Tag Archives: living abroad
Las autoridades municipales, en consenso con representantes del distrito de Barú, en la provincia de Chiriquí, acordaron suspender cualquier tipo de actividad relacionada con las fiestas del dios Momo ante la alerta por el brote del virus A (H1N1) en la región.
My rough translation of this story from Critica newspaper is:
“Municipal authorities, together with representatives of the Barú district in Chiriquí province have decided to suspend any type of party activities related to Carnival because of the outbreak of the A (H1N1) virus in the region.” Barú district is home of Puerto Armuelles and La Frontera where most of the cases have come from.
With the last few weeks there has been some seriously bad stuff going in in Chiriquí Province where I live. There has been an outbreak of AH1N1 virus also known as “Swine Flu.” Influenza A (H1N1) virus is the subtype of influenza A virus that was the most common cause of human influenze (flu) in 2009, and is associated with the 1918 outbreak known as the Spanish Flu that killed some 50 to 100 million people worldwide over about a year in 1918 and 1919.
So far it’s known that 26 people have confirmed cases of the disease and three people have died of it here in the last couple of weeks. There have even been rumors that the city of David (dah VEED) has considered canceling Carnival celebrations, but in today’s Critica newspaper Yansy Rodríguez, of the Ministerio de Salud denied the rumors.
Back in 2009 when we were having the bid swine flu scare I came down to explore possible places to live here in Panama and people everywhere were wearing gauze masks. Of course that didn’t help them from catching the bug, but it DID prevent them from spreading it to others should they have it and sneeze of cough at least it was trapped between themselves and the mask and not spread to others in the vicinity.
It hasn’t come to that stage of panic yet, but what do you do to protect oneself? You could go to a clinic and get a flu shot. I’m not going to do that. But I do take some precautions. Most of the cases here in Chiriquí come from around Puerto Armuelles and Frontera. To go over to Bugaba to do some shopping you take the bus (35¢) or a cab (50¢) down to El Cruce at the Interamericana and catch a bus there. Bugaba, by the way, is to the west of Boquerón while David is to the east. Among the choices of west-bound buses are those marked for Armuelles and Frontera, the hot beds of flu activity right now. I won’t get on one of those to get to Bugaba or to return to El Cruce.
I have carried a small bottle of anti-bacterial hand cleaner in my back pack for a couple of years. I use it before taking a shopping cart at Romero supermarket. You never know whose used it before you. I use it again when I’m leaving the store. On the buses I try not to touch anything if I can help it, and after putting the stuff I’ve bought in the refrigerator or on the shelves I wash my hands. Now, that may sound like I’m a bit paranoid or becoming a bit Howard Hughes obsessive. I don’t think I am but these are just a few precautions a person can easily practice to cut down the chances of infection.
Okay, I need to say a few words about crime here in Panama. Naturally one of the big questions people have is what the crime situation is like here. Yes, we have it, and yes, it’s growing, just like it is in the States.
Naturally crime is worse in the Capitol, but it’s a big city with the same problems all big cities have worldwide, so I’m not even going to get into what’s happening there other than to say that most of the violent crime there is associated with drugs and drug dealers since Panama is a trans-shipping site.
We have a growing crime problem here in Chiriquí Province, and that’s directly the result, I believe of two things…David (dahVEED) is the country’s SECOND LARGEST city and big city problems come along with it. Another contributing factor is Chiriquí Province has seen a huge influx of foreigners (mostly from the States and Canada) and while there doesn’t seem to be any animus towards us, the gringos (and I’m going to use that term for EVERYONE who isn’t a Panamanian) are generally richer than the natives and that naturally makes gringos TARGETS.
Crime is a major concern for the gringos here in the Republic. (When referring to “gringos” I mean anyone who comes here whose native tongue is not Spanish.)
Many people assume that because the doors and windows have bars on them crime must be running wild. Not really. While those barred doors and windows ARE crime prevention features it is also very much a “Latin” thing, too.
We in the expat community really only pay attention to crime when it strikes us or one of our own, but the majority of the victims of crime are the natives. We just don’t pay attention to it because we don’t read the Spanish-language newspapers or watch Spanish-language television broadcasts. We live in our own little bubble.
Recently there has been an increase in home invasion crimes and two expats have been shot as a result. One, a British woman, I happen to know slightly from Potrerillos Arriba. She very nearly died, spent several weeks in the hospital and isn’t completely out of the woods yet. The other recent shooting involved a a man who was shot twice but not nearly as seriously as the lady. As if getting shot ANYWHERE isn’t serious enough, right?
One thing I know is that the lady made herself a target for such a thing to happen. She had a lovely house on probably an acre or more of lovingly maintained lawns and shrubbery. The home would be the envy of many people in the States. Now, everybody should be able to build a nice house on well-kept grounds and live happily ever after. . .in a perfect world. In the last decade gringos have poured into this country that, despite a rapidly growing first-world infrastructure is essentially just getting out of being third-world. To some of the people here a wheelbarrow is as big a technological leap as a lunar rover was to the States. There are PLENTY of people living hand-to-mouth here though we don’t see them too often. Most are indigenous people who live up in the mountains in shanties made of split bamboo with rusting tin roofs, and you’d generally have to trek an hour or more to get to where they live. Out of sight, out of mind.
But there is also a growing sub-culture of thuggery here though, thankfully, they don’t walk around with their pants sagging down. The law here does NOT incarcerate minors under fourteen, releasing them to their parents even after committing the most horrendous crimes including murder. Enterprising Fagins are exploiting this fact and recruiting youngsters to actually commit the crimes. These gangs often roam around neighborhoods in taxis casing homes to break into and it doesn’t matter if anyone’s home, either.
So, how do I cope with all this? First of all, I DON’T live like so many of the gringos who expatriate here. I DON’T live up in what is often disparagingly referred to as “Gringolandia.” That is the Boquete region, Potrerillos which has a growing expatriate population or Volcan. For most of the time I’ve lived here it has been in Panamanian neighborhoods where I’m the only gringo and I live in a house similar to all my neighbors. Except for the fact that when locals see me I’m instantly recognizable as an expat I blend in.
And one takes precautions. During daylight hours my doors are open to allow the breezes to blow through the house. That’s where the bars come in handy. THOSE doors are ALWAYS locked. No one is going to sneak in. While it is possible to own a gun here in Panama it is VERY HARD to get permission to own one. In fact, within the last month, a former chief of police in another provincial town was found guilty of having unauthorized weapons and sentenced to TEN YEARS IN PRISON. They take stuff like that very seriously here. That doesn’t mean I’m unprotected, though. I have a VERY LARGE, VERY SHARP machete close at hand and honestly I wouldn’t be afraid to use it on someone trying to get into my house uninvited.
So what would happen if someone broke in while I wasn’t home? Well, there really isn’t much for anyone to steal. I don’t own a television or a stereo system. My most valuable possession is my MacBook Air computer which I’m using to write this. I have a Sony camcorder and a nice Canon still camera and a bicycle. I’ve written down the serial numbers to all these things and sent them to myself via an email so no matter where I am, if I have access to a computer I can give the proper authorities the information they’d need should they find someone with my stuff. Those are the GOOD things. I also have three dead H-P notebook computers that I didn’t throw away and also have the serial numbers for. Why do I still have them? They’re DECOYS.
When I was house sitting in Potrerillos Arriba, which DIDN’T have bars, I’d put my computer and cameras in the clothes dryer and cover them with a couple of towels. I figured any self-respecting robber isn’t going to check there for valuables. Here in Boquerón what I do when I know I’ll be away from the house for a couple of hours is to put the computer, the power cord and this cordless keyboard into a kitchen trash bag and put THAT into a bag of actual trash. If some crook finds it, more power to him. But I figure he’s going to find the dead notebooks, say, “Aha! Good score!” and be gone.
And that’s how I deal with things here.
Recently on Facebook a couple of people have posed the question as to what songs people want to have played at their funerals. It may sound kind of morbid, but several years ago, before I moved to Panama, I made up a mix CD of the songs I want played at my sending off affair. I want to be cremated and have my ashes scattered on the deep blue waters of the Gulf Stream off of Fort Lauderdale where I lived for so many years. I envision that some of my molecules will make their way north along the waters I traveled so often and perhaps, just perhaps, some teeny weeny part of me might make it all the way across the big pond and back to the shores my ancestors came from.
But here are the songs I want wafting out over the waters when I go. You have to listen to the lyrics. The first song captures the spirituality I believe in:
Because my adult working life was a combination of working with the written word and plying the waters on boats, Tom Waits sums it all up here:
This Dave Hole song sums things up pretty well for me, too:
But then, when they actually start scattering my ashes I want THIS song BLASTING out over the Gulf Stream:
One of the problems with living in a rural are like Boquerón, well, any rural area for that matter, is that if something goes wrong on the main road you travel on there are very few alternative routes open to you.
They’ve been working for several months, now, to resurface the main Boquerón road from El Cruce to the town center. And believe me, it needed to be done. They started tearing out the old surface back at the end of August leaving a rutted dirt road in its stead. Then, at the end of September they started laying down the macadam. I was still living at the other house then and they came on down to a couple of blocks below the caseta (bus shelter) where I’d pick up the bus. As you can see from this Google Earth pic, from the town center there are several alternative route that the buses and taxis can take that parallel the main road. Up to a point, that is.
From that last yellow push pin down to El Cruce is a little more than 2 kilometers. A mile. The entrance to the barriada lies in the middle. Last Wednesday I needed to go over to Bugaba, the next town west of here, to buy some spices I needed for a recipe I wanted to try. I got a cab at the entrance to the barriada which took me down to the crossroads and immediately picked up one of the many buses that pass by all day long. I was at the Romero supermarket about 15 minutes later.
It only took me a couple of minutes to get what I needed with no impulse shopping since I’d done my weekly grocery shopping a couple of days earlier. I was back at the crossroads in less than an hour from when I started. One of the Boquerón buses was there, but I couldn’t get on. The road had been closed for grading. They weren’t letting anything but official traffic through, so the only way to get back home was to WALK! And it was HOT! Took me over a half hour because of my emphysema and stopping every couple of hundred yards to rest in a bit of shade.
Today I needed to make a trip to the grocery store again and stock up for the week. Saturday was the big Independence Day here, and as in the States when a holiday falls on the weekend Monday is usually a day off from work except for places like supermarkets and restaurants. I figured they wouldn’t be working on the road until Tuesday. I was wrong. They were grading and a steam roller was following the grader. It wasn’t looking good though traffic didn’t seem to be affected. Cars, trucks and taxis were passing in both directions past the caseta where I was lolling in the shade.
A young indigenous lad came up and sat down in the caseta with me and he struck up a conversation which was quite unusual. It was the first time in over five years that this has happened to me. He was curious about Florida when I told him that’s where I was from and he actually knew that Miami has a huge Spanish-speaking population. He said he has a friend who lives in Toronto and hardly anyone speaks Spanish there, of course. The first Cruce-bound taxi came around the bend and I was able to flag it down. I needed to get over to Bugaba as fast as possible on the chance that they might close the road to traffic again.
Well, I made it over there, did my shopping and got back in a little more than an hour this time. The road was still open and a north-bound Boquerón showed up less than five minutes after I arrived. I now have groceries enough to take me into next week, but I know that in a couple of days they’re going to start laying the black top and then we’ll all be trapped here since there are no alternative vehicular routes down to El Cruce, or most of the way up toe the center, either. The folks in above us here in the barriada will be able to get a bus which will take an alternative route from the town center down to a place called La Guinea on the Interamericana and from there into David.
But I don’t care. I’ll just hunker down here.