There may be nothing more enriching to one’s life than to check out of one’s small personal world and into another one that is entirely different.

We all grow up thinking our world is the world. Some of that thinking is immediately shattered when we enter kindergarten. More is shattered when we move on to high school, or university, or out into the work world, where we are suddenly forced to associate with people quite different from us, some who may seem to have grown up in another world altogether.

Despite having experienced all of the above, my world was still pretty small before I started travelling further afield. Going to a Third World country, trying to communicate with people who don’t know English, building patience when their priorities are not mine—these are things that stretch me. These are things that help me realize that the world is so much bigger than my world.

One corollary of that is that I gradually learn to be more accepting of diversity and, I think, less judgemental. And so I become less discriminatory in my practices, and my thinking.

Last week I was in Panama, a beautiful and interesting country. Travelling with two Danes, a Brazilian, two Northern Irish, a South African, a Kiwi, and two Americans was already a mind-stretching experience (one reason I buy group tours), never mind all the local twists and turns and compromises and challenges. Like standing in line in the hot overhead sun for over three hours, waiting to get the passport stamped, or trying to get an egg fried over-easy when the server understands no English.

Panama is, in some ways, a very modern country. Panama City, for example, has probably as many sky scrapers as all of western Canada combined (just guessing). And it has the Panama Canal, which I had the pleasure of passing through on Saturday, certainly a highlight for me.

But Panama also has a huge problem with disparity, one of the worst in the world. The indigenous people pick coffee cherries for $7.50 a day, live on “Comarcas” where they lack running water, electricity and even roads. Some of them are essentially slaves. To some extent, it’s our coffee giants that are keeping them in that state. To some extent, it’s also the discrimination that has developed in the Panamanian culture.

So it really ticked me off when, travelling by motor coach between my coffee plantation tour and Panama City, we stopped to pick up about fifteen passengers. I could see immediately that the waiting passengers included three indigenous women and their baby. It was obvious by the colourful dresses they wear, totally different from everyone else.

When the waiting passengers rose to grab their luggage and head to the bus, the three women remained behind. As the others completed their boarding, the three women got up and followed suit. It was immediately clear to me what had happened: They knew their place in society; they would not dare to step in front of a Latino.

Overall, the trip was a fabulous experience! But this incident also lingers in my mind. It reminds me of the importance of broadening our own minds–in whatever way works for us; it doesn’t have to be travelling to another country—and becoming better, more accepting, people for it.

Will it take a “Rosa Parks” to change things in Panama? I don’t know. But my world was stretched ever so slightly by this incident. Am I a better person for having witnessed this travesty? I hope so.

Expanding our world makes us better people; that’s one thing of which I’m confident.

Prime lending rate drops; how does it affect real estate?

While I was away, the Bank of Canada lowered its prime lending rate by a quarter point. Interest rates for mortgages should therefore drop, right? It should thus be easier to qualify for a mortgage, right? And by extension, to qualify for a rent 2 own program, right?

Well, that’s partially true. At first, when the Bank of Canada lowered its rate, the banks also lowered the rate of interest they pay to their customers who have accounts with them. But they didn’t lower the rates they charge to those who borrow from them. Public pressure, though, is forcing them to follow suit with lending rates. At the time of this writing, they have begun to drop them, but not as much as they dropped their payout rates. So, the drop might help prospective homeowners a little, but the banks are still reserving a cushion, aka profit margin.

Don’t be surprised if you see them building some more sky scrapers, providing Panama City with a little competition, not only in the sky scraper department but maybe also in the disparity index.

Rent 2 Own tip:

Never fall for a rent 2 own scheme that promises to get you into a home for nothing down. It will only set you up for disaster later on.

Quote of the week:

Not all those that wander are lost. – J.R.R. Tolkien