I Live in a Country…
I live in a country without borders. A place where I can’t tell where one boundary ends and the other one begins. A land beyond belief, not only for its beauty but also the people living in it. A small pearl; a newly-discovered gem that, despite it being within a hard shell of intolerance toward the outside, has been brought to the limelight for all to see, admire and enjoy. Like every other diamond in the rough, though, there are very hard edges. Smudges, marks that denote a sense of character and a path traveled. There is still much to walk, I think. I live in a country where its people are so culturally diverse that it runs from the constant risk of losing its identity. I live in a country where being proud of your heritage is an excuse to go out and get drunk without really knowing what is being celebrated. A country whose reputation across the globe includes such trust-worthy traits as laziness and a proficiency to pull holidays out of our asses. A place where people go out of their way to screw others over just to get ahead. I wonder why I don’t leave and have a better life, like so many have done over the hundred years my country has been “free.” I wonder. Oh, I wonder.
I live in a country that is so small that I fall into a social group even if I am a misfit. A country where being a misfit is hilariously ironic, considering its been fighting for an identity for decades. A place where even though it’s better now than it was before, its people couldn’t care less about expanding its horizons. Somewhere where a person dares to say there is nothing different to do in the country when the nightclubs and party buses lose their novelty, while at the same time social networking sites, magazines and word of mouth buzz about the myriad of options of things to do, see, eat or feel on a daily basis. I live in a country where many of its people act on the principle of bad faith. A teacher complains because the government won’t give him work while he uses his time closing down streets instead of looking elsewhere to provide for his family. A college graduate complains that she can’t get a job in architecture because nobody will give her an opportunity, so she ends up taking in angry phone calls from a call center’s Tech Support department. In the meantime, her high school friend who never set foot in a college classroom gets a job as Head of Projects in a prominent Architect Firm because her boss is friends with his mother’s uncle. I live in a country where, even if it’s so small it’s impossible not to know anyone, it still pays to be well-connected.
I live in a country where complexity often gets complicated, be it in government, private sectors or in the daily misadventures of my life. I live in a country where all my friends, even if they’re from different social circles, have two-degrees of separation from one another. A place where it’s hard to keep a secret, so a lot of the time all you see is masks of who people really are. Defense mechanisms, completely understandable, that every human being is compelled to put on for the sake of survival in this brave new (concrete) world. I live in a place full of urban social legends. The type of thing that would qualify as regional folk tales, less about such myths as Big Foot or the Loch Ness Monster and more about how I was sleeping with Girl A while Girl B was helping Girl C get rid of Girl A and how I seemingly didn’t give a shit about it all. I live in a country where, for people to try and understand who I am and how I live, they have to slip me into easily-manageable stereotypes. I’ve heard of being called an asshole, a womanizer, an adulterer, a macho man, a child, a homosexual, a bisexual, an agent of chaos, a libertarian, a zonian, a gringo, a geek, a son of a bitch, a writer, an artist, the best thing that ever happened to you, the worst thing that ever happened to you, a non-boyfriend, a delusional psycho, a megalomaniac, a lunatic, and a selfish bastard.
I live in a country that is small, yet have heard of stories starring me that I’m sure I’ve never done. A country where I’ve heard stories of things I have done from people I’ve never talked to. I live in a country that seems to be a big gray area to me, and I feel hypocritical about it since I have championed the lack of label use for years. I live in a complicatedly complex country and have chosen to play with it in the worst way imaginable. Where the only way for people to stay of out your business is to let the rumors run wild. Let the legend spread, until no one can tell what’s fact from truth. I live in a country where the truth seldom prevails. Where people rarely say what they truly mean. Being one of the minority that does, I’m in a country where I feel like a misfit. Like I shouldn’t be here. But of course, that’s exactly why I stay, because I aim to misbehave.
This is a country where everyone complains about how bad things are in both a general and personal scale, but very rarely do a thing about it. I believe its mostly out of fear, or lack of will. Lately I’ve often heard the phrase “how bad do you want it?” and it’s struck a chord with me because, if I were to apply it to the people I run into on a daily basis there is always an underlying sense of lukewarm determination. Of course, I have been lucky to meet plenty of people who are fearless. Who will stop at nothing to get what they want. They want it that bad. When I first set out to do what became Porto Diao, my mentality was to create a culture where people would feel OK to be who they are and do what they want, as outlandish as it may be. I was scared at first. It was hard. No one gave a damn at first. Eventually, I found friends who championed what I was trying to do: finding people who felt as much misfits as I did and create a breach in my country’s culture where it would be alright to be who you truly are. No more masks. That task, I feel, is well underway. I live in a country that is becoming more tolerant. Still, it’s the same country where some people get angry when I speak or write in English. I’m a Panamanian that has been screamed at to “go back home, gringo!!!” A place where I can speak in Spanglish and be understood, yet there will always be someone who will think I’m not being patriotic unless I speak Spanish. I would understand a little more if there was such a thing as Panamanian language (not vernacular), but I suppose that those very people wouldn’t know what to do if they were dropped into Latvia and they asked to speak Latvian because Spanish pisses them off. For the record, I have on good authority that Latvians like Spanish.
I live in a country where I apparently cannot, for the life of me, go out with a Panamanian girl. I feel like a mutt. A man with enough unorthodox views and customs to qualify as a foreigner, but without the lack of national ignorance to be able to go out with a Panamanian girl like most foreigners would. I have tried, time and time again, to prove myself wrong. Still, practically every girl I’ve been involved with for the past five years was born somewhere else. This is not (entirely) by choice. It seems that I live in a country that thrives on complications and gray areas. A place where The Game is the word. I live in a country that operates like a Telenovela, with 100% more bullshit than you see on TV, and zero wash effects. What’s a man like me to do in a country like this? An aggressively uncomplicated guy in a country full of complicated people. As I’m sure many would say, the natural response would be to get the fuck out of here and live happily ever after somewhere else. Somewhere where people are nicer, less complicated and you can be who you want to be and like what you want to like without being judged. Where liking music doesn’t have to force you to be in one “camp” or the other. Hell, a place where being friends with one person doesn’t automatically dump you in a “camp” to begin with. I live in a country where I can’t possibly know whose toes I’m stepping when I do something, and the owner of said toes thinks that by some Divine Intervention I will know I was steppin’. There are friends I miss that don’t talk to me and I don’t know why. If I knew, I would do anything to rectify but they won’t even tell me if I asked. I live in a country where people love to get things complicated.
The more I think about it, the more I conclude I should do what many people do and run. Cut. And. Run. Why don’t I, though? Why haven’t I left? A writer in my country doesn’t get the respect he/she deserves, nor the paychecks. Hell, artists rarely get the respect they deserve. I live in a country where almost every room I walk into has somebody in it that I have affected in some way, for good or worse but mostly a combination of both. In my time with Porto, in terms of monetary gain I’d be eating charcoal for breakfast, lunch and dinner no matter how big and loud the project has become. A country where these “camps” can’t seemingly band together, even though Porto’s existence has proved otherwise. But at what price, though? I live in a country that often gives me more headaches than I care to admit, both in the professional and personal fronts. When so many complicated people put you into their complicated lives to complicate things even further, a simple guy like me can get the wind knocked out of him. Why, then? Why not just… give up?
Simple. Because I love my country… warts and all. There is so much my country can do. So much it can give. I cannot quit on it, like so many others have. I feel compelled to make my country a place where a person like me wouldn’t have a complicated love for it. I’m not a fortune teller and I don’t know what my stars have in store for me, but I feel like I have a purpose in this country. I feel like I’m supposed to be a misfit that doesn’t belong here just so that I can make this a place where I can belong and help others who feel like I do. It’s my role. Everything I’ve ever had to go through to be where I am today, and everything I go through daily just to be who I am, is not in vain. I hope I live in a country where you feel like I do.
I would like to take a moment to ask you two questions, personal ones: If you know me personally (or not, for that matter), have I made a significant impact in your life? And in the same token, have you ever asked me the same question? Have you ever asked anyone these questions? I live in a country where is people are so afraid of each other that they prefer things to get complicated before opening up and admitting things to themselves. If it helps you, you can ask me first and I’ll very gladly fill you in on how you influence who I am and what I do.
I live in a country that is perfect due to its imperfections. A place where some people, despite the complications and gray areas they meet along the way, still go out and do things. No bullshit. Just me, the world and my imagination. A place where there are people who can respect alliances, boundaries and the like. A place where people feel, albeit behind closed doors. A country with people who, despite their fears, still want to believe that things will get better. Where people can put aside their pride and forgive, even forget. And its because of that, because of that light amidst the foggy darkness that its worth the fight. It’s worth the headaches, the complications, the bullshit and the gray areas. Because there is hope that maybe, just maybe, we can finally put down our guard enjoy the complexity of our lives in this small country, Heart of the Universe, and make it much more beautiful than it already is. Here’s to you and me… misfits in a place full of them.