Jul 14, 2013

A Wedding and a Funeral

Since the last entry nearly a month ago not much has happened in these parts.  No political unrest, no major changes of note...The four lane highway from David to Boquete is nearing completion, however, and they've finally moved the electric posts out of the middle of the traffic lanes.  The center dividers have been filled with earth, flowers and grass, and all  four lanes have been opened to traffic in some areas.   It's starting to look nice, even though there's still a ways to go.   Will try to snap some photos soon.  

Spent last weekend at a lovely wedding in Panama City attended by around 700  friends of a young Panamanian couple.   It was my first Panamanian wedding, and found the protocol similar to  in the states, but  less "uptight".  Unlike in the US, there was no wedding march as the bride entered.  Instead the congregation cheered as she walked down the aisle with her father,  and there was  more interaction between the priest, the couple, family members and congregation during the ceremony.  The groom greeted the bride at the altar with a kiss before any of the rituals began, which I found a nice touch.   The priest even made a joke about marriage during his sermon, which was also well-received.  In general, it was warmer, and not as stiff as those I've attended in the states. Panamanians don't seem to be quite as taken with themselves as their North American and European counterparts.  They are much more natural and charming.  

That said, Panamanians DO like to dress for these occasions, and weddings are often formal affairs.  This one required long gowns for female guests and suits for the men. White orchids filled the church and reception room.  The reception lasted 12 hours, there were three live orchestras plus a DJ that provided music, an open bar,  and endless food and french champagne. The dance floor was full most of the night and everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves.  

On a more somber note, one of my neighbors suffered a heart attack and passed away a day before I left for Panama City.  Obviously, I didn't attend the funeral, but I did observe the general proceedings prior to that.  In Panama, as in other Latin American countries, embalming isn't a customary practice.  The deceased, if hospitalized, is expediently released by the hospital to the mortuary, and from there driven to the family home where friends and relatives remain with the body until it is buried.  Everyone who knew the deceased stops by the home to pay their respects.  Not being close to these neighbors, and not understanding customary practice in Panama, I planned to prepare a dish to take over to the widow and family.  I was advised against it by close Panamanian friends.  I was told that doing so would be an affront to the family.  I'm still not clear on the psychology behind this, but suffice it to say I refrained from following my instincts. Instead, the practice is for people to stop by the deceased's home, drink coffee, pray, and leave.  Over the course of 48 hours the home became Grand Central station and I couldn't help but feel concerned for the widow and her daughters. Lights and the front door were left on and open 24 hours, and I could hear people stopping by even at 2:00 am. How this is supposed to be supportive of the survivors is not something I can easily understand, but the intent is to be exactly that.  To me it seems more like an intrusion when one is most vulnerable. I was assured by other neighbors this is not the case. Nevertheless, I refrained from becoming part of the foot traffic and waited to deliver my condolences when I saw the family outside a few days following the funeral.  But this is not the most politically correct or appropriate action in such circumstances.  

Lastly, I've begun tutoring expats who have taken Spanish courses but still aren't able to communicate with the locals.  It's keeping me busy and helping to improve the quality of my own Spanish.  This latter activity is partially responsible for my sparse postings over the last few weeks.