Monthly Archives: April 2013
Many of the readers and followers of this blog have blogs of their own. Evan Harrington is one. He recently commented on my Neighbors post and even reblogged it on his own blog. Naturally I went to his blog and browsed through it. One post in particular rang a bell for me. It was titled “Speech” in which he decried the time he had spent going to college and the massive amount of debt he had assumed only to be jobless and still living with his parents at 25. At a dinner with his family honoring his 25th birthday and his graduation he was asked to make a speech. He said:
I rose, muttering to myself, “You guys want a speech? Here’s a speech,” and then I took turns looking everyone in the eye and said:
“Don’t ever major in English. There’s nothing in it for you. It’s a terrible idea. There’s no jobs, you can’t go anywhere with it.” I pointed at my nieces and nephews, “Don’t do it, hope that you’re good at something else. I didn’t really have a choice, I wasn’t good at anything else.” I shook my hands emphatically, “Hope that you’re good at anything else.”
There’s a lot of truth in that speech, especially about majoring in English. He’d have learned that if he’d listened to The Prairie Home Companion which regularly spoofs English majors. But there are other college majors Evan could have chosen that might have even been worse… say art history. Or when was the last time you saw a help wanted at for someone with a degree in philosophy?
There are a lot of career paths in life that most people don’t want to even consider but which would be much more financially rewarding than those offered to English majors.
For example take a look at this:
This is the house of my neighbor who lives on my immediate right. Know what he does for a living? HE’S THE TOWN GARBAGE MAN!
When I was a kid growing up in the small Cape Cod town of Orleans in the mid 1950s there were two people in town who bought a new one of these every year…
One of those people was Charles Wilson, retired CEO of General Motors who famously said, “What’s good for General Motors is good for the United States.”
The other person who bought a new Cadillac every year was Ralph Mayo, and what Ralph did was something I doubt any reader of this blog would do…he was the guy you called when you needed to have your cesspool pumped out!
So, youngsters, think long and hard about what career path you choose. Being an English major isn’t one of the best.
In less than two weeks I’ll have lived here in Boquerón for two years. Six months in between six month stints house-sitting in Potrerillos Arriba and a year and a half straight through after that. I’ve written before about how my neighbors seem to have accepted having a gringo in their midst. As an outsider we sometimes wonder if it’s really acceptance or simply tolerance. One of my neighbors, Llella, half way up the block was the first to make me seem to be accepted when I was invited to her birthday party and turned out to be the only person there, with one exception who was a life-long friend of her’s, who wasn’t a family member. She and her husband have also invited me to Sunday lunch at their house which is another honor since it’s not often that Panamanians invite someone inside their homes, especially a foreigner.
I’ve also written that there was a time when everyone greeted me with the word, “hello.” That doesn’t happen anymore, now that I speak fairly passable Spanish. Now it’s “Hola, Richard. ¿Como estas?” or “¿Como la va?” (How’s it going?” That’s very similar to the French “Comment ça va?”) Neighbors the equivalent of nearly a city block away who see me sitting on the front porch will wave at me until I wave back. Neighbors and even strangers going down to the river to swim or bathe always say “Buenos dias” when I’m outside, even an old Indian gentleman who lives on the other side of the river has a big smile and a “Buenos” every time he passes. Sometimes these people will stop and chat with me for a few minutes about the weather, the state of the river (“Casi seco” Almost dry) until a few days ago when we’ve started getting rain and the river runs a bit stronger now, but not as strong as it will in a couple of weeks.
What’s prompted this post is what’s happened in the last few days. The other day, Maite, the lady who lives in the first house on the left up the road, was starting a fire in her outdoor kitchen. Most of the houses around here have a cooking spot outside. Keeps the house cooler, don’t you know. When the fire was going strong she put the “fogon” over the coals and filled it with water. A “fogon” is an iron cooking pot. I thought she might be cooking up some tamales, but late in the afternoon she came into my yard calling “Richard, Richard.” She had a plantain leaf package for me.
Inside wasn’t a usual tamale with a maize base and pieces of free-range chicken inside. Instead it was a combination of platanos maduros (sweet plantain) and rice. It was, of course, very, very rich and something I’d never had before.
And in the past two days when her husband has been out cutting fresh plantains for themselves he stopped by the fence and gave me a few. And this morning, coming back from David where I bought an espresso maker (another post), he was at the small tienda (store) on the corner and came over to tell me he’d left some yucca that he’d dug up, by my door. I’ve eaten yucca before but now I’m going to have to try cooking it for myself for the first time.
My lease here at this house expires in November. I don’t know what’s going to happen then. I don’t know if the owners, who live in Texas, are actually going to retire then and move down here. That is why they bought the house, after all. But some of their recent postings on their Facebook page make me wonder if, perhaps, they’ve changed their mind. They had mentioned once last year that they might end up selling the place. I haven’t asked what their plans are since I’ve still got six months to go on the lease.
But I suspect my neighbors don’t want to see me leave. Last night one of the young men in the neighborhood was passing by and stopped to chat. He asked how long I’d been living here and I mentioned that I had six months more to go on my lease but come November, if I have to move, I’d still like to stay here in Boquerón. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “I have a friend who owns a couple of houses up by the Chino’s (one of the Panamanian equivalents of a 7/11) that he rents. I’ll talk to him if you want.” I told him it was a bit early to start talks but I’d let him know. One time talking to Llella I’d said the same thing about not wanting to leave Boquerón and she said the same thing the young man did. “Don’t worry about it. I know plenty of people that have houses around here that they rent. We’ll take care of you.”
Of course I’d be more than content to just stay put. This house isn’t just a place I stay anymore. It’s become “home” and I’ve become an accepted part of this community and it’s nice to know that a 63 year old woman and a 25 year old young man have both said “don’t worry, we’ll take care of you” when the time comes. It’s people like them, and I’m pretty sure my other neighbors feel the same way, that make me love this place.
Sometimes I find that the level of intelligence of the average U.S. citizen is appallingly low. As George Carlin said, “Think how stupid the average person is, and then remember that half of them are dumber than that!”
I don’t know about today’s average person in the U.S. but those of us of a “certain” age know that Dwight Eisenhower was so impressed with the German autobahn that he was bound and determined to have a similar system in the United States. It was because of Ike that the States has its amazing Interstate Highway System. You can get on I-95 in Miami, FL and drive all the way to the Canadian border without getting off of it. You can get on I-10 on the Atlantic Ocean in Jacksonville, Florida and drive all the way to the Pacific Ocean on the same road.
But did you know that interstate system requires that one-mile in every five must be straight. These straight sections are usable as airstrips in times of war or other emergencies.
How many of you have this product in your cupboards?
I’ve used the corn muffin mix, a lot. My mom used Jiffy products. Until today, though, I didn’t know anything about the company and why their boxes of mix could be so inexpensive compared to the big brand name equivalents. Well, follow this link to find out about a company that cares about their product, their people over the almighty bottom line, though Jiffy isn’t doing too bad in that regard, either.
Unlike the States or Europe, there are only two seasons in Panama. “Winter” and “Summer.” The “wet” and “dry.” Being that Panama sits nearly on the Equator, my house is 8°30’84” N, our seasons more closely correspond to those in the Southern Hemisphere than they do in the Northern. Summer, the “dry” season, is roughly from November to the middle of April. It’s when the kids have their longest school recess.
And it gets HOT here in the summer. A dry, searing, heat that turns lawns the color of Cheerios and it crunches like Rice Krispies under foot when you walk across it.
The river next to my house has been nearly bone dry.
A few months ago I wrote about my electric bill only being eight dollars and change. Monday I paid the most recent and it was just a few cents shy of $60. That’s because in the middle of the afternoon it has been like living in an oven and I’d run the air conditioning every day until well after dark when the cool air from the mountains sinks down onto the flat.
For the last couple of weeks nature has been toying with us. There have been a few sprinkles here and there. Not much, but enough to stimulate what passes for grass, here, to sprout. While the lawn looks forlorn, all of this stuff is indigenous to the area and adapted to the yearly cycles of wet and dry. Just add water. Some days, of late, thunder could be heard up in the hills in the afternoons and at night the southern sky would light up as lightning flashed out over the Pacific Ocean. But it was just a tease. There was no rain accompaniment.
On Monday, April Fool’s Day, I had an afternoon doctor’s appointment for a physical which is required for me to get a motorcycle endorsement added to my driver’s license since I’m over 70. While in the office the skies opened up and it rained so hard and so loud for about 15 minutes that it nearly masked the doctor’s questions. But it only lasted a few minutes and then it was hot all over again.
But this afternoon (April 4th) it changed. Around three o’clock, as is usual in the “rainy” season it started to pour. It was like the entire barrio was sitting under a water fall. Puddles formed in the low areas of the yard and thunder and lightning assaulted the area. It lasted for nearly two hours. That’s how it is, here, in the “winter.” The mornings are glorious. Blue skies. Cotton ball clouds. In the early afternoon it starts to cloud up and we get a couple of hours of rain. So, in the “winter” you get up, get what needs to be done, done. Get your laundry up on the line to dry before noon, do your grocery shopping and then settle back for the inevitable rain.
For the most part, people here like the rain. It moderates the temperature and makes living comfortable. I don’t need to turn on the a/c. A fan will do. And for the first time in months, when I step out onto the front porch, I can once hear the river running over the stones again.