Apr 18, 2012

Loving Panama on a "Bad Hair Day"

I've been complaining for 3 days about an unidentified, downed wire that is hanging from a telephone pole to the ground in front of my house. 

The electric company came out and said the wire wasn't theirs and therefore they couldn't touch it.  They said it belonged to the cable company.  I called the cable company, who initially refused to  accept my report of the problem because I wasn't a customer.  They told me a customer needed to report the downed wire.  In the best Spanish I could muster, I got a little testy.  I emphasized that I had no way of knowing who their customers were, but their wire was impeding exit and entrance to my house. I insisted on speaking with a manager.  I was told there was no manager available who spoke English.  I hadn't been speaking English during our conversation, and advised the male service rep I'd be just as happy to complain to a Spanish speaking manager.  On hold for 45 seconds, and then the rep came back on and agreed to report the problem to a local technician.  The local tech came out, looked at the wire, and left claiming it didn't belong to the cable company.  As a last resort I called the DSL company, who agreed to send a tech out the next day.  (I was sure the wire didn't belong to them, but I was feeling desperate) 

To make a long story short, the DSL technician arrived today and said the wire wasn't theirs, as I expected.  I gave him a synopsis of my issues to date.  He agreed to take the wire down despite the fact it didn't belong to them, and called for approval from someone in head office.  10 minutes later the problem was solved and I got two follow up calls from the office to ensure that there was no interruption in either my phone or internet service.  I assured them everything was fine and thanked them profusely. 

While the DSL guy was driving off,  my carpenter arrived four days early with two beds I had contracted him to build.  He helped me move my furniture and get the old beds out.  Then he installed the new beds and helped me put everything back in order again.  I wasn't prepared to pay him since he came 4 days early.  Not a problem !  Just bring the money by his shop when I had the chance to get to the bank.  I assured him it would be today, as soon as I could change clothes and head into town.  

I climbed into the shower and had just soaked down and soaped up when the electricity went off.   Since I have an on-demand electric water heater, this greatly affected my shower experience.  Rinsed off and tried to get the shampoo out of my hair with cold water in the dark.  ARGHHH! 

Got dressed, and after realizing my neighbors on both sides had electricity,  checked my breaker box.  No tripped switches.  What to do next?   Decided to call a contractor I know for help.  The contractor arrived 20 minutes later, fiddled with a few things and fixed the problem.   He brought his wife and baby daughter along to meet me, given we had discussed his family on prior occasions.  I had a nice visit with them while he worked.   He charged me nothing for coming out and fixing things.

After they left,  I headed out to the car to go to the bank to pay the carpenter.  My neighbor caught me as I was getting in and bent my ear for 15 minutes about cooking and plants and I can't remember what else.   Finally managed to end the conversation and climbed into my car.  The car wouldn't start and I noticed I had left the lights on since yesterday afternoon. UGH!  Dead battery

Another phone call, this time to the mechanic.   Ten minutes later he was at my house and removing the battery from the car.  He then took it back to his shop to assess and re-charge if possible.  He dropped me off at the bank and said he'd bring the battery back in a few hours.  The carpenter told me not to worry about payment.  I could come by tomorrow or the next day.

So far I've gotten everything taken care of without shelling out a single dime or straying far from my house.   And I've had pleasant visits from four people.  Goes to show it really is all about who you know.  I dread the thought of how all this would have gone down in California. 

This is the contractor's one-year-old daughter, Ana.  Isn't she a sweetie?

Apr 17, 2012

Mike's Global Grill

I previously didn't frequent this restaurant based on reviews in Boquete NING regarding bad service and poor food.  Recently, though, I've been there twice with friends, once during the weekend and once mid-week.   I was very pleasantly surprised.  The restaurant has a warm, friendly atmosphere, the owners were attentive and very cordial, and the food was excellent.   Wait staff was also superb and the time from placement of food order to table beat Las Ruinas and Amigos by about 200%.

I'm not sure about the beef some people have with this restaurant, but based on personal experience I'd say it's unfounded.   I plan to frequent the place more and would encourage anyone who has been holding back for reasons similar to mine, to ignore the malicious reviews and see for yourself. 

Meet you there!

Apr 14, 2012

Good Morning Boquete!

It's an eventful Saturday in Boquete today.  A few days ago the pueblo celebrated its 101 birthday with a parade.  Now there's a pet show and parade scheduled for 10:30 am (hasn't started yet---still getting organized in true Panama fashion) and varied games scheduled for the town square later.  People are hanging balloons everywhere and it's a morning of activity and anticipation.

The weather has been absolutely wonderful for the last several days.  Sunny and warm most of the day---not too hot, just right!  Then cool down in the late afternoon and nice sleeping weather at night.
I'm becoming so used to this climate that when the temp drops to around 70,  I start to "freeze".  See photo Martha snapped last night around 11 pm at Amigos.   I'm trying to down 8 glasses of water a day as part of my weight loss program.  The jacket was compliments of another considerate friend.

Martha needs to update the chronometer on her camera, obviously.

Apr 8, 2012

Cross-cultural differences at Easter

This is the first Holy Week that I've spent in Panama.    I spent most of it with Panamanian friends who explained to and  guided me regarding this country's cultural and religious observances of Easter.   I was baptised Lutheran, but even so, with the separation of church and state such a strong issue in the US, even Lutheran religious practices have been "watered down" and I've never experienced many of them.

In the Lutheran church, as well as most Protestant churches, we have services on Good Friday to commemorate Christ's crucifixion. And some of us may fast or will only eat fish on Good Friday.  But the focus of all  Protestant worship during this time is the resurrection.  Easter Sunday is the most celebrated day in terms of worship, church attendance,  praise and inner reflection.  Even the secular sector gets involved with this day, and Easter comes second only to Christmas in terms of business exploitation.  Interestingly enough, this is not the case in Panama and probably not so in other Latin American countries.  Good Friday is the day that is more widely celebrated, and there are no Easter bunnies or colored eggs on Easter Sunday.  Business pretty much resumes as normal on Easter.

In Panama, government and businesses close on maundy Thursday around noon. The sale and/or consumption of alcohol in any business establishment is prohibited by the government.  Supermarkets can't even sell cooking wine.  On Good Friday, the commercial and governmental world comes to a standstill.   In every town or city in Panama, there is an evening  religious procession.  In Boquete, the streets are cordoned off around 6 pm, and the procession generally gets started later, around 8 pm. 

Having been impressed with the procession for the Virgen de la Medalla Milagrosa in Santiago last July, I was looking forward to Boquete's Easter procession as well.   It certainly wasn't what I expected, even though in retrospect it makes perfect sense.  Don't know what I was thinking...

Compared to the Santiago procession, which is a procession of praise, the Good Friday procession is one of mourning.  It is a symbolic funeral procession.  And, for me, it was macabre.  I discussed my gut reaction with friends, but few understood my point of view.  I could only mildly comprehend theirs.  Nevertheless, it was nice to be able to talk about and share our cultural differences.

My camera was hiding on Good Friday, so I couldn't take pictures. But the procession consisted of  four floats and a lot of people on foot with somber faces.  The first float simulated a crucifixion cross, and several bent-over men carried the huge monstrosity on their shoulders   A large sign in the shape of a heart was illuminated at the head of the structure, with the words Peace and Love written in Spanish.  The second float was a glass coffin with a religious image of a dead, agonized and bleeding Christ inside.  Between each float was a crowd of people who solemnly walked along and prayed intermittently.  The third float unsettled me the most.  It was a float of Mary, mother of Christ, dressed in beautiful gowns.  I didn't hang around for the fourth float, as it started to rain and get cold. 

Don't understand why I was bothered by the procession.  All I could think about was that the Catholic Church was brainwashing and exploiting the masses.  I usually don't harbor this attitude, but  I just felt that the coffin and the queen's robes were superfluous overkill.  Too much  melodrama.  Friends and I discussed [and disagreed with] the elevation of Mary's status.  My female friend's perspective was that  Mary, as Christ's mother, is a very important personage who didn't receive the acknowledgment, respect and importance  she deserved during Christ's time.  This friend thought the acknowledgment of the impact of Christ's mother was imminently important...  I pondered whether the Catholic church in Latin countries provides this idolized recognition to satisfy matriarchal social structures.  And although I didn't express these latter thoughts  aloud, it was interesting that a male Panamanian friend nodded in understanding when I asked why Mary was being paraded around in fine garments.  He didn't comment, however. 

The Santiago procession, which was Mary worship on steroids, didn't grate on me to the same extent.  Maybe I was too wrapped up in the picturesque-ness of that parade to ponder the significance of it all.  Being a closet feminist and mother myself,  I'm very surprised that I'm bothered by the idea of Mary adoration.  Why in the world would I criticize or discount Mary's importance?  Could it be because of a covert chauvinism in my own religious upbringing?  I haven't the faintest idea.  But it bothered me to see Mary dressed in a queen's robes and paraded along that way.  I'd love to speak with a religious psychiatrist or psychologist about this.    There is a Hispanic saying that I thoroughly enjoy---Cada mente es un mundo---(every mind is a world).  Maybe I need to explore my own a little more.

The main point to be made is that Panama focuses on the crucifixion of Christ. The closure of government and businesses, and the banning of alcohol in public places is part of the expression of mourning and deference.   For the day of resurrection,  which we celebrate,   Panamanians attend an Easter mass, after which life returns to normal.  Businesses open back up, alcohol can be consumed, and families return to eating meat. 

I have no objection to Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies, believe me.  But I appreciate the Panamanian observances for being more in tune with the true meaning of Easter.   Not thrilled about the Good Friday processions, though.  Que será, será.