Porque me gusta mis amigos… Why I like my friends

Por que me gusta mis amigos?
Porque cuando digo, “mm, tengo pereza, estamos aquí en el terminal de bus, quiero hacer algo nueva… vamos a Costa Rica!” Me responden, “okay, tenemos plata suficiente, vamos. Taxi!”

Cerca a 15 minutos de Changuinola (donde vivo) es la frontera de Costa Rica. El taxi de Changuinola tiene un valor de B./1.50 (si estas con dos Panameños. No se el costo para un gringo sin amigos Panameños en el taxi consigo!). A ir al otro lado, tienes que ir a través el puente que tiene mucho edad y esta muy peligroso. En el lado de Costa Rica, puedes comprar bolsitas con “Costa Rica,” “Pura Vida,” y “Bocas del Toro.” También hay chinos y tiendas con zapatos y ropa, y botas. Pero siento que me gusta Panamá más–es más barato, y bonita, y estaba música para escuchar todos. En los dos lados hay edificios emigración. Los extranjeros fueron hacer algo con papeles, pero mis amigos e yo fuimos sin hablando a la policía. No hay mucho hacer aya excepto tomar un taxi o bus. (Es el mismo el lado Panameño, creo.) Después comprando helado caro y tomando un poco fotos, nos salemos. Sentí un poquito mal para los manaderos (trabajadores) de los taxis, porque cada tiempo pasamos las policía emigración sin enseñando identificación, nos reiremos mucho como tenemos la culpa de algo…

Fui muy bien, y ahora tenemos planes para la próxima semana!

Nota: Todo esta hacía sin diccionario o traductor… :)


El Rio Sixola
Mi amiga Argelis e yo.
My friend Argelis and me.

Why do I like my friends?
Because when I say, “mm, I’m bored, we’re here in the bus terminal, I want to do something new… let’s go to Costa Rica!” They respond, “okay, we have enough money, let’s go. Taxi!”

Close to 15 minutes from Changuinola (where I live) is the Costa Rican border. The taxi ride from Changuinola costs $1.50 (if you’re with two Panamanians. I don’t know what the cost is for a white person without Panamanian friends in the taxi with them is!). To get to the other side, you have to cross a very old and dangerous bridge.

The U.S. was a very strong presence in Panama in this period because of the Panama Canal. It has a fascinating history that involves all of the last 600 years or more and a variety of countries. :)



Looking towards Panamá from CR
Bocatoreña–Que xopá Panamá?

On the Costa Rica side, you can buy bags with “Costa Rica,” “Pura Vida,” and “Bocas del Toro” on them. There’s also chinos and stores selling shoes and clothing, and boots.

Sixola se está preparada,
Sixola (the town) is prepared…
Costa Rica side.

But I feel that I like Panamá more–it’s cheaper, beautiful, and there’s music for everybody to listen to.

Panama side.

On both sides are immigration buildings.


A little less intense or technologically advanced than the US-Mexico border, huh?

The foreigners went to them to do something with papers, but my friends and I went without talking to the police. There’s not much to do except take a taxi or bus. (It’s the same on the Panamanian side, I think.) After buying expensive ice cream and taking a few photos, we left.





I felt a bit bad for the taxi drivers, because every time we passed the immigration police without showing our ID, we laughed a lot like we were guilty of something….

I had a good time, and now we have plans for next week!

The Red Cross is active in Panama and Costa Rica….

Note: I did the spanish first, and without dictionary or translator… :)

10¢/copy: Experiences with the community | March 23

I was watching some SAT prep videos on Khan Academy about 5 minutes ago when three little girls came up and wanted me to photocopy some pages of a notebook for them. (Have I mentioned a small business here is to have a computer and photocopier-printer? Then all the neighbors come to you when they need something printed out or photocopied. 10¢/B&W page, 20¢/color. We can print from flash drives, too.) Just last week I had made three photocopies for a girl who turned out to only have a quarter instead of the 30¢ asked. Following my host dad’s instructions, I let it go, but told her to remember next time. Afterwords, I felt cheated–since she is a regular customer who lives right next door, she knows the price and she could get the money. I started telling people the price beforehand.

This experience in mind, I told the girls it would be 30¢ for 3 copies. They looked away, so I asked if they had the money. They didn’t, but mumbled something about having it soon. I told them to come back when they had the money, or just to copy it by hand, since there was so little writing on the pages they wanted copied. I was a little nervous that I had given the wrong reply as a representative of my host family–sometimes my host family would do credit or favors for our more…economically challenged neighbors, and I wasn’t sure if this was one of those times. However, I figured an adult could come and talk to me if the 25 or so words scrawled across the pages were so imperative.

They came back about 3 minutes later, looking very excited, all calling out, “Buenas! Buenas!” That’s how you get somebody’s attention when you visit their house, instead of knocking. They handed me another notebook and told me to write it in spanish.

I looked at the list. Boat… chicken… I’d seen vocab lists like this before. They wanted me to do their homework.

This is when I wonder about my responsibilities to the community as a financially stable, english speaker from the U.S. Should I do the homework for them? Should I ask for payment? Sometimes my host family will do basic stuff on the internet for people who ask us to, in return for a small amount of money.

But I also didn’t like the idea of being used just because I spoke english. It’s the same thing in school sometimes, where people just want me to teach them english (but are never serious about putting in any effort themselves), or help them with their homework or tests.

Not to mention, I shouldn’t be doing other people’s homework for them, no matter how easy it would be for me.

Just thought I’d share this experience with you all. : ) Thoughts? Especially on my responsibilities to the community.



Visiting M’s House | The Generosity of Panamanians

I’ve been over to my friend M’s house a few times now. Looking back to the first time I went on in December in 2013, when this photo was taken, I can really see how much I’ve grown accustom to Panama. I had only been in Panamá a few months and was still naïve about some parts of the world around me. (Note: This was the week before I left my first host family, I was (unfortunately?) plenty experienced with other parts.)
I remember being struck, and struck hard, at the “poverty” this family was living in. Their 3 room house was was just uneven wooden planks nailed to a wooden structure. Two sections were boarded off to make two bedrooms, and the rest was a living room/dining room and kitchen, with a small bathroom attached. They had a TV, but other than that, the house was very modest. What does that mean? No refrigerator, of course. No dishwasher, small old gas stove, all of the few cords are outside the walls, and there aren’t many things to plug in anyways. Etc. Etc. They did have chickens in the back, and plantain/banana trees.

I couldn’t understand on my first visit how people could survive like that. What were you suppose to do without a refrigerator? How could they… do anything?

I visited again twice last week. Saturday they invited me over for an early breakfast before church, and I accepted. Remembering their economic situation, I brought half a dozen hardboiled eggs and two plantains already sliced and fried, enough for two people’s breakfast with four eggs left over. The eggs were a huge hit, and the plantains were added to the plantains my friend had already made. My friend helped me help her in the kitchen, preparing some weak hot chocolate, frying plantains, pealing eggs, frying salchicas (smaller and lighter hot-dogs).

It wasn’t until we had sat down that I realized how comfortable I had been in the kitchen. The lack of typical appliances hadn’t even registered with me; on the contrary, I had admired her dish-drying rack. The house seemed normal to me, the backyard was quite pretty and all those chickens seemed like quite the business enterprise.

Many people here live like M and her family, in conditions most people in the U.S. would consider fit only for, well, nobody. Because of the many rules and regulations about housing in the U.S., people either live in real, solid houses or they live on the street. Here, there’s no (enforced) laws about the condition of your houses, so people make houses on what they can afford. This means that almost nobody sleeps on the streets or park benches here, because if they can get some wood and nails, they can build themselves a small shack.

Now, many months later, my friend’s family seems to me more normal than before. Still poor, but not impossibly.*

(*Then I think about what I’m thinking. I remember about all the houses in the U.S. that are so fine, all the nice housing communities. I keep seeing Houston, Texas from the air flying back from Costa Rica, expensive housing community after expensive housing community, each one with a large pool in their back yard. How can I be so insensitive? Why do I tell myself these people are not really that poor when they are? Does it really make me that uncomfortable to come by their house when I have several dollar bills just sitting there in my pocket in case I needed them to b wanted to buy something? It’s not like I’m rolling in cash–or am I? By american standers, no, but here it’s another matter. This is a much larger discussion, for another time.)

I stopped by M’s house last Monday to say hola and drop off my flash drive. I had planned to say just for a minute, but they practically dragged me in, tried to give me the best seat, told me they’d get me something to drink and quickly reappeared with a cold soda and bag of crackers.

I wanted to hit myself in the face repeatedly. I knew that they had just gone out and bought me the soda and crackers, despite the financial strain I knew they were under. They hadn’t bought anything for themselves, they expected me to just sit there and drink and eat it all while they watched. (Great hosts are Panamanians.) I couldn’t do that though, so I broke up the crackers and asked for cups to share the soda.

Sitting there in the shade, I talked to my friend’s mother a bit and she tried to teach me more Ngöbe, Panama’s largest indigenous community’s native language, but my brain resists. Idiot brain. Then I talked to M for a long time, about all sorts of things, including her Adventista religion. She is one of the nicest people I know because of that religion. Always, always smiling and taking things with good cheer. When she returned my flash drive the next week, it had a new little beaded charm attached to the end, a gift from her brother who lives far away now. I tried to protest, but she insisted I take it as her best friend.

I will never stop being indebted to these people. The second I think I’m even, an action they’ve already taken is revealed and it turns out I owe them again. I don’t know how to deal with it, actually. In the U.S., there are some super nice people, but they’re not spending their life savings to buy me a cold drink on a hot day when I visit. Relationships, and therefore social protocols, are different here.

What I’ll end with: This is not the only example of generosity I’ve seen here. There have been so many people who have helped me out, comforted and advised me in times of distress, looked out for me, accepted me, many of them complete strangers. I’m not perfect; I’ve made some stupid, stupid choices, that should have ended up in total panic and heartbreak, but ended up with no complications at all because of the kindness of strangers.

Panamá is…


Did you know? Students get free cookies from the government!

Every now and then teachers will hand out bags of coco (coconut) cookies. They’re sponsored by El Gobierno Nacional, or the National Governement! Apparently, they’re “Galletas Nutritivas,” or Nutritional Cookies… and very sugary, too! Besides lacking the perfect crispness I was use to in the desert because of the high humidity here, they’re actually pretty […]