Posted by: Panamá Jeff | July 21, 2009

Anniversary Realization

I am coming up on 1 year living abroad, I can assure you it doesn’t seem anywhere near that long.  I know some of you may think it has been all fun and games for me and for the most part that is true, but it has been a lot of hard work. I don’t live in a world where I can go buy several large items in a month, I have to work at it and save and plan months in ahead to buy something I need or want. I only get paid once a month so that doesn’t help my cause either.  I have also resumed my Spanish classes, every Monday and Wednesday after work for 2 hours. Of course my professor thinks I am learning at a rapid rate but there are days and weeks that go by that I feel I have learned absolutely nothing new! It just takes a large amount of time, energy, experience and of course, patience.

I have learned that I absolutely hate talking on the phone to Panamanians. Mainly because it is much more difficult to understand, you can’t see any facial expressions or hand gestures, and if there is any noise on either end of the phone and you miss 1 syllable of 1 word, you’re screwed! Also Panamanians have this way of blurting out “huh!?” or “eh?” when they don’t understand what was said. It is very abrasive and short, add to the fact that you are struggling to express yourself to begin with and it’s a recipe to piss me off! They don’t find this rude or offensive, as with so many other things, and I try not to but at times I cannot help myself. There aren’t many things in life that easily frustrate me but one of them is being asked to repeat myself or what I said before I even finish or begin a thought, or someone saying  “eh!?” mid conversation.

On a different note, I KNOW I am getting damn good at driving down here. It’s basically a game of chicken and aggression. Who is willing to allow the other person get the closest without running into each other. It definitely helps to have some courage in your pocket because me personally, I don’t give a shit if I get hit, as long as I’m not going over 40 or 50mph. I would rather not have to deal with it, and I truly hope I do not get into an accident, but they don’t know that! I have always been a daring driver and have had my share of accidents, so if another car gets within a few inches of mine, it doesn’t bother me in the least.  I was about to write that I have not had any more incidents with the police but then I realized that would be a complete lie, in fact, that last  incident (actually 2) are worth sharing… Easter Sunday, go figure…I pick up 2 of my Canadian friends to go eat dinner  with another friend and her family, they live in a small fishing village town (Veracruz) just outside the city, just across the bridge of the canal. Upon entering into this town there is a check point setup and I say to my friends “Here we go again” to which they both reply “Oh no worries, we have our passports this time because we knew we were riding with you”.  Apparently those Canadians are some fast learners because they had been with me a time or two before when we got stopped, and learned from it! The first officer asked a lot of questions and was looking over the passports, mine was actually a copy and he tried to tell me that it wouldn’t suffice, but then another officer with some common sense looked at it and said it was fine and waived us through. No big deal right?  After a nice dinner and a few strong rum drinks we head out to make our way back into the city, taking bets on what would happen when we tried to leave but when we came upon the area where we were initially stopped, nobody was there. I thought we had escaped until we arrived to the highway, there was another officer waiting. He gave me a preliminary breathalyzer which registered positive and asked me to pull over, so I did. I stepped out of the car and began talking to him, I wasn’t drunk nor did I have anything to hide. He gave me the official breathalyzer, and it was the real thing, believe it or not I have seen and used one a few times in the past. After blowing into the machine, we waited for the beep and the numbers to pop up on the screen, boom!  19! I am not quite sure how or what it measures but I got a 19! I wasn’t sure if I should be ashamed of myself or proud. He told me it was against the law for me to drink anything alcoholic and drive which is a joke in itself in this country considering how much Panamanians love to drink (and drive). He attempted to talk to my Canadian friends but since they do not speak Spanish that lasted about 13 seconds, or less!  We continued chatting, he asked a bunch of questions and I was honest and upfront with the guy. He began to realize that I live and work in Panama and probably that if I went into court with a score of 19 on the good ole breathalyzer that we both would be the joke of the week, after about 15 minutes we were sent on our way, no tickets. Amazing huh?

My Wakeup Call: I typically read the front page of a few different newspapers in the morning while waiting for my coffee, the newspapers down here aren’t much different than say, The National Inquirer. They usually have no hesitation to put a girl in a bikini, bent over on the front page, a tragic car accident with somebody’s leg hanging out from underneath the mangled car or even a murder victim sportin’ multiple bullet holes in their chest. In fact a good friend of mine published some false information for April fool’s day about Walt Disney coming to Panama, this has been rumor for a few years and probably was a valid one at some point in time. He referenced a few proper government institutions and threw in some believable facts but also some far-fetched ideas, not to mention a few offensive claims, such as turning a small beach town into a parking lot. Well one of the papers here printed it word for word, full page ad, in color! Apparently they didn’t bother to check their “sources”.  I also emailed a bunch of you a few stories about me personally, I seemed to have made it into 2 different papers and 2 online publications, pictures and all! I have never done that in the states, I had friends calling me and other people calling my friends inquiring about what they read about me. See: Making waves

ciudad-juarez-2 Ok so my wakeup call? I was driving to a friend’s house one afternoon when I had just missed an execution in broad daylight.  Almost always the murders that take place in Panama are drug related, as if that is supposed to make you feel better about it right? There are a lot of drugs that pass through Panama, making their way into Mexico and eventually into the USA and Canada. So I am driving down the street when I noticed a few officers standing in a parking lot of a Mercedes dealership and a little further down the street is a group of people and a few news cameras. “So this is where they get those pictures for the front page?” I thought to myself. There is a white Mercedes parked in the middle of the parking lot, trunk open, blood smeared across the bumper and the corpse lying on the ground behind the car in a pool of his own blood.  Everybody is standing around taking pictures, cars are driving by slowly so they can get a good look because nothing is covered up like what you would expect in the states. Everything is in plain view for everyone to see, including myself. I took a brief glimpse and saw enough, I suddenly realized where I was and where I had been living for the past 10 months. I know this can happen anywhere, and it does but it is one of those things where if you don’t see it you are basically oblivious to the fact it actually happens, even if you see it on the news it always seems so much further away. Seeing a dead man lying in his own blood in the streets seems to bring it all home for me anyway. I think I will refrain from participating in the narcotic trafficking business.

Next subject!  I miss and  love you all, peace on earth!  I will be making a visit home soon, as always my time is limited but I hope to see and spend as much time with family and friends as possible.  Another noteworthy fact: I will be returning to Panama on the same day I moved here in June of last year. It’s funny how things always come full circle over time, well for me, this 1 yr anniversary comes full circle on the exact day, pretty amazing for me after the journey I’ve been on.



  1. Peter told stories about the traffic when he returned from his trip to Vietnam…with a family of five riding on mopeds dodging each other in lawless traffic. I consider myself pretty ballsy, but having never experienced road rash like you boys… and never wanting to, the thought of chicken traffic is pretty humbling to a girls fearlessness. Plus I talk a big game, but I’m pretty much lost the moment I step out of my front door! I would surely die living in another country. lol

    Your stories are amazing. You sound like you have the luck of my dear friend Eric Coggins, I think you probably knew him. He was always in the wrong place at the wrong time, and your story of the Canadians being all too aware of your luck reminded me of him! 🙂

    Keep writing your stories Panama, and I’ll keep reading them.

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