Things I miss about Panama. And others that I don’t.

Things I miss about Panama:
1) The lack of political correctness. I loved that you could call a fat person fat, a white person white, a Chinese person Chinese, and a small person small. This distinction was made clear on the flight from Panama to Miami- American Airlines was showing “Up In the Air,” and at one point George Clooney is instructing his protege on the best line to choose in order to pass through security as quickly as possible. “Bingo, Asians. They pack light, travel efficiently, and they have a thing for slip on shoes.” Except we’re in America now where the term “Asian” is racist, so it was dubbed over with “business people.” This, after being in a country where anyone who looks remotely Asian is called a Chino without any thought to being “racially sensitive.”

2) The inherent pressure to eat local. Non-local produce such as grapes and apples had limited availability, but unlike the US, where food prices are subsidized, its price reflected the true cost of transporting it long distances and out of season. Buying green peppers in Bocas del Toro, for instance, would run you $1.50 a pop. Conversely, local food like yuca, bananas, and plantains was dirt cheap. A sack of 100 oranges in Santa Marta for $1.50? A pineapple for 50 cents? I dig.

3) Having time to breathe. I loved getting into a routine at LaMICA- wake up, ride to the park, collect a sample, walk back, process the sample, eat dinner, sort my samples, then go to bed. And yet even though I was always busy and always had more work to do than time to do it, it was chill. Not like here, where I always seem to be worried about finding time to do everything.

4) Taking joy in the simple things. Here in America, we need hot showers, 200 channels, 2,500 square feet, and a car for each member of the household to be happy. In Panama, they found a way to be happy with a mud house, a sturdy horse, and enough food to feed the family. And even though they don’t have all our fancy gadgets to bring them joy, the Panamanian suicide rate is still nearly half that of the US.

5) Being able to take a brief pause in my journey to adulthood. It was nice being able to forgot about responsibilities and burdens back home for awhile and just do what I like to do. Growing old sucks.

6) Not having to deal with pricks. They tend to grow on trees where I grew up in Chesterfield. In Panama, it was perfectly acceptable to have chickens, turkeys, pigs, or whatever you wanted roaming free about your front yard. And you could put up a clothesline without your neighbor alerting the trustees to the “ghetto-ization” of the the neighborhood. Nobody was having a contest with their neighbor to see who could grow the best lawn, either.

7) Lack of traffic. It took an hour and a half to get home from the airport last Thursday. Yuck.

8 ) The self-sufficient attitude. In the US, we tend to blame the government for all our problems, then expect them to solve everything. Panamanians in the countryside have learned not to expect miracles from their government, so they tackle problems on their own. The people of Santa Marta needed a system to provide the community with water, so they built one. The source, a collection of springs high in the mountains, needs to be maintenanced every couple of months, which the people of the community do personally. This is a much more effective solution than sitting at home and whining about entitlement checks, which tends to be the first instinct for most Americans.

Things I do NOT miss about Panama
1) The general attitude towards females. In the US, cheesy catcalls and obscene gestures are usually restricted to a limited demographic- namely, toolbags and drunk frat guys. In Panama, it was universally expected and glorified for grown men to talk and act like 12 year olds around girls. Really? Grow up guys.

2) The acceptability of mediocrity in business. Once I was in an electronics store to buy a replacement pair of earphones for my MP3 player. I selected the set I wanted, but it was locked in a display. I alerted a sales clerk, who went to his boss to get a key. After opening the plexiglass door, I held the earphones and inquired about the location for checking out. Little did I know, I was only at the beginning of a long process. The clerk pulled up a computer program and noted my name, occupation, and nationality, as well the item I had selected, which he took back from me and returned to the display. Then he directed me towards the back, where there was a lady sitting behind a desk. After I had waited 5 minutes for her to finish her word puzzle, she asked my name, and pulled up my information on a second computer. I paid my $8.99, and she filled out a yellow form which she ripped out of a book and gave to me. I then had to take his form to another man behind a desk on the other side of the store- this guy read the form and disappeared for 2 minutes, returning with my earphones. He then filled out a receipt, which he gave to me along with my purchase. Somehow, I feel like there could’ve been a better way. An American ex-pat I spoke to in Bocas said that building their home was a terrible hassle- they would order an item, such as flooring or siding, only to have something completely different arrive. The company never seemed to see a problem with this, and refused to correct the problem. Overall, it took 6 years to build their home. This mediocrity in business seemed to not only be expected, but accepted.

3) The heat. I love being able to shower and not smell like a sweaty ape the second I walk more than 50 meters.

4) Constantly being stared at. There’s nothing better than walking into a store to buy a soda and have 40 pairs of eyes follow your every move. Sometimes I felt like doing a backflip and singing a song, just so I wouldn’t disappoint any spectators.

5) Not having a place to throw trash away. There doesn’t seem to be any motivation to collect trash in a common area, like in the US. Public trashcans are virtually non-existent, as well as trash collection services. As a result, trash is everywhere- on the trails, in roadside ditches, and in the river. It’s kind of gross.

6) Being away from awesome people. I love my friends and family.

  1. #1 by Andrea on April 19, 2010 - 3:40 pm

    if this was facebook i would “like” this

  2. #2 by Greg on April 19, 2010 - 4:26 pm

    I second andrea’s comment.

  3. #3 by Ethan on April 20, 2010 - 6:26 pm

    Way to go Paul!

  4. #4 by Audra on April 20, 2010 - 10:16 pm

    Hey WHITE GUY! (feeling better about #1 yet?) I really like this post and I am in complete agreement with numbers 3, 5, 1 and 6.

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