Sunday, October 6, 2013

Shopping in Panama



My expat friends warned me, "If you see something you want, buy it. Don't wait, because it probably won't be there the next time you go."
Eeep.  This requires a major change in the way I do things. I like to pre-shop, price compare, brand compare, and style compare before I make a selection. Having to just grab the first thing that appeals to me goes seriously against my grain.  Now some would say that I am just procrastinating.  And some would say I have gotten seriously tight fisted.  Others might congratulate me on my shopping skills.
"Some" might be right.
In any case, the warnings were absolutely on target. By the time that I finished comparing, contrasting and evaluating, my preferred item was usually gone, never to be seen again. I saved quite a bit of money using this program, but I didn't get the things I wanted.
This maxim is apparently true of all stores in Panama. Even the grocery store.
I was appalled the first time I went to buy milk and there was none. The segment of refrigerated shelving where the milk was bare.  So were the shelves where I usually could find the 15 different styles of the ultra-pasteurized stuff.  Nothing there, either.  Because the shelves are reorganized daily and products are constantly being shifted around the store (which is another reason you can't find what you're looking for) I asked a clerk where the milk was.
His response was a shrugged, "No hay," meaning “There isn't any.”
Well, when would there be more?
He didn't know.
I was bursting with the desire to learn why. Had they simply run out? Would more be coming with the next truck? Would there BE a next truck? Was there a strike? Were the roads blocked again? What? My Spanish was not yet strong enough for me to pursue this, so I had to be content with "there isn't any."
After that I switched permanently from fresh milk (which often went bad the day after purchase anyway) to the ultra-p stuff in a box that keeps for six months. And I made sure that I always had a few boxes stashed for the next time "No hay."
In the deodorant, shampoo and hair color aisle, there always seem to be a minimum of three store employees restocking or reordering the shelves. This always seems to involve blocking the aisle as completely as possible with cartons, product and bodies.  If a customer should be so bold as to venture into the restocking area in search of a product, she will receive either a glare or rolling eyes. This is because, I believe, no one has bothered to tell the employees that the purpose of the store is not to provide them with jobs, but to sell product. And for this to happen, the customers have to be able to get to the product and select it. Not all stores have this attitude, just a few big ones. No names.
Another, similar manifestation that amazes me is the employees on guard duty in front of certain products, such as frozen meats. Apparently they are there to prevent shoplifting. In effect, they also prevent shopping. Having someone stare at you with icy suspicion while you pick out next week's lunch does not improve the shopping experience.
Me, I would just quit going to that particular store.  Except, for some things, it’s the only game in town.   
Well, I moved here because I wanted an adventure.  Someone very wise once defined “an adventure” as “a bummer re-framed.”  That's true.  It's all in how you look at it.  And frankly, I'm having a ball.  I love it here.  Even when I run out of milk.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Walking the calf

Dateline: Panama
     A calf on a leash is eating weeds just outside my backyard this morning.  His owner is with him, walking him like a dog, as the calf slowly snacks up the road.  That's a pretty busy road, so I'm pleased the owner has him on a lead. 
     When I lived at the beach an entire herd regularly "escaped" and came strolling past hunting greens.  But now I live in town, a 10 minute walk from the town center.  I hadn't expected this kind of bucolic experience here, but I'm delighted.  This kind of thing is why I live in Panama, why I love living here.
     The grass is pretty long, as you can see.  It grows incredibly fast and with great determination.  We had the place scalped not 3 weeks ago, and now there's at least 16 inches to cut.  Most people use a weed whacker (a man with a weed whacker can support a family quite well here), but some cut their grass with a machete.  As a machete is only about $2.50, I bought myself a "knoife" and gave it a try.  I even used a whetstone first - and during.  I can safely say that it is not my thing.  I'm calling the guy with the weed whacker today.  The calf didn't eat nearly enough.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

It's Cold, je-je



     Dateline: Panama.  Well I never thought I would say this.  It's only 75 degrees F. this morning and I am cold.  I must have acclimated, because I am seriously considering a sweater.  This from the yogini who, in Northern California, Oregon, Washington and sometimes in Montana, forgot to put her coat on half the time until well into November or even December.  But I am.  Cold.

     And I think I may have caught the local grunge too, although so far my only symptoms are a slight headache and the tiniest desire to cough.  However, it's green.  My daughter tells me that the latest word is that you can no longer tell whether your lung infection is bacterial or viral by checking the color of what a cough provides.  Apparently those pesky viruses have learned to mimic bacteria and also make your stuff green now.  Huh.  I told her I had always been green, every time, and just figured I was sick if it wasn't clear or at least white.  If I'm sick, it's green. Period.

     So I guess I'm sick.  My lurid imagination constantly drifts back to the fly I swallowed a couple of weeks ago.  And of course, to dengue fever.  I have a friend who shudders delightedly over tales of assassin bugs and dengue fever-bearing Aedes mosquitoes.  But I have no fever.  My daughter says that's probably a clue and I should relax.

     So what does one do for a "cold" here in the tropics?  My favorite "fake a fever" methods to force the old healing sweat seem a bit redundant here.  By evening I am often so damp I hardly need any extra water if I wanted to wash my "dewy" clothes.  So no sweat lodge variations.  That leaves ingesting a ton of vitamin C and chicken soup.  Last time I had a cough my taxista (taxi driver) told me I should eat lots of garlic.  "Ajo, Jacqi," he said with a stern look.  "AJO."  

     That's pronounced Ah-ho.  Which sounds like a cough, itself.  And brings on a round of the Spanish textual giggle: je je je, ja ja ja, jo jo jo. Je-je.

     OK.

Monday, June 24, 2013

I Swallowed a Fly. P'raps I'll Die.



      It's fly season here in Panama.  A truly local experience in many ways.  The flies hatch about a month after the rains start. (The rains were late this year.)  For 3 or 4 weeks there are flies everywhere, into everything.  Screens, fly swatters, fly traps are no help.  It's impossible to avoid them, landing on you, playing tag, dive-bombing your food.  

     The long term expats are easy to spot by their casual attitudes.  They put decorated woven containers over the food, but when the snack-intent hordes manage a landing, they are quite casual in waving them off and eating it anyway.

     Quite suddenly, fly season will be over.  The flies are gone once more and you will seldom see one until next fly season.

     Yesterday I poured some milk into my coffee, only to observe the dead fly swimming in it.  I had carelessly left the milk carton on the kitchen counter for a few moments, and the fly had gone inside the little opening hunting for lunch.  And it's not as though I am so green that I didn't know it would certainly happen.  The week before I had – maybe not so briefly – turned my back on an open pot of coffee.   I was later rewarded with a cup of dead, coffee soaked flies. 

      And it's not as though I always spot them BEFORE I take a drink.  Two weeks ago I swallowed one.  Now, however, I am alert to the texture, which is faintly reminiscent of a small, waterlogged raisin.  So day before yesterday when I took a nice swig and found it full of raisins, I immediately spit it out.  

     The essential thing is to keep one's mind free of where that raisin might have been.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Transitory Hangovers - Butt a Cultural Tidbit



     It is not solely my butt that hangs over the edge of the seats on Panamanian buses, but nearly everyone's.  I usually try to grab a window seat, but I was late getting to the station for my trip to la Cuidad, and all that was left was an aisle perch.  My seatmate - a gentleman unknown to me - sat like nearly all Panamanian men with his legs splayed wide open, taking up what I considered far more than his share of real estate and leaving me to hang my left cheek over the seat and into the aisle.  Of course, I said nothing and just toughed it out for an hour until he shifted his position a bit.  Then believe me, I shifted too.

     I had noticed as I struggled past seated bodies to my chair, how little space there was in the aisle.  When I actually looked, I realized it was filled with unsupported butt cheeks!

     The bus was one of those large mini-vans.  I believe it may have been made in China, because most everything in Panama seems to be these days.  Besides, none of the passengers over the age of 10 seemed correctly sized.  For the seats, I mean.

     The bus seats in these vans are set two and two, with a half-seat width open between them to provide an aisle.  I expect that four Chinese adults would probably fit nicely in a row.  However, the majority of Panamanian men in my part of the country are built like the bulls they raise.  Said men, judging from what one of my gringa lady friends observed about the plastic ladies displaying clothing for sale in stores, are fond of "bubble-butts" on their sweeties.  So the distaff side of the passengers are frequently hefty also.  This leads to a serious bus-wide shortage of real estate for the behind, and makes traversing the aisle to a rear seat a serious exercise in pushing through obstacles. The aisle is wide enough for slender 10-year-olds to traverse without struggle. 

     And the moral of the story – should you need one – is, if you plan to carry anything you must keep with you (luggage, packages, a backpack) onto one of these buses, wait and take one of the bigger buses later.  . 

    This hot tip brought to you at no charge.  :)



Saturday, May 11, 2013

A Sad, Sad Story About Why It is Essential to Learn Spanish in Central America




     I believe most people are terrified of  speaking a foreign language on the phone, at least at first.  I was. Now I am to the point that it frustrates me more than scares me, but I'm kicking myself for not studying harder.  Why?  Because after a certain Spanish speaking gentleman and I hung up moments ago in mutual frustration, I put together the bits I understood and light-bulbed that he was telling me … I actually WON THE CAR they were raffling off at the Los Santos Feria! 
     Too bad, so sad.  In fact, double "demonios," which is how they translate "bad words" from English to Spanish on TV.  A) My phone connection with this gentleman whose number was "Unknown" was horrible because I had bought a really cheap phone and I couldn't understand most of what he said (lesson #1).  B) My Spanish is still so uncertain I couldn't understand the rest of what he said either (lesson #2).  So we said "Ciao" and hung up.
     As the call drifted into history and I replayed it mentally, I recognized certain words and phrases, "tiene ganar" being one of them, and realized that I had just run over my own foot with a free Honda Yaris I would now not be getting.
     Waaaaahhh.
     The moral of this story? Aprende bien el espaƱol.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Publishing Pickpocketry - Beware Penguins Offering Deals

     I had heard dire warnings about allowing Penguin-owned vanity press 'Author Solutions' anywhere near my checkbook.  Author Solutions has been accused of cackling off to the bank with the life savings of over 150,000 very unhappy authors who allege that dealing with Author Solutions was one of the worst decisions they ever made.
     The latest news is that Penguin, after buying Author Solutions about a year ago, has not only NOT cleaned house, they are taking their scam show on the global road.  If you plan to self-publish and want to be shocked and alarmed, read this post from Let's Get Digital:     The Author Exploitation Business