Readers of this blog know the Blumel family has been charmed by Panama and our six months here will certainly rank among our lives’ great adventures. We have recounted in our posts many of our favorite people, places and things. But recall we were not on vacation, we lived here. And there were a few standout day-to-day frustrations worth bitching about. So, to add some balance to our blog — or perhaps as some form of therapy — we offer our top three kvetches (in reverse order).
#3 PAYING BILLS AT THE BANK – This was Phil’s big one. Presumably because a physical mail system doesn’t really exist, bills are often paid at the bank. You bring a stack of cash and the account numbers of the vendors (which in our case included school, utilities, school bus and a few deposits for our weekend adventures) and – after waiting in line – the teller counts the cash and directs it to the specified accounts. As so many Panamanians do this the lines are long, particularly on Saturday morning when we want to skip town for adventure.
During the week, the streets are packed with cars (see complaint #1) and bank hours roughly match the hours of most workers. So, unless you have online banking, you must stop working in order to fight traffic to stand in line to pay a bill. Not good.
#2 TRASH – For foreigners, this is quite striking when you first arrive and it is true the shock fades somewhat over time. But then you see a can or a sack of garbage being flung from a moving car window and the revulsion returns. Hey, there is garbage all over the place!
Some of this, particularly in the city, is a result of inadequate collection. The garbage sculptures grow, disappear and then return anew. But that is only half of it. There is a tolerance for littering that most North Americans and Europeans no longer know.
There is a growing consciousness about this and indeed in some parts of the country, such as Chiriqui, there seems to have already been a cultural shift. Change is coming elsewhere too. In the meantime, we’ll just complain about it if that’s OK with you.
#1 TRAFFIC – El tranque is our biggest complaint. Yes, it applies only to the city. Yes, it is only during weekdays during work hours. And yes, the worst of it is a temporary result of the citywide improvement of the infrastructure to deal with precisely this problem (such as the building the Metro subway). But that doesn’t mean it isn’t terrible!
Except when he is paying bills at the bank (see #3), Phil largely avoided this problem as he walks to work and otherwise drives only in evenings and weekends. But Julie often had to drive the kids to school when the bus didn’t show up – a not-too-infrequent occurrence – and drove Georgia to gymnastics practice at rush hour several days a week. While Julie suffered the direct blow, she made sure we felt her pain.
Yes, banks, garbage and traffic. We hate it!
Ah, that feels better.
(text, Phil; photos, Phil’s iPhone)