Monday, January 4, 2010


January 3

This was my first whole day in Boquete. Already some interesting contrasts are apparent.

I had lunch with an American woman, one of several I had met on-line ahead of time to form an instant social support group here. She was quite willing to share her experience of moving here. She had found an excellent lawyer who processed her pensionada (retirement) status ahead of time for small fee. She had made friends with a local Panamanian woman who had become her house cleaner and was very trustworthy and reliable. Thus in the course of one conversation I found a lawyer and a cleaning lady.

There is a new minimum wage law here, but there is some discussion among the ex-pat community about whether or not it applies to part-time domestic help. The on-going rate appears to be about $5 a day. Many gringos want to pay more, but this would upset the local economy and create ill will among the more affluent locals who have domestic help. This is only one of several subtleties I am learning.

Another controversy involves the status of the Ngöbe Buglé, the local indigenous people. They are a merger of two tribes, the Ngöbe and the Buglé and speak their own language.  Panamá has several tribes, and a large percentage of the land is set aside for comarcas (reservations).  As you can see on this map, the comarca for the Ngöbe Buglé is larger than the province of Chiriquí where Boquete is:

The Nagobe-Buglé are easily spotted.  The women and girls wear a charming traditional dress.  They make it in a variety of colors and trims.  The trim tells the tribe they belong to:

The men dress in Western clothes and are scrawny and grim. The children are beautiful, quiet and happy.  Here is a little girl I met:

How can one not love them?

The women and children are scrupulously clean.  They are usually seen walking by the road, sometimes great distances. I don’t recall seeing any of them taking buses, probably because they can’t afford them. Many of the men walk down the hills to the coffee fincas for meager pay to supplement their subsistence farming. They are treated quite badly by the Panamanians, but the Anglos are kinder and do many things to help them.  My host family has an indigenous family living and working on their finca, and the owners do many kindnesses for them, such as buying them video games etc.  I will get to meet this family Friday (January 8th).

Shortly before I arrived, there was a gift give-away for the local indigenous children, numbering approximately 500. I knew about it from one of the Boquete listserves. The children are a special interest of mine. Amazingly, I was able to contact one of the local American women I already knew through e-mail to buy some presents for me, on the condition I reimburse her after I arrive. She did so and even had them wrapped. Thus I became part of the Boquete community even before my arrival.

Much to my amazement, my host told me that there is an indigenous family living just on the other side of the bamboo hedge next to my casita. They work for the owner of the land next door, who has a plant nursery there. They live in a tin shack. I can hear them quietly talking and working. Other than that they are silent – no television because they probably don’t have electricity. I assume they can get water from the stream.

I am fascinated and at the same time enraged by their treatment. Less than fifty feet from my casita - fancy by any standard with its wireless internet network, cable TV, microwave, electric coffee grinder, European linens – lives a family under the most primitive conditions of any third world country.

Please understand that my casita is not the big house - that belongs to my hosts.  Where I live is in the former maid's quarters underneath their back deck and not visible in this picture.  As previously mentioned, it is just beyond the bamboo hedge visible between the two arrows:

My eyes and my heart are opened.


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