Friday, March 29, 2013

A Personal Quest For Independence....

Procrastination is the art of purposely putting things off that we think should be done now, for one reason or another.  Living here in Panama gives us the right to procrastinate even longer due to an added factor called "the language barrier."

For example, a few months ago when I first visited the gynecologist in Coronado he suggested that I have a bone density test done at Clinica Hospital San Fernando in Panama City, and said that I'd have to call for an appointment.  Those last four words filled my head with horror at the thought of talking to someone in Spanish on the phone.  It's hard enough understanding what some one's saying in person, since the use of facial gestures and hand movements can help.  On the phone there's none of that nor is there the option to give the other person that confused, befuddled look of fear that lets them know, I'm lost.

About four months ago we started taking private Spanish lessons with a young Panamanian woman named Jasmine that a friend recommended. One day I mentioned to her that whenever I speak to anyone in Spanish I always lead with, "yo hablo espanol un poquito," meaning "I only speak a little Spanish."  Jasmine was outraged and said, "to a Panamanian that means you only know how to say "hola, adios" and little else."  She said "you know a whole lot more Spanish than that" and went on to say, "from now on I want you to say,'Yo hablo espanol mas or menos,' which means 'I speak Spanish more or less."  She explained that this would tell someone that although I do speak Spanish it's not perfect and I'm still learning, so they would have more patience.

Her comment boosted my self confidence and suddenly I realized that by telling myself I didn't speak Spanish was giving myself negative messages. So instead I began to assure myself that I did indeed speak Spanish and ventured out in public with my head held high.  But I still had the orders for that bone density test staring me in the face and I needed to call for an appointment.  In my head I went over the words I'd need to use and realized that all were currently in my Spanish vocabulary with the exception of the medical terms for the test.  With confidence I picked up the phone and called for an appointment with no problems at all.  In fact it went so well that I called back a second time because I forgot to ask how much the test would cost.

Yesterday we ventured into the city to find Clinica Hospital San Fernando for the test which was nothing more than an x-ray done in a lying down position.  Due to a family history of osteoporosis and the fact that I've had gastric bypass surgery, both put me more at risk for osteoporosis and thus the reason for being tested at this age.  Back in Texas I'd also had a few bone density tests done and the results showed no problems at that time.  San Fernando Hospital seems to be promoting medical tourism on their website enticing foreigners with low prices and claiming to have an English speaking staff.  But my experience proved otherwise as I encountered no one that spoke English.

After registering at the front desk I was sent around the corner to the cashier to pay the bill of $61 for the test.  For some reason they refused to give us our pensionado discount and since it was so little we didn't bother to argue as we just wanted to get it over with.  We sat down in the waiting room and within minutes a young man showed up and called my name.

I followed him down the hall to another room where he handed me a gown to undress.  In the U.S. as long as the patient isn't wearing anything with metal such as zippers, they don't need to disrobe, but things are different here.  The young man stayed in the room while I undressed behind a curtain.  As I made my way out I climbed up onto the table hoping that the paper gown wouldn't rip, as I didn't think this boy wanted to see naked old lady parts.  After the test was done he picked up a clipboard with a sheet of paper on it and began reading the questions to me that inquired about my medical history.  The first time I didn't understand I asked if I could read the questions which made it much easier.  Here in Panama the results are usually picked up by the patient within a few days instead of being sent to the doctor. But since we were far from home I asked him if the results could be given to my doctor since he has an office in Panama City as well as nearby in Coronado, and he said they could.

When we first moved here although we knew some Spanish I was always slightly terrified whenever we went out in public.  In stores I always looked down and away from the sales clerks for fear they'd start talking to me in Spanish and I wouldn't understand.  In restaurants my friendly husband would always place the order for both of us so I never had a chance to use any Spanish.  As time went on this was making me feel like I'd lost my independence. I was afraid to go out without Clyde and something needed to change.  For me getting more comfortable speaking Spanish was the answer and the lessons with Jasmine are certainly helping.  Within the past few months I've gone to the gym, store and dental office alone and even stopped to pay the water bill. And no longer am I afraid of getting stopped by the police for a random license or registration check which are quite common here too.

One misconception about learning a language is that just living among people that speak the language will somehow make one learn it.  As if it would just seep into my brain without having to do a thing and one day I'd just wake up and be fluent in Spanish. Perhaps if I lived with people that only spoke Spanish I'd pick it up faster, but still there has to be some baseline knowledge I think.  Although some words can be learned just by living here for example:  every business has a sign on the front door that reads something like this "Horario....lunes a viernes 9-5, sabado y domindo 10-4."  Even if you know no Spanish you can figure out those are the hours of operation.  "Lunes a viernes" is obviously "Monday through Friday," and the other two days are Saturday and Sunday.  But I've come to realize that learning Spanish takes time, commitment and hard work. It won't magically seep into my brain through osmosis but will continue to improve if I make the choice to speak Spanish every chance I get.  And this includes forcing myself to use it at home in our daily lives whenever talking about those day to day things that couples discuss.

We've met fifty-some blog followers thus far when they visit Panama and we hear similar comments from many of them including "no one here speaks English."  Even in Coronado and the all-inclusive fancy beach resorts, the staff speaks little to no English.  And we think that the reason is because those Panamanians that do learn to speak English are more educated and able to get better paying jobs in Panama City.  Those waiting tables or cleaning hotel rooms at a resort perhaps went through the public school system where English was not taught.  Even our Spanish teacher Jasmine who grew up in Coronado was not taught English in school.  In her early teen years she began to teach herself English by reading the dictionary and looking at English books, practicing over and over again until she understood the language.  Very impressive I think especially since sentence structure is completely opposite in the two languages, and I can't imagine how someone could figure it out on their own,

But choosing to learn Spanish is a personal choice for us, as we know other expats that manage to live here nicely without knowing much if any.  Maybe there's a little part of me that just wants to fit in wherever I go, and speaking the local language helps. And although I'll never look like a Panamanian no matter how dark of a tan I might get, maybe I'll be understood a little more by improving my language skills....along the gringo trail.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Socializing Among The Gringos.....


The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of social events with these two butterflies flitting our wings from flower to flower.  On Wednesday the 13th we welcomed a flash from the past when two old Texas friends dropped by our casa.  Jan and Art (or Doc to some) who frequented the same resort near San Antonio that we did, began to think about Panama about the same time we did.  In fact before we left we had many a long chat with them in the pool over our decision to move, and they were starting to think Panama might be the right choice for them too.  Last year not long after we moved here they made their first exploratory trip, and this was their second.  It was nice to sit down over some drinks and share our experiences comparing notes, since they've ventured to parts of the country still unknown to us. Both seemed to be enjoying retirement in Texas and looked well and refreshed.

Later that week we enjoyed having lunch with local friends and a chance to see their brand new house in Punta Chame.  During our trips to the gym and pool we met Sue and Jim, another American couple that moved here soon after we did.  They'd been living at the resort in a condo before taking on the daunting task of building a house. Their builder spoke no English and they spoke no Spanish yet they all managed to come together on design plans for a fabulous new home using a translator.

On Sunday we met up with Allison and Ray, some friends visiting from Virginia for their second exploratory trip. These two found us through the blog and soon the four of us had become email friends.  We met them on their first trip last year and immediately we all seemed to click. We were thrilled to hear that they were returning to Panama a second time just five months later.  Apparently, we really impressed them! Donned in green for St. Patrick's Day we headed over to Louise's bohio for a party sponsored by CASA (Coronado Area Social Association).  An eclectic mix of 60-some gringos dressed in green sipping on green beer and green punch made for a greentastic afternoon.

The next day Allison and Ray were meeting with a realtor to look at property in Altos del Maria, a gated mountain community.  Since we'd never been up there I asked if we could tag along as they browsed for homes.  This picturesque mountain community was full of tall pine trees, mountain vistas, and beautiful homes way our of our price point.  Everyone comes to Panama with different expectations and a different budget and some choose to live in the mountains for cooler temperatures. Before leaving the area we stopped to visit friends Melissa and Bill who are in the middle of a long remodeling project.  They graciously showed us around their beautiful home which has a panoramic view right out of a magazine.

Allison Enjoying the Views of Altos De Maria


Our Friends Allison and Ray with Terry
at the Campana Park Overlook


Flat tire on the mountain!

Terry "supervising"....Someone Had To Do It!



I liked this picture that Allison took
of my tire repair


A few days later we joined together again as Clyde and I played tour guide to show Allison and Ray around the area.  Pointing out some of our old stomping grounds in Capira and La Chorrera before heading to Westland Mall for some browsing fun. Clyde just loves to take visitors up the road to Altos de Campana for the breath-taking views at the mirador. As the road narrows the trees seem to reach out and embrace the car with their branches, as the car chugs up the mountain. It's here where passengers begin to wonder if this really is a pleasure cruise into the clouds or a permanent resting place over a cliff?  We try to assure them that the machete in the back is merely for cutting brush but it does make some raise their eyebrows.  Before long a flat tire had us stranded on the side of the road and Allison and I watched as the men busily changed it. Eventually we all arrived safely back at our house where we said a fond farewell to our friends who still have to work for another few years before they can retire to Panama. 

Earlier in the week we met for a brief lunch with Maggie and Mike, another couple following the blog who were vacationing here. Also in the early planning stages of retirement this trip opened their eyes to what Panama has to offer.

This week we're back to our quiet life as things have settled down.  Clyde is making sawdust daily as he works diligently outside making kitchen cabinets.  I'm happy that the mess is still outside at this point, but I do realize that before every beautiful remodel there must be a mess. One of these days he's going to take a sledge hammer to our current kitchen counter to break up cement counter before he can put in the new cabinets.

First coat of polyurethane on
the door and drawer fronts


Last week was the six week point since my hysterectomy and a visit to the gynecologist gave me the green light to resume normal activities.  As soon as we walked into the doctor's office he told Clyde that he saw his picture on the front page of the Playacommunity free newspaper.  The doctor said, "I showed the picture to my wife and told her, this is the husband of superwoman."  He'd been teasing me about being superwomen since I'd recovered so quickly from the surgery.  Clyde is now a member of the CASA Board and recently a photo of the group was featured on the front page of the local community newspaper making him a celebrity. 


Clyde is now on the board for CASA
Coronado Area Social Association


I've been hitting the gym and spin bike while Clyde works on the kitchen project outside.  As my Spanish is improving I'm much more comfortable going out on my own. Unlike in the rest of the world, the days aren't getting any longer or shorter here though.

Panama doesn't change the clocks in observance of daylight savings time.  Since we're close to the equator and the hours of daylight are the same year-round, there's no need to change the clocks during the summer.  Also since summer here begins in December, opposite of what's observed in the States that too would confuse things. This made me wonder what countries do and don't change the clocks during the summer months and here's what I found.

Most areas of North American and Europe do observe daylight savings time (DST), while most areas of Africa, and Asia do not.  In South America the countries to the north of the continent near the equator do not observe DST, while Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and the southern parts of Brazil do. Oceania is also mixed with parts of New Zealand and Australia changing the clocks and other parts not.

Personally I've always enjoyed having longer hours of daylight in the States and wish they would have just kept it that way.  Living in Panama now so close to the equator the days are short and we've had to adjust to less hours of daylight.  The sun comes up around 6:30 a.m. and sets about twelve hours later.

Everyone is gearing up for a long holiday weekend when many of the million residents of Panama City head our way to the beaches.  Schools close early tomorrow as do some businesses too in order to get ready for the long Easter weekend.  But there are no Easter bunnies here, just church services and dinners at home with friends and family.  Our plans are to stay close to home and far away from the packed beaches as the weekend progresses.  We'll just lay low, take it easy and enjoy another another weekend in paradise.....along the gringo trail.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

What Tastes Like Cinnamon And Vanilla.....

What tastes like cinnamon and vanilla, has the texture of a pear, is round with brown sand paper-like skin and grows on trees?  Why it's a Nispero of course.  This tropical fruit native to China and Japan has fragrant white flowers that grow into a delghtfully tasting unusual fruit.  Nispero also goes by the name sapodillo or loquat and the trees thrive nicely in warm, tropical climates like Panama.

Who would have known how
wonderful these are!


Last year soon after we moved into our house in Chame we noticed these brown, fuzzy fruits popping up on a tree in our backyard.  We asked around but no one seemed to know what they were or how to eat them, so we let them wither away and die.  One day we had to meet with the previous owner of the house in Panama City and I remembered to ask him about this unknown fruit. He confirmed them to be nispero and raved about how sweet and luscious they tasted. 

So far this season we've only found a few ripe enough to eat so far.  We're trying to get them before they hit the ground and our fruit loving doberman devours them.  The nispero look similar to a kiwi but are round in shape and smaller.  Once cut open there are two large black seeds that need to be removed.  The brownish, yellowish meat of the fruit is simply scooped out with a spoon and enjoyed.  It's almost like eating a cookie with the goodness of a fruit.

One nispero has just 20 calories, is high in vitamins and minerals and especially high in dietary fiber. While Clyde and I shared one today for lunch his comment as he was eating was "I can't believe this taste is coming from a fruit."

Our mango trees are in bloom with sprigs of lovely brownish-orange flowers that will turn into thousands of tasty treats in the next few months.  Cashew nuts have popped up on our cashew trees which will bear yellow and red cashew apples that dangle from each nut.  Although the cashew apples aren't too good for eating, the nuts can be roasted using extreme caution.  The cashew nuts are surrounded by toxins and must be handled with care.  Our chickens seem to enjoy eating the cashew fruits so at least they won't go to waste.

Recently Clyde pointed out a strange plant near the back of our house that seems to be bearing fruit.  The fruit appears to be noni fruit which according to it's proponents supposedly can cure cancer, diabetes, heart disease, cholesterol problems, high blood pressure, HIV, rheumatism, psoriasis, allergies, infection and inflammation.  Still others believe the fruit can relieve sinus infections, menstrual cramps, arthritis, ulcers, sprains, depression, senility, poor digestion, colds, flu, headaches and scratches to the eye. According the the website of the American Cancer Society, there is no reliable clinical evidence that indicates that noni can cure cancer or any other disease in humans.  But studies on animals have shown positive results and research is just beginning on humans.

Clyde is busily working outside these days building boxes which will eventually turn into kitchen cabinets.  After a short four months full of problems Panamanian style, his shipment of teak wood has come in for the kitchen project.  Eventually we'll be knocking out the old counter top and cabinets to make room for the new teak cabinets and granite counter tops.  We'll put in a dishwasher, new sink, faucet, stove hood and more to give us a brand new kitchen in this old Panamanian style house.

The unfinished cabinet boxes

The cabinet boxes painted
plus teak trim applied


A couple of the drawer fronts
clamped up


When he's not building something Clyde's been strumming on his twelve-string guitar.  He pulled it out of the closet, dusted it off and tuned it up in order to sing at a local restaurant on Thursday night.  The restaurant had offered a contest for all local guitar players.  Clyde said the challenge was just to get thru it without being booed off the stage.  After all this is the first time he had played in almost two years. 

He changed the words of a popular song to localize it, and many of the people in the crowd thought he wrote the song from scratch.  Perhaps this is the start of a new career, as Caribbean Clyde takes to the streets strumming away in a tropical serenade....along the gringo trail.

Shamelessly stole this picture from www.playacommunity.com


Friday, March 8, 2013

How To Create The Perfect Wife......

Since the beginning of time many a man has tried to create the perfect wife, but all have given up or died trying. Back in the seventeenth century, playwright Moliere perplexed by this exact concept wrote about his dilemma.  Considered to be one of his best achievements, "The School For Wives" was originally staged in 1662 at Palais Royal Theatre in Paris for the brother of the King.  It was considered edgy and controversial at the time yet has long outlived it's creator.

Last night we went out on the town and enjoyed some live entertainment in Panama City.  With our pensionado discount the price of $15 for each ticket turned into a two-for-one.  And since a friend of ours was one of the actors in the play it made it even more special to watch.  Below is my synopsis of the play.

Every man dreams of finding the perfect wife.  A woman who can cook, sew, clean and tend to his every need. She would be beautiful, a bit naive and have eyes only for her master, the king of her castle. But in the event that fate doesn’t send one his way perhaps a man could create his own?
This is the premise behind Moliere’s play,  “The School For Wives.”  Presented by The Theatre Guild Of Ancon this light-hearted comedy is a modern adaptation of the play originally staged in 1662. 

The main character Arnolphe is a wealthy, conniving old kook who’s convinced that the only way to find a faithful wife is to train one.  He finds a young lass named Agnes who he sends off to a convent to be schooled in the ways of wifery.  The education he pays for is absent from any real knowledge since he wants his wife to be innocent and lacking in the ways of the world.  As soon as Agnes is of marrying age he summons her to his castle where she’s held captive, unbeknownst to her. But one day Agnes happens to step outside on her balcony and has a chance encounter with a man passing by.  Since this ignorant, fair maiden has no idea that she’s betrothed to Arnolphe, she innocently falls in love with the other man.   

Outraged, Arnolphe tries everything to make the suitor disappear while he desperately tries to make Agnes his bride. The only thing the old kook doesn’t try is to woo her in the typical way, with romance, flowers and niceness. As he continues to organize the wedding an uncanny twist of events thwart his plans leading to an unlikely ending.  Perhaps the moral of the story is that good wives are born out of love and not created through trickery and deceit. 

Founded in 1950 by a group of Panamanian American citizens, The Theatre Guild of Ancon is the oldest continuously operating theatre in Panama.  Back on the old Canal Zone, this building housed a clinic to treat venereal disease.  If the walls could talk they’d probably have some good tales to tell. This non-profit organization offers a variety of stage productions in English every season.  Several actors started on this stage including Robert Loggia and Ruben Blades along with director Bruce Quinn.
We made it home late and exhausted because no trip to the city is complete without a stop at one of the many huge malls.  Some of our fabulous finds included a Marc Anthony suit jacket priced at $16.99 for Clyde.  He added a Beverly Hills Polo Club tie for $7.99 and a shirt for around the same price.  For me a denim skirt for $3.99, top for $1.99, two pairs of earrings for 99 cents each and some 79 cent clippies for my hair.  Gotta love clothes shopping in Panama since entire stores are full of cheap stuff, not just the occasional rack.  Still only one month out from my hysterectomy I get tired after walking for hours on days like yesterday. Some good strong Panama coffee helped us kick it up a notch and stay up past our bedtime to watch the play and drive home.  We fell into bed tired after another exhausting day of retirement in Panama....along the gringo trail.




Monday, March 4, 2013

This Old House....Gets A Facelift.....

It seems like just yesterday when we painted the inside walls of this old Panamanian style house that we bought.  We pulled down the drop ceiling tiles only to be showered with 30 years of gecko poop hidden above.  Clyde intentionally knocked a hole in the wall between the kitchen and living room to create a pass thru for light. We had to have glass windows made to cover the openings that were only screens and bars.  Clyde crafted four custom-made wooden doors to fit the huge four-foot wide openings into the house, since there were no doors just screens and steel security doors.

One of the four doors we made


When the rains stopped in December and we knew it was safe to paint outside, we pulled out our paint brushes once again. After picking out a bright green color for the main walls with peach and cream accent colors for the columns, we quickly went to work. Unlike most old surfaces which have many layers of old paint built up over the years, this old house had just one.  And since we used primer under several coats of semi-gloss paint, here's hoping that the current paint will last 30 years or more.

Our Freshly Painted House


One of the things I noticed about the house when we first saw it was the large, but terribly ugly kitchen.  The counter top is over fifteen feet long and sits above many cabinets.  In between the two large windows is a set of open cabinets on top.  Two huge floor to ceiling pantries stand tall in the corners of the room making it a snap to put away groceries.  The ugly kitchen was covered with dirty, cream colored laminate with an old white, stained porcelain sink  in the middle. To make it liveable I painted everything white except for the counter top which I scrubbed to remove the stains.  After all Clyde promised that someday he would give me a new kitchen by rebuilding the cabinets and replacing the sink and counter top. 



About five months ago Clyde did some research to locate teak wood here in Panama, for his kitchen project.  He found a saw mill that actually has kiln-dried wood for sale, and excitedly placed his order.  Although he's bought teak here before for smaller projects, the wood was always wet and would have to sit outside to dry for several months before it could be used. And the seller of the wood wouldn't plane the wood either and for cabinets Clyde wanted good stuff.

After the wood order was placed we quickly went out to buy a sink, dishwasher, granite for the counter top and all the extras that would make us a wonderful new kitchen soon,  But.....you knew there had to be a but....this is Panam√° and things never move quickly here which would be the case with the wood.  Apparently this saw mill was new and they hadn't yet hooked up the high-powered electricty to run the kiln.  Supposedly, it would be connected in a few weeks and they could dry the wood and have it delivered to us.  Weeks turned into months and here we are five months later and Clyde actually has the wood sitting outside ready to be turned into cabinets.  It's planed nicely and full of colorful grain which will make unique cabinets. Looking forward to the finished kitchen but not the mess along the way that comes with any remodel, being the neat freak that I am.

A Peek into the huge kiln

About Half of the Wood

Wood Loaded and ready to go!


A better picture of the beautiful grain in the Teak Wood


We still have several outside buildings that need to be painted and perhaps since they're lower to the ground I can work on those.  A guard shack, storage shed and outside bathroom are visable from our bedroom window at the back of the property and bother me more than Clyde.  Also the bars on the windows need to be painted white since they probably haven't been in many years. Since I still have two more weeks of recovery from my surgery before I can get back to my regular exercise routine, maybe now would be a good time to finish up the painting. 

The weather lately has been cloudy with heavy wind gusts due to a cold front in the Carribbean.  While entertaining on our bohio yesterday a gust of wind actually lifted up the plastic table we were sitting around nearly knocking over the glass pitcher full of sangria.  Fortunately not a drop of sangria was spilled and we quickly moved our get-together to another location.  The wind knocked out our power last night and the night before, causing Clyde to run out to get gas for our generator.  But as soon as he returned with the gas the power came back on and the food in our freezer was spared.

We spotted this little fellow on our walk
He was tri colored with some black
but it didn't show up on the picture


Everyday is an adventure here in Panam√° and nothing ever goes as expected.  So we've had to learn patience and adapt a new attitude toward life.  After all there's absolutely no reason to do it today since there's ALWAYS manana.....along the gringo trail.