Saturday, February 16, 2013

I Am Here. Here I Am.

Although when I first bought my ticket I didn’t have a specific place in mind, by the time I landed in Panama City I had figured it out. The destination was a property on Isla Pastor, an island made up of solely private property in the Bocas del Toro archipelago on the Caribbean Sea. Maya Point is owned by a man from Portland, OR who is currently sailing around the world on his boat. He advertised to have someone come live in his house, built of native hardwood and perched on a ridge at the northwest end of the island, above a coral reef. In exchange for keeping the termites from taking over the house and maintaining a presence, the lucky candidate would be able to enjoy the solar-powered two-bedroom house, with a rainwater water system. The rest of the property is cocoa plantation, jungle and a smattering of other fruit trees: star fruit, mango, grapefruit, lime and banana.

The website about the property said that there would be an opportunity to pick the cocoa and sell it wholesale, either at the local co-op or somewhere else, presumably for more money if one could find a buyer. It turns out that is easier said than done. Omar, the man who works the property, has been doing his best to maintain the 13 acres by himself, but his hours are not sufficient for him to pick the cocoa and it has been rotting on the trees. What is left is riddled with insect stings and fungus.

Before I arrived, I had aspirations of being a fledgling cocoa farmer. In fact, the property’s owner told me that my experience growing up with fruit trees (cocoa grows on a tree, like an apple) was part of the reason he thought I was a good candidate. Although I knew it was likely it would be harder than it looked, the blow of looking at dilapidated cocoa trees, their pods shrunken and rotting or furry with mold, hit me a little deeper than I expected. Also with that came the knowledge that any seeds planted in the nicely laid out garden would most likely be eaten by leaf cutter ants before they had a chance to grow.

And yet, I sit on the deck, overlooking the Caribbean Sea and surrounded by lush green islands in blue water. Apart from early morning and early evening, when the no-see-ums appear and make it impossible to be outside, there is a breeze that blows across the deck, and I have already sat for hours, writing page after page of my book without realizing that time has passed at all. It seems to be a blessing in disguise: although I will do my best, I have been reminded yet again of why I am really here. It was not cocoa that brought me to Panama, it was needing the space to write a book.

Although I told the owner I wanted time to consider staying, the truth is I am already falling in love. Any time I begin to panic, tire or need a moment to gather my thoughts, I walk down to the dock, set the ladder in the water and push off onto the reef. The water is shallow, so I float a mere 1 to 2 feet above the coral, the fish darting away under me, the sunlight creating waves of light as it reflects off the water’s surface. With each day that I spend here, I am more relaxed, more thankful, and more able to hear myself think.

There is no one here besides me, Sapa the dog, Doc, the 70-year-old man who lives at the end of the dock above the cabana, and Omar, who works in the mornings five days a week. Most of my time I spend alone.

Alone: that is an answer to your unspoken question, invisible audience, and also the answer to the question that many, many people have asked aloud, both before I left and on my journey here.

I am alone, and yet my thoughts, emotions and writing fill every empty crevice and space around me. Contrary to what many think, I am not here to escape, I am here to discover.

I recently had an essay published about a meal I made for my ex-boyfriend and his household when some of their friends were killed in an avalanche last February. I gave my ex a heads up when I confirmed it was going to be published; he was excited for me, and all he asked for was to get the recipe in advance. When the article came out, I got a message from a friend with a link to the post. It said, “So you wrote about your ex, it got published and now you are hiding in Panama? This is great writing Morgan Fraser.” 

Well, invisible audience, that’s the end of it. I should have done it long ago, but here is the official throwing in the towel. I give up. I give up trying to make my choices understood, especially by people who have known me for years.

They are all here with me: my problems, my insecurities, my fears. They stand beside me while I eat, swim and sleep. They are with me when I read articles I don’t agree with, and only back away when I discover something that assures me that my actions are not crazy, that following my heart could actually be the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. I am not here to outrun my problems, and it was never my intent to do so. Instead, I have found a quiet island where I can call them to me, one by one. I can size them up, examine them, and figure out whether or not they have any legs to stand on. If they don’t, then I can dismiss them once and for all. If they do, well then, they stick around until I figure out what to do with them. I study them to see how they have shaped my past decisions and whether they should have any impact on my future plans. If it makes sense, I fold them into the book I am writing, the one I have yearned to write for years, the one that I came down here to bring to fruition.

Yes, by leaving the country I left certain people. I am now able to physically stand apart from those who made me doubt myself, those who didn’t even realize that they had their own agendas for me, and those that, like my friend, think I am escaping. By stepping away, I have put distance between them and me. By arriving here, I have created a space bubble that I can invite others into instead: people who support my decisions, who value my need for space, and who understand that often the problems most worth looking into are the ones that will take all your energy to explore.

I am here to write a book. I am also here to remember who I am, all of me: the angry, emotional, loving, kind, sensitive human being that has managed to walk this planet for 31 years without dying of hunger or thirst because of my choices. I have always made it; I have always believed I could. It is not for anyone else to question my sanity, but it is also my responsibility to not let their questioning become my own questioning, either.

I am closing the door now. If that is escaping, then consider me gone.

Love and discovered kisses


  1. Morgan-Chelsey introduced me to your blog. Although we have never met, I have just spent the past hour reading first you enchilada essay and then some of your posts aloud to my husband. We are tucked in a small, cozy little apartment in Leavenworth, far away from Panama, but are now two more members of your invisible and deeply appreciative audience. Keep writing, sister. I (and we) love it. Andrea Brixey

    1. Thank you Andrea! Chelsey told me that she passed on my blog to you, and even if we have never met, I have heard plenty of wonderful things about you and your husband. Thank you for becoming part of my audience. I really appreciate not only the time you took to read my posts, but also that you reached out to let me know that you're there. Although I sometimes appreciate that my audience is invisible, I appreciate it more when I know that it is made up of real people.

      In appreciation,

  2. Your. I meant to type your enchilada essay.