12/01/2016 - Meet Annette Daughtry, a Casper resident for the past four years. She was born in Panama. Some of her relatives only speak Spanish, therefore her phone recording is bilingual. Because Annette's dad was in the US Army, she lived off and on in Panama. She was there when she was a baby, a Kindergartener, and an 11th and 12th grader.
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On Annette's high school graduation ring is the inscription "The land divided. The world united." Here, in this Central American country connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean with its 48-mile canal, Annette enjoyed hearing a wide variety of languages being spoken in a small proximity and enjoyed a wide variety of products from all over the world.
"When I lived in Panama, Americans were looked upon with favor. They, under Teddy Roosevelt's leadership, helped give Panama independence from Columbia," said Annette in her friendly, soothing tone.
One of Annette's favorite places as a teenager was an island called Taboga. It was like a Greek village with tropical flowers. Since no cars were allowed, people brought by a double-decker ferry boat, walked everywhere. They lingered, picnicked, bird watched, fished, and collected shells under the spell of live Panamanian reggae and salsa. At low tide, a natural bridge connected this island to another one, allowing people to further explore while hummingbirds drank nectar from the bougainvilleas.
Christmas is celebrated in Panama with an emphasis on celebrating the birth of Christ. Many Panamanian families have both an indoor and outdoor nativity set. "I remember my mother moving the three kings and their camels closer and closer, week by week, to our homemade stable surrounded by real sand," said Annette. "They were coming to see baby Jesus who would remain covered until Christmas Day. The three kings would arrive at the stable January 6th, the day of Epiphany. The next day the nativity sets would be taken down and put away."
While it is possible to see Americanized Santa Clauses, candy canes, and lit-up Christmas trees there, the Panamanians enjoy their own traditions. Instead of a ham, they have roast pork flavored with garlic cloves and mojo criollo (a Spanish marinating sauce) and served with arroz con gandules (seasoned rice and pigeon peas which are more like a legume than a pea). As a side dish, they have tamales (different from Mexican ones) made of cornmeal (dry corn boiled, strained, and ground) and filled with chicken, sazon (sauce), green peas, capers, and red bell peppers. The tamales are wrapped in banana leaves and tied with cooking string. Another popular Christmas side dish are tostones, similar to French fries but made of green plantains (like a banana but used as a vegetable since it is a little on the salty side).
For dessert there is the Panamanian rum cake, a golden cake much like a sponge cake poked with holes and filled with rum and sugar before it is topped with vanilla cream icing and crushed walnuts. "It is delicious with a cup of coffee," said Annette.
Homemade candies are popular to make, enjoy, and give away to neighbors and friends after Midnight Mass and the opening of gifts. Merengues (pronounced "mar-rang-gays") which are little melt-in-your-mouth candies (vanilla or chocolate flavored) along with "Huevitos de Leche" (translated "milk eggs") that are little balls made of milk, sugar, and eggs and rolled in powdered sugar, are some of Annette's favorites.
While children are playing with their new balls, dolls, and bikes, someone is passing off a fruitcake made of dried mangoes, cherries, pineapples, and walnuts. It is inescapable, even in Panama!
Annette and her husband John (employed at Century Link) along with their four children, Angelica (newly married to Luke Mailloux), Skye, Johnathan, and Christopher moved to Wyoming for health reasons. Annette, contending with MS, does better in cooler weather. If the weather gets above eighty-five degrees, she loses her balance and has even, for a time, lost her ability to walk, talk, and write. Her nerves and muscles are affected by her getting overheated or overstressed. "Wyoming is a good place for me. So is kicking back, accepting things, and enjoying life," said Annette.
If you have ever had the privilege to meet Annette, you will know our community is blessed to have her (and her family) living here. Merry Christmas and Feliz Navidad, Daughtry Family!