I started this diary during my last visit to my new home-away-from-home. You can find Chapter 1 here.
We live in the Riverside Apartments, Costa del Este. The building is lovely, and being river-side sounds splendid. However, this is what the river looks like behind the building. Panama is so busy working on coming into the 21st century in so many ways,
it has not yet gotten around to some basic things like picking up the trash.
The moment we land, there are plenty of things that make it clear I'm back. It begins when I am almost required to swim up the jetway and immediately wish that I had kept a tankini handy in my purse to slip into on approach...
It turns out that Panama during the rainy season is legitimately damp.
Like most folks after a long international flight, I stopped to use the restroom in the airport. It's very large, and has two sides to it. I noticed that all the sinks on one side had no running water, so I walked around to the other side. The first faucet I tried fell off in my hand. The next one had water, but then I noticed that every soap dispenser was missing. Blank plates all the way down the wall. So I walked back to the first side. There was one soap dispenser there, laying on its back in a goopy puddle, but at least I managed a little soap and by walking back around, eventually some water to rinse it off with. Towels? Six dispensers, all empty. But the trash cans were all completely empty too. Someone has figured out that if you don't stock the towel dispenser, you won't have to empty the trash. (I almost have to respect whoever thought of that...it's working for them. And now they're watching World Cup soccer.)
The thing I notice most often here is that you can almost get what you want. Or that you get almost what you want. Coca Light is a perfect example. It isn't Diet Coke. They think it is, but it isn't. It is almost Diet Coke. It is what you will get when you order Diet Coke. But it isn't Diet Coke.
In my first couple of days, I am reminded:
1) Never assume. For instance, do not assume (as a pedestrian or a driver) that anyone on the road will stop for you. Even if they are already stopped, you cannot assume that they will remain so. Bring two extra sets of eyes when you visit. You'll need them if you ever want to get across a street.
2) Never stand still. The people aren't actually in charge here, the jungle is. And the insects will eat you alive. (Speaking of which, will someone watch me for signs of malaria? I've been bitten.) If the mosquito-fogging truck comes by while you're out for a run, even though it spews a thick fog of unknown origin, you will eventually have to breathe. You won't be able to wait until the air clears. Living here requires the occasional act of faith. You drink the water because they assure you it's safe, you breathe the air because you see all the Panamanians breathing it. But I have a feeling we have banned some chemicals in the US that have probably drifted south to combat mosquitoes in Panama.
I know you can't tell what this guy is doing, but he ran out in front of our car in traffic to display his juggling talents for us. That death-defying feat deserved more than the dollar that we gave him.
3) You can't blow-dry your way out of a hot flash. I learned this truth some months ago. The good news is, here you can't really tell whether you're having a hot flash or not, most of the time, and the blow-drying is pretty pointless anyway because your hair is going to do exactly what the jungle commands it to do within about three minutes. Menopause could just be an ordinary June Tuesday in Panama.
4) At the grocery store, you can trick yourself into believing you're not that far from home. However, there must be some reason that the Cap'n Crunch is labeled "For Export Only." Yes, they make it in Chicago, but then they slap that label on it and I'm thinking there has to be a reason. I fear it may be related to the reason that Hyundai ships automobiles here with only one airbag. When Russ asked why at the dealership, the answer was, "Because they can." So whatever it is that differentiates the export-only Cap'n Crunch from the regular Cap'n Crunch...well, I don't want to know. In other news, we own a new Hyundai Santa Fe.
5) Most things mostly work. (We hope that will apply to the seat belts in the Santa Fe.) My phone will occasionally even send texts here, although it seems to struggle with important ones.
6) Panama City is very, very safe. Pay no attention to the 6 policias in combat gear that have just zoomed by, two to each tiny motorcycle and with large automatic weapons balanced on their knees. How they are managing to travel as a single 6-gunned blur in gridlocked traffic is a mystery. They find lanes where there are none (which I have decided must be the first lesson in Panamanian Driver's Ed: "What Constitutes a Lane? Establishing Your Rightful Place on Any Road"). I am assured these guys are what makes it so safe. In the US, the police do not zoom around at breakneck speed on tiny bikes with loaded machine guns propped precariously on their laps, but then maybe if they did we could solve some of our problems. Panama City is very safe. Have I already told you that?
The Panamanian "Red Devil" buses are slowly being replaced by more modern public transit, but there are still plenty on the streets. Most notably, they stop right on the freeways to pick people up who wait on the side of the road. Every one of these old US school buses is a unique work of art. In the mornings and evenings they are so crammed with commuters, people actually hang out the open door as they weave along the freeway.
7) Mormon missionaries are exactly the same everywhere you go. At dinner, they'll always eat as many things as you can order. But now that I've seen their apartment building, I want to buy them breakfast and lunch too. Every day.
8) The US has nothing to compare with the World Cup here. The entire country is literally standing still. There are televisions outdoors on the streets, and in every place of business. Saturday we were shopping and when anything happened in the game, the entire mall would erupt. It sounded just like being in a stadium. People were blowing horns and whistles in the stores and restaurants. Imagine the Super Bowl going on, and on, and on...while also being broadcast everywhere you go. Men, women, and children are equally engaged. It's amazing.
9) Compared to Arizona, Panama in June actually feels fairly cool. And my dehydrated skin has almost fully reconstituted! I think this arrangement could work out splendidly. We wanted a place where we could get away from the summer heat, and we almost got what we wanted. It's hot, but (get this!) it's a wet heat! And sometimes all you need is a change of pace.
Which makes it perfect. Bienvenidos a Panama!
(Su casa es mi casa...I like that.)