Jacqi: Panama Daze
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Panama, etc.
I was born here in Panama, but was adopted shortly thereafter by Americans who carried me off to Montana and from thence to lots of other states. When I retired, my lust for adventure didn’t. So when I started itching to live overseas two years ago, choice of location was a no-brainer. As to the Who R U part, I guess I’m a Jacqi of All Trades, because I have always gathered information without prejudice and shared it the same way. My favorite paid activities have been “Computer Trainer” and “Author.” Right now, besides the blog, I’m working on my second novel: “Panama Red’s Guide to the Azuero.” I hope to publish it before the end of the year. The first one, “Saving Time: A Satiric Novel of Gods, Ghosts, Physics and Love” is getting a new cover and the above new title and will be reissued in March.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I have a sort of anthropological/sociological bend of mind. I always want to know WHY people do X or Y instead Z, the way I am used to seeing it done. There seems always to be a sound reason, if you dig for it. When I discovered most of the type of info I wanted about my new home wasn’t readily available on the net, I knew I had found my niche. Plus, I LOVE to help.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Perhaps the most popular entry I’ve written was the post about the local sea-turtle rescue efforts, And Then There Were None . I get a kick out of writing some of the local history entries, such as Tales of the Azuero: Why La Mierda is No More (Mierda translates as “shit.”). And then I have a great time with my discoveries in the Spanish language. For example, Fun With Spanish: Just Call Me Mami . And, too, I often have practical advice, such as that in Bats in Your Azuero Belfry .
Tell us about the ways your new life in Panama differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
For quite a while I didn’t have independent transportation here. The bus is great and I love how everyone says “Buenas” to all when they board, but I’ve always had a car and the freedom to run hither and thither as and when I pleased, so that was frustrating. Shanks mare is not a real option for me, with my knee issues. I bought a scooter and once I got past being terrified of it the mobility aspect of things improved enormously. I wouldn’t dare drive in Panamá City, but here in the country I’m OK.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Panama? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Yes, there are a few things I would change, but not many. The single most important thing I would have done differently is to study Spanish more diligently. That would have improved the quality of my life here more than anything else.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Not yet being fluent in Spanish and having a tendency to switch certain kinds of words, I have put my foot in my mouth and chewed hard more than once. We have the time I went shopping for sandals and tried asking to see the silver (plata) and gold ones, but instead requested the playa (beach) and gold ones. Or the case of the cheap (barato) earrings, which I insisted were muy borracho (very drunk). I must give my listeners credit for courtesy. No one so much as twitched.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Panama?
Only one, but I can’t emphasize it enough. Be sure you are suited to the life of an expat in your country of choice. If what you want is to live like a gringo among gringos, there is an excellent locale for doing just that and maybe you might want to rethink changing yours. Why move somewhere if you are only going to spend your time being afraid of - and complaining about - the people who live there? Try to remember that this is NOT your house. You are a guest. Imagine how you would have felt back home if some “furrinner” showed up and started talking the way some expats do.
How is the expat community in Panama? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
As with anywhere, like-minded groups drift together, and as anywhere, it can take a while to settle in. My observation is that there are kindred souls here for everyone. Me? I totally love it here. I love all my new friends, Panamanians and expat adventurers from around the world, including lots of really delightful former peace corps volunteers. Here in Panama, I have new friends from Panama, Belgium, China, Canada, the US, France, Italy, Mexico and many other places.
How would you summarize your expat life in Panama in a single, catchy sentence?
Honey, I’m home!