Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Piropos--or the Latin man´s version of a "compliment"

Piropos are the noises a man makes at a woman as she´s walking down the street here. They can range from a noise somewhat like "pppssssstttt" or can be anything from "Hola, mi amor", ¨"Que rico", "Bellisama" or a simple "Buenos Dias" said in a particularly leering manner.

Usually these don´t bother me too much but I got one guy who went right up in my face this morning and let me say that the guys who do this kind of thing are not cute, not young and usually not thin.

By all accounts, everyone says to just ignore them but sometimes I´m tempted to stop and say in Spanish, "All right, let´s go. I´m ready for a hot date with you. In fact, I´ve been waiting all day for a stranger to proposition me in the street."

I´m not quite sure what kind of reaction I would get with that though and I´m not sure I want to find out.

I don´t think I´m all that and this is something special for me, it´s a part of the culture (although I haven´t figured out if it´s the kind of knowledge that´s passed down from generation to generation or it´s the kind of thing a kid learns on the street---my guess is the latter).

I´m pretty oblivious to them, but it gets a little tiring when it´s 8.30 in the morning, you´re dodging past excrement (hopefully dog´s), sidestepping bones (presumably chicken) and shooing away flies. Ive been in Panama City for the past 2 days and it´s not the cleanest of cities---although I´m staying in a kind of sketchy area.

It´s called Santa Ana and it´s about 3 or 4 blocks away from the tourist area of Casco Viejo (the old Spanish settlement).

I´m going out to take pictures this afternoon and walk around, but for me, Panama City isn´t very exciting as a tourist destination. There isn´t a whole lot to do and it´s more humid than Florida in August.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ok--the Crocs are Out Forever!

I knew my love affair would come to an end one day, I just didn't think it would be exactly how it was.

I had already promised my Mom the Crocs (again, they suck but they are the perfect shoe for the rainy season here) but I went to put my foot in one this morning and felt a mild tickling underneath my sole.

It took me a second to place it, but then I was like, "Cockroach...AAAHHHHH............So gross..........Get it off! Get it off Get it off!!!"

As I yanked furiously at the shoe, I finally realized that the ankle strap was stuck and I couldn't get it off (all the while the cuckaracha was fluttering his nasty wings and trying to escape).

Finally I got the damn thing off, flung it to the floor and hopped onto the back of my Mom's loveseat.

So not how I want to spend my Saturday morning.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

My Own Little Peyton Place

While the actual Peyton Place was in New England, I think I've stumbled into my own little corner of it down here in Central America.

If you're not familiar with the 1956 novel, here's a link. It's basically a "fictional" expose of a small town in New Hampshire. And while I haven't discovered any of the incest, abortion or lust of the novel there's plenty of murder, thievery and people running from the law down here.

Or as my Mom puts it, "It's like Peyton Place but without the sex."

Making the social rounds with my Mom, I've heard much of the same "bochinche" (Panamanian for gossip) over and over again--although I'm still looking for the Internet expose of the Ex-pat community in Vulcan.

So far, there's been everything from the extreme:

  • The US Marshals coming to Boquete last month to extradite a Wisconsin man who had been fleeing for years from a child sex abuse conviction
  • The recent capture of "Wild Bill Cortex" near the Costa Rican border. Apparently, he and his girlfriend, both avid weigh lifters and white separatists, have confessed to killing at least 5 people in order to steal their property. Property laws are much different down here--basically whoever has the deed owns the property even if there's no bill of sale. Ol' Wild Bill rented a house that one of my Mom's friends later bought and there are some mysterious lumps in the back yard near the ocean. It's kind of a morbid inside joke that she might have bodies buried on her land.
To the mundane:
  • One American absconded with $8,000 in checks from another little old American lady he went into business with
  • The Canadian handyman who works for my Mom was cussed out and called a thief by another drunken Canadian after she blacked out and forget she lent him the car
  • Two old lesbians spent half the night telling me about their past lives and their energy fields
  • One young American couple I met confessed to me that they weren't monogamous and that she was a burlesque dancer back in the States (what is it about being abroad and having people tell you TMI)?
  • One old lady, who is a friend of my Mom's and who is a major shopaholic, bought 40 bras at once and has now decided she needs to get rid of them. She asked me what size bra I wear right after I met her and then promised me some. I don't think I'm going to hold her to that promise.
  • The Canadian handyman who works for my Mom told me he had been on a diet and tried taking that Herbal Chinese Diet tea but it made him get severe diarrhea when he was driving and the only thing he had to wipe himself with was his friend's shirt which was in the backseat. Needless to say, said shirt was thrown out along the side of the road. Again with the TMI!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Luxembourgian, a Welshman and a Rockette walk into a bar...

For such a small community, Boquete, Panama certainly has it's share of foreigners. I've met more nationalities in 2 weeks here than in 2 years in the States.

Each week, local bar Zanzibar hosts a charity quiz night. Owned by a couple from Luxembourg, this is a North African themed bar.

The first night I went, I met the owner's daughter who is married to the Panamanian who owns the language school I go to (Habla Ya), a girl from Manchester, England (whose parents live here), 2 Americans (one who lives here and one who is a Rockette back in NYC) and a Columbian.

So random.

The next week, I met this horrid 25-year old Canadian dairy farmer, a Scottish girl (who is one of the only Scottish people I've met who I could actually understand), a gay Welshman and an Australian guy (not to mention the people I'm volunteering with--an American woman from DC, a guy from Essex, England and a Belgian girl).

I've also started Spanish lessons and 4 hours a day (5 days a week) of conversation is tough.

I'm in the advanced class and there's only 1 other girl in my class (a German lesbian who has been living in NYC for 5 years with her Puerto Rican partner), but trying to have a 4-hour conversation in English is difficult enough, let along another language.

But we manage.

Today we get a new student--a guy named David from California. Hopefully he's decent.

I've also been volunteering. I spent a morning at a recycling center helping to sort materials and helped to paint a literacy center way up in the mountains.

I teach an English class 3 mights a week, which I love. Teaching really is so fun, but this group presents some serious challenges, since they are extremely low. Like some of them can barely manage "Hello" and "Thank you". There also aren't really any materials. Remember this is a free class run by volunteers, not a language school.

Luckily, the Canadian handyman/English teacher who works for my Mom let me use one of his beginner's books.

Tomorrow, I have a vocabulary competition planned and grammar about location prepositions. They all want conversation but they don't have the words yet, so I'm going to focus on vocab building. Also, they've only done the present and past tenses, so maybe we'll work on the future.

They are all at different levels and some have had absolutely no English, but others have had at least 4 years in school and are still really low.

I have to speak to them in Spanish for part of the class, but I make them repeat it in English afterward. I know there are people who say that you should only speak in English, but I think it's better to at least understand what someone is saying to you and then learn it in English.

For example, if they don't know the word for cow in English, I could spend 10 minutes saying things like, "It's a big animal who lives in the fields. Usually it's black and white and it gives milk...blah blah blah"

Or I could just say, "vaca".

I brought a lot of ESL material with me to donate, but it's all WAY too advanced. Although I did bring a Bingo game that is used to review the past tense.

The 67-year old housewife in my class is excited about that at least.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Tips if you want to visit Panama

If you've ever wanted to visit Central America but weren't sure where to start, Panama is a good place to begin your travels.

Obviously I'm writing this from an American perspective, but I think the info still holds true to most other nationalities.

First of all, Panama is in the Eastern Time Zone (although they don't observe Daylight Savings Time) so no jet lag!

  • American dollars are the currency here (they do have their own coins called "Balboas" but those are minted in Colorado) so there's no confusion about the exchange rate.
  • Many people speak English. In Panama City, almost everyone will speak some, if not fluent, English and in the smaller towns, like where I'm at, they are the nicest people when foreigners at least make an attempt to speak Spanish. My Mom and her friends have survived here for years and they know very little Spanish. In the surfer's paradise, "Bocas del Toro" almost everyone speaks English since it's on the Caribbean side and was settled by many Jamaicans.
  • The water (except in Bocas and some rural areas) is safe to drink.
  • Because of the building of the Panama Canal, most Panamanians are used to foreigners of all kinds and are very tolerant (except for Columbians and the indigenous people, but that's for a later post).
  • Panama is one of the few countries left that truly likes and welcomes Americans. This is because we helped them gain independence from Columbia and built the Canal (which we later turned over to the Panamanian government). Yes, there was that little snafu over Noriega, but that seems to be forgotten.
  • Transportation is very good, whether you take a plane, taxi or bus.
  • Panamanians don't use lard or meat in their beans like Mexicans (which is good for vegetarians)
  • Because there are so many ex-pats here, you can find many products that probably aren't available in other Central American countries.
  • The standard of living here is quite high for Central America, so you don't see so much of the heart-wrenching poverty as in other countries.
  • The country is very diverse. From the megapolis of Panama City (called the Miami of Central America) to the jungles and mountains in the North to the laid-back beach culture on the Caribbean side, there's something to do for everyone.
  • There's no Visa fee or reciprocity fee (Argentina, Brazil, Chile and others charge over $100 for Americans to enter the country). Panama used to charge $5 but they did away with this last year.
Now before you think I was hired by the Panamanian government to do PR, there are a couple downsides.

  • The rainy season. Enough said. The best time to come here is January through July.
  • 85% of the time you can't flush toilet paper. The rule of thumb is that if there's a little basket by the toilet, you're supposed to throw the "used" TP in it. Which works for #1 but I'm not so cool with this practice when it comes to #2's.
  • If you want to watch English-language TV, be prepared to sit through hours of old "Law and Order" episodes, "The New Adventures of Old Christine" and "Two and a Half Men". These shows are on like 8 times a day. However, at least they stopped showing "Joey", that horrible "Friends" spin-off. This was all the rage when I visited 2 years ago.
  • The Hispanic conception of time--this doesn't only apply to Panama but in Latin America, you're considered to be "on time" if you're less than an hour late. As a short-term tourist, the only time this will probably affect you is when you go to a restaurant, which leads me to my Number 1 tip.
  • DON'T go to a restaurant if you're really hungry. The first time this happened to me, I was starving and after the first hour had gone by with no food and my stomach felt like it had pushed itself against my spine, I almost cried. Another hour later and we finally got our food.
  • Let me give you a recent example: A group of us went to a local restaurant for dinner. The waitress came over after about 8 minutes (this is quick for Panama but it went downhill from here); she took our orders. We wait for 20 minutes with no drinks. She then comes over with one person's food and their drink. We wait another 10 minutes (in Panama, the rule is to eat as soon as you get your food, since you never know when everyone else's will arrive). She brings over one other person's food but no drinks. 5 minutes later, we flag her down and ask about the drinks. She comes back a few minutes later with 1 other person's drink (this leaves me and 1 other girl without our drinks). Finally, she brings all the food and we ask her again about the drinks. 5 minutes later, she brings my drink but not the other girl's (we were all finished eating at this point). Finally, 10 minutes after we were all done, she finally brings the last girl's drink.
This story is funny now, but ridiculous when it was happening. I know when you go to another culture, you have to deal with the way they do things, but this restaurant is owned by a guy from New Jersey and only ex-pats eat there. They need to tell the waitresses that a different level of service is expected if your only clientele are foreigners. Sheesh.

This experience was an aberration, but seriously, don't go to a restaurant if you're starving (or go to a cafeteria).

Hope these help! I'm sure I'll think of more......