photo by Kelsey Hannah


If all the birds in the world
stopped singing
something else would begin
to carry their song, I see
the world spins on
the same when you were here
as since you've gone

 -- smh

Saw the prompt and had to sneak in a last minute magpie...
check out the whole week's worth over at The Mag



Panama Diary...Chapter 1

So we've had 10 days to get acquainted, and I can tell you a few things. 

Panama is an awkward teenage boy -- early teens, perhaps 13 or 14 -- whose pants are too short. But he's growing so rapidly, it's not really worth buying new pants for now. He will just outgrow them again before school starts. 

He's starting to think a little more about things like attracting girls, and is trying different things to see what might work. But there's also a desire to just hang out with friends and be a kid awhile longer. Get dirty, play rough, show off in the neighborhood, learn new tricks on his skateboard. He can be a bit sneaky, might skip chores, blow off homework, maybe steal a candy bar now and then. 

Panama wants to drive a car but the very thought makes all the grownups in the room nervous. Sometimes Panama sneaks the car out anyway. There's going to be a fender bender at some point. 

Does any of this explain it? I don't know, but it's the best explanation I can think of.

Driving in Panama is crazy. I've never seen anything like it. If you want to do something, you do. Whenever you want to. That seems to be the only law. Things like lights and signs are suggestions, but then most people don't appreciate helpful suggestions from others while driving, right? Which seems to be how they regard lights and signs.

Speaking of helpful advice, it took 7 Panamanians to get Russ into this parallel parking space. They were hanging out of windows, learning in doorways, jumping up and down on the sidewalk, each with a different opinion about which way he should turn the wheel and willing to demonstrate. The guy who found us the space wanted his 5 bucks and wasn't going to give up for anything. It was one of the funniest situations I have ever been in...parking by committee in 100 easy steps! Luckily, when it came time to leave they had managed to get one of the other cars out first. 

When we started thinking about taking on this adventure, I did a little cruising around online to see what I could find out about living here. One of the first things I came across is something that made us laugh uncomfortably and often while we weighed our options. It has since become part of our permanent lexicon:  "The electricity doesn't go out nearly as often as in most third-world countries." 

This is a selling point?

The restoration of Casco Viejo (Old Town) has begun...however, this is what most of the buildings still look like (notice the tree growing out of the building?)

The restored buildings look like this. It's already a fun and fascinating destination, but Casco Viejo is going to become a true national treasure.

Now that we've had a bit of experience here, I find it to be one of the most apt descriptions I've seen. In fact, I think Panama would have written that line about itself. The people are openly proud to proclaim things like the fact that, "Even the tap water is safe to drink!" or "In Casco Viejo, we are actually building the first sewer system!" or "Panama has no major earthquakes!" (All things I have heard/seen in print while I've been here. And good to know, especially after I experienced the 5.8 earthquake that none of the Panamanians even noticed.)

Panama is the shopping destination for the entire region. Step into one of the malls, and you'll find all the same stores you find in an upscale American mall. But the veneer is thin. Finding a few basic items has proven to be challenging, and we have encountered limited selection and poor quality on some things. 

Just about as soon as I forget that I am shopping in Panama, something pops up to remind me. But you have to consider the fact that in 2001 there was not a single mall in this country. Now it is the shopping center for all of Central/South America. Still, if you move here, bring area rugs. And a mattress pad. Also an alarm clock and a bathroom scale, if those are things you like to use.

I will definitely be needing some hand-stitched mola shoes.

The food has been a delightful surprise! Panama takes its restaurants seriously. Whether fine dining or in a strip-mall, I have found every restaurant we've eaten in to be sleekly dressed-to-the-nines, with sophisticated world-fusion offerings. I love it when I can feed my eyes and my mouth...at the same time!

And everything seems to taste good. Eating is not my best talent, and eating in foreign countries is more difficult still. But I am bringing home a little excess baggage from my first 10 days here! 10 more, and I would definitely have to start using that bathroom scale. And if you like seafood? Panama may well be heaven.

That being said, when the tide goes out, it reveals amazing piles of garbage. The ocean is brown until you get an hour or two outside the city. There are chickens in the streets, and no one has ever once picked up after their dog, although everyone owns one. And that's in the fancy neighborhoods.

Loved this chicken living on the balcony. Notice the tether.

Panama City's toenails are painted but there's dirt under its fingernails. But then it is attempting a feat unlike anything I've ever seen. It's literally working around the clock, a city building itself at breakneck speed and trying to look good for the camera while doing it. 

I would describe the soundtrack as construction noise with a latin beat. The noise starts early in the morning, the music goes late into the night...and seems to be a hybrid Latin/Caribbean sound I'm calling "drums from hot climates".

I've heard Harry Belafonte sing Day-O live...twice...but this rendition may have beat it. A true highlight.

It wasn't raining. He dances with the red umbrella while he plays the trumpet. Highlight #2. 

The people are friendly and have been quite patient about our extremely rudimentary Spanish skills. Russ's team is comprised of bright, friendly youngsters (they do make them young nowadays, don't they?!) who have been educated all over the world and speak English like natives. They call him Papa, and Mr. Russ, both of which I find to be extremely charming. Sometimes they call him Fashionista, which does cause me to wonder whether we might be having a failure to communicate. But they seem genuinely excited to be working with him and the affection is mutual. Russ finds himself in a very happy place.

I haven't totally figured out why Panamanians don't seem to harbor a grudge against the US...the invasion was quite recent and seems to have been unnecessarily ugly in many ways. We did bomb/destroy significant areas of the city and kill 10,000 civilians -- but they are pragmatic about the cultural influence and the infrastructure benefits the US has provided as a result of our close ties. Panamanians have been as excited about the NCAA tournament as Americans, and have wasted just as much time at the office filling out brackets.

On Sunday, the park behind our building brims with teams playing cricket and people flying remote-controlled airplanes. The city seems to operate a large and curious nursery there as well -- starts of tropical plants and trees growing in hundreds of old paint buckets. Someone comes by to water them now and then, but no one seems to steal or bother them. Things grow here like crazy. The mold in your shower begins before you've even toweled off. And it appears that anything that stands still will be reclaimed by the jungle at an alarming rate. 

A balcony in Casco Viejo

I'd say the best surprise about this self-described Crown Jewel of the Americas is how much I already love it. How after 10 days, I don't want to leave. How, even as the world's most reluctant traveler, I think I'll be willing to endure cramped, long flights to get here and visit. Often. 

For someone who has spent as much of her life complaining about winter as I have, it seems fitting that I've ended up with a summer home and a summer home. A steam bath and a sauna. A quirky urban high-rise to complement my desert hacienda. 

I think that's going to be just the way I like it. 

Bienvenidos a Panama!