I wanted to tell you about a WONDERFUL experience I had last night. My boss has a couple in his stake that used to be the mission president in Panama 6 years ago. (They were there during the ground breaking for the temple). Darrell mentioned to President and Sister Duffin that Alyssa had been called to Panama and they invited us over to their home last night to talk about Panama. Such amazing people! They gave us tons of fantastic advice. First thing as a mother she said DO NOT WORRY! Your kids are being watched over and protected and we as parents should enjoy the experience vs. worrying and stressing about it. They said Alyssa will love Panama and the people.
She said most parents worry about safety and medical care. She said never once did she feel like she was not safe and she often went out on her own. It is a very safe country. She said the hospitals and medical care are wonderful. Most doctors there went to medical school here in the U.S. so they are very good.
They told us to have Alyssa wait until she gets to Panama to buy an umbrella. Apparently they make a much better umbrella in Panama than we do and it is much better for the rain there. And the good news is they are inexpensive there :)
We talked about shoes and she said the thing you want to make sure is to have shoes with good thick soles. She said there are very few sidewalks in Panama and the few they have are broken and uneven. The roads are rocky and full of potholes and so it is important to watch where you are walking, especially at night. It gets dark at about 6:15 every night no matter the time of year. She said make sure you have shoes you can swap out every other day because your feet will constantly be wet, either from rain or sweat.
She said every missionary has a fan, so if there are 2 missionaries in an apartment there will be 2 fans. She suggests that they turn the fan on at night blowing on them (she most do it anyway because it’s hot) but to put your towel on the bed railing and your shoes right close so the fan blows on all of it overnight helping them to dry.
She said most don’t use a mosquito net because it doesn’t allow the fan to blow on you. She said with the fan blowing it tends to blow away the mosquitoes as well. She said bring a really light weight pair of pajamas either Capri or ankle length but they really need to be very light weight (that is the important part). She said if you wear them out you can always get another pair there.
As far as clothes and closets go apparently they don’t have closets in Panama. She said it is better anyway because the clothes will literally mold overnight. What they do is hang a rope across the room and hang their clothes on that. It also gives a place to let them dry once you have washed them as well.
About the mosquitoes, both President Duffin and Sister Duffin said you need to tell the mission president you are allergic to mosquito bites because some areas have them and some don’t. She said the best thing to do about the mosquitoes is use the bug spray with deet and they told me about Permethrin. You can buy it here at camping type stores but you CANNOT take it with you. It is illegal to take in on an airplane even in your luggage. It is a spray that they need to treat their clothes (and sheets) with. I guess you spray it on (I guess it doesn’t smell very good when you apply it but the smell goes away when it dries) and let it dry. She said you can wash your clothes about 5 times before you need to apply it again. She said it really helps with the mosquitoes. So between the bug spray and permethrin it should be fine. They told Alyssa to treat her clothes before she leaves but where they are going to Mexico I think that might be unnecessary as I don’t think they are going to have a mosquito problem at the MTC. She said when they first get to Panama to tell the mission president because the mission office has a supply of it that they could give them. Then when they need more they can buy it there. They also mentioned that they might not really have a mosquito problem there. They said the mosquitoes there didn’t affect them like they do here. So who knows. I guess the girls will figure it out as they go.
She mentioned a light sweater. I guess almost of the churches have AC. Because their thermostats are in Fahrenheit (which Panamanians don’t understand) they think 50° is hot and so they turn the AC all the way up. She said bring a light sweater because she may find she needs one for church on Sunday. She said some of the locals come to church wearing hats, scarves and mittens because they think it’s so cold LOL. (I guess they have never been to Utah J)
They said the stores in the bigger cities are wonderful. She said in Panama City they have a store (can’t remember what she called it) that is like a 7 story Wal-Mart. You can basically buy anything you need there. They have a lot of brands we have here but even if it’s not the same name brand they will still have almost everything we have. The only thing she said she could never find was Reese’s because I guess Panamanians don’t like Peanut Butter very much. She said almost every neighborhood has a “Chino” or a local mom and pop type store (she says they are always run by Chinese people). She said you can buy a lot of things there but she does not recommend buying meat from them. Also she said DO NOT BUY FOOD FROM THE STREET VENDORS. She said everyone wants to try it but she says they should probably not do it.
President Duffin said it is very important to live within the means of your monthly mission allowance. He said most of the American’s come with a debit card (which is great if you need a new pair of shoes or for an emergency) but the Latino’s don’t.
They explained the postal system to me. Apparently they don’t really have one and what they do have is terrible. The address in the instructions that came with her call is going to be the one to use the entire time she is gone (even though it says to use that address until you can notify your family of your first assignment). They don’t recommend the pouch because it has too many restrictions. You mail the letters directly to the mission home where the “mission mailman” in the office sorts them by district. The ones in the outlying areas are sent (usually on an airplane) to the District leader who then distributes them to the elders and sisters. The ones in the City are delivered to the district leader (by the “mailman”) who then distributes them. They said don’t even try to mail anything directly to her physical address as it will never get there.
As far as packages go they said what happens is all the packages that come in go to the same place and they literally throw them in a pile. The person from the mission home that goes to get them literally has to dig through the pile to find anything that belongs to a missionary. He said sometimes they don’t find the packages until a trip to the post office another day. He said they might be told there are 20 packages and can only find 3.
President Duffin said probably not to plan on sending a ton of packages. Not only because it is very expensive or because of the delivery issues but also because anything they need they can pretty much buy there. He said it’s almost better to put some $ in their account and tell them to go buy their own shoes there as it is much cheaper. One other thing he mentioned that they really have a problem with is the abundance of packages the American missionaries get vs. the lack the Latinos get. He said they usually hold all the packages for Christmas at the mission home and then distribute them at the Christmas party. He said one year one Elder received 14 packages and it was quite embarrassing as quite a few didn’t get anything. He said often times the Latino’s never receive a package from home the whole time they are out and sometimes never even a letter. Some missionaries’ families are not members and so they are not supportive of the missionary so it is difficult for those who have companions that are constantly getting packages and can use their debit card on a whim. They did say however if you send anything you should send 2. One of them and one for their companion. Also Sister Duffin said she recommends you sending a package for Christmas (it’s important for them to get something from home, it doesn’t need to be a lot) but to send it in September. Yes September! I figure our girls might still be at the MTC when we have to mail their Christmas package LOL. She said if you are afraid they will get it and open it you can write on the box “hold at the mission home” and they will keep it for you until Christmas time. Oh and President Duffin said that the address in the Alyssa’s book has a typo. He said it should be Puerta D not Puerto D.
One other thing they talked about was really making sure you follow the mission rules. Making sure you are always with your companion, curfew, getting up on time, having companion preparation time, etc. He said nobody wants to be a “snitch” but if your companion is doing things they should not he said you should tell them they need to stop or you are calling the mission president and then call immediately. The example he told us about was a sister who kind of liked this boy in the area they were in and he would come over to their apartment and they would ask the companion to sit out on the balcony so they could have a private conversation. He said the companion should have put her foot down from the beginning.
Sister Duffin told us it is really important to be extremely positive. If someone asks how you like the country or the rain or the food or whatever, always be positive. Oh I love the rain or this is the most beautiful place I have ever been, etc. She said it is really important to be that way with members, non-members and companions alike. She said you should never complain about rules or others to your companion. They said the time to complain is when you are with just the mission president, then you need to spill your guts. He needs to know the reality. He said a lot times he would not know there was a problem until it was a disaster because nobody would say anything.
We asked about the food, she said usually what they do is fill up a bowl of rice, pack it in there and then turn the plate upside down on the bowl and flip it. Basically you eat a packed bowl full of rice. She showed us a picture, it was like a dinner size plate full of rice. It is way more food than one person needs to eat. Alyssa told her she was worried about them feeding you plate after plate of food and not wanting to be rude, gaining a ton of weight. President Duffin said you can always blame anything you need to on the Mission doctor. He said she could tell them that her doctor said she should only eat one plate, that she shouldn’t eat more than a cup full of rice or my dr. told me not to eat meat or whatever the case may be. I guess every 4-6 mo. At a conference they Dr. speaks and he tells them flat out to blame anything on him they feel like they need to.
(this I copied out of an email another Missionary Mom sent to me. I think it is great advice so I wanted to share it)
My son has only been sick once in Panama, and it wasn't because of food or water--that's not really an issue there. He described it to me once while we were skyping on Christmas--how the missionaries get sick. Apparently the church provides each missionary their own fan. It is SO HOT and humid, and wet (because it rains every day), that when the missionaries get back to their apartment at the end of the day, if they turn on the fan and stand in front of it, they have such a huge temperature swing from so hot to so cold (because they are usually wet from sweat or rain), that it cools them down too quickly, and they get a sickness that is similar to the flu--aches, pains, chills, and major headache. He said they advise the missionaries never to do that (stand in front of the fan), but he has had several companions that have done it, and paid the price. His sickness was a cold, that is a common occurrence. Anyway, tell your daughter NOT to stand in front of the fan!