Panama 2019: On Gloria’s Faith

If you’re a person of faith, you have to account for the fact that some people really get the short end of the stick in life. What does that say about God, presented by most religions as loving?

On one of our last breakfasts, Gloria launched into her belief that I am a living angel sent to her by God as her reward for keeping the faith through many years of trials. That really hits on all my old Catholic stuff, but I recognize and respect that Gloria has the right to make sense of the world within whatever framework she can. So I smile and nod and stay silent. I’ve heard this story of my alleged angelic qualities several times.

When I first met Gloria ten years ago, she was employed by a wealthy Cuban-American couple who owned the villa I first rented. They were imperious employers, to say the least. Gloria had many family problems: her youngest son’s leg kept breaking, unable to support the weight of his growing adolescent body. The treatment for his club foot had been limited, and did not involve physical therapy. Her mother was aging and not so able to ride herd on three rambunctious adolescent boys while Gloria was away for weeks at at a time, as she was required to do when the Cuban couple or renters were in residence. Gloria’s marido, Luis, worked near the city and was only home Saturday mid-day through Sunday night. They often went for weeks without seeing each other. Gloria herself had many health problems, some related to the extreme malnutrition she suffered as a child. She was miserable, overworked, often in severe pain, and near despair.

That, she tells me now, was God testing her. And she met God’s challenge, because her life has gotten steadily better over the ten years. Now she is a new woman.

Well, she is a new woman — funny, confident, assertive. I wish she would take more credit for the hard work of personal transformation, attributing more to her natural intelligence and resilience and less to angelic intervention. But as I say, people have to make sense of the world in their own terms.

I think Gloria has changed as a result of the role modeling and encouragement of all the strong women I’ve brought to Panama, and whom she’s gotten to know — often without any shared language. Gloria thinks her life has changed because God tested her enough and finally decided to cut her a few breaks.

Here’s my evidence of women drawing strength from other women — Tia Sally and Gloria. Gloria doesn’t need evidence for her world view, because her story is all about faith.

Panama 2019: Best and Worst

On a purely solitary note, the best this year was the ocean, which was absolutely delightful and enticing. We got in every day, despite the occasional appearance of Medusas and other dangerous sea creatures.

On a more interpersonal note, the best was seeing Minga’s family close ranks and come together after her death. My sister of the heart would be proud.

Runner-up bests, in no particular order: Gloria’s cooking. Getting word that the frightening news about Gabrielito’s heart was in error, and that he is likely fine. Seeing Luisito in university and Miley headed there, likely to surmount the poverty into which they were born. Exploring more of Panama City than we usually do. Continuing our streak of ten years with no injuries or significant illness, even as Tia Sally goes out alone in the pitch dark around 5am to run while avoiding the heat. The family gathering on the first Sunday we were there, which was Minga’s deepest wish — that her family continue to gather and celebrate. Sun and 90 degrees every day. Sunrise and sunset, every day. Gin and tonic at the hotel bar. Three weeks of uninterrupted camaraderie with my dear friend Sally.

The worst: only one really. The Bone Collector thing, which freaks me right out. Actually they’ve always done that — scooped up whatever remains after three years or so and put it all in a small box somewhere else in the cemetery, to save space and make room for the next dearly deceased. I remember that from the Peace Corps days, when people were merely wrapped and didn’t even have caskets. A deceased got a three year ride in an official grave, and then had to make way. Freaked out though I was, I left money for Gloria to pay the Bone Collector for dealing with Arturo’s remains, and specified that someone should at least paint his name on the little bone box. Right now, in the big white interment thing holding his casket, there is no name.

Glad to hear what posts you found most interesting, or least. 🙂

Panama 2019 Departure Surprise: On the Shuttle

As I said yesterday, I usually discourage the Panama family from coming to the airport. The lines at Tocumen — for anything — are long. Efficiency and customer service are not a high priority. Passengers have to go through two identical full security screens, and there’s no TSA pre which allows eligible flyers to keep shoes on, computers in bags, etc. Everything has to come off or out — twice. You go through the metal detectors at Panamanian security to get into the screened passenger area just like at all airports, then an identical process run by each airline at the gate — at least on flights headed to the U.S. Really, it takes forever. Woe to the person who’s gone through that second screening and is inside a secure marked off area at the gate who has to use the rest room.

This time I brought a beautifully painted parrot for Archie, and although the creature is made of wood, inexplicably there is an inside metal core. I found this out when my belongings kept triggering a metal object and everything had to come out of my bag until we found it. Since I’d stuffed half again the amount of belongings I came with into the bag — I always forget to account for the gifts the Panamanian family bring upon departure — the unpacking and running through the metal detector and packing again was not fun.

Given the arduous process, when Sally and I hit the door to enter the airport we rush for the security line. No time for good-byes there.

My breakfast crew had different ideas. When Sally and I went upstairs at the airport hotel to finalize our packing and get our bags and check out, the lot of them hopped on the hotel airport shuttle. They were lucky. That shuttle run was empty. When Sally and I caught the little bus a half hour later, it was full and only passengers would have been allowed.

Here they are — minus Manuel who had to go to work — in a pic they showed me later. And here’s the parrot, who arrived safely in my bag and is now in Archie’s room. 🙂

Panama 2019 Departure Surprise: At the Airport

Anticipating the cold weather in Seattle for which I was ill-prepared, I’d put on three layers of shirts plus my vest — this is my spring-through-fall one with a lot of pockets for passport and such, not the warm one I should have brought. As I walked through the automatic doors into the main terminal, there they all were. Honestly, it was a huge surprise. They tracked my every move until I was out of sight, which is  a sign that my annual trip there is an adventure for them until the very last moment. I was very touched.

I’m aware as I look at these pics that after kvetching about the long lines, there is no one in the initial security line as I go through. There are two lines, one on each side of the escalators. No one apparently realized the line on the right side was open — everybody was in the line to the left. 🙂 For once I sailed right through.

“Indirect Object Pronoun”

I have no idea what an indirect object pronoun might be in Spanish. I probably use that grammatical construct, maybe often. But I didn’t learn Spanish by studying grammar and vocabulary and literature. I learned by speaking, the immersion  method. When we Peace Corps trainees arrived at Camp David Crozier above Arecibo, Puerto Rico, in the summer of 1967, the staff spoke only Spanish to us from day one. We had language classes five hours a day, again, Spanish only. Have a question? Ask it in Spanish. Hear the answer in Spanish. Memorize dialogue a lot, just to get the feel and the flow of the language. That first morning, as we went through the cafeteria line in the mess tent, we had to ask for what we wanted in Spanish. I’d never studied the language, and had no idea how to ask for so much as an egg. A food worker took pity on me and let me point, out of sight of the instructors at least.

After about three weeks, the language just began to make sense. That doesn’t mean I was fluent. But I was speaking. Good thing, because at three weeks we were sent out alone with the name of a village, told to find a place to stay for three days, and to find our way there and back. I think we hitchhiked. I don’t remember having any money. Shaking my head at the memory — I don’t know how I got through the training. But I did.

Fast forward to now, when my niece’s high school aged son had a question about indirect object pronouns in Spanish. Matthew was about to have a Spanish test, and wondered if I could help explain indirect object pronouns. He’s been to Panama with his family and cousins, and thought of me as a resource.

The answer is no — not because I didn’t want to, or wasn’t interested, or didn’t have time. The truth is I have no idea. I only know Spanish because I know how the words and sentences are supposed to sound and fit together, not because I understand the underlying grammar.

Matthew understood, and found another way. 🙂

Panama 2019: The Last Morning

Sally and I were leaving from Tocumen International Airport mid-day on Saturday on different flights: she to Boston, and I to Seattle. A few family members told Lily they wanted to say good-bye, so I told her to pass on the word that they could come to the hotel and I’d buy breakfast. Going to the airport hardly makes sense, as Sally and I go immediately to the security line, and then to the gate where the U.S. airline makes you go through a metal detector with everything you’re carrying again, the way you just did for Panamanian security. Takes forever.

Lily dressed in her chief pharmacist uniform, as she’s on the way to work. They get six uniforms a week, and have to wear a freshly cleaned and pressed one every day. The  dry cleaning cost, borne by the employee, is $1.60 per uniform. You can do your own, but Lily has hers done at the laundry. They have to wear black shoes, and make-up. I hardly ever wear make-up, and certainly not during the day. I asked Lily what I’d do if I worked for Arrocha. She said, “Tia Pamela, you’d wear make-up.

Eating at a restaurant, even a hotel buffet, is a big deal. They never do that on their own.

We had breakfast and took pics and they gave us gifts to stash in our already overfull suitcases, and then Sally and I hugged and kissed them good-bye and went upstairs to finish packing our stuff.

They had one more surprise for us, which I’ll write about tomorrow.

Lily, Tia Sally, Tia Pamela, Hazel, Manuel, Lely.

” A few” became 11. From left, Lely, Ana, Teri, Hazel with Manuel behind, Naty with Miley behind, Tia Pamela, Tia Sally, Daira, Josue, Jeorgethe. Lily is taking the pic.

Licensiada Lily Bustavino

Panama 2019: Saying Good-bye to Jorge

Jorge is Minga’s grandson; his mother is Teri. Jorge is in his early 20’s. He’s a gifted artist with no outlet for his talent other than applying tattoos to villagers willing to pay for them. He’s a semi-skilled construction worker, but with building way down, he’s now washing dishes at a nearby hotel, Playa Blanca — a job  he hates. His partner, Lizmary, doesn’t work right now but she’s trying to finish credentialing as a pharmacy tech. That would be a very good job indeed, and she might be able to work at the Arrocha right outside Rio Hato — the same pharmacy chain where Lily works.

He and Lizmary live in a house that Jorge built on the Delgado property, behind my old house that is falling down. His sister Jennifer lives there too, with Josue and Jeorgethe. Jorge is building houses for his mother, Teri, and his other sister Jennisbel, making it a family complex. Right now Jennis lives with Jose and their two daughters Gris and Gris in another house down the road, with a third baby expected soon. I think this new house is to rent.

Construction is pretty basic; they use concrete blocks without even rebar for stability. But with a skim coat of concrete and a little paint, the finished effect is quite nice and colorful. The houses will have electricity, cold running water, maybe an inside bathroom or maybe a shared outhouse. I doubt Jorge does the electricity or the plumbing, but there are other family members who do.

Bit by bit, they create a shared life essentially out of nothing stable or consistent in terms of work. It’s quite impressive, when you think of the resources most of us can bring to bear if we want something. When they have, they build. When they don’t have, they wait. The houses might be finished next year. If the economy stays bad, they might not.

Jorge is the one who took the shovels from the men filling in Minga’s grave, because he thought they were throwing in the dirt as if they didn’t care, just to finish the job and get out of the sun. One shovelful at a time, he filled in his grandmother’s grave all by himself, slowly and respectfully and in a way that showed he cared.

“The blood of Christ has the power.” Sign above Jorge’s front door.

Papa Jorge and Sherlianys.

Tattoo designs — Jorge’s soul work, when and where he can get it.

Not much land, so all four houses are quite close together. The back of the house you see in the distance, by Jorge’s head, is his Aunt Daira’s house. — the land where Minga and Roberto Delgado and their five children lived during the Peace Corps years in a mud and thatch house. My old house is just to the left of that, and both are right on the Pan American highway.

Master builder.

Inside Teri’s house.

Jorge made this little tienda for his child as a playhouse. That’s Lily from the back. The house is Jorge and Lizmary’s.

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig

Well, there was a window in between snowstorms and wind gusts, and I made the window. I arrived safely in Seattle around 1pm. The highway was clear, and some of the major city streets. But Queen Anne hill was closed, as was Dravus St. — my alternative for getting up the hill to my neighborhood. I could have safely gotten an Uber from airport to downtown, but would have been faced with negotiating with a driver likely unfamiliar with driving on unplowed streets as to the best way to try to get up the hill.

We’re going to have a series of snowfalls this week, so if not home today, not home until late in the week. I would have been at Sara and Ben’s. Matt and Amy are “up the hill” too.

Just as an fyi, the couple in front of me in the boarding line at Houston had just come in from Santiago, Chile, and they said that the trials of the steep, snow covered Queen Anne hill were on TV there. I know those of you who get lots of snow are laughing that 4 to 6 inches can shut a major city down, but here we are. Schools are closed tomorrow, and lots of people will be working from home.

Sara and Ben were willing to get me downtown, so I got on the Light Rail link from the airport, and rode that downtown. Lots of other SeaTac passengers were doing the same thing. Once there, Sara and Ben grabbed me from the corner by Macy’s, and we found a more gradual road up the hill — the back way, by Canlis, for those of you familiar with Seattle.

They helped me in with my stuff, and then left to get off the hill before the next snow hit. Sara had managed to buy me a shovel — in high demand here over the last several days — so I could clear my steps and the car and go get groceries before the next snow began around 3:30pm. Matt called to check in and offer help. My daughter-in-law Amy and her mom sent great pics of the kids sledding on the steep block next to their house. Those under separate post, password protected.

I’m in, safe and warm and with a baked ratatouille in the oven for supper. Seattle is getting lots of ribbing online for the rush on our grocery stores and for being out of kale. Actually, the store was pretty well stocked except for bread. Clearly the bakery truck didn’t get through. But I’m well provisioned. My suitcase is unpacked and the wash is on. Held mail comes tomorrow, with all my tax stuff. My new Fitbit band had arrived from Amazon and Sara put it inside the house — my band broke in Panama. The FitBit is back on my wrist. I have on my warm comfy pants.

I have Joan Baez on from my Echo Dot. I poured a glass of good white wine.

Life is good. More tomorrow…

Pic below out my back glass door to deck. Yes, it is snowing again. 🙂

Panama 2019: Saying Good bye to Rufina

On arrival, we make the rounds to say hello. On departure, we make the rounds again. Here we are saying good-bye until next year to Rufina, Lily’s mother.

Hat is covering my white roots. 🙂 Rufina is 60, and her daughter Lily is 40. How time flies. I remember taking Rufina to a restaurant for her 50th birthday — first time experience for her. I always say to them that time with me is about having new experiences — all around. Each year is a new set of experiences for me too.

Rufina, along with her elder sister Ana, is the new matriarch of the family — a role she will fill aptly. She looks very much like her mother, and has her mother’s serenity. She also has a dry wit that you’d miss if you weren’t listening, letting your attention pass over her to the more flamboyant family members. Rufina is funny, and wise, and I adore her.