Yea, It kinda is Your Fault

panama2For the last several months, we have had an influx of new residents in our little pueblo.  We’ve heard that as many as 200 families may be moving here because …..  Well, that’s a good question.  Why are they coming?  Few are of retirement age so do not qualify for a pensionado visa.  They brought their young children.  I’ve heard of several that brought their 45 foot containers with them on their move without visiting first.  Most, it appears, have had some religious intervention and been sold a bill of goods to flee the US quickly.  Some left family members behind without a word that they even arrived safely in Panama.  The whole thing has many of us apprehensive about their future.

Because they arrived so quickly, the housing market is stretched to its limits.  This is driving rent up and up, which will make it even more difficult as they continue to live here.  They apparently were not told by their gurus that they cannot work in Panama without a work permit, which takes time and more than a little money.  The point of this is, we have lots of new people who have no idea what they are doing but thought moving to a foreign country was a good idea.  Actually, it was mortal men who told them and those men had only been in Boquete about five minutes before encouraging these people (for profit) to drop everything and come to Panama.

Now many are here, so what’s new?  First, they can’t make a living here.  It is illegal to work without a permit, which takes a few months and several thousand dollars to complete.  Next, no one can work in professions that compete with Panamanians.  You can open a new business and employ Panamanians, but not other expats.  Several have started to advertise their skills but will be turned in quickly to the mitradel for prosecution.  Now they are offering services for “free”.

Second, they don’t know how things work.  I don’t mean things like the pump on your tanks of water.  I mean like “Don’t drink from the tap”.  So they and their children are getting intestinal parasites which causes vomiting and severe diarrhea.  It’s bad enough being gullible enough to fall for this scam yourself but when it harms your kids, you’ve gone too far.  But they only listened to their gurus instead of talking to locals, reading blogs or just asking a few questions on some of the expat sites. I say to their leaders:  When you market yourself on the internet as a ‘We Can Help Gringos – for Money’ service, telling your naive flock about the water should be a top priority.

As much as they complain about the impure water now, wait until they have none during the dry season.  Many areas do not get much public water from January until rainy season begins in May/June.  People who know better have tanks.

Because they do not have a verifiable, monthly income, they do not qualify for a permanent visa.  They must do border runs every six months.  This means going to Costa Rica, spend the night or two and then return with a new passport stamp.  People who want to drive with their US license must do this every 90 days or get a temporary Panamanian license.  Thankfully, we only had to do this once and that was way more than enough.

The reason for this rant is that the complaining about Panama has begun and they want to blame Boquete and Panama rather than themselves and lack of preparation.  They made a hasty decision.  They didn’t do research on their own or ask people who live here how things work.  This is not the fault of Boquete or Panama.  It is their fault but they are blaming Panama. This is a developing country – it is not Chicago, or Memphis or St. Louis.   We don’t have a modern infrastructure.  The difference is that most people know that before they move here.

What happens when one of them gets sick enough to be hospitalized?   What happens when they run out of money?   Or their children do not learn any marketable job skills?  They can try a GoFundMe site (like some of their leaders did) but they shouldn’t be surprised if it’s not successful.

What should people do before uprooting themselves and their families to another country?  First, visit and spend some time here.  Take a tour or two, buy some literature written by people who live here, talk to locals (not people who just want your money).  Come back and rent for a while.  Learn the area.  Some areas will meet your needs better than others.  Learn about the availability and costs of water, electricity, television, internet, roads, proximity to transportation and town, medical costs and other things that are important to be known before moving.  Because moving back will be a lot more expensive.

Rant over.

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Mooch and the Vets

A few weeks ago a tiny kitten showed up in our carport looking for food.  Because cats can get through our bars and we leave the doors open, she made herself at home eating our cats’ food.  Then she got more demanding about what kind of food she wanted.  Fancy Feast please, meow meow.
mooch1She’s a calico and probably about 3 months old.  We took her to the Animales Spay and Neuter Clinic at the end of the month and got her spayed.  I told the Vet #1 that she would be outside and to give her a few extra stitches.  Then I told the post op crew to please give her a little extra super glue.  Yes, we use Super Glue to hold the skin together.  We kept her in a back bedroom to keep her quiet and inactive.

About 5 days later I noticed a large bulge under her superglued belly. Her internal organs were about to pop out.   Unfortunately, we’ve been through this before, so she went right to the Vet #2 in David. Only the Super Glue was holding in her internal organs.  Dr. Sam, from Happy Vet, put her back together and gave us antibiotics.  Giving pills to cats is like catching jello.  Some went in but I am certain that most were deposited elsewhere.

Anyway, a few days later she had an infection.  This time we went to Vet #3, Dr. Gonzalez, in Boquete.  He gave her an antibiotic and she felt better within a few hours.  This doctor gave us a choice if we wanted more pills or if we could inject her for the next five days.  I’ve given some shots at the clinic so I knew I could do it and we would know for sure that she was getting the medication she needs.

A quick trip to the tienda de mascota (pet shop) and less than $5 later, we had medicine and syringes.  She got her first shot from me today and all is well – at least all is well with us as it was a simple process, however, she was more than a little pissed.  The swelling is already down, she’s eating like her moochy self and is doing well.

We do not have veterinary care for pets like in the US.  Far from it.  Care is basic.  We had a cat several years ago in Florida that was getting old.  Our vet recommended that we take him to an animal psychiatrist.  That’s was just bizarre.  Here, they get shots, bones set, simple surgeries and that’s pretty much it.  There’s very little specialty food for kidney problems or whatever.  You get about 5 choices of pet food and none are natural.  We make our own dog food to supplement their Kirkland dry food.  Cat food is too difficult to make so they get Kirkland dry and (now) Friskies.  My importing Fancy Feast days are over and they like Friskies.  But with all of this, I find the care to be good.  We haven’t had a major problem.

However, veterinary care is a lot cheaper in Chiriqui.  Our visit to the vet yesterday, exam, antibiotic shot and prescription was $15.  The antibiotic for us to use was just over $4. Syringes are 20 cents.  Dr. Sam put Mooch back together, kept her overnight, gave us the pills and gave her all of her kitty shots for $103.  This would have easily been in the $500-600 range in South Florida.

Mooch gets along well with the other cats and dogs.  In fact, last night she laid down next to Rosa, the dog, and she began licking her like a mom.

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Crime in Chiriqui

For the last several months, Chiriqui has been experiencing a crime wave.  This isn’t pickpocketing or even snatching a cellphone from an unaware person.  It’s not even the breaking and entering that is fairly common.  This has been violent with people getting beaten, shot and killed.

One of the major problems is that juveniles are not held accountable for horrendous crimes.  Two mid-teens that shot and stabbed a woman during a robbery last week were released to their fathers just two days after their arrest. Older criminals use young kids to commit crimes knowing they have a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.

This is affecting both the gringo and the Panamanian community.  Small stores have been held up with one owner killed.  One bandit was only 8 years old and his gun was almost as big as him.  None of the victims have used a gun.  In most cases the ladrones were on them before they would have had time to reach a weapon anyway.

Our police department is woefully under manned and under funded.  If they manage to arrest a criminal, they are likely to get released before the paperwork is complete.

Last night there was a meeting in Porterillos, where last week’s victim lives.  She’s a widow who was shot twice and stabbed during an early morning attack in her home.  Local officials spoke to a group of about 300 very upset residents.  One elected official appeared bored. They had ideas that could be implemented now, like a curfew, and plans to ask the government to strengthen laws regarding minors.  We signed a petition for Diputada Athenas Athanasiadis to take to Parliament in hopes of more stringent legislation.  I was extremely impressed with this young woman (even if she did go to FSU).

So it is still up to us to protect ourselves as the first line of defense.  We have a fence, bars on the windows and doors, motion detector lights and 3 dogs.  We also know our neighbors.  One told us a few weeks ago that he called the police because he saw a few young men just hanging out on the street.

A few people want the government to relax our fairly strict gun laws to make them more available, like in the US.  I hope they don’t.  In one robbery the criminals were only looking for guns he heard the man owned.  He did not but the man was killed anyway.  In none of the robberies would a gun have been useful but would have been stolen by the thieves.

In the meantime, we wait to see if the government will stand up to people who believe the human rights of juvenile felons have more rights than law abiding residents.

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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.

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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