Panamanian hospitality

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We were playing progressive rum at the kitchen table when we heard the doorbell ring. Two of the cutest neighbors brought a Welcome-to-the-Neighborhood gift. The best kind of gift — DESSERT!

Miguel and Sebastian were the sweetest emissaries and treated us to a pretty in-depth discussion of where to buy the best candy.

They are clearly our favorite neighbors now!

Unpacking memories

In between crushed lampshades and ridiculously wrapped rocks, we uncover items that bring back memories. Beds are sporting quilts made by my grandma and my mom. Glassware I bought when I was 25 and travelled to Prague to work for an English-language newspaper (Prognosis). These glasses have survived the ’94 Northridge Quake, a couple Santa Clarita moves, being on shelves in a room that boys would play in, and now they have survived U.S. Customs and a container trip to Panama. Tucked next to them were crystal shot glasses a friend brought back from Czechoslovakia for our wedding.

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This guy was my Dad’s. His twin sister is/was a teacher and one of her students made it. I’ve carried him around for years. Makes me think of my dad and my aunt.

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Many of you know that Neil is rabid Oregon Ducks fan. His Ducks gear all made it in tact, including his favorite mug (made by family friends). Neil will continue to drink his soda in style. (And yes those are plantains from our back yard tree.)

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My Uncle Jerry’s art work made it too! He painted this as part of a 20-piece challenge. I dragged PTA friends to see it at a gallery in Sacramento.

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And Dean’s Aunt Betty. Her pottery is throughout our house — art tiles, mugs, bowls, umbrella stand (that we can actually use as an umbrella stand).

There are more things, but you don’t have to go through the list with me. It all makes it feel like home. Like family and friends are with us.

Unpack, unpack, and unpack some more

We just keep unpacking. It’s a weird sort of Christmas — brown-paper packages taped up in green. Sometimes these are my favorite things…

All our stuff is new again. Though sometimes the “gift” isn’t quite as expected.

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That’s right, we unwrapped a button, 2 business cards, a rubber band, a couple paper clips and 14 cents.

We imported rocks too:

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And baseballs:

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About that fragile sticker …

We waited so long for the container and then to open it to find this. It was disheartening to say the least. I might have hid in the kitchen and cried. A corner of the kitchen because there are so many windows in this house, there are very few hiding spots.

Our container sat in U.S. Customs and Border Patrol for a month. Every box was opened and examined. I know this because the bright green tape can be found on every box.

And then, as far as I can tell, they put it all back in the container in the reverse order. Stuff that was on top took its turn at the bottom of the heap.

For awhile, it just got worse as it was unloaded.

My favorite was this box marked “H.V.” for high value. All crystal and glassware. I couldn’t decide if I should open it from the top or just go in the way Customs did …

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Shockingly enough, nothing was broken in this box.

And for how the container looked when we opened it, surprisingly little was broken — a few glass items, a rug was ripped at the end, several baskets and lampshades crushed. A couple irreplaceable were broken — a childhood lamp that I’ve dragged around for 40 years (time to let it go!) and art tiles we loved.

We felt lucky that that was all the physical damage.

Agents of my own country did this. It is hard not to take it as an insult. I know it’s not. Just overworked government agents trying to do their job.

And as far as bureaucratic insults go, this is minor. So very minor.

It still stung.

Water outage

The water stopped working about midday yesterday. Was it the water bill? Was it the issues with the water heater again?

When you don’t speak the language well it’s not easy to call the water company up. And truthfully, I have no water company information. We haven’t seen a bill, a company name, nothing. We just have water. Well, usually we have water. I’m guessing a bill will show up eventually?

I texted the landlord. Texting is a saving grace. I can text him. He can translate words he doesn’t know. He can text me. I can do the same. I’m thankful for it!

Turns out a pipe leading to our housing area had broken and was being repaired.

And we all know what no water means… We can’t do dishes so these guys had to take me out…

We explored a local strip mall. Found a great kitchen store that also had beautiful finished slabs of wood for sale. The pieces of wood were slices from the caoba tree. Hmmm, we are going to need a souvenir from this trip, right?

And we found a lovely internet cafe with good food, charming local wares for sale and delicious desserts.

The only moment of fear was when the most expensive thing on the menu was a word that didn’t translate. We had no idea what it was. Dean asked the waitress. She described it as “carne.” Ok, beef? She shrugged her shoulders. Steak? She shrugged again.

Dean ordered the mystery meat. Turns out is was a perfectly prepared skirt steak in a wine sauce. Best mystery meat ever!

It can get here from there!

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I’m thankful for whoever at the Post Office in Florida figures out our mail is going to the wrong address and somehow gets it to us at the right address. Today we received a book we thought was lost to the great void of undeliverable mail. Suggested by Arthur Edwards, my high school Spanish teacher and father/grandfather to family friends. That makes him a family friend too, doesn’t it?

Sr. Ed was born in Panama, making him and and any children (I know his daughter) Panamanian citizens. Funny, I remember him describing this beautiful country during Spanish class. My high school self had no idea…

The doctor will see you now

The doctor will not only see you, but open the door for you, greet you by name and ask you to call her by her first name.

I take medicine for asthma. I have allergy pills and two inhalers (one for every day and one for emergencies), and they are pretty vital to my wellbeing. Since Dean’s job changed in April our insurance changed in April. As a matter of fact, Dean’s employer was so efficient, our insurance stopped the day Dean left the U.S. division to work for the international division of the same company. No end of the month for us. It took weeks to get information on our new Panamanian insurance which (I’m sure you could have guessed this) was not accepted at my local CVS pharmacy. My least expensive inhaler costs $375 in the U.S without insurance but with a coupon my pharmacist found (did you know there were manufacturer coupons your pharmacist and doctor have access to?).

It’s the end of July, needless to say I needed to get my prescriptions up and running. I’ve been living on samples my previous doctor gave me.

In Panama, doctors are associated with specific hospitals here. Hospital in one building, medical offices in attached building. You pick a doctor and you’ve picked a hospital (and vice versa). We chose Hospital Punta Pacifica. It’s associated with John Hopkins and came highly recommended.

I checked out the website looking for a family doctor. If I liked the doctor, maybe the menfolk would too. The boys had outgrown their pediatrician in the states so it was time.

The website doctor search engine helps you narrow down your choices and I picked a doctor. Available appointment times were listed for the next day.

It couldn’t really be this easy, could it?

I booked the appointment for the next day and hoped for the best. There was a comment section so I told the doctor I had prescriptions I needed to refill.

Two hours later I had an email from the doctor assuring me we would take care of the prescriptions and she looked forward to meeting me. She signed it with her first name and her mobile phone number if I had concerns before tomorrow.

We are clearly not in the U.S.

Dean and I drove to the appointment, couldn’t figure out how to get in the parking lot (I cannot begin to explain the one-way streets, the random U-turns and the one entry to a parking lot that if you miss it you travel 4 miles to turn around and try again… That’s a whole other post.). We ended up parking across the street at the mall and walking over.

We couldn’t find the correct office. We were looking for #210. There was a #209 and a #212 but nothing in between. We found an information desk. Turns out the doctor had moved to #608. We went to #608, a little cubby of an office with file cabinets and one desk. This wasn’t the right place either.

Now it was feeling like an ordinary medical experience.

The doctor was next door. We arrived at 11:26 a.m. for my 11:30 a.m. appointment. No one in the waiting room. The receptionist was dressed in a sharp-looking suit (I suspect it is the uniform for the hospital) and had a small form ready for me to fill out.

The doctor welcomed us in, seated us at her desk and proceeded to chat with both Dean and I for almost an hour. Gave us advice on dealing with humidity, answered questions about Panama and identified our animal photos, all while taking my medical history and asking about our family medical needs. It was unlike any conversation I’ve had with a doctor ever.

She was amazing.

Dean left the room, and she checked my lungs, my ears, throat and nose at the nearby exam table. She checked my blood pressure and my oxygen levels. We talked about habits that help asthmatics in this country. What to look for as I adjust to a new environment.

She recommended a doctor for Neil’s ear/hearing issues. She texted the doctor to make sure he spoke English and gave the doctor Neil’s information so he knew we would be calling.

I left her office with prescriptions to give to the insurance company. In Panama, you don’t need prescriptions for the drugs I use. Mostly you need a prescription for antibiotics and heavy pain medication. But you do need the prescription for the insurance company to pay for it.

We took the prescription to the pharmacy to be filled. As the pharmacists piled up 6 months’ worth of medication, I started getting worried about cost. With our insurance, we pay for medication and insurance company reimburses us.  Remember that $375 inhaler? It’s $78.60 in Panama.

And remember this post? My new doctor had a GOOD laugh at us. Turns out those are drug tests, not drugs for sale.

Which way to the ladies room?

Want to know how I use the restroom now? I’m sure you do. It’s mostly like you do, but I have a very careful approach.

Too many times I’ve sat myself down on the porcelain throne and realized I was not alone. Geckos usually, a lizard here and there, maybe a bug.

My response is undignified, though I’m not as loud as I was a week ago when we moved into the house.

Now, I approach the bathroom door, push it open gently, poke my head slowly around the door frame… I check the ceiling, the walls, all corners, behind the toilet and I lift the lid. I don’t need anymore surprises.

It’s a jungle out there

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We need a field guide for the back yard.

Looking out my kitchen window yesterday, I found these guys enjoying a little shade and keeping guard on the back yard. Look carefully at their feet. Not exactly claws, but …

There may have been heart palpitations on my part. And I may never go in the back yard again. I’m not a fan of reptiles. But I have friends who are so I turned to Facebook for identification. We have juvenile iguana family lizards, possibly basilisk lizards (Those are also called Jesus lizards because of their ability to “walk” on water.).

The word “juvenile” worries me… That means they are going to get bigger.

Dean’s drive to work

This is actually a Facebook post of Dean’s but I thought it blog worthy. I might steal more of his posts and add them here to document our adventure.

Dean used to take the 14 to the the 5 (with plenty of trips on the 210, 134 and 2).

Dean’s words:

So day four of my morning commute and I thought I would share my drive as compared to before. Yes, we moved into the house on Saturday!! First I drive down to the Panama Canal and drive along beside it until I hit the city. Before hitting the waterfront, I get to glance over old town and see some of the Spanish colonials. Drive along the waterfront between skyscrapers and the Pacific. After a toll on the other side of the city I drive along the Corredor Sur and watch the sun rise over the ocean. Twelve miles in about 35 minutes each day so far. And either Madonna died or her birthday is today because the radio station I listen to played only her music on the way in today. Enjoy your day.