"If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home."
As most of you know, I have been a full vegetarian for the past 3 months or so (and an almost-vegetarian for about 9 years). Or, should I say I had been vegetarian for the past 3 months or so (and even vegan for a few weeks!) ....until about day 2 in Panama.
Panama is a land of fried food and meat. To not participate in an integral part of the culture of the country where I'm living-- to not eat their meat-- would be... blasphemous.
I don't really believe in God. However, I do believe in knowledge, learning, exploration, and love.
I believe in travel. I believe in people. I believe in discomfort. I believe in that little feeling that you get in your gut when the plane leaves the ground and you realize that you are on your way to experience something new.
Most of all, I believe in truly opening yourself up and sharing culture, life, love, and self-awareness with other people.
To not eat meat in Panama would be to not allow myself to live in the moment. It would say that, although I am traveling in another country, I expect that country to conform to my norms and my way of life. It would mean that, although I'm here to travel, work, and live, I do not fully trust Panamanians and their way of life, nor accept the few things that they offer me as a guest to their country.
So, while I'm here, I eat meat.
There are many people who don't have the choice-- people who have been vegetarians all their lives and for whom meat makes them sick. I understand. There are also people who strongly, in their core, feel that eating meat is wrong and therefore are not comfortable consuming another living creature. I understand that, too.
But, as a traveler, an explorer, life's student, and honestly just a child at heart, I urge you to allow yourself to fully, completely, earnestly, and respectfully become immersed in another culture with an open mind and an open heart. You might be surprised how much the simple act of sharing a meal with a stranger can change your life.
I don't pretend to be deep, wise, or even very well-traveled. However, I am passionate about people, cultures, and learning. There is always more knowledge in the world.. I'm just saying, maybe some of it can be found in a bowl of Sancocho (Panamanian chicken soup).
Or, maybe not.