Saturday, June 14, 2008


We’ve arrived in Boquete and so far it seems to be as wonderful as it seemed to be from my research. Yesterday was a long day. Our scheduled flight had maintenance problems, so we had to wait another five hours until they could bring another plane. That basically meant spending the entire day at the airport, which was hard on poor River, and hard for me too since I had to occupy all my time caring for him.

The airport at David was tiny and entry easy. We purchased tourist cards right there for $5 each. Behind the immigration officials hung a poster with a man jumping off of a train. A sign nearby said “Border 10 kms.” A man in a wheelchair, missing both of his lower legs, was pictured in the bottom right. The poster said that it’s not worth it, the cost can be higher than one expects.

The school where I am studying in Boquete, Habla Ya, arranged for a taxi to meet us at the airport and it was there as scheduled. He took us right to our host family’s home. It was already dark, so I couldn’t see much during the 45 minute drive. I did notice however the excellent condition of the roads, the $4.40 per gallon price of gas, and the presence of many American businesses in David, including Blockbuster Video, TGI Fridays, McDonalds and Pizza Hut.

It was almost 8 p.m. when we arrived at the home of Lorena and Ronaldo, but they welcomed us in warmly. River made the same impression he’s made on everyone here. They call him a doll and frequently ask to hold him. People will stop on the street and comment on how cute he is, sales staff will congregate around us, and the staff at our hotel in San Jose took turns – first the cook took him for a walk, then the receptionists continued their work while holding River.

Lorena introduced me to her son Ronaldo and her grandson Ronaldo. That makes it easy to remember. Her daughter Magdalena lives and works in David. She’ll be on vacation this week and will be coming here tomorrow.

The house is neat and comfortable. There are little houses hanging on the wall in the hallway, butterflies hanging on the walls around the dining area, and little plastic flowers safety pinned to the sheer curtain in our bedroom. Our bed faces a cabinet stuffed to the brim with stuffed animals. It’s a one story house with a TV room, a living room, a kitchen and a dining area, going from front to back. Doors along the sides lead to one bathroom and four bedrooms.

It seemed hot to me when we arrived and at first I worried about the lack of a fan. But the night air soon cooled and we slept with a blanket.

River was in rough shape from the long trip and for the first time I wondered whether I was harming him by exposing him to so much travel and activity. I tried to eat the meal Lorena left for me – chicken, mashed potatoes and a beef soup, but River became anxious at the sight of food. When I offered him a bite of the soup he smiled and slurped down quite a bit more.

In the morning, after breakfast, Lorena took me in their silver SUV to visit the director of the school. I confirmed when my classes would be and learned about the various activities offered. We continued on to a neighboring town up the hill, called Las Naranjas or “the oranges.” There we paid a short visit to her parents. The 74-year-old mother and 90-year-old father had raised four children in the same house where they now live.

The town is beautiful. Just outside the door of our house is a gorgeous panorama of dense, green, tropical forested mountains. There are many rivers and creeks running through the landscape. There seems to be a nice selection of shops and places to eat, as well as gardens and coffee plantations. I hope I’ll have time to explore it all. But to be honest, there seems to be so much to do and so little time. I’d imagined having time to relax and to get some work done, but I doubt I’ll be able to resist all the temptations to explore.

In the late afternoon we drove with Lorena, Ronaldo and Lorena’s mother back to David, where we were going to watch their daughter Magdalena perform in a folklore dance group. Magdalena danced as a child, but took it up again only this past October.

The performance started at 3, so I thought we’d leave around two. But instead we departed at 10:45. We first went to Magdalena’s house, a small but pleasant house that belonged to her grandmother. Magdalena was still at work, but her parents had keys and let themselves in.

It’s amazing the difference that a 45 minute drive can make. While Boquete is cool and comfortable, the sun emitting a pleasant warmth, the lower altitude David is swelteringly hot year round. It was the type of heat that makes you feel naked because your clothes stick to you as though they were just another layer of skin. Poor River was suffering. Even though they put two fans in the room where he would take a nap, it took me most of our time there to put him down.

Magdalena came home from work and she looked like the photos Lorena displays on her table – a pretty woman in her 20s with heavy makeup, a bright smile and a long, narrow nose. Her attention to appearance makes her look a bit like a doll, which is funny because so many people refer to River as a doll and she’ll be helping to care for him.

From her house, we went to someone else’s house where the group was preparing. Today they were wearing one of their more basic costumes, not the “deluxe” one, but it still seemed pretty elaborate to me. The girls attached long braids to their hair, they all wore heavy makeup and white ornamental pieces on either side of their hair. They wore white shirts and each woman had a long, colorful skirt. When they held their arms out to either side the skirt rose, looking like a fan. The men wore black pants and matching button, down shirts.

This house had a tree in front, which made it much cooler and more comfortable than Magdalena’s. We sat on the patio and watched them practice. When we’d arrived, the musicians in the group were practicing their music, imbuing the air with a festive spirit

I didn’t realize until we got there that the performance was going to be at a political rally, but that made it all the more interesting. The rally was for candidate Juan Carlos Navarro. The elections aren’t until 2009, but the contest is apparently already underway. Lorena told me there are a lot of candidates. She said she thinks this one is the best though and thinks he has a good chance.

I asked what she liked about him and she said he was well prepared because had studied at Harvard. I asked what he believed in, what he proposed to do. She wasn’t very precise, but said that he would continue the policies of the current President, who had helped the poor people with housing.

At the rally, quite a few people wore red, white and blue shirts. A group of youth waved matching flags and posters were hung along the faces. A promoter with a big white smile kept things going. When a woman pictured on the poster with Navarro (she wants to be the representative from this region) appeared and a video camera taped, the promoter indicated (out of sight of the video camera) for everyone to stand up and clap.

They started out with two teenage boys and one girl, dressed in jeans and t-shirts, doing very mediocre pop dances. Someone handed out free juice drink boxes to the people in the audience, who were seated under an awning to escape the drizzle. Then the folkloric group came on and they did a good job. But a young man with jeans falling down below his underwear stole the attention of much of the audience by dancing while he waved the Navarro flag.

River watched, especially entranced by the colorful skirts of the folkloric dancers. He and I were the only gringos in the audience. Our strange appearance probably augmented in oddity when I breastfed him. But it was an interesting slice of local life that I was grateful to witness. And it inspired me to look up what’s going on in Panamanian politics.

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