Panama 2017: Winding Up

I’ve been spending the last couple of days attending to the business matters that I avoid doing while in Panama because I don’t trust the security of the internet connection. Part of that process is gradually shifting my attention from there to here. I’m glad to be back in Seattle. I had lunch with Matt yesterday, and on Thursday Sara and I are having dinner. I spent last Sunday at Amy and Matt’s, to see them and the kids. The weather was warm-ish and pleasant enough to walk to a playground, which makes it feel almost like spring.

I’m always struck, upon my return from Panama, about how marginal the villagers’ lives are financially. The resort complex where I stay, Buenaventura, is largely built out and the plentiful construction jobs have vanished. People are back to eking out a day of work here, a day of work there. Gloria’s husband Luis does maintenance work at the small nearby airport, which often means hours in the hot sun beating back the tall grass with a machete. The job pays very little, but the work is steady. I have no idea what “very little” means, except that I know construction workers and the guys who serve poolside all make around $20 a day. I assume “very little” is less than that.

Somehow, they make do. Family members help each other. If you have, you share. I have high hopes that Harlennys will finish her program in public accounting this year, and graduate in December. Her younger brother Luis wants to go to university too. Harlennys went to a private university, paid for by the late Dr. Marilyn Aten, a friend who met Harlennys on a trip to Panama and wanted to help her become something. Marilyn asked some of our joint friends to pitch in, and enough money was forthcoming to pay for four years. Luis will go to the public university, which is largely free except for books and such — Harlennys will hopefully have a job by then and help him through.

I leave Minga with a wad of $20 bills. She used to go to the casino — to the annoyance of her grown offspring who felt she shouldn’t waste money this way — and the money I gave her helped her not have to account to them for her secret slot machine outings. She doesn’t go anymore. Indeed, I suspect she doesn’t stray far from home. Even the walk to church now strikes me as beyond her capability. But she likes having the money I give her. When the guy passes by her house selling fish, she can wave him down and get a decent fish — not one of the cheaper, bony garbage fish — for her supper. He’ll even clean it for her before setting out again to hawk his wares.

I miss my daily swim, but am back to my daily workout. I miss the kids, but revel in the hugs of my grandchildren. I miss Minga and Sally and Gloria and Lily — “amigas para siempre” / women friends forever — but had breakfast with friend Louise on Monday morning and happy hour dinner with friend Cindy on Monday early evening. I’m almost 100% back in the swing of things, and it feels good.

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