More Random USA Pictures

I’m here two days in a row! (This is a continuation of yesterday though) I started in California with my older daughter and her family, and then went on to Seattle to see my younger daughter and her family. And for even more fun, my older daughter came up for the weekend so we had a couple days all together.

Spring in the Pacific Northwest is very pretty with all the flowers, flowering trees, and greenery everywhere. We walked every day in the neighborhood so I had chances to enjoy all the beauty.

We also took a walk in a wooded park. The kids were very excited to find slugs on the ground, and they even found a snail! There were various wildflowers blooming and with the frequent rain and high humidity, many of the trees were covered with moss. The kids are experienced hikers and we all had a good time exploring.

Later we went to the mall for lunch and heard Chris LeVaughn performing. He’s a good singer and I enjoyed talking with him a bit after his gig. It’s interesting that instead of a tip jar he had various QR codes to apps where you could support him. Times have changed.

And speaking of changing times we went to the Amazon Fresh grocery store. You scan a QR code on your phone as you enter, put whatever you want in your basket or shopping bag, scan your code again as you leave, and you’re done. No check out needed. The dozens and dozens of cameras hanging from the ceiling make note of what you take (or put back), tally it all up, and charge your account accordingly. To us old folks it seems like sort of crazy magic! I like the human interaction with a cashier at checkout though, so I think I’m fine with the traditional shopping experience. We had to try the Amazon thing at least once though.

The granddaughters both take dance class and they were preparing for a performance. The younger one had dress rehearsal while I was there but unfortunately they were in the big room with the windows covered and we couldn’t see anything. But, a video is supposed to be coming out at some point. the kids were super cute in their costumes though. I have to include this awesome sky we saw as we left the studio!

There is a heated pool in a nearby park so the kids have been swimming fairly often. The older granddaughter put her face in the water and decided that wasn’t so bad. I felt like we witnessed a big breakthrough because within a day she was paddling around everywhere with her face in the water and she was jumping off the side of the pool. It was cool to see her confidence and sense of accomplishment.

Housing in the USA is crazy, and we got to see a bit of that. I am so thankful that both of my daughters have houses because I don’t think they could afford anything today. The house across the street from my Seattle daughter sold a few weeks ago. It’s single family home, 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, walk out basement just like hers. It was owned by an elderly couple who both died, and it was vacant for a few years while the family sorted out what they wanted to do. It was terribly outdated and probably needed everything redone. My daughter said the street was overflowing all weekend with shoppers, and the house sold in one day for $1.1 million.

My sister and her husband are moving from Dallas to the Boston area for retirement, and just bought a condo about 30 minutes outside of Boston. They were really frustrated that they couldn’t get an offer accepted on anything they were interested in buying. They finally found a condo, offered $110K over asking price and got accepted. I think it ended up costing a bit under $800K. There’s no way they could afford anything close to the city.

We looked at a townhouse around the corner from my Seattle daughter listed for $675K. It’s townhouse so you share a wall with your neighbor, and if you sit on your back terrace you could almost touch your neighbor’s terrace. There is a steep set of stairs going up in the home, and a small kitchen and living room on the first floor. There are two bedrooms and two bathrooms on the upper floor, and another set of stairs to get up there.

This is one more but very important reason we’re so thankful to be here in Panama. We have a comfortable house, 3 bedrooms, two baths, fenced yard with fruit trees, nice neighbors mostly professionals, teachers, blue collar workers and their families, minutes from shopping and everything we need. $385/month. No, I did not leave out any zeros.

So now I’m back home and back to our usual life. It’s strange. I feel like I have three different worlds and I’m comfortable in all of them, and I can instantly (well with quite a few travel hours) move from one to the another. Now I’m in Panama, rainy season, daytime temperatures in the 80’s, rain expected most afternoons, everything super lush and green, bird singing everywhere, dogs doing their jobs (barking at anything remotely noteworthy), and the things we worry about – is the trash truck coming today? Should we go walking now before it rains? What’s for dinner? This is a good world for me.

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Random Pictures from the USA

Wow, it’s been a month since I’ve been here. Life goes on, the days go by, nothing outstanding happens, and I do other things. But I did go back to the USA recently to see my family, so that was definitely outstanding. The grandkids are getting bigger and more interesting all the time, and we had so much fun together.

I will skip all my usual observations about the USA. It feels like any changes have been for the worse, and I’d rather stay out of all of it and focus on my family. It took me a while to be comfortable going out with a naked face (no masks). I learned the value of thermal underwear! I no longer take red eye flights and I appreciate the layover along the way, but the travel is still tiring. But, it’s so worth it and my family takes good care of me when I’m there.

I have a lot of random pictures, starting in California.

My grandson turned nine, and there was celebrating with friends, neighbors, and the other grandparents (and tons of Lego toys) School was in session so we walked the kids to and from school every day. And, there was a field trip! My kindergarten age granddaughter was beyond excited. They went in a BUS, to the BEACH, and looked for critters and life forms in the rocks. They were well prepared about what they might find, and how to keep everything safe and undisturbed (apparently holding a crab in your hand is OK and long as you gently put it back where you found it). Then there was a picnic lunch and playtime in the sand.

I met the new cats, both sweet and gentle cats. We went to the farmer’s market where things looked wonderful, but expensive. We went to my grandson’s baseball game (they won, yay). Those little kids are surprisingly good, at least to me who knows nothing about baseball. I had a tarot card reading. Did I give him too many hints, or did the cards actually give him information to share? He thinks there are a lot of good things coming in my future. I already know that!

One evening there were awesome clouds. My granddaughter has become enamored by Irish dance, so we watched one of her classes. I think she’s good with nice grace and style. I found these odd rolls at the supermarket and had to try them. They taste like ordinary rolls, soft, slightly sweet, and they had a bit of firm jelly in the middle. The color sure is pretty though. And, then, one crazy evening, thunder, rain and hail!! That is very unusual. It rarely even thunders there. Some other areas of town got enough hail to turn everything white. I don’t think the kids had ever seen hail before. I showed my granddaughter a piece of ice that fell from the sky, and she popped it into her mouth!

So, that’s the highlights of my first stop. I’ll leave the next batch of pictures for the next post.

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A New Kitchen

We’ve lived here for almost 10 years, and the house is probably about 20 years old now. The kitchen wasn’t fancy to start with and the years have taken a toll. Then, as it seems to happen quite a bit, a series of coincidences happened and now I have a story to tell about a new kitchen.

There is a brand new house across the street from us. We went out to do errands one morning and a guy was in the street with his broken down truck. Thankfully there was enough space for us to get out so no problem. When we came back he was still there waiting for a tow truck. It was a hot, sunny, summer day and I felt bad for him, so I brought him a big glass of ice water and we started talking a bit.

It turns out that he was the guy who did the kitchen in the new house, and he asked me in to see it. The house is attractive with open space, big windows and lots of light. The kitchen is really nice too! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could have a kitchen as nice as that? There’s no harm is asking, so he comes over to look at my kitchen and discuss some ideas. We decide on a basic design of cabinets, a granite countertop, and tile backsplash, for a price of about $2500.

My old kitchen –

It works. We’ve been using it for 9 1/2 years but the cabinets never look good no matter how much you scrub them. The countertop is tile but the tiles aren’t flat so everything you put down rocks a bit. The grout is funky and ants like to take pieces of whatever we use to repair it and carry them off. (yeah I know. I never heard of such a thing either). There isn’t nearly enough storage space for us either. And, don’t even look at the drop ceiling with Styrofoam panels.

We talk more. He sends design plans he made on his computer. I think of more things. Could we replace those Styrofoam panels? Of course yes, but cielo raso would be even better. I don’t know how to translate that, but it’s long panels of a plastic like material that seems to be all the thing now. It’s attractive, durable, and not affected by moisture and insects. Could I also have…. gasp…. a DISHWASHER?? Sure, no problem! OK then, LETS DO IT! We share the dishwashing chores and do all right, but it feels like a lot of time that could be spent on more enjoyable things. And speaking of materials, the cabinets are a laminate composite that is impervious to moisture and insects. He also works with wood but this is rental and probably overkill in this simple house.

So, first we go shopping to pick out materials. First stop, the dishwasher! We also pick out granite for the countertop, and material for the ceiling (a pale gray, almost white material), and a range hood. Miguel already had samples of material for the cabinets for me to choose from. He comes back and carefully measures everything so he can custom make the cabinets to the exact sizes we want.

Then the work began. That is not the fun part. Everything was put in boxes in the laundry room, the living room, Joel’s music room and wherever we could find a spot so we were constantly running around looking for things. But… now get this…. talk about service. He knew our kitchen would be unusable while they tore it apart, so his wife made food for us!

BBQ ribs cooked over a wood fire, rice, sweet fried plantains, delicious beans, and a very nice salad. His wife is an excellent cook and it was all wonderful!

Destruction time. What a mess! The old kitchen was mostly concrete and tile, with wood doors for lower cabinets and then a standard cabinet above. We hung sheets to try and keep the dust in the kitchen but it was still messy.

Miguel works with his son Joel a lot. The last picture is them cutting the granite in the front yard. Those guys are strong! We have a small piece left over and it’s all I can do to pick it up. But they move it around like it’s no big deal.

The kitchen starts to take shape!!

We test out the dishwasher. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. First he had to install the kitchen faucet. You know if there is plumbing there will be problems! It’s just Murphy’s law. There are two water inlets below the sink and something goes wrong with one of them, so we decide to connect everything to the other one (we have a water heater but it hasn’t worked for years, so we don’t have hot water in the kitchen). Then…. that connection breaks IN the wall. Sheesh! By now we have water everywhere, we have to shut off the whole house, and he’s off to the store, again, for more plumbing parts. AND, it’s Sunday and we have a band gig in Boquete so we are really getting anxious. Our neighbor comes over to see if he can be of any help but decides Migel is doing fine on his own. Miguel chips out the concrete around the pipe, replaces the part that is in the wall, connects up the faucet, and all is well. WHEW!

Then, the next day he comes back with more parts and connects the dishwasher. Yay! The first trial run goes very well. The dishwasher gets the water nice and hot, so it can clean better than we ever could by hand. That was a great surprise we didn’t expect. Our glassware looks like it’s brand new.

Of course everything takes longer than planned. Miguel had to fix his truck which set him back a couple days. There were the plumbing complications. But the work progressed to where we could use the kitchen and start putting things away, which is a great feeling. The dusty work was done so we could clean up the house. We were getting more excited every day. We got lights for under the upper cabinets so there is plenty of light. The granite is so easy to clean, and there’s enough space that we can both work in the kitchen at the same time. The sink is deeper and the faucet is higher which make using that easier, and there is better water pressure. Miguel said that the pipe in the wall was partially blocked so in the end it was a good thing that it cracked.

Remember the “before” pictures? Look at it now!

It’s lacking in color so Joel took one of my paintings and put it over the sink. We need to decide on a color to paint the walls. The range hood has very weak lighting so we plan to put a light on the wall that we can point at the stove top. But the kitchen is essentially done and we are really enjoying it a lot.

I mentioned earlier that this is a rental house. I planned to pay for the kitchen since we will benefit from it every day, and we plan to stay in this house indefinitely. The landlords are really good to us and they are working folks with kids, but he surprised me big time when he said they’d pay for all of it. I don’t feel quite right about that since they have done their part and provided a workable kitchen, so we are negotiating a half and half plan. And, the cost – there was the basic $2500, about $200 for the fancy ceiling, $550 for the dishwasher, and miscellaneous lights, plumbing parts, light switches, etc. for maybe another $100. That’s a total of $3350. I know what kitchens cost in the US!

And, I feel good about giving Miguel the work. He suffered terribly during COVID and is still trying to dig himself out of that hole. Panamanians tend to have more relaxed standards so I’m sure we drove him nuts with our pickiness. But he did everything he could to make us happy with no whining. And we’re loving the kitchen every time we use it and very appreciative of all his hard work.

Next, the laundry room! 😁

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The Comarca

A large part of Panama to the north of us is Comarca, or land of the indigenous Ngäbe Buglé people. Most of it is difficult to access, or impossible in the rainy season except by foot or horseback. The green areas on this map are indigenous areas, and the big one to the west of the word “Panama” is the subject of this post.

What got me thinking about the comarca today was a video. I love these young people who are making a life on a piece of land above Boquete. They have also been selling coffee, and they went to the Comarca to buy organic coffee from the indigenous people there. Jordan, the guy, talked about how incredibly beautiful it is in the Comarca and how special it was to be allowed in there, a place that few get to see. You can see a little of the scenery in the video, and that was enough to make me curious to see more. (No, he’s not leaving his family in Panama, only leaving the wife and baby home for the day).

So, I went searching on YouTube for more comarca and found this video. It’s in Spanish but you can follow the guy as he walks for hours and hours to get to his destination, passing through the beautiful countryside, and you see some of the locals, their homes and towns. Even without understanding him you can get a feel for what it’s like there.

Yes, it’s a very hard life! I can see the appeal of living in such natural beauty away from the stress and noise of our typical lives, but they pay a price. Most of the people are so remote that access is difficult, or impossible in the rainy season. They have minimal to no access to medical care or other help, and even basic nutrition can be a challenge. They have schools but I don’t know if they result in a better standards of living or more choices in life for the students.

If you want to explore further, a YouTube search will bring up quite a few more videos

This one shows areas near the water and lots of beautiful scenery

This will give you just a taste. This country has an amazing amount of natural beauty.

Other than that, our lives are going on as usual, more or less. I’m always tired of summer by now so I’m happy to say we got some showers, then a good downpour yesterday and it’s raining hard right now again. It’s amazing how fast you start to see green in the grass and happiness in the mani (perineal peanut) that is our backyard ground cover. The band has had a couple extra gigs recently, and we are getting a new kitchen in the house (story to follow later on that). It’s going to be great but we’re just getting out of the everything-in-boxes-can’t-find-anything stage. And, we had to run and get a new tire to replace a bad one, and a few other unplanned things which I can ‘t even remember at the moment. So the last couple weeks have felt a bit nuts. It reminds me of the past when I used to actually DO stuff all day, like work, take care of home and family, etc. ha!

The virus statistics look quite good now, and I hope they stay that way. The mask mandate has been lifted for outdoors but most people still wear masks everywhere. Maybe after all this time we all feel naked with bare faces. I know I do. But the city is active and bustling, and if we are out at night we notice restaurants with full parking lots. After the economic struggles of so many people during the pandemic it’s great to see people and business thriving.

Myself, I feel so fortunate every day. I’m sitting here on my back terrace watching it rain, enjoying a cool breeze, and listening to one of my favorite birds who likes to serenade me from a nearby tree. I found a dead beetle on the terrace this morning so I gave it to the ants on my shelf. It’s kept them busy all day. Life continues to be interesting and enjoyable.

I hope you all out there are doing well! Take care of yourselves and each other.

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Warm Water, Warm Air, Warm Everything!

It’s the height of summer here, and it’s HOT! I know many of you are looking forward to summer, but here we are looking forward to April and the return of the rains. Summer, or dry season here is December – April. December is nice. We got a few rain showers, and things still looked green and happy. It’s pleasant to be out in the evenings during the holiday season because you are unlikely to get rained on. January is very much the same, but rain showers are unlikely. February is getting hotter and dryer, and the trade winds blow more. We had maybe a couple sprinkles of rain, but nothing close to a shower. Plants are drying up, the grass is brown and crispy, and brush fires are possible.

People sometimes clear their land by burning but it’s easy for that to get out of control, especially on a windy day. The authorities are trying to stop the burning but what do you do if the culprits are long gone? We have been lucky so far (knock on wood) that fire hasn’t threatened our neighborhood, but the smoke of a fire nearby is very unpleasant.

Now it is March and I’m ready for summer to be over. I know we have many beautiful summer flowers and spectacular flowering trees which I enjoy, but this is enough summer for me.

I thought these guyacans were finished blooming, but then there were more yellow trees covered with flowers.
I thought these guyacans were finished blooming, but then there were more yellow trees covered with flowers.

Oh yes, I mentioned water also. There are a lot of problems with water here so we put in a reserve tank and a pump. Water problems are even more common in the dry summer, and I think we’ve had maybe two days in the last two months when we have had water all day (it’s usually out by noon and back by dark, give or take a few hours). Nobody knows if it’s water shortages, if they are fixing something, or what’s going on. Panamanians tend to be much more patient than we are, but I also notice almost every house in our neighborhood has a reserve tank now.

Don’t expect a nice cool afternoon shower from the reserve tank though, because the sun hits the tank all afternoon and warms it up well.

One morning I noticed a lot of ants on my outside table, and then I realized they were getting water from a glass I’d left on the table the night before. So, I took pity on them and put a bottle cap of water on the shelf next to my table, and it’s been used a lot. It’s not all the easy for the ants and other wildlife in the dry season either. There’s a river nearby, but it’s way too far away if you are a little ant.

We have so many different kinds of ants here. These particular ants are dark brown/black, on the small side, and it looks like they run around with their butts raised. They aren’t interested at all in sugar or the usual things that attract ants, but protein? oh yes! They hang out under the lamp on my shelf hoping to catch a bug. If there is any dead bug or lizard, they are all over it. I gave them a dead gecko one time and by the next day they had it down to the bones, and by that night the bones were also gone. They’ll also eat any meat or egg I give them, provided it’s soft enough to break up into little ant size pieces.

Yes I know I’m strange but I find them interesting. They don’t bite but they are very clingy. If you try to brush one off your hand, you will find it sticking to your other hand. They don’t go in the house and bother us. Their path goes up the side of the house to the roof, and from there I don’t know. There are also a lot of them in a nearby fruit tree but I don’t know if that is the same colony.

When I first moved here it seemed like things didn’t change much. It was always warm throughout the year. The length of the days is also almost the same all year. But after a while you notice the definite change of season, not only the rain or lack of, but the many different flowers and fruits that come in the dry season. The days are also getting longer. The sun has been setting around 6:40 rather than 6:30 of a few months ago.

But, an update. We had RAIN on Thursday, and more RAIN today! This is a month early but I’m definitely not complaining. I hope we get more, but if not this will at least help the plants and the environment while we wait out the rest of the summer.

Keep in mind what I say about the weather is here in David. In the mountains they get less heat, more wind, and a bit more rain. On the Caribbean side of Panama it can rain anytime in the year, or anytime in the day. (Here in rainy season it usually rains in the late afternoon). It’s interesting to be in such a small country but with so much variety.

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Refugees in the Darien

I haven’t been on here much lately. It seems I’m always busy but not with things worth writing about. We’ve been going out more to hear and support our musician friends. There always seems to be some errand or thing we have to do. The band keeps us busy and there are the routine chores at home. We’ve been walking most evenings at dusk when it’s cooler and very pleasant out. We’ve been meeting more of our neighbors who are also enjoying the pleasant time of day, and the dog is loving the walks. But, I did run across this interesting thing to talk about…

Refugees have been in the news for a very long time. They risk everything, even their lives, to get to the USA. They manage to get to south America and then make their way north. The hardest part of their journey is the Darien Jungle between Colombia and Panama. It has mountains to climb, mud to slog through, and rivers to cross. There are animals, snakes, insects, and people waiting to rob, rape, and harm. Refugees don’t come prepared with the right shoes, clothes, supplies, and don’t realize what lies ahead. Many of them die in the jungle and the living get to walk past their bodies lying in the mud.

A while back a worried father posted to one of the expat Facebook groups. His son wanted to document the experience of the refugees in the Darien so he joined them in their travels. The son hadn’t been heard from in too long and the dad was very worried. The son was finally located in a refugee camp and being fortunate enough to hold a USA passport, they were able to get him out and moved to Panama City. The son was so moved by what he saw that he gathered supplies and help so he could go back to the refugees. They didn’t have the most basic of supplies and most of them were sick because there was no clean water, and there was no medicine or medical care.

He wrote a book about his experience, and it was definitely something to read! He’s lucky to have made it through, though he was robbed of everything he had and spent frustrating time in a refugee camp before he finally made it out. Later he went to Haiti. He figured if so many were leaving Haiti out of desperation, maybe he could help so people could make it in their own country. Good idea, but the reality… not so good.

There was an article in our media here about the refugee situation. They arrive in eastern Panama after their horrendous journey, and then what is Panama supposed to do? And to further complicate things, people in the drug trade and terrorists can hide themselves among the refugees. From what I understand, Panama has been bussing the refugees to the Costa Rican border, rather than turn them back or let them make their own way through the country. From there, they have many more borders to cross before they reach the USA and a very uncertain future.,

I have no opinion on the refugee situation. There are valid points and concerns on both sides. But, I really feel for the people who are in such desperate circumstances that they see this treacherous journey as a better alternative to their current situation. What would one of us do if we were in their shoes? I’m very thankful that this is a decision I don’t have to make.

In other news, it’s summer here which means it’s hot, sunny, dry, and often very windy. We haven’t seen rain in quite a while and you want to avoid going out in the hot afternoons. Nights are usually cooler and beautiful.

We had a surge in the virus along with most of the rest of the world, but the numbers are falling now to much better levels. Except for mask wearing everywhere life feels quite normal and everything is open and busy. The teachers are back to work preparing for in person school which is starting in a couple weeks. Vaccinations continue to be ongoing, and below is a picture of nurses going door-to-door in Boquete.

We’ve been through many summers now but we’re still enjoying the spectacular flowers of this season. Mangoes are also flowering so fruit will be coming. I prefer the rain but anytime is good in Panama and we are happy to be here.

Thank you to all of you who read my blog, and it’s been great meeting a couple of you in person recently. As always, take care of yourselves and each other!

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Cost of Living, January 2022

Wow, we haven’t done this for two years. The main increase was food. We have more money than we did so we have been treating ourselves to things like fancy imported cheese and salmon. Our usual supermarket has been stocking more and more fancy imported frozen food which we try now and then. We also buy pork and chicken from growers nearby which is more expensive but well worth it for quality and for supporting our neighbors. But if I ever think we are being careless and extravagant, a trip to the supermarket in the USA sets me straight PDQ.

So, without further ado –

Food – 602.77 This includes Pricesmart (our Costco), the supermarket, and our weekly produce guy.
Rent – 385 This hasn’t changed in 9+ years. We are lucky to have great landlords
Electric – 80 We run the AC from late morning to sundown. It’s hot summer right now
Cable/internet 46.21
My cell phone with internet 26.03 Joel has a pay as you go plan which he hardly ever uses
Gas for the cars – 58
insurance for the cars – 20 They are too old for full coverage so this doesn’t cost much
Gas for the kitchen – we didn’t refill a tank this month, but when we do it’s 5.12 and lasts at least a month
Netflix 8.99

TOTAL $1227

We probably have about $200 in optional expenses as well, my book habit, some charities and businesses I support, like the food bank where my daughter works. We went out to eat a couple times and spent around $60. We’ve gone out to hear other musicians and tossed a fair amount into tip jars. We’ve also spent more on alcohol. Wine? with bubbles? Oh fun! Except for books (maybe $30/month), we didn’t have these expenses before and I’m happy to have more wiggle room now for things like this.

I did not include travel, which is usually trips to the USA to see family.
I did not include health care either. We are both healthy so we pay as we go here. Our main expense has been dental care which is very affordable here. We have Medicare A in the USA and Joel has care through VA which we could use if necessary.
This does not include shopping either. Our main shopping expense is musical and band related things.

It’s interesting to see that things haven’t changed much in the time we have been here. We could easily scale back if we needed or wanted to. We are thankful every day for our lives here! We would seriously struggle in the USA but here, what we have is enough for everything we want and need. So many in the world fight for even survival. I don’t know how we are so fortunate.

PS the banner picture is coffee flowers. Someone gave us some seeds a few years ago, and this plant I put in the shade has survived and grown. Panama is famous for the coffee that grows in the cooler mountain areas, but it will be interesting to see what happens with our plant down here.

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Because of the Tamales

COVID has been a total pain all over the world and it seems like it’s never going to end. But, there have also been some good things. Here in Panama I’ve seen friends and neighbors band together to help each other through, and people were creative and resourceful to get by. Everyone needs to eat so there was an explosion of produce stands and people making food at home to sell.

Many people suffered loss of income and I was especially worried about our musician friends. We are friends with a family of excellent musicians, Adhi (singer), Lucho (guitar) and Arya (bass). I’ve always been amazed by Arya’s talent and skills, but he’s quiet and introverted so we only said a few words to each other on a few occasions. But, along came COVID and there went all his gigs and work, so to get by he started making tamales.

I bought lots of food from many people. Tamales? Oh yes! They are a lot of work to make and I love them. I had Arya’s delicious tamales for lunch for weeks and weeks, and then his equally delicious empanadas. He delivered them with his friend Mabel, and he and I talked a little more every time. When he didn’t deliver, Adhi’s husband Juan came by so we also became friends (he’s a drummer, chef, and tour guide).

Fast forward a year or more, to when life started to return to something resembling normal, and musicians were able to play again. Our first times out to hear live music were Adhi and her musical partner Dario, and then the Hashtag band with Lucho, Arya, Adhi, and other friends. It was heaven! It was wonderful to be out, to hear live music, to see our friends, to feel like we were coming back to life. Soon our band started playing again too and they would come to hear us when they could, and we continued to come out for other musicians when we could.

Picture stolen from Facebook. Lucho is in the shadows on the left. Adhi is in the center. Arya is on the right in front of another guitar player. That’s his Fender bass before it got the fretless neck.

Our friendships have deepened in the months since we’ve all been playing again. Arya has learned English and he’s getting better and better. And, come to find out that Lucho also speaks a lot of English so he and Joel have been able to talk about guitar things. Arya also spent his time at home working on singing, and now he’s really really good. Lucho has started singing backup so with Adhi, who always has been amazing, so now they have three singers in the band. And the band in general keeps getting better and better, so it’s all really cool to see.

Then, through a series of crazy coincidences and being in the right place at the right time, I was able to buy and refurbish a fretless Fender bass. The previous owner also gave me the fretless neck that was on it when he bought it, so I gave that to Arya. Since Arya also has a Fender, it worked out for him. With his skills and artistry, he’s definitely one who should have a fretless! They are more challenging to play but they have a unique tone and feel, more like a voice or an upright bass and if you are really skilled you can do things you can’t do on a fretted bass.

This really nice friendship with a family of great musicians got off the ground with the weekly tamale deliveries. Who would have thought?

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A Bit of Health Care

Joel had a lump on his neck that we thought should be looked at to be sure it wasn’t anything to worry about. I started by calling Mae Lewis Hospital to find a doctor we knew from when she gave Joel’s mother outstanding care. The receptionist routed me to her secretary who gave me a phone number to call. Who’s phone number is this? The doctor’s number.

I call, and the doctor herself answers! Sure, she would be happy to help but she is on vacation until January 20th. I could hardly believe it. The doctor answers her own calls even when she is on vacation?! Never, ever in the US did I have a doctor’s cell phone number, and I was a nurse for decades. We had to call the office, give a message to the secretary who would pass it off to the office nurse, and eventually we’d get a call back with the answer. After hours we called the answering service and hope to get the doctor, not someone covering who didn’t know the patient. But here, some unknown person asks for an appointment and gets sent directly to the doctor herself. I was totally amazed!

But, we didn’t want to wait a month, so we went to Hospital Chiriqui to find the doctor they originally sent us to when Joel needed the document for his drivers license. His secretary wrote his cell phone number for us so we could contact him for an appointment. But wait, the other doctor could come in right now if we prefer. Before I could say anything the secretary was dialing his number with her cell phone, which she handed to me. His wife/secretary says they have a repairman at the house but if I don’t mind waiting, they will come in as soon as he is finished. I ask if tomorrow would be easier, and we decide on 10am. This is the same doctor who did the drivers license document Errands and Renewing the Driver’s License I wasn’t impressed but I figured we’d see him again and see how it went.

We arrive at the appointed time and wait while he attends to a person before us, and then we are ushered into his office. He looks at Joel’s neck and carefully feels everything, and then says he doesn’t think it’s anything to worry about but he wants to do an ultrasound to be sure. We were instructed to go to the public hospital at 7:15 am Thursday morning. He writes his name, office number and some other basic info on a piece of paper and carefully explains to me where to go and who to ask for help in finding the right building. We give him $50 (which includes the upcoming ultrasound) and he adds it to the other cash on his desk.

This is our first experience with the public hospital system and the huge medical complex on the west side of town. We show the paper to a security guard who directs us to the first of the three tall and identical new buildings and tells us the entrance is in the front. We go in and are met by a lady in a blue vest who looks at our paper and directs us to the first floor (which for us who count the ground floor as first, would be the second floor). When we arrive we are greeted by another lady in a blue vest who directs us to sit in a waiting area full of chairs.

It was interesting to see how things work here. A nurse would come to the waiting area from one of the hallways and ask for anyone who is waiting to see Dr. (whoever). A handful of people would approach her and she would write down their names. We also saw nurses going to the reception/office area in the front to pick up folders of what must have been medical records. Then, the nurses started calling patients one by one and taking them back down the hallways. Our doctor came out himself and told us he was seeing one man and then he would be back for us.

Everything was white and new looking, no pictures on the walls, no colors, but totally comfortable and functional. There were huge windows behind us looking on to the parking area and the sun was streaming in. The doctor’s office was the same, all white, a small desk and one chair inside, and then behind that a slightly bigger room with a large window, an exam table and the ultrasound machine. He carefully scanned Joel’s whole neck and snapped some pictures so he could show Joel was he was seeing on the scans. There was a large, dark thing that looked like a round bubble. He explained that it was a fluid filled cyst. There are no 100% guarantees in medicine but he was quite sure it was nothing dangerous. He could surgically remove it (though it might come back), drain the fluid with a needle (hard to do with the thick fluid and it would likely refill itself) and or just leave it alone. Joel opted to just leave it alone.

Throughout our time the doctor was extremely gentle and careful with Joel, especially getting him up off the table and making sure he wasn’t dizzy. He carefully explained everything to me in detail and made sure I understood what he was saying (he speaks very little English, and Joel very little Spanish so I was the go between). Both of us were very happy with the care and the health system in general.

The biggest differences I see between here and the US is the relaxed and caring attitude. I’m not saying US doctors aren’t caring, but they are stressed and very busy and have to keep the line moving and the money coming in to cover their multitude of expenses. Here you feel like you have the doctor’s time and attention for however long it takes to be sure you have everything you need. The other big difference I see is the lack of CYA paperwork and questions. The doctor focuses on the problem you bring to him, and it’s your responsibility to tell him anything else he needs to know. He only asked Joel his age, nothing about medications or other health problems (thankfully there are none). I imagine he saved Joel’s basic info and scan pictures in his laptop, but there was no paperwork.

People pay into the public health care system here and I have no experience with that, but I imagine it’s uncomplicated. And, judging by the folders being picked up, I imagine people with ongoing care have records with their information and history. I do know first hand that doctors in the US have piles of paperwork and staff who’s whole job is submitting claims to insurance and Medicare and jumping through hoops trying to get paid. Ugh. Myself, by the time I retired from home health, I was spending 50% of my time at my desk, not with patients, and we had a whole office staff who did nothing but paperwork and office work. If everything wasn’t exactly perfect they would deny the whole case, and appeals took many months. If we didn’t get paid we couldn’t keep the doors open and provide care for anyone. It felt like a smaller and smaller amount of care and time was going to the patients because we were so focused on paperwork. I worked for one company that was totally computerized and another that was totally paper, and they both took the same amount of desk time so computerization didn’t seem to help. I am very thankful to be away from all that both as a nurse and a consumer. It’s such peace of mind to know that care here is so accessible and affordable, and given with such heart as if you were a family member. Thank you Panama.

Posted in Panama | 6 Comments

Is It Summer?

Summer, or the dry season, usually arrives in December and leaves in mid April. The rest of the year is the rainy season. However, this December, we seem a bit confused.

I like the rain so I’m not complaining. It keeps everything lush and green and cools us off in the afternoon. In the rainy season you usually wake up to sunny skies and lovely weather. In the afternoon the clouds gather and it rains for a while, and clears up again in the evening. There are days when it rains a lot, sometimes with very impressive downpours, and other days when it doesn’t rain at all. But if you plan outdoor activities in the morning you’ll usually be fine.

Dry season is just what the name implies. There’s usually no rain at all. The plants suffer from the lack of rain, things turn brown and crispy, and brush fires are possible. Many days are also windy because the trade winds blow at this time of year. If people clear their land by burning it’s very possible for the fires to get out of hand. Thankfully though, this happens enough that there isn’t enough growth to fuel a huge fire, and concrete block houses won’t burn. It also gets hot in the dry season. December and January are ok, February is heating up, and by March and April we are really really looking forward to the return of the cooling rains.

This is just a general description of the weather on the Pacific side of Panama. It’s different on the Caribbean side and rain can come at any time. There is also a greater chance of rain in the mountains near us in the dry season. If you want an interesting but very detailed explanation of why the weather here does what it does, check this link. It’s about Costa Rica but they are right next door so it applies here as well.

Click to access Climate%20&%20Ecological%20Zones%20of%20Costa%20Rica.pdf

Our weather this December has been quite a mixture. There are days of bright sun, blue skies, and wind. There have been other days that are overcast and rainy. There have even been days of clear, windy summer weather in the morning and rain in the afternoon. Today, 22nd of December, it was clear and breezy this morning but now, at 2pm, some very dark gray clouds are moving in so we’ll see what the rest of today holds.

On a totally different subject, I ran across this article about volcanos and tectonic plates in this area. Central America has many volcanoes that spit out gasses, lava, and ash. We are below a large volcano here but thankfully it’s been sleeping for 400+ years and never spits out anything.

After living most of my life where Christmas means snow and cold weather, it was an adjustment to live in Florida, and especially here in Panama. Here it’s warm and sunny, and the beginning of summer vacation for the school kids. Panamanians definitely celebrate the holidays though with lights, decorations, parties, gifts, and lots of fireworks. Summer also tends to be a time of home improvement since you don’t have to worry about the afternoon rains and muddy work sites. When I talk with friends up north though, I am reminded that you all are dealing with the start of the winter season and all that involves. I hope you all are ok, and I’ll be happy to experience it from afar.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you!

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