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.