End of an era

One week from now the Panama-chapter of my life is getting over. It's been a different kind of experience, one that I am very grateful for. I will miss Panama. It is the most beautiful place I've ever lived in, and ever visited. The natural beauty is just amazing here. Parts of Panama are as close to paradise as I can imagine. The photo I've included in this post is what Panama symbolizes for me the most.

I was doing some reflection on what I gained from this experience, and here are the top things:

Cultural lessons / widening my horizons
I had never been to Latin America before, so this was definitely jumping into the unknown. And when you go out of your comfort zone, that's where the learning begins. I have learned new things about the human kind and the way life can be. Here it is a lot about enjoying life, the community and party. The life here is more about enjoying the moment than worrying about the future. In the western world you hardly know your neighbors, here that would be really weird. They haven't lost this community-feeling here, and I hope they never do.

Coming from Estonia where people are not very expressive around strangers and in public places, it's the total opposite here - and that has been very refreshing. I never did get fully used to the noisiness of the people, the ultra loud music and non-stop honking on the streets. Here sometimes talking and yelling are almost synonyms. I still prefer the more quiet atmosphere, I guess it's hard to shake off your cultural background in that sense.

Spanish language
Speaking a foreign language is one of the most important skills a person can have. It is not only about being able to communicate with other people, it is also about discovering the miracle of language as a whole. Some languages have a better, more precise way of communicating a particular phenomenon of life. I think the more languages you speak, the better you can relate to life in a way and expand the way you think.

When I came here I hardly spoke any Spanish apart from 'hello' and 'how are you'. I am not fluent today either, but I can get by pretty well. The reason why I am not 100% fluent is simple - I didn't exactly integrate into the Panamanian life. Most of the days I still spoke way more English than Spanish. As I was self-employed, I didn't work in a Spanish-speaking environment either. Nevertheless, I managed to pick up a pretty decent level of Spanish and I am sure my Spanish-skills will enrich my life for years to come.

Becoming an entrepreneur
While my experience in Panama was less about cultural involvement and integration than I initially planned, it was a lot more about personal development and investing in myself.

I came to Panama working for somebody else. Luckily they ran into financial difficulties and couldn't pay my salary which forced me to look for alternatives. I arranged many job interviews, but due to not speaking Spanish at the time, asking for too much money (in Panamanian standards), and labor laws (a company can't have more than 10% foreigners in the staff) no one hired me. What I did find out was that the skill set that I offered was very much needed. I saw the opportunity on the market and I seized it.

I started my internet marketing company and was profitable almost from day 1. I landed several of the biggest companies in Panama as my clients + a few small ones and I was all set. Only after operating a few months I already started to reject companies wanting to be by clients as I couldn't take on any more jobs. I also don't believe in over-working and slaving in the name of making more money, so I never worked more than 30 hours per week. What's the point of making money if you can't enjoy it?

Studies conducted on happiness level of people state that self-employed people are generally happier than people working for somebody else. This couldn't be more true in my case. I've never been happier with my working conditions, I have a reasonable boss (me!) and I have the full control over when I work and what I work on. I don't plan to work for somebody else ever again. In fact, now that I have got the ball rolling, I have a myriad of ideas for new business ventures, and some of them will be launched very soon.

I think the impact on one's quality of life through relying 100% on yourself for your income is very powerful. Almost anyone could have the kind of life they want and have success being self-employed given the right tools. It is one of my short-term goals to provide people with such tools.

Why am I leaving?

While it has been good, I need something else. I've been living "temporarily" in different places for 3 years now. I feel that I need to set up a base camp or two, where I can always return to and that is mine. I love traveling and getting to know different cultures, and I will do it again and again (my list of places to visit and to live in is pretty big) - I just need to stay in one place for a couple of years and get some stability.

We didn't choose Panama to be this place because it lacks on few fronts that are important for us. We didn't fall in love with the Panamanian people (with some strong exceptions naturally) nor food either. Certain everyday things I have gotten used to and want in my life are at poor level in Panama, and it's the little things that make your world sometimes.

So what next? I'll spend the month of May in Austin, TX and June-August in Estonia.

Bag Quest

A while ago I had a post about Sarah's experience in a remote jungle village in Ngobe-Bugle (northern region of Panama). That was the beginning of something big. Now Sarah is working with the indigenous women of that community to empower them, help them make a living and support their kids and revive the art of making kras.

The women in the Ngobe community are making the most amazing handicraft - handbags made out of plant fiber (they call them 'kra'). It takes 2-3 months to make one bag. The art has been around for thousands of years, and now Sarah is helping the women to take this jungle treasure to the world.

She started a blog where she is writing about each step of setting up this venture. It's really cool, and it's a great way to peek into the journey of a social entrepreneur in the making.

Link: Bag Quest

Something you should watch

Yesterday I watched a documentary called Zeitgeist, recommended by a friend quite a while ago. I wish I had seen it sooner. It is a truly thought provoking movie you just have to watch.

It is about religion, the US, European Union, the grey cardinals behind the scenes and the world order in the wider sense. After seeing it so many things I witness in this world make more sense, and so many more questions arise. I would love to discuss this with you.

You can watch it at this address (it's free):


P.S. Skip the first 13 minutes of the movie which is boring and quite bad bla-bla intro that doesn't fit the rest of the movie.