So…as homeless house sitters living a nomadic lifestyle and moving from town to town, home to home, we get to experience a lot of the ups and downs about life in Panama. Sometimes we’ve had little to no internet, frequent power outages, and it’s definitely difficult to pin down any sort of routine. That being said, I started to think about my previous life back in Canada and some of the things that all of us, not just me, would take for granted.
Are you like me? When you hear the fridge compressor stop, do you assume the power went out, too? The longest one I’ve experienced here was only 18 hours (the Eastern Seaboard blackout of 2003 affected yours truly for about that). And sadly, that’s not even a record. I’ve heard of 5 day outages, course that could just be a fish-tail. Either way, you probably don’t want to fill your freezer full of hot-pockets here.
#7. Reliable Internet
In some areas, when the power goes out, so does the internet. Here in Pedasi and other parts of the interior, this sometimes means no signal regardless of provider. And sometimes, you have power, but something happens where there’s no coverage across a certain region. It’s not often, but you’ll probably lose connection right when you’re in the middle of streaming the last episode of Downton Abbey.
#6. Variety and Convenience
Back home in Canada, our corner stores are called either a Convenience Store or a Variety Store. Here they’re called Chinos (literally translates to Chinese). Don’t worry, it’s not racist, it’s just how people are identified here in Panama. Anyway, this isn’t to say that there isn’t variety at the Chinos, they have a lot of varieties of drinks, single serving chips and sweets, but where the variety is missing is in healthy food options. WE get a lot of seasonal fruits, which is awesome, but not a lot of vegetable variety, which is disappointing. Many healthy items are double the price they were in Canada. Quality meats are lacking here too. So before you make your trip down here, get your fill of carne rojo. Eat so much of it you never want to eat it again. Side note, papaya grows pretty much year round, but I’m not a big fan of papaya. I can only eat it in smoothies with pineapple and/or mango and/or banana. By itself though? No thanks. It smells like barf.
As for Convenience, city folk probably don’t experience this as much, unless they’re going to a government office. For us in the Pedasi area (and probably other parts of the interior), just getting groceries and regular shopping takes at least half your day. Need housewares or hardware/tools? Fuhgettaboutit, there goes your whole day, dude. And if you’re looking to increase your heart rate, try returning something.
#5. Regular Garbage Pickup
Actual conversation a few months ago with my Panamanian neighbor:
AL: ?Que dia es la dia de basura (what day is garbage day)?
NEIGHBOR: A veces jueves, a veces viernes (sometimes Thursday, sometimes Friday)
AL: ?Y cuando no viernes, lunes? (And when not Friday, Monday?)
NEIGHBOR: A veces.
And some weeks they don’t come at all. Maybe it rained. Maybe the garbage truck got too full. Maybe the truck broke down. Doesn’t matter, it eventually gets picked up and dealt with. Usually.
Where we lived in Canada, we used to have two blue boxes, one for bottles/cans, the other for paper/cardboard. Actually, the founder of the blue box was from where we lived. We also had a green bin that took all food scraps, from meat bones to barf-smelling papaya remnants. Wherever we live now (as house sitters we’re kind of nomadic), we try to compost. When we rented in town we composted our fruit/veggie scraps. When we had a three month house sit, we made a compost pile out back. It’s not what we had back home, but at least we’re trying. And to those saying “Well you’re not in Canada anymore, this is Panama, get used to it”, to them I say, “nice attitude, way to try and help”. The people of Panama don’t want to be the butt of your “This is Panama” joke anymore, so stop thinking it’s okay. We can help make things better, and things like recycling is one way. Lead by example. And by the way, Pedasi has also started collecting aluminum cans – so it’s happening here, which is awesome!
If you live in a developed nation like the UK, USA, Canada, Germany, etc. You most likely have a routine like many others in your country. You wake up and do your ‘morning routine’, drive to work, grab a coffee, chat with coworkers, check your Facebook, check your email, check your Facebook again, do some work, check your Facebook, have lunch, check your Facebook, work, feel sleepy at about 2pm, grab a coffee, check your Facebook, contemplate doing more work but talk yourself out of it because you don’t want to start something so close to quitting time lest it cut into your regular departure time, drive home, prepare dinner, watch a show, have a snack, check your Facebook, go to bed. Repeat. This isn’t to say you won’t have routine here, it’s just A) harder to get into one because B) you get easily side-tracked by list items #8 and #7…and sometimes #5 when you have to stop what you’re doing to toss the remaining food scraps.
#2. Quality Electronic Items
It’s not that Panama doesn’t have quality items, it just seems that many things here with any sort of electrical component seem to not last that long. It could be the humidity, maybe the salt air, or maybe the heat causes one to sweat profusely which in turn leads to someone dropping things more frequently. I don’t know. But it’s true. I’ve fixed a few computers already where the hard drives crashed. I’ve also seen brand new elliptical machines last only a few weeks, new smart phones overheat, toasters toasting half a side only, pot lights smoking (no, not that pot). There is a joke here that if things don’t pass QA in the States they get sent here. I doubt it, but sometimes it does seem like it.
Hey, in case you haven’t heard yet…I’m from Canada, home to 20% of the worlds fresh water, and only a population of 35 million (mas o menos). If we can’t get fresh water there, we’re doing something wrong. So naturally, we expect it to be readily available. That doesn’t mean we waste it (well, some people do). The water still needs to be treated; however, at no point do I turn on the tap and “hope water comes out”. It’s just there. Always. I think everyone I know here in Pedasi has a water outage story. And I also think everyone I know here has a couple of 5 gallon water jugs on stand by!
If you read this as a list of complaints, you missed the point. And the point is that as citizens of “developed” countries, we do take a lot of things about everyday life for granted. So next time you’re enjoying the soft overhead lighting at work and checking your Facebook on your working smart phone while eating a fresh chicken and humus pita with a romaine and radicchio salad that you purchased at the convenience store…stop and say to yourself; “you know what…we’ve got it pretty good here”.