Had I started a blog when we first moved to Panama, I would have called it “Livin’ Wide”. Not “Large”, not “Long”, not “Wild”. “Wide” meaning just branching out, experiencing everything, taking it all in. But, as it was, I started the blog in the Patagonia region of Chile, and the nearest town was Futaleufu, and I could not pass on that name. Futalandia it was, and is. That experience, in Patagonia, in Futaleufu, epitomizes the experience of being an adventurer in the sense that you don’t know what is waiting for you. Not at the next corner, the next day or the next moment.
Futalandia is the state of vertigo mixed with pleasure and dread. I learned living “wide” in Patagonia, yet I realize now that kindergarten started in Panama. It just wasn’t as harsh here. There were not stinging slaps on the wrists, no time-outs, no notes home to parents. Panama is more kind, a little more forgiving. The bitter winters don’t rush down and crush you; you have a chance to make mistakes.
In Patagonia, a mistake could mean serious consequences…your limbs, a digit, your life, or more importantly, your self-respect. I know. Patagonia humiliated me, but...I love her still. So I wonder why…why do I miss it? Panama has beauty so stunning it’s mind-boggling. The country people are incredible in their resourcefulness and graciousness. Sticks turn into trees and birds the colors of balloons swoop over the starkest towns and pueblos. It’s a lovely place, and I LOVE it dearly.
I think the reason I miss Patagonia is the people. Against all odds, with the most harsh and beautiful landscapes on earth, they thrive with gusto. I think that when you feel most vulnerable, you also feel most alive. And I felt vulnerable in Patagonia. In Panama I feel comfortable. Content. It’s easy here.
Someone once asked me to write about why we chose Chile once over Panama. I was offered a few bottles of fine Chilean wine…nothing to pass over lightly with the nearest town hours away. But, I said, I can’t. We didn’t choose Chile over Panama. It's Apples and Oranges.
I am not a "religious" person, however, I was thinking about things tonight and realized that I might be God. This realization is both empowering and frightening. Empowering because I feel like I might be just a tad in control. Frightening because so many fucking idiots are running around actually controlling shit.
And this is what preceeded my "awakening".
The religious right, right-wingers, christian conservatives and tea-partiers want GOD in their government, but they don't want Christ's teachings to be the basis for their policies. Down on your luck? Screw you lazy assholes. No work? Too bad. Create your own job. Sick, tough luck. Remember "What Would Jesus Do?" wrist bands so popular a while back? I know what Jesus would do, she'd be puking her guts at the hipocracy over the use of her teachings.Shame, shame, shame on what the US is doing in the name of Christianity in politics right now.
In fact, just to share a very personal experience, Jesus (as I call her for short) stopped by tonight and said, "Mom...I mean, God." Yes, my daughter, I said. She sat down on the front porch and peeled a ripe banana as the hummingbirds buzzed in the feeders.
You know how kids are. They run off all full of themselves, thinking they know what the world is all about. Jesusa comes by when she's needy. Depressed and feeling a little short in the confidence department. I love that girl, but she needs a reality check sometimes.
Free will, Baby, that's what I tell her was the basis for this experiment.
Jesusa starts whining, "I said alot of things way back in the day. And I had hoped that people would use the things I said as "guidelines".
Yes, I said, you did, and it was good shit. You are a bright kid, Jesusa, I assured her. (She was looking a little pale and down-trodden).
"But these folks these days pick and choose and it's not what I meant." I was squeezing oranges and she took the bucket of spent orange halves over to the fence and tossed them to the cows.
"I didn't mean all this, Mom," she said. "I didn't mean for people to value life before birth, then let their fellow humans flounder until death while the "money-changers" live in oppulence! You remember the "money-changers" Mom?"
I told Jesusa yes, I remembered. I told her way back in the day that her philosophy was too complex for the idiots. I told her they would pick and choose her words, her deeds and bastardize them. I told her that they would love what made them wealthy and priviledged and reject those ideas and teachings that "imposed" upon them hardships and took a peanut from from their snack tray. Selfish...that's what I told her many people are...but she believed they were compasionate and kind.
"My Golden Rule, Mom! That is the true basis of the meaning of living a good life." She sat there with orange pulp sitcking in her hair and cried.
I pulled Jesusa onto my lap. The stars came out in the late dim evening light.
"Look," I said, "This didn't work. They didn't want to be decent and kind. So look at all the other places we can try this again! Look at all the possibilities," I said as the Milky Way luminesced above in the dark Panamanian sky.
She smiled and said, "Do you think Dad loves me? He never calls."
"Oh my, Jesusa,", I lamented. "You know... your Dad...he has all those control issues and he's busy with the Tea Party."
I once stood in the snow and thunder, at the foot of a glacier. How do I up that one? I don’t, can’t. But I find monumentally insignificant moments that compare. Like when it rains so hard here that I cannot hear the cellphone ring and my mind goes blank. Like when I take a nap and wake up in time to take the bread out of the oven, all by accident. Joy and Awe are not necessarily big and spectacular, more often they are small things. Chile was big. Patagonia was bigger. It knocked me over, and over, and over. But I have realized that I can find joy and awe just as powerful in Panama, or, for that matter, anywhere. It might be the small, old Gnabe woman with a heavy bag strapped across her head, walking five kilometers up the road. I stop.
Donde va? I say. Arriba, she says. I have to open the car door for her because, I suspect she rarely has ridden in a car and does not know how to open, or close it. She settles her pack on her lap and seems uncomfortable.
Como se llama, I ask. Isolina, she says. And I let off the gas, letting the car slow as I have a flashback. Isolina… “isolated woman”. I knew Isolina, an Isolina, in Patagonia. She was a tough, illusive woman. Kind, rough, inside herself.
“May God bless and keep you always May your wishes all come true May you always do for others and let others do for you….”
I think of this Bob Dillon song, then realize that all Isolina May do is have just enough food to keep from starving. That she May have been borrowed or won in a fight, that she May see her children or grandchildren live the same subsistence living. That she May sleep on a bamboo bed, May get medical care once a year, May have three-quarters of her children survive, and most definitely at the age of 55-years, be picking coffee eight-hours a day for eight dollars come season.
I don’t know what Gnabe people wish for. I don’t know what gives them joy. Alexi, the young man who worked clearing some of the coffee field here seemed to find joy in his cell phone, and in making a snare, and in anticipation of returning home to his family in Bocas del Toro. Does Isolina wish for anything? Maybe wishing is the same as finding joy. I hope so…
There is the quiet life of people around us here…without the name-brand clothes, with their gentle, solemn living. When Dylan sings, “May you build a ladder to the stars, and …climb on every rung,” I wonder…what does it feel like to you have nothing to build a ladder with? Maybe if you don’t know there is a ladder to build?
Monday Morning, September 5th, 2011. A small earthquake shimmied me awake at 6:30 am. Natures’ call to get up and check out the clear morning-blue sky with a rapturous pink thundercloud off in the distance. The hummingbirds are busy and *Alexi is cooking rice in the fogon.
I finished my woven rag rug yesterday afternoon. It looks so great I couldn’t bring myself to put it on the floor. Mister helped me pound together a simple loom on Friday and I strung it up and started in with some scrap material I had been accumulating. I’ve been accumulating a lot of junk these past several months…coffee sticks and rocks to carve, bunches of dried mints and rosemary ( for something not yet imagined), old pieces of metal and knife blades from the fogon project, thick copper wire from the electric project, and the material scraps from a quilting class a friend teaches in Volcan. She does wonderful work with the local ladies. You can check out their projects at this Facebook link: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Volcan-Quilters-Las-Hermanas-de-Acolchado-de-Volcan/144391535625110> You can block and copy this, or just put Volcan Quilters in the search box.
So I have lots of stuff. And almost no place to put anything. The “house” is a simple Panamanian house; the original part was built approximately 100 years ago (or fifteen…I am not an archeologist) and the kitchen and indoor bathroom added five or so years ago. It is a cement block and wood house; cement block up to about three feet, then clapboard up to the rafters. It is topped off with a tin roof. This makes for some interesting conversations (screaming) in the heavy seasonal rains. There is a small front porch that leads into what I like to refer to as my Living Room Hall. Off of this interesting room (which measures five or so feet by twelve feet, are two “bedrooms”. One bedroom is barely five feet by seven, the other, the Master Bedroom, is large enough for a queen-size bed shoved between two small bed-side stands, and THANK GOODNESS for flat-screen TV’s because this is stationed nicely against the far wall, one and a half foot from the end of the bed. We have room to navigate sideways which is better than not at all. Back in the Living Room Hall, you step down to the Dining Room Den which is open to the kitchen and adjacent to the bathroom. Not much interesting about the kitchen and bathroom except the flush toilet. A little clarification on that in a minute.
The entire house features a polished (waxed) cement floor. I swept, mopped and waxed the all 300 square feet of floors one time and we spent the next week trying to avoid hip fractures. A freak windstorm hit last week and the various bird nests in the rafters (all empty I hope) blew everywhere and I was put-upon to finally sweep and mop again. No waxing though, way too dangerous.
We have wonderful, excellent cold water to the house. It comes from high in the mountains and is untainted by chemicals, livestock by-products or any other contaminants. What it does have is lots of air in it so the toilet and kitchen sink blast and blow hard streams of cold, fizzy water. If you visit and use the toilet, you may want to flush while you are still sitting. It kind of breaks up the day and is refreshing. And wear a raincoat if you are kind enough to wash a few dishes. As for the shower…Mister is in there screaming as I type. Poor Mister.
We purchased two wooden rocking chairs for the front porch. That always makes it feel like home. Aside from the rockers, and a bed, the rest of the furniture is homey-made. The kitchen table, stools and benches are hatched from scrap wood, and delightfully painted by me in odd color combinations. I have thoughtfully decorated the walls with flat-panel wood carvings and set about home-made baskets. Tastefully Tacky, if I had to name the style.
Outside, Mister and I have put in eight different types of choleus, four types of hibiscus, four varieties of fuscia, a few locally common heliconia and an apricot tree a neighbor gave us. There is a chiote (type of squash) vine, rosemary, three types of mint not including a patch of stevia, and various pepper and some pre-existing ratty rose bushes. The entire farm is in coffee with plantain and banana plants here and there. The trees include a type of oak, pine, cedar, orange (one sour orange tree) and two grapefruit...a few unidentified trees that the parrots flock to. Down at the river we have a large parcel of mora berries (a large blackberry). I haven’t seen the mora berries yet as that would involve a considerable walk.
My domestic gardening has not been very successful. The corn drooped at a foot high and died. Insects ate all the cucumber and tomato vines. I left a starter tray of jalapenos seedlings out in the yard and a torrential rain beat them all to death. Sometimes I think of leaving Mister out in the yard, but that’s just on rare occasions. However, the snow peas did quite well as did the arugala. When we have an internet provider other than Fred Flintstone, I will have the opportunity to research safe pesticides and fungicides online. Until then we will enjoy pea and arugala salads.
So that’s about it. Thank you for taking a tour of my humble home…stead.
So, we have electric now, and what a joy...not so much for the lights but for the freezer for food and for charging the computer and cell phones. We had our first Hoo-Rahs sitting one night in the outdoor kitchen, using the Dremel and sander under electric lights. I have the cordless drill battery charging and look forward to finding something to drill holes into sometime soon. The same night we marveled over the yellow, bug-light light bulbs on the front porch and danced to some music by Iron and Wine. It really is a group and not a metaphor for punching a wine cork out of a bottle with a three inch nail or screwdriver. Actually, this works in the absence of a cork screw.
The drawback with the new electric is that I can now see everything in the house considering I have only a few wood shutters that kept things looking dark and "rustic". Now they look dreary and cobwebbed. This can be a drawback. I will give the place a good dusting and cleaning, then go to low-watt bulbs and relax.
Enjoyment for me is my morning coffee with a waltz-around in my nightshirt and work boots to see what seeds have not spouted and which plants have succumbed to insects and excessive rain. I never know. Amazingly, a rotten potato I threw out the back door has taken root and I may have a small batch in a few months if the grubs don't find them first. The squash has done extremely well, but unfortunately most of the vines crept up around the coffee plants, strangling a few and I had to agree to have the vines ripped out. The sacrifices I make are immense.
We realized that we slept better than we have in a month..that is… since the electric was turned on. It has dawned on us that we had semi-carbon monoxide poisoning from repeated evenings watching Avatar over, and over and over again, the DVD being powered by the generator. Avatar not being my choice...but someone else in my household. This is why it is a good thing to be able to see the outside from inside between wall boards. Great hedge against a silent carbon-monoxide death. Air circulation is a good thing for stupid people. Trust me.