A Panamanian Party

We are on friendly terms with Narda, our neighbor over the back fence. Her kids are grown and moved on, but she has a little Indian boy who lives with her. Yesterday he called through the fence to invite us to an afternoon party. I thought we couldn’t go because we had other plans so I made my apologies.

We came home at the end of the afternoon. I went for a bike ride, and my husband took advantage of the time to play some guitar. The neighbors heard the music, and when I returned the boy was at my gate telling me that the party was starting and I should come over now. I’m not sure if this was the party still in progress, or of this was another party but we cleaned up and headed over.

It turned out to be an excellent party. It was the boy’s 13th birthday, and I was told that he really wanted us to come. I talk to him a little when I see him, but he’s so shy he doesn’t say much in return. I didn’t realize he appreciated my greetings that much.

The party was held outside in the carport. Apologies for the photos but I didn’t have a flash with me, and the only lighting was a light bulb overhead. Assorted chairs were brought out and put around the carport. There was music playing in the living room behind us. Beer was offered, and there was a large container of sweet iced tea. There was also popcorn, corn chips, and a couple kinds of dip. I was told that the one I tried was cream of garlic, and it tasted quite good with the chips.

Birthday Party in the neighborhoos!

The Birthday Party in the neighborhood! There were more people inside, and kids playing in the street out front.

In the US, we tend to be more relaxed, put out whatever is being served, offer drinks, and let the guests managed themselves from there. At this party the hostess and birthday boy were dressed up in what I would consider Sunday best clothes. They periodically made the rounds with the snacks and offered some to each guest. The guests were comfortably but well dressed – no shorts and flip flops (except for the kids).

I met the people who live next to the lot we are considering buying, a husband, wife, and three boys. I liked them a lot, and was especially happy to meet them if we are going to be neighbors at some point. I also met another lady from the neighborhood, and other friends of the hostess. One lady is Colombian and she told me that she is very happy to be in Panama. She said there are a lot of Colombians here, which makes sense this used to be part of Colombia. I should have asked her what she liked better here but the conversation took other turns. I found it hard to understand over the music and multiple conversations, but I was happy that if I concentrated and someone spoke directly to me, I got most of what was said to me.

The next thing was a very interesting soup. There was a piece of meat in each bowl and I was told it was pork. It didn’t look like anything edible, more like bone and cartilage with skin or something tough on it, but it was surprisingly tender and good. It was a cold soup with cucumbers and a bit of onion, and limon or citrus of some sort. I was told that it was cooked but it reminded me of cerviche. They told me the name but I’ve forgotten it, so if any of you know what it might have been, let me know so I can look it up.

I ate my soup, following the lead of the other guests and picking up the meat part in my fingers. After soup the hostess gave us a tour of the house (Joel had not seen it before). She would love for us to buy it but it’s huge, I think maybe 8 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms! I know it’s too much house for her too, so hopefully she will find a buyer for it soon.

I had heard that the Indian boy was the son of a former house employee of Narda. She became pregnant and couldn’t work any more, so she left her son there. Narda told me that he’s been with her almost 4 years. I asked about his mother and was told she is up in the mountains, and if he was with her he wouldn’t have enough food or clothes because the mother is so poor. There was another Indian woman at the party who who was introduced to me as his sister. I would have liked to talk with her a bit but she seemed very shy and spent most of her time helping out in the kitchen.

The hostess and the birthday boy

The hostess and the birthday boy

It seems sad that a boy is not with his family, but he has a much better chance for a good life here. One of the guests told me that he is a very good student, and I know he definitely works hard because I see him doing yard work all the time. He’s so tiny for his age, more like an 8 or 9 year old. The Indians tend to be small in general but I wonder if he was hungry a lot as a small child. The situation with many of the Indians is very unfortunate. There’s a lot of poverty, infant/childhood deaths, malnutrition, and alcoholism. It seems that a lot of Panamanians are frustrated because there are programs to help the Indians, but they have a hard time changing the way of life that they have lived for generations. I certainly have no answers but I’m happy to be nice to the little boy next door.

Anyway, back to the party. By this time it was getting later in the evening, and we were getting tired after our busy weekend. I also wanted to call my daughter since it was the night before she and her husband start their new jobs in Seattle.

We wandered in to the kitchen and found dinner preparations in progress. I wasn’t hungry after our big lunch and the snacks, but Joel took a plate home with him – beef, rice flavored with cilantro, and a cold slaw type of salad. There was a decorated cake in the carport,  so I know cake was served later. I was nice that no one seemed upset that we were leaving. We said our goodbyes to the hostess, the guests, and the birthday boy and came on home. I was tired, but felt really good to have been welcomed so warmly at the party.

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About Kris Cunningham

We live in David, Chiriqui Provence, Republic of Panama! This blog is about some of our experiences in our new country.
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3 Responses to A Panamanian Party

  1. Roger says:

    The “soup” you were talking about is something we inherited from the Caribbean English speaking black people. It is called SOUCE. I am not sure about the spelling but it is something like that.

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