To say that 2020 was a hard year is an understatement. I’ve wanted to share our experience of being expats during a pandemic but I have been hesitant because I know everyone’s 2020 was different and some had it much worse than others. I want to be respectful of that and let it be known that Cory and I take COVID very seriously.
Here’s our 2020: Latin America was one of the last regions to get hit with COVID, so we watched the world lockdown naively thinking we wouldn’t be affected in our blissful bubble in Panama. (LOL) When COVID finally did hit Panama, things changed QUICKLY. Here’s how it went down – It was around March 8th and I was on a booze cruise celebrating a friend’s bachelorette party. There was no confirmed cases of COVID in Panama yet and life was very normal. Two days later, the country confirmed its first case. The next day, schools across the country shut down and moved to online learning. The following week, the government announced that the airport was going to close indefinitely. The last flights were that Sunday. We had pretty much a day to decide if we wanted to wait things out in Panama, or go back to the United States until Panama contains the situation. We didn’t want to leave Panama, and Panama had very few cases at the time, but it was a situation of leave now, or be stuck in Panama indefinitely. With so much unknown about the virus, we decided it was best if we came back to the United States. (Looking back, we could have stayed in Panama a little longer and taken a humanitarian flight back to the U.S. later on). Cory and I have family scattered all over the U.S. but ultimately we decided to quarantine with his Aunt and Uncle in Nebraska. They have a spacious house out on a lake so we felt like that would be the best place to bunker down for a few months. I laugh when I look back at that time when we thought we would return to Panama after two months. Cases in Panama continuously rose despite one of the strictest lockdown measures in the world.
Panama’s lockdown rules during most of 2020:
- Two hours every other day to leave the house depending on gender. M,W,F were for women and T,TH,S were for men. Sundays were total lockdown. And sometimes they took Saturdays away from men for breaking the rules. Your hours were based on the last digit of your ID. e.g., if the last digit on your ID is 8, then the hours of 8:00AM – 10:00AM are when you can leave your house.
- I know there was a dry law for awhile but I don’t know the specific dates or how long it lasted.
- Mask mandate in Panama
When we finally did come back to Panama(Dec 2020), it was in the midst of its second wave so this is what our lockdown looked like for about a month and a half. Honestly, the gender split and 2 hour window created so much chaos. It made grocery stores so much more crowded and it was super discriminatory towards the transgender community in Panama. I don’t want to be critical of my host country, but this strict of a lockdown for so many months caused a lot of damage as well.
After spending a few months in Nebraska with Cory’s aunt and uncle, we decided we needed our own space. Panama was still in a total lockdown so we knew we weren’t returning anytime soon. We had a friend pack up our apartment so we could get out of our rent in Panama. We decided it was best to return to Hawai’i to be close to Cory’s brother and so we could have our own space again. I know a lot of you are thinking “Wow, what a dream to be quarantined in Hawai’i!” But being in the United States long term was a pain for us. We were constantly anxious about the state of Panama, and just being long term in a country that you don’t reside in comes with so many challenges. We experienced a lot of lows and personal hardships that I won’t go into detail about – some things are meant to be private. I’m naturally an optimistic, positive person so trying to convey that we were struggling back in the States, is well, a struggle. I love Panama, but to put things frankly, Panama was a mess so that is why we were in the U.S. for so long.
With that being said, we also experienced a lot of great times that I will be forever grateful for! We were able to spend so much quality time with family that normally would have never happened. We were able to be out in nature so much more than normal which was something that I will never take for granted. In Panama, we wouldn’t have been able to go on a walk outside with the lockdown measures. But in Hawai’i we were able to fall in love with the island all over again. It was honestly the only thing that saved my mental health during 2020. I was always so conflicted about enjoying my time back in Hawai’i. One part of me was thrilled to be back in the place that I love and consider home, but the other part of me had other emotions – I was feeling guilty for enjoying my time there when we had friends back in Panama that couldn’t leave. I was also missing Panama terribly and just sad about the state that Panama was in. I think one of the many things I learned about myself during 2020 was that I feel A LOT of emotions. And that’s okay! I’ve always struggled with that and now I’ve finally come to terms with being okay with that.
2020 definitely confirmed my core values. As much as I love Hawai’i and want to settle down there eventually, I love our expat life a little bit more. Cory and I have always wanted to explore the world. I love being put in challenging situations and experiencing new things.
I loved making up for lost time back in the U.S. with family. I loved rekindling friendships. And I loved living island life again. But even though we were only temporarily back in the U.S, it confirmed to us that we want to live abroad. I have a new appreciation for the life Cory and I have created, and if 2020 taught us anything, it taught us to take nothing for granted.
Here’s of video of the good times 2020 brought us