Having People.

In movies the rich and or important are always saying,”Have your people call my people”.  OK, it’s arrogant and self-important and us peons sometimes say it in jest.  However, in Panama, if you don’t have people, your life is hard and expensive.

When we first moved here, we needed an attorney to get our pensionado and cedula.  There were horror stories of terrible attorneys who took lots and lots money, wasted lots and lots of time and their clients got nada in return.  Our friend, LV, gave us the name of Erick Quintero.  He became our first “person” and LV gave us a great recommendation.  We’ve used Erick for not only our residency, but our house purchase and now our employee contract, our wills and handling property.  We have a legal person.

Everyone needs a car repairman.  We use Hausman.  What he may lack in speed, he makes up for in skill and honesty.  His last repair was our back fender that has hit everything solid in Boquete.  It was ready in about 2 weeks for under $100.  We have a car repair person.

Our next person wasn’t needed until we bought our house.  We had some major modifications and we turned to our friends M&M.  They allowed us to use their employee for several weeks.  A is fantastic!  He replaced doors, windows and got our house looking presentable in no time.  Of course A is ‘their’ person and we had to reluctantly give him up.

handymanWhen a group of workers came to finish the house, we found La.  He is one of the most talented, hard-working men in Panama.  He became ‘our person’.  I think of him as part of our family in Panama.  A few weeks ago he asked when was the last time we cleaned our water tanks.  Like dumb gringos, we looked at each other and then replied, “never”.  Without insulting us – which at the time would have been so easy to do – he returned the following day to clean our water tanks.  Yes, we had things living inside.  He also installed an additional filter.  He did comment that we were very lucky that we didn’t die from some terrible parasite and then he laughed.  Actually the water in our area is very good but I’m glad nothing is swimming in it anymore.  We have friends that actually have fecal matter in their water.  La is definitely our most important person.

We have our housekeeper, Lo.  She is wonderful.  Again, she was highly recommended by a friend.  She’s hardworking, honest and extremely pleasant.  Both Lo and La attempt to correct our Spanish.  I suspect both know more English than the let on but they speak only Spanish to us because they know we want to learn.  If I have a local question, Lo or LL will give us a honest answer.

We have other business people.  We use Anavilma for our travel and has more patience that most people I know.  We have great doctors when we need treatment or referrals.  Lu is the best electrician in town.  We have a welding guy, a lawn guy and people at all the utility companies.

Not all of our people are Panamanian. Some are gringo and equally important.  We have car people, D and K.  W have Spanish translators.

We would not have met them without the experience and advice from the expats who arrived before us.  Going in blind would have resulted in many problems.  Having people is so important and we have been very lucky to have gotten the very best.  We are also lucky to have made friends with some of these people and our lives are richer for it.

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Happy 3rd Year of No School!

jptYesterday began pre-planning days in Broward County for teachers. This is the third year that I wasn’t there.  And I still don’t miss it.  How is that possible?  A job that I did and loved for well over 30 years just vanished from my life and I never think about it.  Ever.

One reason is that schools begin in February here so the back-to-school sales and ads are in winter and not in August.  There’s nothing to remind me of this time of year.  Also, my friends here don’t work either so no one is getting ready for the new school year.  I see posts from former colleagues but it’s so far away when it doesn’t apply to you.

It still amazes me that I don’t miss my job as an American History teacher.  And I really, really liked my profession, especially when I began teaching Advanced Placement classes.  But the demand from school administrators and our County officials began to wear me down.  They had to make ridiculous demands of us so that we could get our appropriate checkmark to prove we were a good teacher.  Any evaluation that relies on checkmarks would obviously suck – and it did.  Stupid codes on the white boards, elementary bulletin boards, lesson plan details that only took up our time but proved worthless, and the list of craziness never ended.  Actual teaching became a side note to the side show we had perform day after day.

teacher2

I was lucky in that when the worst of this came about, I was in my last years.  Since it takes 3 years to fire a teacher who doesn’t get enough checkmarks, I could actually do my job and ignore the demands.

teacher eval

I feel for the teachers left behind, the students who are only being taught what can be measured on a scantron, and even the administrators who must blindly follow the politicos who have never taught.

But year 3 of no “this is going to be the best year ever” speeches, endless (and mindless) meetings, making sure those meaningless codes are on the boards, taking more time to write the lesson plans than it does to teach the lesson,  and having to keep Johnny in my class because he has an IEP – no, don’t miss it!

teacher1

For my friends who are back at it this year, good luck!  Only 180 more student contact days.

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Snakes, Why Did it Have to be Snakes?

Another week and another snake.  This time I was just walking in the side yard and about a 15 inch red-black-yellow snake slithered away.  Now I’m trying to remember the “black touches yellow” is a friendly fellow or is it “”yellow touches red and you are dead”.  This isn’t the time to be a bad poet.

I am not afraid of snakes.  Because of that lack of fear, I would have been very careless with last week’s discovery of a pit viper on the other side of the lawn.  Luckily, Carlos the gardener took care of that problem.  This time it was just David and I.  David hates snakes.  He even hates little grass snakes.  So his best guess was that this snake was a Coral Snake and he severed its head.  After our scary incident last week, we weren’t taking any chances.  This wasn’t because of us since coral snake attacks are really rare.  But we have pets that would think this thing was their latest toy.

If this wasn’t a Coral Snake, I wanted to make sure we never killed another one in haste so the research began.

They sure are similar.  So this is the one we executed this morning.  What do you think?

snakeLooking at our dead snake and the two pictures above, I think David made the right call.  It may be time for snake repellent.

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A Slithery Visitor

Our gardender, Carlos, called me from the backyard earlier today.  He had a snake draped over a tool and was taking him out to the back lot.  I wasn’t real happy that he had killed a snake.  Since he’s a local guy, he should know that most snakes are harmless. Good thing for me (and my pets) is that he’s a local guy and knows about snakes.  This one was extremely dangerous.

Bocaraca

Usually found in the trees in rain forests, this bocaraca was in our garden and was only noticed when Carlos came by with the weedwacker.  Panamanians call this snake Bocaraca but it’s official name is the Eyelash Pit Viper.  They come in different colors, from bright yellow to almost black.  It is extremely dangerous and would have easily killed one of our cats or dogs.  This is not the snake in question since that particular one is a headless, drying corpse in the lot behind us.

He told us that they are very common in Caldera, about 40 minutes away.  It’s also the beginning of rainy season so our insects and other wildlife change with the climate. I just hope the snakes stay elsewhere.

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Aprendiendo Espanol en Guatemala

I am completing my third week of school in Antigua, Guatemala.  Most people wonder why I left Spanish-speaking Panama to learn Spanish here.  In Boquete, it is difficult to learn Spanish quickly for a number of reasons.

First, many people speak English only and that includes most of our friends.  Second, many of the locals want to learn English and will answer your Spanish-spoken questions in English for practice.  Third, although we have an excellent Spanish school in Boquete, their bread-and-butter clients are students who come in for several weeks of intensive study, not us locals who can’t/won’t devote 20-30 hours a week to classroom instruction.

I chose Antigua for a few reasons.  David and I have been here before so I would not be distracted by shopping or sightseeing.  My homestay hostess, Sarah, speaks to me in Spanish only although I think she speaks more English than she lets on.  For the last week, I have been the only guest in Sarah’s house so she has plenty of conversation directed solely at me.  More importantly, she corrects my mistakes – which are almost always verb tenses.

My classroom under the avocado tree

My classroom under the avocado tree

I chose the Don Pedro Spanish School.  The most popular schools were all rated high but I chose Don Pedro.  Most likely, the teacher is more important than the school and I got lucky.

Claudia deserves a halo and a bottle of Jack for putting up with me

Claudia deserves a halo and a bottle of Jack for putting up with me

Claudia was the unfortunate soul that got me.  She was a kindergarten teacher so has a lot of patience with ‘slow learners’.

I have one more day of instruction before leaving Saturday morning.  I have learned a lot.  For four hours each day, Claudia (my private instructor) teaches, drills, practices, corrects and otherwise pounds Spanish into my brain.  Today I read a ‘longish’ story, maybe on a 5-6th grade level, and I understood almost everything.  I did not know words from the story dealing with skiing, knolls etc. but I knew that the pretty girl turned out to be a battery powered robot.  I still need a few seconds to remember the correct verb tense but I am much better.

Learning another language after a certain age is difficult.  I was always a great student that could read and remember everything.  Bit here, I felt like I rode the short bus to school almost every day.  I would study 15-20 irregular verbs at night until I “knew” them.  The following day it seemed like I never saw those words before.  I am not used to being the dumb one but the harder I studied, the worse I got.  I never understood how my very bright students just didn’t “get” something.  Now I fully understand.

I wish I had taken more Spanish in Florida before we moved since it was available at every community school, community college, public libraries and colleges for little or no cost.  I must make an effort to continue practicing or I will lose much of what I gained during the last three weeks.  All in all this was a great experience but I’m ready to be home!

Other classes under the vines

Other classes under the vines

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Welcome to Guatemala????

I’ve been to Guatemala before but my experience arriving in Guatemala City this time was one for the books.

The Copa flight was uneventful, as it should be.  Once I got to customs, things changed quickly.  I was pulled over so a customs man could check my luggage.  Already unusual, he only wanted to check my suitcase, not my other bag or my purse.  He proceeded to take every single article of clothing, appliances, books – everything – out of my suitcase.  Then he went through my new notebooks that I bought for my Spanish classes.  They were brand new notebooks with nothing but blank pages.  He unzipped the zipper at the bottom of the bag and searched through the wheel mechanism.  He opened my vitamin bag and fingered them before taking a glucosamine capsule, opening it and tasting the powder.  If I wasn’t so mad by then, I would have told him that it was strong hormones and that in the morning he would have breasts but not penis.  I gave him written prescriptions for all my medication knowing he had no idea what he was looking at.  By now I am fuming and he still wasn’t done.  Next, he called the drug dog over – TWICE!!  It’s the same dog that I had been standing next to during the entire ordeal, now going on about 10 minutes.  And he still wasn’t done.  He took my passport and starts to walk away and I asked him where he was going.  So he stopped and decided just to write down my passport information on some kind of paper.  Then he began shoving my stuff back in my bag.  That’s when I stopped him and repacked myself.

I’ve traveled to Russia, China and several Middle Eastern countries and have never been treated like this.  It was ridiculous and infuriating.  I wanted to take pictures or video, but they probably would have introduced me to Guatemala’s jail if I did.

So what was so interesting about this one bag?  No idea.  But certainly not a Welcome to Guatemala.  No wonder half of their population is trying to get out.  So as I exit customs, I take a deep breath and move on to the next step – getting to the homestay.

Luckily the driver was still waiting since I was definitely the last person to leave customs. He was sent by the school to take me to the home.  The ride was $40 and split between two people.  When we got to my homestay, I gave him $20.  I found out later that he was getting paid by the school and said that I had only given him a tip.  That was corrected immediately and he will no longer be working for the school.  Second strike, Guatemala.

I applied to stay at a Level C home, which was suppose to be an upscale colonial home including private bath and internet. homestay 1I arrived at a run down house with no hot water.  To use the sporadic internet, I had to stand near their front door in the yard.  homestay 2My room looked like a hostel and the windows could not be opened.  The woman that owns the place was extremely nice but this was not going to work.  After a cold shower and a few attempts at using wifi, I called the school and they arranged for a much nicer place.

All of this occurred in the first 3 hours of my arrival in Guatemala. Not a shining moment for a country who could really use tourista dollars and a little help with their reputation for corruption.  Guatemala’s first family has been implicated in getting payments from a drug cartel and the head of the cartel was just found guilty in Miami.

I am writing this three days after the fact and things have improved immensely.  The school, Don Pedro, has been great and my teacher, Claudia, is amazing.  She has so much patience and knows when to shift to another activity before my brain explodes.  After 3 days of class, I can already see the progress.  Sarah, my homestay landlady is very helpful.  She speaks no English and forces me to use Spanish, even correcting my never-ending mistakes.  For the last 3 days, everything has been the smooth experience that I was expecting.

Next post – Spanish progress!

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4 bathrooms AND 4 toilets!

banoTwo of our bathrooms have just gotten a complete remodel. They both needed it badly and were on the chopping block before we even moved in.  When a major leak was found under the shower floor in the guest room,  the remodels moved quickly to the top of the to-do list.

Then we wished for a Home Depot or Lowes, but settled with Elmec, DoIt, Novey, Cochez and Franklin Jurado.  Definitely not the one stop shopping we once enjoyed.  If a store had what we wanted, it had to be ordered from Panama City – which must be on the moon because it took 3 weeks for each of our orders to get here.

Except for the shower floor in the hall bath, all the sinks, hardware, tile, toilets and accessories came from several intense shopping trips in David. I brought the hall bathroom shower floor from the US.

P1020223The guest bathroom was completed first since we had people staying in the guest room. It was u-g-l-y!   Once the leak under the shower was repaired, the rest of the job was pretty standard. Hot water was added to the sink. It is a small bathroom so white and grey tile makes it seem larger. Replacing the toilet and sink was super easy since we hired out everything.  Towels, rug and knickknacks = done!

The hall bath did not have hot water going to the sink either.  Typically, Panamanian houses do not have hot water at all, even in the kitchen.  Since the walls were being totally cleared, it seemed like a good time to correct that.  The tiling was finished a few weeks back. We chose to tile floor to ceiling with decorative accents.  The granite guys cut holes for the sink and faucet and then the plumbing was complete.

Installing molding and hardware was on us (by “us” I mean David).  Curtains, towels and antique Berber tent poles (a whole other story) are hanging and the hall bathroom is complete

With only a fireplace remodel and a few kitchen cabinets to go, we say that we are coming close to the end of renovations.  But, is any homeowner really ever at the end of renovations?

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Doing the Lawn

I was reminded today by my friend Kris, that sometimes we get so involved in our lives in Panama that we forget to write about what’s going on.  I know I read every blogger word I could find before we moved.  Even if it seemed mundane to the writer, I was salivating – waiting for our big move.  Now that it’s here, even though we still love Panama, the writing is more and more sporadic.

So, the activity for today –  I spent most of the day on the lawn.  Luckily we have a gardener who does the unfun stuff like cutting, clipping and disposing of grass and weeds.  David used to do most of that when we lived in Florida.  Now I can do the lawn things that I enjoy.  Planting, trimming, fertilizing and such.  One of the big draws about Boquete is its fertile soil.  Put it in the ground and it will probably grow.  tree fence

Panama has tree limb fences.  Along the highways you can see that people have taken tree limbs and put them in holes and then run barbed wire from tree to tree.  Before long, the branches begin growing into new trees, creating a beautiful fence.

We are nearing the end of dry season so it’s time to get things ready for rain.  lipstick palmTwo weeks ago I planted some bulbs I got at the Chiriquí Flea Market.  They are already about 8 inches tall.  I also got another Lipstick Palm for the front lawn and a couple of vines for the back fence.  The native flowers are beginning to blossom so they need to be watered.

Scottish-ThistleToday I also planted some seeds.  Vegetables and herbs for the green house and flowers in the garden.  I got some Scottish thistle seeds and I hope they grow.

The native plants are beginning to bloom.

It’s also time to weed and feed the lawn.  We get some very unusual weeds.  Many have roots that run down to China and have some pretty nasty thorns.  Apparently they do very well during the dry season but their life expectancy is coming to an end.

It’s time to fertilize the trees I planted in the fall – right before dry and windy season.  They are alive and still look healthy but they need to see a major growth spurt from now until November.

I also planted some kind of pod seed that is suppose to keep leaf cutter ants away from my roses.  I replanted some lilies in the front near the cool trees that went in a few months ago.

In another month or so we will be making the trip to Conception and Volcan for fruit trees and other vegetation.  Our yard is pretty large and needs more plants.  We found a small sapling in the lot next door and replanted it in our yard.  We planted several hibiscus a few months ago and they are big and blooming like crazy.  The fruit trees are in blossom.  Another pineapple top is almost ready to be put in the ground.   I routinely throw my papaya seeds in the back lot, hoping that a few will take root when the rains come.  I still have passion fruit seeds that I need to plant.

Everything grows in Boquete.  And I just heard thunder!!  Rainy season is almost here!

 

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Water

Before moving to Panama, I never gave a thought about tap water.  You turn the faucet and highly chlorinated water came out.  In Boquete, it is very different.  Water is an issue that people discuss in the grocery store, at the animal clinic, at the recent charity golf tournament, on Facebook, just about anywhere there are 2 or more people.  It’s worse in the summer – verano, which is now.  It’s dry season.

The Boquete population has increased steadily in the last 10 years or so but its water system has seen few upgrades.  We have 2 – 500 gallon tanks that should be full even in dry season.  But in December, we ran out of water.  We had a major leak that was repaired quickly.  Then, in February,  we noticed the water level in the tanks getting lower and lower.  Water was not filling them except for a little at night.

Our friends offered us their showers, washers and bottles of agua.  That’s just what people do here in Panama.  We have offered our shower when our friends have had water issues too.  We were lucky that we noticed the lack of water before it became a huge problem.

We still prioritized what would be laundered.  We took quicker showers.  Our lawn got brown.  We were getting a little nervous since there’s at least 2 more months before rainy season.

Earlier this week David talked to Alex, our next door neighbor.  He told us that he has 3 sources of water while we only had one.  If that one pipe broke (which it did) we would have to go without water until it was repaired.  That could take months.  So our contractor, Gene, got his guys out to find more pipes.  And they did!

Now we also have 3 sources of water.  Two go directly into our tanks and water is pumped from there for the house, hoses and sprinkler system.  The third source goes directly to the backyard spigot.

The sound you hear is the giant sucking sound of dry dirt under the brown grass getting water for the first time in months.

The sound you hear is the giant sucking sound of dry dirt under the brown grass getting water for the first time in months.

Fast forward 3 days – Our clothes are clean.  Our dishes are clean.  Our floors are clean.  Our yard is getting green.

We have it easy since we have pipes that we can tap into. It only took a few man-hours and our problem was solved.   Many areas in Boquete just don’t get water for days or, sometimes, weeks.

Living in Panama is simpler in many ways.  It also makes you adjust.  If you can’t adjust, you don’t make it here.

Live here is different but we’ve adjusted well.  We had our second scorpion in the house.  The lot behind us was on fire two nights ago.  Internet, electricity and television aren’t perfect. On the other hand, I’ve never had better medical or dental care.  I eat healthier, fresher food.  Every single day I admire my beautiful surroundings.   And at the end of the day,  the good far outweighs the few discomforts.

Rainy season is just a few weeks away.

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