Monday, May 23, 2011

Quirky Panamanians Round Dos

So I heard that some of you enjoyed the first round of Quirky Panamanians. I decided to spoil you all again with another round. Enjoy!

I know I have mentioned the public transportation system here in Panama several times before but it deserves to be mentioned yet again. This is an ode to the chiva, technically known as a busito but I’ll continue to be the ignorant foreigner and call it a chiva since that word is more fun. This is particularly an ode to the chivas already well past capacity yet nonetheless stop to pick up another passenger, in this case, me. When that little death trap stops and a door in desperate need of some WD40 slides open, you might be thinking, “There’s no room for me, I’ll wait for the next one.” Don’t you fret, there is always room for you. You just have to know how to find it. This process of discovery might require a bit of work ranging anywhere from shoving people into the glass windows, slamming your butt into an unsuspecting face, or straddling someone’s lap as you cross over to find an inch of room on the other side of that person who is unwilling to slide over that one freaking inch.  This might sound potentially illegal as you are most likely violating minors or the elderly but trust me, as long as you get on that chiva, no foul. If you happen to be tall, you most likely can avoid all this by simply bending at the waist and leaning over a row full of gawking Panamanians. Note: it is not wise to do this while wearing a very loose shirt, especially when you find yourself in a chiva full of high school students...good luck holding on and holding it up. Sounds like fun, right?

My second chiva story of the day involves a particularly memorable experience I just so happened to survive last week. This perilous journey began like any other. I arrived at my hidden bus stop in Chorrera, to find the bus completely full except for one last seat. (Note: you will never find this bus stop unless you know where it is. Not really sure who came up with the ingenious system of placing chiva pick-ups at random throughout the city without any sort of sign but I digress). As I was the last one to arrive and there was no pato (usually a young man who is in charge of collecting money and opening the door for passengers), I was deemed honorary pato for the journey, a true honor indeed. Unfortunately for me, this chiva happened to be the crappiest of the fleet. Every time we stopped to let a passenger fight their way to the door in order to escape, I had to slug the door open with all my strength (granted it’s a bit diminished this days considering I haven’t seen a gym since December). And I had to heave even harder to close the damn door, all with not a word of thanks from the passengers! On top of all this unappreciated effort, I had to simultaneously maintain all of my groceries on my lap lest they go spilling to the ground outside the door.
 My new employment was made increasingly difficult by the lazy Panamanians who refuse to get off at the same time. When you drop one off, and the next one needs to get off five feet later, they wait till you close the door and the chiva starts creeping forward to yell “Stop.” My passive aggressive stares went unnoticed apparently as we did this over and over again. This specific chiva, the crappiest of the fleet, was well past its retirement. I say this due to the fact that the door did not close all the way. In fact, there was a gaping hole of at least two inches between the entire door frame and the door. Now let’s imagine that I am the pato, in a packed chiva, that just so happens to have a faulty door. Now imagine my fear of that door flying open while we are speeding up winding mountain roads at 60 miles an hour, swinging hard to the right, swinging hard to left, now back to the right. Terror doesn’t begin to describe my fear of being flung to my death at any moment while the driver continued to pick up speed as we took the hardest of turns. By the end of the journey, my knuckles were sore from gripping on to what free space I could find to hold on to. However, I did have a nice new view on the journey back home as I watched the road beneath us through the wide open space. Always look for the look for the positive, right?

Thus ends my ode to the much loved chiva. There’s sure to be more.

Back in the good ole days of Spanish class, we learned the meaning of the word “ahora.” If you look in the dictionary, this word means “now.” Apparently, Panamanians somewhere along the way decided to change the meaning. Not only did they change it, but they changed it to mean the exact opposite of now. Here, “ahora” means “later.” Something they failed to inform the rest of the world, including, most importantly, me. You can’t begin to understand the amount of confusion this simple change of significance caused me during my first few weeks at site. And since I’m such a considerate person, I’ll spare you the embarrassment and puzzlement and give you a free lesson on time in Panama.
                Ahora = (Dictionary definition: now) means later.
                Mas Ahora = (Dictionary definition: more now) means even more later.
                Ahorita = (Dictionary definition: there is none…) means now.
                Ya Ahorita =(Dictionary definition: already now) means it’s happening right at this very moment.
                Ya = (Dictionary definition: already) means you missed it…not the word you really want to hear.
You would think mas ahora, or more now, would mean right now, but no. I found out the hard way, by waiting a few hours, that mas ahora means, well, in a few hours. It still takes me a few clicks to get this whole Panamanian concept of time down but I’m sure I’ll get there eventually. A few more mistakes and I’ll learn my lesson.

The weather is a temperamental foe here in Panama. The most ominous clouds may be approaching your mountain valley from all sides yet it doesn’t rain a single drop. At other moments it can be completely sunny without a cloud in sight and you’re just strolling down your dirt road, unsuspecting, when a monsoon sneaks up on you and drenches you along with all your papers and notebooks. Blasted tropical weather.  Well Panamanians have adapted better than I have and love to predict the weather. They proudly announce not only if it will rain but exactly at what time it will start raining. They also proclaim the duration and intensity of the imminent storm. At first, I was in awe of their superior knowledge. Who needs the weatherman when you have your very own family of Panamanians to forecast the weather for you. Except I quickly discovered a problem, their accuracy leaves a little something to be desired. First of all, Panama is a tropical country. If it’s rainy season, and it’s not already raining, it probably will start soon. But during the non-rainy seasons, which I found are pretty much a myth, Panamanians are no better at predicting the weather than this newbie who likes to join in on the fun of predicting with convincingly deceptive accuracy just to have something to say.  You should try it too.


  1. So fun to read about your "adventures!" especially on the Chiva...that is some serious craziness goin' on!

  2. It is a bit crazy but I love it! Its all good as long as I make it where I need to go. Hope you and the girls are doing well!