes. The weather was unusually warm like Panama without the rain or humidity for this time of year. And of course, the traffic and noise was horrific everywhere, but having lived in the area for several years, I expected that. One reason I had moved up to Northern California before moving to Panama.
On my return trip home, when asked at the airline check-in why I was traveling to Panama, I told her I live there and pulled out my Pensionado visa. With that, I was not required to have a return ticket to the U.S. as when we had visited and first moved to Panama, which is required of those without a permanent residence visa. When I arrived in Panama, I went through the short line for Panamanian residents at customs, again showing my visa. Luis, my driver, was again right there to meet me and drove me across the city to the bus station. This time I bought a ticket to Las Tablas which cost $6.80 for Pensionados. I did forget that I needed to purchase a pass to go through the turnstile out to the bus, but a very nice Panamanian older lady let me use hers and directed me to a seat in the bus. Mikkel, who had been volunteering along with several others from Animal Advocates of Pedasí at the SpayPanama clinic in Las Tablas, was there at the bus station to meet me when I arrived. In November, Mikkel and I will be traveling the same way with the same flight time schedules, so it should go very smoothly.
As I arrived and rode through Panama City and the interior to home, it seemed so natural to me now. This is how I know I was home and glad to be here. I have taken a few days since to try to unwind from the highly emotional visit, keeping in touch by phone with my sister. But I am now back into my semi-routine of my life here, and feel very blessed to wake up to such a beautiful place each day. For my many readers who lifted my sister, my family, and me in prayer, I give a great big thank you.