As a student living a transient military lifestyle, I've had the good fortune to experience life in a variety of cultures. The experience I have gained by growing up abroad in such places as England and Germany has had significant effects on my dreams and aspirations. Yet, one place my family has lived stands out in my mind as having the greatest impact: Panama.
The Isthmus of Panama extends as a land bridge connecting the two Americas. Its urban center is Panama City, where we would join half the nation's inhabitants in making our home. Although we spent just over two years in Panama, my time there was a profound experience. Prior to Panama, I had led a sheltered existence, ignorant of any other way of life. I knew nothing of life in a third world country. The isthmus may connect these two worlds physically, but they could not be further apart in the way life is lived.
My father, who had arrived two months earlier, was at the airport to welcome my mother and me. After our separation I was ecstatic to see Dad once again. On the way to our new home, I slowly recoiled from this state of contentment. I glanced out the window as we approached the city, wrapped in a hazy blanket of smog. I felt my spirits begin to change, falling from the elevated state of just minutes before.
The climate only deteriorated as I saw the city loom before us. While stopped for traffic, a young boy approached the car. I strained my four-foot frame to catch a glimpse of this strange boy through the back seat window. Sitting up fully, I could then see clearly his makeshift crutch. His support was propped under his left arm and held the...