You know that feeling when, suddenly jolted from a deep sleep by a piercing noise, your fuzzy brain loops unproductively until the adrenal medulla floods your body with enough epinephrine to reset it to consciousness? In that moment before awoken clarity, “What’s wrong?!” is the only thought allowed in fight-or-flight mode.
That is how Brian started the month of February.
Sleeping soundly for not quite five hours, following a late-night FaceTime conversation with his mom, his dreams evaporated at 5:48am when Audrey – up and getting ready for school – screamed from our bathroom.
Quickly brain fuzz disappeared and he realized she was talking with daughter Charlotte in Morocco, and the Panamanian travel visas for son-in-law Zak and grandson Adam finally must have been approved.
So started a marathon of planning and execution that nine days later culminates with their arrival tonight at Tocumen Airport. To say we are excited merits calling the Guinness World Records folks for consideration in the “Greatest Understatement” category. For the next six weeks we will welcome the joyful disruption of our routine by having “Adam and his parents” (as we love to tease Charlotte as Zak) in our daily presence.
We love visitors. Throughout our life together we have welcomed family and friends staying with us wherever we may happen to live. Whether hopping across the USA or across oceans, we have always collected people and sought to keep them actively in our lives even after we moved to wherever in the world served as the setting for our next chapter. Throughout, Audrey – schooled by her southern grandmother (and former First Lady of the USMC) in hostessing – has had a special knack for making guests feel welcome. What started years ago with putting chocolates on guests’ pillows has grown into constructing visitor baskets that feature local snacks and amenities. Brian’s mother recently recalled how, years ago when grandparents GJo and GBob joined us and our then-very-young girls for several days on the Outer Banks in North Carolina, Audrey arranged welcome packets for them that included a beautiful half shell which she still keeps today as a remembrance of that trip. For 25 years Brian (and later both of us) hosted an annual “Wine-Tasting for the Masses” (i.e., an excuse for a social occasion, not an organized tasting of Church wine) that typically brought together not only local friends but also long-time friends who traveled across states and even across the Atlantic to continue their streaks of attendance. Our children grew up knowing aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and great-grandparents who lived far away because they traveled to us and we traveled to them. When we moved abroad, we welcomed family and friends to Morocco and loved touring them through as much of the beautiful country as the lengths of their stays would allow. As much as we enjoyed it in our stateside life, hosting visitors abroad certainly marks one of the thrills of expat life.
Then came COVID-19 and the global pandemic that has changed everything about life for the last two years. As the COVID trajectory improved last fall, friends and family started talking about coming to Panamá to visit us and use our accommodations as an anchor spot for exploring the country. We had so many people registering their prospective interest with us that we added a “Visitors” calendar on our Google Calendar to keep track of who might come when. We blocked out days and weeks for prospective trips people said they wanted to take with great anticipation of restoring the hosting component of our lives soon.
Even when the Omicron variant started surging in parts of the world, Panamá continued to have very good stats regarding daily new cases, so we remained optimistic about folks still being able to visit soon. But, of course, the inevitable happened here as well. Numbers skyrocketed in the first half of January. We did not know how long that would last and how many visitors would have to cancel or reschedule their plans. Brian’s Uncle Tom chanced it as numbers were climbing, becoming our first international visitor in Panamá after living here for 18 months. We tested before he came. He tested before he came. He flew with a KN90 doubled by another mask. We and he practiced reasonable caution before and during his visit. While Audrey worked at ISP, Brian toured Uncle Tom around Panamá. We took a “rum tour,” closing out each night with another quality rum from somewhere in Latin America while toasting the sunset from our balcony. We had a blast. And, thankfully, we all stayed COVID-free…even though Panamá hit its pandemic-long peak of daily new cases on January 20 midway through his stay. One day before his departure, he tested at the facility four blocks from our house and was cleared to fly back to the U.S.
In the three weeks since that January 20 crest of the Omicron wave, numbers have dropped precipitously, and thankfully, back 75 percent. That leaves a long way still to go to reach pre-Omicron numbers, but when Zak and Adam got approved travel visas, we sprung immediately into rescheduling the visit they had hoped to begin before Uncle Tom returned stateside. But Morocco had re-instituted an international travel ban in the early days of Omicron, then extended it again and again through December and January. So when Morocco announced its reopening to international travel as of February 7 and they got their visas approved, we started right away to explore when to reschedule their flights.
From February 1 until this moment, their trip has dominated our days and nights. First we needed to buy tickets. Then we needed to finish outfitting the guest room that Uncle Tom had so kindly beta-tested for us. (Read: the guest shower did not drain well, so Brian had to play plumber; we needed to buy a pop-up tent that could serve as Adam’s room-within-a-room to ensure that he would sleep inside the same walls as his parents; and Audrey had visitor baskets to restock.) Then Brian went on a child-proofing frenzy around the apartment. We now know how many outlets we have unused throughout the apartment that we need covered to keep Baby safe. Finally, last weekend we went on a grandparent shopping extravaganza. After all, Adam needs toys to play with while here. And we needed to add a high chair and stroller and a car seat to our lives for the first time in two decades. When we got home, we laid out the toys and puzzles and whatnot next to Adam’s Toy Box that Brian made back in December when we started talking about having them come visit.
According to FlightAware.com, in a little over an hour we will get to hug our daughter for the first time since 15 July 2020; our son-in-law will have traveled across an ocean on his first trip outside Morocco; and our grandson will discover that his Nana and Buhpa are not merely small people living inside, and traveling between, the screens of his mother’s phone/iPad/computer. Audrey will stay home to receive food being delivered from a halal restaurant, and Brian will drive to Tocumen Airport with a blue balloon to give Adam to help with the conceptual transition to Big Buhpa.
Meanwhile, the Visitors calendar never sleeps. As we prepared for Adam, Charlotte, and Zak to arrive, on Sunday we had a video chat with USA friends from our years in Morocco who will arrive for a week’s stay just days after our grandson and his parents return home to Morocco. Notwithstanding future pandemic disruptions, our Costa del Este apartment in Panamá is open to visitors.
On your mark, get set, here we go!