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An artist and an animal lover. Life is beautiful!!

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International Woman’s Day

March 8 !!

I was born and “raised” in the Republic of Panama. My ancestors from my father side of the family immigrated from France and Italy, during the construction of the Panama Canal, establishing themselves in the beautiful rain Forest region known as “La Mata del Frances” (The Frenchman bush) and later founded the beautiful mountain town of Boquete, a beautiful canyon valley that seats down the skirts of the magnificent volcano named Baru. (The word “Baru” comes from the old language of the native indigenous tribe “Dorasques” which as a tribe, do not exist anymore in Panama, however, they have left many traces of their everyday language in the form of geographical references.)

The original word for the Dorasques was “Ba-hu-qub-go” which means; “Place of the mountain of fire” or “Place of the House of Fire” The native indigenous people of Panama built their “hu-hi-go’ known today as “bohio” using the cone shape of the mountains, as a reference. (Many people in Panama today, including many native indigenous tribes, live and call this constructions home)

From my mother’s side, we have a lot of Spanish and indigenous blood, like most Latin American people do, and like most Latin American people with a native heritage, it is impossible to trace our exact indigenous ancestry, however, we know it traces back many centuries and I am proud of the rich heritage they gave me.

Let’s talk about Boquete now. This beautiful and colorful, “eternal Spring” town, as it is known today, because of its average 65-70 Celcious degree weather all year long.

This place, full of beautiful, multi-color flowers and a very extensive variety of fauna, is what inspired me at the tender age of 6 years old, to become an artist. Actually, the first memory I have of this place, as a child, is seating on top of an enormous volcanic boulder, while my brothers and sisters played around me. Oh, I still remember that beautiful blue sky…And that fresh breeze caressing my cheeks while I saw a majestic volcano in front and me and I heard the melodies of so many species of birds singing and chirping all over…Mesmerizing!!

From about age 2, until I was 7 years old or so, my parents worked for a very wealthy Hebrew family in the little town of “El Frances”

In exchange for taken care of their Summer mansion, we were given our own little house, next to theirs, to live for as long we work for them. It was a beautiful little house with a lot of rooms.

My mother learned to make many of their traditional dishes, and we were familiar with their religion, their traditional costumes and we learned so much about the Jewish faith, Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East as it was then, and for me, it was the very first time, I was exposed to an unknown, very different culture than my own.

I had the privilege, the blessing, and the opportunity to be around people from all over the world, which allowed me also, from a very early age, to learn, value, respect, love and appreciate other cultures, as well as my own and what allowed me to learn so many things about others and their different ways of life.

Since I was little, I was fascinated by culture, traditional customs, traditional food, music and dance from all over the world, and when I say it has been a blessing, the many opportunities that I have had, to interact, to live and to meet people form so many parts of the world, I am not exaggerating and I am saying this because it is so easy for me to relay to so many of them, and sometimes I have deliberately seek those opportunities, however, most of the time, they have presented themselves and I have taken the time to get to know people that would teach me much more than I think I know and my life has been greatly enriched because of those opportunities.

From a very early age, I meet very prominent people from Europe. Country mandataries and country ministers. I mingled with them and I dined with them. While they were having their cocktail parties and talking about business, I was playing with the wives and their little children, enjoying tea parties and eating so much macaroons and so many other sweet delights. And at the same time, I was also living a more modest life, where my mother will made me beautiful, hand-made, embroidery and crochet dresses. Playing with our cats and dogs, and enjoying the beautiful nature around me.

I saw my grandmother and some of my aunts, making beautiful traditional Panamanian “montunas” and “polleras” and I spent so much time, attentively listening to my grandma stories and anecdotes. When I went to elementary school, I absorbed everything there was to learn about the origins of Panama and its people, up until my present time and it was fascinating.

There were many Central American wars while I was little, and I still remembered that time, as vivid as if it was today, and I remembered many people from Central America seeking political refuge in Panama. Around that time, and for many years after, I remembered meeting a lot of people from Nicaragua, Salvador and Honduras, and as curious as I was to learn more about their countries, so were they, to talk about the countries they thought, they could never go back to. For the first time, ever in my life, I learned how many similar things we shared with the neighbors from the North, and I also learned we ate very different things, we prepare food differently and specially, our accents and many of the words we used, were so different.

When we moved to a very beautiful and rural town called Bambito, we lived in an agricultural farm, also, deep into the rain forest of Panama. The place was very remote and only 4X4 automobiles, could travel there. I am not sure, but we lived there for several years. We only have a neighbor, a native indigenous man named Benito and his wife, which in his native culture, at the time, could be exchange often, thus, I do not remember the names of the ones I met through the years, however, from Benito and his many wives, I learned so many words in their dialect, I tasted some of their traditional foods and I learned about some of their traditional dances, hand crafts and jewelry making.

We went to an elementary school in the town below, called “Nueva Suiza” which was named by some Swiss people that moved into the little rural town that to them, resemble Switzerland.

A beautiful little and very narrow, canyon town that runs along the river. (It took us about 2 hours to go from our house to the school everyday, walking on a dirt road, or about an hour through a trail head in the rain forest, to make the same trip)

Every year during the Summer, my mother would take us to the International fair in the city of David and there, we were exposed to a lot of international and cultural arts by various visual as well as performing artists, music bands and performing groups. I loved trying the different varieties of traditional dishes and seeing the very colorful dresses, very pretty and ellaborate hair styles and all the different dances.

When I was in Panama, it was only natural to have friends and to meet people from all over the world, after all, I always lived in many rural, touristic areas and living in the city, I also met a lot of people “passing” by Panama City. At the time and even with my background, I did not feel like an “International” woman, but I was already one, without knowing it.

When I went to elementary school, I met a lot of American children whose parents were stationary in the USA army bases in Panama and I had the opportunity to learn about American life from an actual family instead of what I could watch on TV and the movies.

One Summer, I stayed for several months with one of my sister’s mother and father in law. There were in their late 60’s, however, they look very slim, strong, agile, and so flexible. The lady was of pure African descent, while her husband was of pure indigenous descent, as they proudly told everybody, including myself. (Their children were so good looking I remembered) They lived near Colon and near the “Gatun” lake, which is a very large, man-made fresh water lake, created when the Gatun Dam was built between the years of 1907 and 1913. The majority of the City of Colon’s population, is of West Indian or mixed mestizo ancestry.

The couple, both of them were so nice to me, but specially the lady. I know she loved and care for me as if I was her grand daughter. She spoiled me and I think she did, because she knew I loved talking to her and I love asking her questions and I made her company. (Almost all of her children were grown ups and the youngest was a teenager, so I am sure she missed not having any younger children around.)

This nice lady, taught me how to fish in open waters, in the Gatun Lake, with nets and also with fishing roads and other hand-made instruments they made. She made special recipes made with sweet bananas and coconut meat and milk just for me, as well as traditional coconut and fish dishes for me and if I wanted to get deep fried fish, which was my favorite, I just had to asked her, and she would make it for me right away.

When we were fishing for hours down the little streams along the Gatun Lake, and it was time for lunch, we would stopped by an island and in one occasion, she took me to an island that had a lot of mango trees, so go could have lunch and I could have as many mangos as I wanted. I noticed this was a very old and also an abandoned cemetery, and she told me the people buried there were many of the people that perished during the construction of the Panama Canal, and nobody knew whom they were.

I remembered seating on top of a tombstone, which had a cross on top and the engraved year read 1800 something…There was no name and nothing else. I tasted the mangos and they were very sweet and then we also had a very delicious lunch, a very traditional dish and she started to tell me stories of her ancestors and how they were brought up to Panama and all that she new about it and it was sad and I will always remembered that day, because it was the day also, when I learned so much about so many injustices and unfairness in life.

When I went to Junior high, that is the time when I met more people from other countries from the South of Panama, and when my fascination from everything international grew even more. I entered and won an art contest and the first price would be a paid trip for two people to go to Jerusalem. Because we live so far away and we did not have a TV, and because it was right before Summer started, by the time we found out, my mother and myself, they have given the price to the second runner up, because I never claimed my “price” however, it was also around this time when I had the opportunity to create and paint a mural for a rehabilitation center, dedicated to children with disabilities, and through the organization Soroptimist International.

The fact that I went to this agency, opened many doors and many possibilities for me that day, to expand my international interest, and just a few months after I had completed the mural, an opportunity open up for me to get a scholarship to study art in France, however, at the same time, another great opportunity came about, to come to the United States as an “Au pair” or better known as a “nanny” and I took the second opportunity instead and I never regret my decision as moving to the United States when I did, allowed me to continue to enrich my life with so much knowledge and with so much diversity and variety in my life.

I came to Massachusetts and I experienced, first-hand living in one of the first American colonies, all about the American culture at that time. My English as a second language teacher, was German. She spoke Spanish and she knew several other languages. She had a great love for culture and through her, I met and became friends and I attended school with many people from all over the world, many countries and territories.

I met people everywhere I went and everybody was from many countries in Europe and the Middle East, as well as South America.

For about 2 1/2 years, I lived with a “traditional” American family, learning the “traditional” American way of life and eating the traditional American meals and truly being part of that family 100% because they treated me as their own and I was able to travel with them to many locations within the Unites States and I was able to learn so much about their own states of origin.
During this time also, I became friends and lived with a lady from Peru, for many months and I mingled with her and her extended family, from many places in Peru, for many years after. I also met many people from Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic.

And once I moved to Utah, and during my college years and up until now, I have lived with roommates from all over the world and from all over the United States. I have traveled overseas, and I have shared so many delicious foods and dishes, heard so many wonderful stories and anecdotes, and I have also travelled with many of those people and experienced life here in the United States as an international crowd.

One of the greatest memories I have from around that time, is that of sharing a very salty Vietnamese meat dish, over white steamed rice, with a couple of Vietnamese co-workers, almost everyday, made by them in the traditional ways it is made in Vietnam.
I also remember when another friend brought me bison meat, her Navajo family, living in one of the Navajo reservations, obtained during a very sacred ceremony, where their tribe round up and gather a few bison, and only on certain occasions and the sacrifice of the animal will benefit many and where the Navajo use up the whole animal parts, not wasting anything. She told me she only shared the meat with me, because she considered me worthy of it and that right there, mean so much for me and to me, and it was so special, I will never forget that.

And there are so many more anecdotes and so many memories of great cultural experiences I have had the opportunity to live, and such great experiences.

One of the best things 2020 brought to me, was the need of connecting and communicating with the world through Social media and the opportunity of meeting people from different cultures, with different traditions and different ways of life and yet, we were and are still connected in so many ways and music was and is one of those great communalities. My international connections in 2020 simply broaden, widen and expanded internationally, more than ever before.

There are so many anecdotes, so many fun and funny memories and many of this memories have been shared with many friends, many men and women. All of those experiences have enriched myself with so much and all of those experiences have inspired me in life. Because of them, I am here today, doing the things I love and being the type of international person and artist I am today, and for that, I am immensely grateful.

And more than anything, I am grateful for the many opportunities I have as a woman and I am grateful because I am a woman. I am grateful to many other women around the globe, for all of their sacrifices and for all that they did so I can enjoy what I am able to enjoy today.

Happy International Woman’s Day today, everyday and specially tomorrow, March 3/8/21, it has to be celebrated!!! There are many ways to do so and this post is my way of celebrating and honor that day today!!

(International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated on 8 March around the world. It is a focal point in the movement for women’s rights. After the Socialist Party of America organized a Women’s Day in New York City on February 28, 1909, German delegates Clara Zetkin, Käte Duncker, Paula Thiede and others proposed at the 1910 International Socialist Woman’s Conference that “a special Women’s Day” March 8, is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.)

-Nedelka-