On any given day on these morning walks we always pass by locals walking to the bus, or school or to the store. Some dressed in business attire, others casual or carrying babies. The children donned in school uniforms with dark blue pants or skirts and crisp white or blue dress shirts with black shoes. People are always friendly and say "buenas" some even ask "como esta?" how are you? Others make comments about us getting exercise, something that comes natural to them since they walk everywhere. One women even waved from afar as she walked by on the passing street, almost like she didn't want to miss her chance to greet us. The locals are nice, sweet, simple people just trying to live their lives. Although they don't have much in the way of material possessions they're insanely happy. Many homes don't even have internet and at night we see local kids sitting on the curb or on a rock catching the free WI-FI near the police and fire stations.
People ask us all the time through this blog, emails or in person, one question over and over again. Is it safe to live in Panamá? In the 15 months that we've been here we feel perfectly safe and have never in any way felt threatened by the locals. In crowds at Carnival, parades and fairs we've mingled among the locals like a bright light being the only white faces, yet felt quite comfortable. Perhaps it's because we act like we belong here because we do. This is our home now and wherever we go we expect to be treated like one of the locals, because we are. With our heads held high we face each person that we come in contact with, give them a big smile and say "buenas." A smile goes a long way and translates well into any language.
A while back while sitting at a friends restaurant this subject came up. Seated among eight or nine other expats from the U.S. and Canada we threw out this question. Has anyone here ever been a victim of theft back in their native country? Everyone at the table said "yes." Whether it's home invasions, car theft, purse snatching, or other crimes we've all experienced it in one way, shape or form. So does that mean the U.S and Canada are not safe places to live? My point here is that crime happens everywhere. There are good and bad people all over the world therefore crime happens everywhere.
Here in Panamá just like back in the states we take precautions just because it's the right thing to do. We lock our doors, don't leave valuables unattended, and don't flash money in public. Our home here is totally fenced with a locking gate, that came with the property. Our windows have steel bars on them, which is a common preventative measure in Latin cultures. We have a home owners insurance policy against theft and fire, and we have a mean looking guard dog.
Our Mean Guard Dog
Statistically, Panama is safer than the U.S. and the crimes committed here are petty crimes like theft and burglary. There is a extremely strong police presence here, much more than we ever saw in the U.S. There are cops positioned every few miles along the highway with radar detectors, so we actually drive the speed limit here. There are police everywhere we look here, just because Panamanians like it that way. Walk into any grocery store and there's a cop standing at the front with a rifle pointed up. And where there's no police there's armed, uniformed, security guards. Walk into any bank or government office and a guard with a metal detector is standing at the door. They scan everyone and look into women's purses. Just about every business here has a security guard on the premises. At big events like Carnival that we went to last year, we were searched and patted down before entering. And a word about guns here is that from what we've heard they're very difficult to buy here and not common at all.
Wait, where's the male police officer?
I found him!