Tag Archives: living abroad

Language Learning Breakthroughs

Spanish is the second foreign language I’ve had to learn because I ended up living somewhere with a different language than the one I grew up with. Sometimes there are little things we encounter, daily, in our new lives that are mysteries of the language, and then, one day there is a breakthrough and the “secret” is revealed. I had one of those moments yesterday which I will explain a little later.

The first breakthrough happened when I was living in France back in 1990. Antibes, where the boat I was running was located, is a major European tourist location and tour buses were seen all the time. Most of the buses had a mysterious little sign in a window advertising K7. This cryptic message was also seen on music store windows as well, but I had no idea what it was all about.

I arrived in France at the beginning of 1989, but didn’t really come to grips with learning the language until the following year. All that time I kept trying to puzzle out the meaning of K7. Slowly my mind began thinking differently with the new language. My French girlfriend, Florence, and I used to drive a lot on Route Nacional 7 between Cannes, Antibes and Nice. This road was shortened to RN7 which, when vocalized, sounds like Eyre (as in Jane) N Set (actually 7 is “sept” in French but pronounced “set”). As you can see, the way the letters are pronounced are different than we pronounce them in English. For example the letter A is pronounced as AH. B is Bay, etc. The letter K is pronounced “Cah” (like Bostonians pronounce an automobile). Then, one day, walking over to the post office in Antibes, I passed the local music store and the sign in the window didn’t say K7 that morning. It said “Cah Set.” CASSETTE… Of course! Or as the French would say, “Voilà!” (Incidentally, voilà, is my absolute favorite word in ANY language. It covers so much ground)

So, about the revelation in Spanish, yesterday. In stores items are often priced with the notation C/U. When I first came to Panama and encountered it I wondered, “what’s that?” Didn’t know, but assumed it meant “each” and let it go at that. Obviously I was right, but I never delved into exactly what C/U actually meant.

Yesterday my blogging friend, Kris Cunningham, invited me to go along with her and her neighbor, Cedo, to Cedo’s finca up in the mountains near Volcan where she raises dairy cattle and pigs.

IMG_0643(Kris and Cedo entering the finca.)

On the way over, Cedo asked Kris to stop at the Mercado Municipal in Bugaba to buy some rice that is sold at discount prices on Saturdays. She bought two sacks that felt like they probably weighed twenty pounds each. On the way back to the car I asked her how much they cost. She said they were $6 (or here B/6. That’s six Balboas). “Total?” I asked. “No, cada uno.” (Each one) As they say in Antibes, Voilà!  C/U = Cada/Uno.

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Boquerón Celebrates Christmas

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here. Houses all over the neighborhood are sporting flashing Christmas lights, even the worst-kept house on the street, the one where they toss their trash into the front yard, has a couple of strings of colored lights. Go into the supermarkets to do your shopping and you’re assaulted with the same Christmas carols you hear in the States. And I mean the SAME because most of the ones I heard the other day in Romero were in English!

Yesterday, the 19th, when I got on the bus at the terminal to come home after paying a couple of bills in downtown David and checking out the inventory at the city’s major bicycle store, there was a notice taped to the window of the bus about Boquerón’s Christmas celebrations. There was to be a choral presentation at the bandstand in our lovely little park up the hill at 5 p.m. Then there was going to be a parade going from El Cruce (the crossroads where the Boquerón Road meets the Interamerican Highway on up to the park starting at 7 p.m. followed by fireworks at 9. Naturally the times listed were merely suggestions, approximations since this is Panama, after all, with the typical Latin attention to punctuality.

Taking that into consideration and factoring in that my street is about two kilometers up the hill from El Cruce I headed up to the corner at about 7:45. That this was a major event in the year for my neighbors was evident when I got to the bus stop and nearly every one of my neighbors was there, many having brought a chair from home to sit on. The little kids ran around playing tag while the teenaged girls all stood or sat around totally absorbed in texting away on their cell phones, probably to teenaged girls on the other side of the street waiting for the parade to come by, too.

The head of the parade made it to our street at about 8:30 with a float, of sorts, with what I have to assume was the Queen of the event who waved at the crowd of about 50 or so. It just struck me, but besides myself, there was only one other adult male in the group on either side of the street. Like New Orleans parades the riders on the float tossed goodies to the plebeians. No beads, but handfuls of tiny, penny candies which were pounced on with unbridled fury. It took over an hour for the parade of floats, lit up cars, trucks, motorcycles and bicycles to pass our location. It wasn’t that the parade was incredibly lengthy, but this is a two-lane road up and past the town square with one single, two-lane road branching off from it so there were long delays while the first participants were disbanding up above.

Looking at the parade with gringo eyes it was pretty shoddy. The floats were extremely basic with a few lights and minimum creativity. But that’s looking at it with “gringo eyes.” An expat has to look at it with a local’s eye. This was put on by people who, for the most part, have very little disposable income compared to people living even in small towns in the States. Those in the parade don’t have a lot of money to spend making elaborate, Rose Bowl Parade-style floats. The handful of candies tossed to the crowd is probably in proportion to THEIR income as the beads and doubloons  tossed by Krewe members on a Mardi Gras float. For the residents of tiny Boquerón this WAS a major event for both the parade participants and the people lining the route. THEY were happy. THEY enjoyed it. And, when it’s all said and done I enjoyed it because it was nice to see my neighbors having fun on a warm summer evening (yes, it’s SUMMER HERE down by the equator).

The fireworks went off at about 9:30 and they would have done ANY small town in the States proud. People here LOVE their Fuegos Artificiales.

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Suited Up And Ready To Ride

Justin, who was supposed to be buying the motorcycle left his passport over in Bocas del Toro, so technically I sold the bike to his girlfriend, Brandy. We went over to Bugaba and worked out all the paperwork. Fortunately there was a young lady who handles titles and registration for some care dealership standing behind us and she helped us fill out the two forms we needed to complete (in Spanish, of course.) I’m sure we could have made it on our own, but the line behind us was growing longer by the minute so the lady was a great help…

Here’s Justin all suited up and ready to ride. They plan on going to spend the night in Boquete and then ride the bike over to Bocas del Toro in the morning.

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SOLD!

Heading over to Bugaba this morning to transfer title on the motorcycle. Got close to my asking price so I’m satisfied. Of course the money is already gone. I have some massive dental work that needs to be done. Fortunately it’s a LOT less expensive here than in the States, but it’s still a serious chunk of change.

Home Safe 3

I just never used it like I thought I was going to. There were roads I’d pass on the bus going to and from David and Bugaba and wonder what was down them. I did ride down several of them and the answer was…not much.

 

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Getting Ready For Christmas

‘Tis the season to be jolly and I’m getting into the groove here in Boquerón. I spent all weekend getting my Christmas tree up, but it was certainly worth the effort.

got-my-tree-up

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An Honor

Back the last week in September our little community of Boquerón celebrated the feast day of its patron saint San Miguel. A little old man, Jorge Luis Ríos, who lives just up the main road from me said he was putting together a small magazine and he wanted me to write an article for it. He and I talk a couple of times a week and he knows that I was a newspaper reporter way, way, way back, and I lent him the Spanish version of my book which he said he enjoyed. He must have because every time we are on the bus together going in to David (DahVEED) he tells everyone around that I’ve written a book.. Sr. Ríos is a radio journalist reporting on farm news for Radio Chiriquí. So, I gave him about a thousand words in a little article titled “Mi Boquerón” (My Boquerón). He produced a 14-page magazine (revista in Spanish).

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My story was extremely heavily edited, but parts of it were quoted…

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On the facing page is a national hero here in Panama and the Pride of Boquerón, without a doubt…

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It’s an honor to be in such good company and definitely an honor to appear as the only extranjero (foreigner) in this community’s celebration of their year. I think it’s called assimilation.

 

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GO DO IT NOW!!!

I have long advocated that people should live out their dreams and it needs to be done while you’re young!

Everyone has dreams and most, nearly all, I’d bet go unfulfilled. I know my mom and dad had dreams of travel and adventure once the kids were grown up and gone. Didn’t happen. I watched my mom succumb to the most debilitating case of rheumatoid arthritis imaginable. First her hands, then her knees and she was getting around on crutches and then a walked in her 40s. And she was gone at 58.

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My brother Gary faired a little better. His dream was to play golf and he became a PGA member and was a club pro for many years. He and his lovely wife, Dianne, traveled extensively, arranging golf tours for people and I know they went to Hawaii several times as well as Puerto Rico and other spots in the Caribbean. He and Dianne loved going on cruise ship vacations and they loved dancing so much that the dedicated an entire room in their house to a place they could spend their evenings dancing. He developed bladder cancer and was gone at 55.

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While sitting in offices, dreaming about being somewhere on a boat I came across two passages in books that had a profound impact on my life. The first is from Sterling Hayden’s book Wanderer

 

“‘I’ve always wanted to sail to the South Seas, but I can’t afford it.’  What these men can’t afford is not to go.  They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of ‘security.’  And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine–and before we know it our lives are gone.

     “What does a man need–really need?  A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in–and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment.  That’s all–in the material sense. And we know it.  But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention from the sheer idiocy of the charade.

     “The years thunder by.  The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience.  Before we know it the tomb is sealed.”

The second is from Richard MacCullough’s book Viking’s Wake in which he said:

 “And the bright horizon calls!  Many a thing will keep till the world’s work is done, and youth is only a memory.  When the old enchanter came to my door laden with dreams, I reached out with both hands.  For I knew that he would not be lured with the gold that I might later offer, when age had come upon me.”

So I ditched the nine-to-five routine, got a job as a deckhand on a dinner cruise boat in Fort Lauderdale, put in my time there and in Chicago, got my U.S. Coast Guard license and spent the next 20+ years running other people’s boats around in the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico, up and down the east coast of the U.S., on the French Riviera, sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, and when I turned 50, I pulled into the harbor at Isla Mujeres, Mexico on my own (finally) small sailboat making a nine-month cruise to Mexico, Belize and the Rio Dulce in Guatemala and back to Fort Lauderdale. I was living out the dreams of my childhood and youth

But that was then. This is now. Last year when I went to get a letter from an internist saying I was fit to drive here in Panama, he told me that I had emphysema. Well, I knew that. I’m not dumb. A half century of inhaling licit and illicit substances into one’s lungs will tend to do that to ya. But, while he gave me a referral to a doctor specializing in pulmonary disorders I didn’t act on it. Until yesterday (Nov. 6th). I’m susceptible to pollen allergies and there’s something in the air now that has me hacking and coughing up icky stuff from my lungs which I haven’t been doing since I gave up smoking a year ago. I’ll be completely honest. Sometimes the simplest of tasks leave me wheezing. Gasping for breath. I don’t have a chipper walking gait any more. I’m not doing a Tim Conway old man shuffle, but there’s no pep in the step.

So I dug up Dr. Osario’s referral scripts and went in to Hospital Chiriqui and saw Dr. Rafael Rodriguez. Nice guy. Speaks excellent, though heavily accented English, and insisted on conducting our consultation in English “so you will know exactly what’s what without losing anything in translation.” And here’s the big difference between doctors in Panama and in the States. We were in his office for nearly an hour. He explained things clearly and pulled no punches. “You’re lungs are in really bad shape. From the breathing test you did when you came in it shows you have just 34% of the lung capacity you should have! If we don’t treat this very aggressively you will be on oxygen at home in six months. But that doesn’t have to happen. I believe part of your problem, from how you’ve described your symptoms, is due to allergies that we will tackle at the same time we go after the emphysema.” He referred me to a cardiologist since I had a heart attack six years ago and have three stents. I’ll go see him in a week of so. Dr. Rodrizuez wrote out a slew of prescriptions and ran me through a bunch of breathing exercises I have to do daily. The cost of the visit was $75, but I get an old-timer’s discount of $15 so an hour of face time with the doctor set me back $60!

I went down to Romero supermarket pharmacy and bought everything he’d written. Don’t know what happened to the receipt, but after getting the 20% jubilado discount it all came to almost $275!!! But I can’t imagine what that would have set me back in the States!

So, if I hadn’t gone out and actually “reached out with both hands” I’d STILL be in the same physical condition as I’m in today but wishing that I’d actually gone out and done all those things I did when I was young and able.

Got a dream? Don’t let it  escape you. Reach out with both hands and don’t let go. Remember, too,

plans for today

 

 

 

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