Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Never Too Late In The Day To Learn Something New......

We took a road trip on Sunday as our little car chugged it's way up Campana Mountain to the chilly little town of Chica.  Nestled in the mountains Chica is full of local charm, tiny restaurants called "fondas," churches, homes and plenty of street dogs napping in the middle of the road. Since it rained on the drive up the town was blanketed in a mist of billowy clouds that made it impossible to see much of anything.  But since we were just going to hang out with fellow expats at our friend Phil's place called "La Joya de Chica," our car new the way all by itself.

With a group of ten others we enjoyed Sunday brunch, coffee, laughter, conversation and some music provided by Clyde too.  As always we welcome the opportunity to reconnect with old friends and make some new ones, which was the case on Sunday. 

On the way home it was already dinner time so we stopped outside of Capira at a favorite little restaurant called Delizz.  Usually we're waited on by the owner, an older, bubbly Panamanian women who recognizes us and loves to chat.  But this time the owner was with another table talking as if they were old friends.  A young girl came over to take our order and I was surprised when she flipped through her little receipt pad almost as if she was asking us to pay our bill.  She was looking for her note as to what was on the menu of the day and proceeded to tell us:  sancocho, a local version of chicken soup; pollo or beef.  Usually this place offers a nice, full menu so this menu of the day thing caught us of off guard but we played along and ordered the pollo, but only one since we usually share a plate.  In the meantime Clyde noticed the owner holding menu's so he called her over to get one.  We promptly looked through it for our favorite dish called "tierra y mar,"  which means land and sea, a chicken and shrimp dish covered with white sauce.  I explained to the girl in Spanish several times that we only wanted the "tierra y mar," and not the other chicken dish.  We added an appetizer of cerviche camirones, or shrimp cooked in lime juice with onions and seasonings. 

The girl quickly brought us the appetizer and a while later brought a chicken dish with potato salad, plantain and rice which was apparently the dish of the day that we thought we had cancelled.  I felt so bad but tried again to explain that we didn't want that, just the other dish we ordered off the menu.  She looked confused but walked off with it making me wonder if we were in trouble with the owner or chief since they just wasted this plate of food. 

Eventually she returned with the correct order along with an extra plate for us to share the dish on.  A chicken breast pounded flat, topped with shrimp before folded over and drenched in a tasty white sauce.  Along side were some potatoes cooked in wine that were cut into chunks and a salad.  When the girl brought the correct meal I apologized to her explaining in Spanish that we were still learning the language and didn't speak it perfectly.  She smiled and seemed to understand as she walked away again.

As we were eating I read the words in Spanish on a black board behind the counter.  On the board was the word "batidos" which is simply a milk shake made with fresh fruit, along with a list of flavors to choose from.  Under that was the word "helado," which is ice cream and under that the word "palomita," which I'd never seen before. The owner came over to say hi and explain that the younger girl was having problems communicating with us and again I apologized for us not being able to make things clearer to her.  I asked the owner, "que es palomita?"  "Es dulce?" Which means what is "palomita" was and was it something sweet like a dessert.  She said "no, it's popcorn," and went onto explain that here in Panama the correct term is "palomita de maiz," which is corn. After our impromptu Spanish lesson and a bit of small talk we asked what type of "helado" she had and proceeded to order "galleta" or cookies and cream for me and "fresa," or strawberry for Clyde.  Both were served in a dessert glass and topped with whipped cream at a cost of just 75 cents each. 

Before leaving I made sure to make eye contact with the young waitress once again thanking her profusely for her patience and understanding of our less than perfect Spanish as I handed her a tip.  Hopefully next time she comes face to face with foreigners she'll be a bit more understanding of the language barrier and how difficult it can be for us to get our point across at times.

Occasionally when I exercise I use a heart rate monitor but mine wasn't working any more as it needed a new battery.  Off we went to the second floor of a mall in Coronado to a jewelry store to see if they could replace the battery.  The tiny shop is owned by "Chinos" better known as Chinese people and seemed to be a family run store.  A young girl took the watch and efficiently replaced the battery charging us a mere $6.50.  While standing there browsing in the strange little store a young boy came in wearing a uniform from a local public school  A crisp white dress shirt over navy blue pants with a back pack hung around his shoulders.  We watched in amazement as the young lad purchased a body piercing from the girl behind the counter. If this transaction was going on in the US it wouldn't have surprised us, but a poor, young boy buying such a thing here in Panama?  It made me wonder just what he had pierced on his young, thin body or perhaps he was buying a gift for his girlfriend? Body piercings are rare here and not something that we see much of if any at all.

And if you remember a few blogs ago when I told he story of a young man sitting down with us while we ate pizza at Domino's one day?  Well, after relaying the story to our Panamanian Spanish teacher she said that several other expats who are also her students have had the same exact experience in the same food court.  And then one day while Jasmine was giving a lesson in the food court the young man came to join them at the table.  Jasmine asked her student the question in Spanish and the young man answered, as if she was talking to him.  She said they proceeded to just ignore him since they realized that he was perhaps mentally challenged and meant no harm, although a bit of an annoyance. 

And in writing that last paragraph I realized that I haven't studied Spanish this week and since we have a lesson in the morning I'd better get busy. Just an additional FYI for anyone wondering how our dog Venus is doing after her attack, she's doing just fine.  Our little cone head seems to be feeling better as she's trying desperately to lick at her sutures but the cone on her head prevents such an action. She whacks at the cone with her paws trying to make it go away or maybe trying to scratch her head or ears.  Also she rubs the cone along the ground grasping it with her paws trying to get it off.  I relate the cone on the dogs head to a man having his hands restricted by hand cuffs preventing him from touching his male parts. Clyde grimaced at the thought of such a horrible behavior to be bestowed upon a man but just goes to show you how my mind can wander with so much idle time....along the gringo trail.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Not So Good News......

Clyde and I were so happy after adopting two new-to-us Dobermans that used to be street dogs last Sunday.  Venus our current Doberman wasn't too happy about her new siblings at first, but after a few days seemed to be enjoying their company. We'd take the three dogs on walks together and the new dogs walked almost perfectly on leashes after just one try. During the first day the two females exchanged a few growls since both seemed to be jockeying for dominance.  The male seemed oblivious to the whole thing and just went on happy-go-lucky like the youngster he seemed to be.

After yesterday's deluge of rain stopped I went outside and worked with them for a while teaching them to sit and stay. The female seemed to pick it up quickly but the male was a bit more of a challenge. We missed our morning walk with them due to the rain so later in the day before dinner I suggested we go.  Clyde agreed and we walked our pack for about 45-minutes just like we did the previous days.  The new dogs had never been leashed trained yet grasped the concept after only the first day, and walked almost perfect.  The female walked alongside of us and the male followed just a step or two behind, with Venus maintaining her nose ahead position as usual. After the walk we feed the three dogs at the same time, each with it's own bowl as we observed them carefully.

Clyde grilled some chicken for us and we marveled at how the two females were frolicking in the grass playfully and chasing each other like best buds after just three days together. But this time the male seemed to cop a jealous attitude and within seconds jumped on Venus in a brutal attack mode.  Clyde ran over to break up the fight and pulled him off of her and Venus quickly took off to hide. As soon as he was free the male immediately ran after Venus as if he was going to finish her off.  Clyde again jumped in and pulled him off of her forcing him to the ground until he surrendered. The muscular young 45 pounder fought back, nipped Clyde and attempted to maintain the upper hand.  Clyde put him on a leash and secured him away from the house on the bohio, a safe distance from Venus.  Clyde checked on Venus who was obviously quite shaken up but seemed ok so he came into the house to clean his own wound.  A few minutes later Clyde went to check on Venus again and noticed an open wound.  After further examination he noticed even more open wounds that were deep and went straight down to her muscle. He looked for something to wrap the wound with after applying antibiotic cream but the bandage didn't stay on and fell to the ground. Clyde then noticed several other deep open wounds and thought she needed to be seen by a vet ASAP.  We called a friend who told us which local vet has emergency services and after a quick call we were in his office.

Although the vet spoke no English after examining her he said, "oh my God," as he looked at the deep wounds that barely missed nearby veins.  The vet explained that he'd have to put her to sleep in order to sew her up and then we'd have to leave her overnight for observation.  Quickly she was out like a light and we were asked to leave the room.  About an hour later she was done and pumped full of pain killers and antibiotics. We said night-night to her and came home only to find the male dog roaming freely, somehow he'd broken free from his restraints. As soon as Clyde opened the front gate to our property he darted out, apparently afraid of Clyde after their brawl.  A few minutes later he returned and we closed the gate for the evening.

I sent an email to the woman who we'd adopted the dogs from and she called and offered to take them back.  Heartbroken and in tears we drove them back into Panama City today to be placed up for adoption again. We'd already become attached to our new friends and really, really wanted it to work out. But Clyde was afraid that we'd never be able to trust the male dog again, especially with Venus recovering from surgery in a vulnerable position.

You can see the saved area on her upper
right leg where most of the damage was done

Glad to be home "alone"

We picked Venus up from the vet around 1pm today just like the vet suggested. He wanted to keep her all morning to give her some more antibiotics before releasing her to us.  She needs to wear a cone around her neck for eight days so that she doesn't lick her stitches and needs to be rechecked in ten days.  Fortunately we were nearby when the fight broke out otherwise we fear the worst may have happened to Venus. So for now we'll let her heal up, rest up and sometime in the future we'll decide what to do about bringing home another dog....along the gringo trail.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Another Dog-Gone Birthday....

Another dog-gone birthday came and went yesterday, but this one went to the dogs. We made yet another trek into Panama City to pick up not one, but two additional Dobermans to add to our current pack of one. Since our current Dobie Venus is over nine years old we thought it would be a good idea to get another one now and have her train the newbie. But as luck would have it the Panama Animal League (PAL) found a mother and son combo in the city who were just waiting for a good home. Last week we went to meet the dogs and since the female was so attached to the male, PAL thought it would be best if the dogs were adopted together.

The two newbies getting some much needed water
after their walk

A larger picture of Kiko
yes, she has had a few litters

Street dogs are everywhere in Panama and organizations like PAL and Spay Panama are trying to make a difference.  They pick up strays and by working together with local vets they have them spayed or neutered and try to find homes for them. Before dogs are given up for adoption they receive a thorough medical evaluation which includes a variety of tests and lab work.  Our dogs were seen by a doctor in Panama City and today were taken to a local vet for further evaluation and inoculations.

It was a little after two in the afternoon when arrived back in Chame with the dogs.  Like good pack leaders we studied up on how to introduce them to Venus, prior to picking them up. What began as a gorgeous sunny day turned into heavy rains as we drove home with the dogs.  Fortunately, the rain hadn't come to Chame yet and we were able to proceed as planned.  We parked our car a half mile or so from our property where Clyde got out with the two new dogs. I drove to the house and picked up Venus on a leash to take her to go meet her new siblings. First I walked with Venus far from Clyde and the other two dogs.  Eventually, we let her meet the new dogs allowing her to stiff them from behind, then when things looked like they were going well we reversed that.  Finally a face to face meeting where all three dogs were allowed to sniff, lick, touch and rub up against each other for the first time.  Since the rain was coming our way we headed back to the house with our new pack.  We opened the gate to the property where I went in first then let Venus in, after which she was allowed to invite the new dogs in.  Ok so that theory looked good on paper but Venus really wasn't too keen on inviting two other dogs into her property.  However, we did as we were told and walked her in first.  Then we kept the new dogs on leashes as we walked them around the whole property showing them where they'd eat, sleep and play. We sat down with the three and watched to see how they'd interact with each other and when it seemed safe, we let them run free.

Venus in the front

Once unleashed the first thing the male dog did was to pee on one of the brand new dog beds that had Venus' scent on it. As time went on there were a few growls exchanged between Venus and the new female who we named Kiko. The younger male that we call Bosco seems happy go lucky and just wanted to roam around and play. Venus followed them around at first like a babysitter watching her young, but eventually they tired her out and she had to lie down.

Since all seemed to be going well and it was my birthday we decided to go out for dinner.  When we returned home about 90-minutes later Venus greeted us at the gate as usual, and we wondered where Bosco and Kiko were?  It seems that Venus had claimed the front porch for herself while the other two were camping out on the side porch.  Whenever someone would go by on the road the new dogs would run to the front of their corner and bark, but seemed to realize they were not wanted in the bitch's territory. Later that night Bosco and Kiko laid down along the side porch while Venus slept in not one, not two, but all three of the new dogs beds before the night was over. And Venus also seems to think she's now going to eat three bowls of food at a time instead of just one! Since the newbies were street dogs they've never been trained to sit, stay or walk on a leash let alone being house broken.  So we've got some training to do to teach the new dogs some basic behaviors and help the three dogs become one happy pack. 

Better look at the two new dobies
Bosco is the male and brown
Kiko is the female and black

Today a trip to the vet was in order for the new dogs to have initial vaccinations which they'd probably never had.  The vet checked them out for all sorts of things and even put them on antibiotics for tick fever which they may or may not have, coming off the streets. PAL picked up the total cost of the office visit. 

The vet also gave us the go ahead to give them a much needed bath since they really reeked. One bath wasn't enough and we could still smell them when they were outside and we were inside.  The sun came out and we decided to take the pack for a walk which went rather well.  Clyde walked with the two newbies at first and I walked Venus. On the way home we changed things up so that we each had a chance to walk all of the dogs.  Back at the casa it was time for bath number two for both of the new dogs, and hopefully this will do the trick.  We tried hard to scrub the street smells off them and even rinsed them with a diluted mix of a small amount of baking soda and water.

Bosco putting up with his first dog wash

Bosco and Kiko are drying out on the bohio or gazebo for a bit and Venus even went to lay down near them.  So perhaps the three will join forces and become one happy pack, with Clyde and I as pack leaders....along the gringo trail.

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Strange Encounter In Panama.......

On Thursday night after Clyde had a frustrating day of installing double sinks in the master bathroom I suggested we go out for a pizza.  Since he loves the thick crust, loaded pizza at Domino's he was all for the idea and before long we were out of the house.  Domino's is located above a strip-center mall in a food court that only has one other restaurant besides Domino's.  It could be a nice food court if it gets more eateries since it's open air and offers a nice view of the mountains.  A large children's play area sits in the center with maybe 40 or 50 tables on the perimeter.

We order our usual fare which is a medium, deluxe, loaded pizza and two drinks, a #4 combo for $10.99 or $8.25 after our pensionado discount.  After paying we take a seat at one of the first tables both sitting on the same side to enjoy watching the sun set over the mountains.  A few minutes later a young man maybe 20-years old walks into the food court carrying a 2-liter bottle filled with water.  He approaches our table and pulls out a chair as he says, "permiso," asking permission to have the chair to which we say,"si." I assumed that he wanted the chair to take to another table, perhaps because that table needed one extra chair?  But instead he pulled out the chair at our table and sat down across from us.  Now you have to understand that this food court is almost always empty and out of the 40-50 tables, only about five or six were being used.  So since there was no shortage of chairs or tables in this place we were both dumbfounded as to why this young man was sitting with us.

The young man started telling us he's from Chiriquí, one of the provinces of Panama.  He rambled on in Spanish and to try to discourage him from hanging around Clyde told him our Spanish was not too good, hoping he'd shut up and go away.  Then he asked if we were from the United States to which we answered yes, and he mentioned that he didn't speak any English.

A while later Clyde's name was called by the clerk at Domino's and he walked over to pick up our order.  He brought it back to our table and sat back down next to me.  As he opened the box to get out a slice for the two of us the young man looked over at the pizza and said, "oh wow." 

We began eating our pizza feeling a bit weird about this young man sitting there watching us. Then he pulled out his wallet and took out a $1.00 US bill. He held it between two fingers waving it in the air at me almost like he was flaunting it like a little kid would.  Then he said something in Spanish to the effect of "hey lady from the United States look at this."  Now we're wondering does he want to buy a slice of pizza from us?  Does he want free food? Does he want us to give him money thinking we're rich Americans? Panama has no paper money of its own and US currency is all they have here.  Coins are called balboas and are interchangeable with US coins too, so money here is the same as in the states.

As we continue eating the kid pulls out a small piece of white paper that resembles a receipt.  He looks at it, hold it up to the light, studies it constantly while his wallet lie open on the table top across from us. I noticed some large numbers on it and wondered if it might be a lottery ticket instead of a receipt since Panamanians play the lottery on a regular basis.  He didn't stare at us while we ate but once in a while I noticed him looking in our direction.

I considered taking the pizza home to eat or moving to another table.  Yet there was that part of me that refused to be pushed away from the table we were at first by this kid.  And I didn't want to look like naïve Americans afraid of an innocent Panamanian man.  After all we didn't feel endangered in any way just a bit weirded out by this stranger who chose to sit with us while we ate.

We took our leftover pizza and went downstairs to put it in the car before going in the dollar store to browse.  Clyde needed a bathroom so we walked back upstairs to the food court where the "bano's" were located.  The kid was still sitting there at the same table we just left, still alone with his large bottle of water.  He was clean looking, well dressed in a nice pair of jeans with a nice, casual shirt so he certainly didn't appear to be homeless.  We'll never know who he was or why he joined our table that night, but instead we'll just remember it as another strange encounter here in Panama......along the gringo trail.

Another Day In The Big City......

It's been a busy week of running back and forth to Panama City on official business, some of which has gone to the dogs.  Since we bought our car in September it was time to get the car inspected again, renew our registration, car insurance and pick up new license plates. So to get the "revisado" or inspection out of the way on Monday afternoon Clyde ran over to Coronado to have it done.  The man looked at Clyde's paperwork and told him in Spanish that because the insurance would expire the next day, the inspection could not be done. We have an insurance broker in Panama City that automatically renews our policy so maybe her office dropped the ball?  Clyde made a quick call to Priscilla who was in Europe on vacation.  She blamed it on the insurance company for not sending the renewal to her office.  But she did call her office and told Clyde they'd email him the document when it was ready.

We took off for the 90-minute drive to Panama City and stopped at an internet café to check Clyde's email for the insurance document.  It cost us 45 cents for 15 minutes of internet time plus a little extra to have them print the documents, but one problem was solved.  Next Clyde drove around until he saw a car place that could do the car inspection.  They said yes they could do it and soon a man came out, walked around the car and told us we needed two new tires. We realized that it wasn't a good idea to stop into a tire shop for an inspection since of course they'd want to sell tires.  Clyde thanked the man and we left to look for another place.  The car is a 2010 and in the two years we've lived here we've already bought new tires once.  Rubber just doesn't seem to last with the heat and humidity here, or perhaps it's the roads?  We went back to the repair shop where we had the car inspected last year and we were in and out in about ten minutes with a passing grade.

Our next stop was to look at two Dobermans that are up for adoption through Panama Animal League (PAL).  They were rescued off the street recently and spayed and neutered and are waiting in a foster home to be adopted. We had been looking for one additional Dobie to keep Venus company, but instead she'll be getting two new playmates.  The female is a little over two years old, rather passive and shy. She looks just like Venus our current female with the black and tan coloring, floppy ears and cropped tail.  The male is about a year old, hyper, full of energy and attitude. He's a red dobie which means he's a chocolate color with tan patches.  The female is quite attached to the male and it's believed that they might be a mother and son, so that's why we're taking them both.

Keiko on the left Bosco on the right
Can you tell he is a feisty teenager?

We sat down and had a chat with Venus, our dominant resident female who lifts her leg to pee.  She's been informed that she'll need to share her property, trees, mangoes, coconuts and humans with her new siblings. Although Venus has never been aggressive towards any visiting dogs she has ousted a Rottweiler once who ended up waiting for his human outside our gate. It was Christmas Eve and we had some friends over.  One women brought her dog who stayed outside to play with Venus.  Someone forgot to close our front gate and by the end of the night the Rottie was sitting outside the gate, apparently since he knew he was not welcomed on the property. So we'll be careful to introduce Venus to her new friends outside of our property and let them bond before we bring them home.

A stop at Price Smart to stock up on a few things including a 15-pound box of dog treats, before heading home.  Since we had bought some perishables we stopped to buy a bag of ice at a small Chino store.  Clyde came back and handed me a Styrofoam cup with two balls stacked on top of each other inside, and a tooth pick sticking out the top. I smelled them and still had no clue what they were so I asked him and he said "comida china," or Chinese food.  Turns out it was two wonton wrappers with a piece of sausage inside drizzled with soy sauce, at a cost of about 50 cents. Another time on a road trip we stopped at a bakery and picked up some hot, fresh baked rolls to nibble on for the low price of 40 cents total.  Gotta love this stuff about Panama!

Since we ran out of time in the city on Tuesday we made another trip back yesterday for more official business. First stop was the Department of Immigration, our fifth attempt in the process of applying for a Panamanian ID Card called a "cedula."  The benefit of having this ID card along with our pensionado visa is that when our passport needs to be renewed and the number changes, there's no need to worry.  The cedula has a number similar to a social security card that will be ours, and ours alone forever, or at least that's what we've been told. We took a number and waited over an hour for our turn to see the lady at window #21 who took care of us quickly. After that a visit to the Tribunal Electoral for the final step in the process. We checked the paperwork in one office where the mean girl at the front desk seemed perturbed that we didn't understand her fast talking, mumbled Spanish.  At one point she said "sit down" in a deep, gruff voice while she was finishing up our paperwork.  I smiled at her and apologized in Spanish while explaining that we are trying hard to learn Spanish, but not fluent yet. One of the questions on the paperwork was "are you married?"  The answer was "yes, but not in Panama since we were married in the US."  Apparently our marriage is not recognized here since our cedula will indicate that we're single.  Should be interesting when I'm out alone and present my card to men, don't you think?

Once the mean lady was done with us we had to go downstairs to pay our $65 to the cashier.  Then a foto and fingerprints taken in another office and we were told to come back next week to pick up our cards.  On our walk back to our car we stopped at a roadside stand for a "batido," or milk shake.  We watched as the woman made it with fresh pineapple, milk, ice and a little sugar mixed in a blender for $1.75. Yummy goodness found everywhere here, at low prices!

One last stop at Westland Mall for some dog bowls along with a large bucket to provide three large dogs plenty of water. Also picked up some big-ass plastic containers to hold the 15 pounds of dog biscuits that were such a good deal.  Then we picked up some upholstery fabric for $2.99 a yard so my seamster Clyde can make three matching dog beds that he'll fill with cedar chips. Stopped for dinner in the food court which for Clyde was sushi accompanied with something that looked like a corn dog.  Instead of a hot dog inside the corn meal it was plantain deep fried and put on a stick.  I opted for Subway and reminisced about how scary it was the first time I ordered one here.  After all I had to select a bread type, and specify what kind of veggies, condiments, chips and drink I wanted all in Spanish.  But now it's easy breezy and I understood it all.

We made it home by 8pm exhausted from a long day of driving and running around.  Naming the new dogs was driving us crazy so we relaxed in front of the computer browsing through a list of 5000 dog names.  After we'd had enough we decided on Bosco for the male since he's goofy, excited and puppy-like. The slightly shy more passive female will be called Keiko (prounced Kiko) another short, easy name to say when calling for a dog.

Most expats living here that chose to apply for this cedula hired a lawyer at a cost of around $1000.  One couple told us they did it on their own so we thought we'd try it too.  Our Spanish teacher Jasmine was so proud when we told her about this.  Her comment was, "do you realize how much you're improving your Spanish by doing that?"  "You're forcing yourself to go out and speak it, plus saving a bunch of money." The language has been bar far the biggest challenge about living here! So we'll just continue learning, practicing and looking up words in the dictionary everywhere we go....along the gringo trail.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Two Years Ago ......

Two years ago this past Tuesday we hopped off the plane in Tocumen Airport in Panama City, with six large suitcases eager to start our new life in Panama.  Although everything had fallen into place up until that day, almost like the whole move was meant to be, the day went downhill from there.  First we got lost in the city traffic trying to find Multi Plaza mall where we had to meet up with  Betsy, the Panamanian woman we'd be renting from.  With no way to contact her since our cell phones didn't work here, we arrived two hours late hoping she waited for us which she did. She became our first Panamanian friend who took us under her wing and showed us the ropes, so to speak.  She showed us where to shop for things, helped get our electric, cable, internet, and everything else connected.  Later that night during our hotel stay Clyde's passport turned up missing we think it was swiped by the hotel's front desk clerk.  She denied having kept it and we ended up having to file a report with the police and have him apply for a new one which took two weeks.  Fortunately we did have copies of our passports with us since that was our only form of identification here.

A VERY valuable item when
one is in a foreign country!

Our first year here flew by as we learned how to cope in this foreign world.  Like newborn babies we had to learn everything all over again.  Where to go to buy anything, how to get a drivers license, how to get internet, cable, electric, water and just about everything else.  Confusing as it all was everyone spoke a different language that we didn't quite understand, making it even more of a challenge.

Where the heck is everything?

For example one might see a place called "IDAAN" on the side of the road which stands for "Instituto de Acueductos y Alcantarillados Nacionales," AKA.....the water department. "Union Fenosa," the electric department and so on....  What do they sell in Titan, El Machetazo, or El Fuerte? Walk into a ferreteria or hardware store where you're greeted by a clerk standing behind a counter.  Where are the nails, hammers etc?  Everything is behind the counter and you have to ask for what you want, in Spanish of course.  Despite all of the publications out there that tell people no need to learn Spanish to live here, apparently NO ONE'S told the Panamanians that they need to learn English because we've moved here. Imagine that!

And we've come to accept the fact that some day's IDAAN turns off the water for reasons unbeknownst to us, or probably anyone else too.  Fortunately we have two water tanks and a pump for just such an occasion. There seems to be no announcement prior to water shut offs, it just happens.  But sometimes we notice a large tanker truck giving out water in the neighborhood and realize it's the water department.   The electric is another thing that's not always reliable, although most of the breaks in power last just seconds.  And our trash was finally picked up last night after sitting in the outside bin for exactly one month.  Why? Again, no one knows.  They're excuse is usually the truck is broken so they just stop picking up trash.

Our Water Department

We come to realize that a door-to-door mail system is NOT a necessity, since Panama doesn't have one and survives nicely without it. Bills are either paid online or someone comes around and sticks a paper copy of the bill in the front fence that surrounds your home. Then we take the bill to the local grocery store to pay it at a special pay station.  No mail means no junk mail, credit card offers, solicitors ads, or Publishers Clearing House paperwork promising us millions. There are mailbox stores here where one can pay a monthly fee for a mailbox if they'd like.  But since we don't need it should we need to send or receive something we pay a one-time fee instead.  Since shipping to and from Panama is pricey we try to avoid it, unless it's something we really, truly, can't get here and can't live without.

Nope, no more internet shopping for us!

So this past year Clyde remodeled our kitchen with 19-feet of teak cabinets that he built himself.  Along with that an additional 3-foot floor to ceiling pantry out of teak and rack for stemware.  He installed new appliances and granite counter tops, painted the wall and even made new valances for the windows in the kitchen too.

Both of us have had a foreign hospital experience involving surgery this past year.  Mine was a total abdominal hysterectomy here in Panama a rather good experience.  Clyde's was surgery to fix a broken toe in Cartagena, Colombia while on a cruise. Health care here is good, cheap, and most but not ALL of the doctor's speak English. 

Clyde in the Ship Hospital with his broken toe

We started our attempt at learning Spanish about a year before we moved here with Rosetta Stone.  Still today, and probably forever we'll be taking Spanish lessons to continually improve our language skills. Recently, I asked Jasmine our Spanish teacher if her students ever come to her and say, "my Spanish is good now and I no longer need your services." She looked at me like I was nuts and said, "no," so I guess we'll be together for as long as we live here.  Talk about job security eh? 

Not quite as easy as it sounds

Someone once told us that the first year living abroad everyone lives as tourists, exploring and being in awe at their new surroundings. By the second year it becomes a little more normal, and we settle into every day life.  It's no longer scary to see dark skinned people hanging out in front of a little, Chino store or alongside the road.  They're either just visiting friends or waiting for a bus.  Kind of like in the olden days when people sat outside on their front steps, or a stoop as we called it in New Jersey. As our surroundings become more familiar and less peculiar we learn to love our new lives, the laid back lifestyle, the culture and the mere fact that we no longer have to go to work.....along the gringo trail.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Open Mouth.....Insert Money.....

Getting "gringoed" is a term we apply to Panamanians charging foreigners one price for something, and charging locals a lower price.  They assume we all have lots of money, and to them we do, since the locals typically make around $400 a month.  A good example happened to us just the other day when we went to have our teeth cleaned at a new clinic in nearby Coronado

Here's how you brush your teeth!

The Arrocha Dental Clinic named after the large pharmacy chain here opened a new office in the shopping center that houses Novey, a large American type of hardware, house wares store.  For a few months now a large sign sat in the front of the parking lot to the mall announcing the new dental clinic's prices.  Cleanings, fillings, and extractions for only $15.00 so we  thought we'd give it a try.  Typically in the past two years we've paid around $25.00 for cleanings here and the idea of saving some money even made Clyde want to get his teeth cleaned.

We stopped by to inquire about appointments and were told to come back the next morning anytime, since no appointments were necessary for cleanings.  The brand new office was painted bright white with graphics of large, red flowers painted on one wall.  A matching large flower sat in a vase on the floor, tying together the decorators theme of the room.  Twelve black chairs provided a place for potential patients to park their butts while waiting to see the dentist.  A sweet, young lady sat behind a desk decorated with a fake bamboo front.  She called the dentist on her cell phone and explained that he was next door browsing around the new, pricey specialty store that had just opened.  A few minutes later in walked an older, well dressed gentleman who we assumed was the dentist. 

Frenos = Braces
Calzas Blanca = Teeth Whitening
Limpieza = Cleaning
Extracciones = estractions

Clyde decided to go first and I could hear some of their conversation in Spanish from behind the partitioned wall.  The dentist turned on easy listening music in English which made it hard for me to hear what was being said after the cleaning started.  After about 20-minutes Clyde reappeared wide eyed with a strange look on his face, sort of like a little boy who had done something wrong.  It was my turn next and I quickly walked into the next room and took my place in the powder blue dental chair.  The room was large, painted white with a second blue chair to my left. The dentist wore a white lab coat,  gloves and a white mask which made it even harder to understand his Spanish. First he pulled out a fake set of teeth and brush and proceeded to instruct me how to brush in Spanish, to which I just nodded.  He carefully put a folded paper towel under my chin, covered it with a heavy bib and topped it off with yet another paper towel.  Apparently he knew he'd be giving me a shower along with cleaning my teeth using the ultra sonic water thingy. The water ran down my face, arms,  into my collar and continued running down my blouse drenching me the whole time.  It reminded me of my days as a hairdresser when I'd soak clients accidentally while washing their hair, so I understood and wasn't upset about getting wet.

The dentist spoke no English and we were interrupted a few times when his wife came into the room asking him if he wanted "carne," beef....or "pollo" chicken for lunch, which seemed rather unprofessional.  He tried to explain something about an old filling that needed to be replaced, although I had no plans of returning since he seemed rather rough just doing a cleaning. When I was done I rejoined Clyde in the waiting room.  As we were paying our $30 Clyde said to me in English, "he told me I have 8-10 cavities and need crowns."  He went onto say that the dentist also told him to find a new toothpaste since the one he's using isn't working. The dentist instructed him to drive into Panama City and explained where he'd have to go for a special toothpaste, perhaps at the dentists office there?  Really now?  Do we look that stupid?

SEE!  My smile is perfect!
(No these are REALLY not my teeth!)

After all we've lived here now for two years and have gone for dental cleanings every six months, just like we're supposed to. We've had a few cavities filled whenever necessary, so how could Clyde possibly have ten teeth that need fillings now?  As for toothpaste, ALL of the toothpaste sold here in ALL of the stores is Colgate.  There is NO other choice,  although there are different varieties and flavors, but still all of it is made by Colgate.  And I suspect should we be stupid enough to drive 90-minutes each way into Panama City we'd probably just find yet another variety of Colgate toothpaste.
So even here in Panama some of the dentists try to make more money by scaring patients into believing that they need more work done in their mouth than they really do.

Gringo beware that if it seems to good to be true, then just maybe it isn't.  And within the expat community people talk and share stories, so he probably won't be around for long.  As for that new specialty store mentioned above, it's a smaller version of the Riba Smith grocery chain in Panama City. The chain is known for having some of the American imports that we miss or crave, although they do come at a cost. We strolled into the new store in Coronado, excited that just maybe it would save us a trip to the city for those hard to find items. Last time we made the drive into the city to visit RS it was for Tahini, since we wanted to try making hummus.  As we entered to Coronado store I noticed a nice package of strawberries and picked them up to check out the price, but when I saw $10.00 on the ticket I quickly put them down.  It was a familiar US brand name although I couldn't tell you what it said right now.  And the berries looked plump and red, unlike some of the other imported strawberries sold here, but still wasn't worth the price to us. But we have to remember that strawberries aren't native to Panama which explains the price.  The rest of the store was filled with high priced other stuff, and nothing jumped out at me as something I'd longed for, so we left empty handed.

But as long as more gringo's move to Panama prices will keep rising since the locals seem to know, or at least think they know what we're looking for. Eventually Panama will become like Costa Rica, a place that used to be cheap enough to retire to until too many moved in and prices went up. So in the meantime we'll avoid buying Sara Lee Cakes, Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream and other pricey imports and stick to the local brands that we'd never heard of before packing up and heading out.....along the gringo trail.

Life In Portugal....At A Snails Pace....

Yesterday was just another day in Portugal when my dear husband Clyde said he was going to run to the pharmacy for a few things. Time passed...