Wanting to retire in Panama

As everyone is aware when moving, whether it be to a new neighbourhood, new city, new country, new continent, it is instrumental to make new friends to help with the transition. I have mentioned on numerous occasions about all the wonderful new expat friends we have made but I would also like to mention that we have also made some wonderful new Panamanian friends. There is the waiter at the beach club, along with V the bartender, and E and G, two of the many lifeguards … all working at the Decameron …. not to mention all the security gate keepers, groundskeepers etc etc that we say hi to every day and thank everyday for their service.
But there is one friend, in particular, that I would liked to blog about today – and that would be E – the lifeguard.

Of course, as you all know, one of the many reasons we moved here to Panama was the cheap cost of living. This however, does not come without a price. We must remember that although Panama is very close to gaining first world status and Panama City has often been described as a mini-New York it is still considered a third-world country. And this is more prevalent than ever when you start visiting the interior of Panama more, especially when going into the hills and highlands, where electricity and hot running water are often non-existent. Panama also runs on a social class system, whereby the rich Panamanians would not give the poor Panamanians the “time-of-day” so to speak. Because of this social class system, we have been warned by many, many, many expats to be cautious of any poor Panamanians wanting to become your “friends” because more often than not they will try to single out white people or “gringos”, as we are so graciously called, only to eventually start wanting and asking for things from you and will try to take advantage of our friendliness and generosity. But I am not going to focus a lot on that on this blog, I want to focus on our amigo E.

E has been working at the resort for over five years as a lifeguard. He has a wife and two beautiful little daughters. When we first arrived here we spent a lot of time at the beach (I mean a lot -especially when the girls were here -lol) and so, naturally before you know it, everyone knows you by name and some will try to talk to you and some not so much. E right away was very friendly and what started out as a casual “buenos dias” everyday is now turning into a friendship. E is very eager to learn English and we want to learn Spanish and with our handy-dandy English/spanish dictionary, it is amazing how we can communicate. E works an average of 12-14 days in a row, with then two or three days off and works an average of 10 hours per day and his salary is barely above $2.00 an hour.

So after three months of being at the Decameron, E mentioned one day that he would be bringing his daughters to the beach on his next day off. We asked him the date and told him we would be there for we would love to meet his two little girls. That was September 16th and what a wonderful day we had. We spent the entire day at the beach club, swimming, eating food, and just having a wonderful time. It was the first time his youngest had ever been in a pool (piscina) for although he works as a lifeguard for the resort, they are not allowed to use the facilities on their days off. They were soo tuckered out that they both fell asleep on the bus on the way home (which was at about 6:00 PM) and slept right through to the next day.

So now I fast forward to yesterday. Naturally, after our first visit the girls kept asking “papa” when they could go to the “piscina” again. E graciously mentioned to us how the girls loved their day at the pool and they were sending us hugs and kisses to thank us so another pool date was set – October 16th. This time we brought them back to the villa where we fed them hot dogs and KD (yes, you read that right – KD) and swam again all afternoon. D and I were truly amazed at how well behaved his daughters were and their table manners were impeccable. Everyone was so tired at the end of the day that we offered to drive E and his girls home.

The drive to his home is about a 15 minute drive from the resort. D and I were already more than aware that E does not come from wealth and that seeing where he and his family lived would be a humbling experience and it truly was. This was our first close up and personal look at the poverty of Panama. His family lives in a little house towards the hills just off the main highway no bigger than the average size of a shed back home with holes for windows but no window panes and we were literally driving on a goat path to get there. He currently shares his residence with his sister and her children and candidly pointed out the house across the “street” which is under construction that he is building for his family as money allows. He introduced us to his wife who was working as a nanny at the Decameron for a family who decided to move back to Australia and had just finished her last day of work and is now looking for new employment. We offered to hire her as our house cleaner for one day a week and are still in the process of working out the details. His youngest fell asleep in my arms in the back seat (she did not want to stay buckled and although it is law to wear seat belts in the front of a vehicle in Panama, it is not so in the back, so E was OK with letting her get unbuckled and settled into my lap for the trek home).

We sincerely have been enjoying our time spent with E and his family and although we have been forewarned about how some (not all) “gringos” have been taken advantage of by the poorer Panamanians, we will follow our heart and do what we feel is best and will tread cautiously going forward in pursuing our friendship with E and his family.

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Comments on: "Making New Friends in Panama!" (1)

  1. Wonderful story. I just always use the term “guarded”. You will do what feels right, and what others might not. We asked our Spanish teacher how to ask “do you want a ride?”, because so many Panamanians are simply trying to make their way to the nearest bus stop (especially with small children). She is married to a National Policeman and said there is no reason not to put the offer out there, but again, just keep your antennas up. There isn’t always a right or wrong way…just follow your heart as you posted.

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