April and Kevin in Kuna Yala, the northeast coast of Panamá

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Patience in Panama is a different thing than what I would say we term “patience” in the US. In the US, we all know the pervasive lack of patience, rushing from work to meetings to home to bed to work. Admittedly, that is “busy” more than lack of “patience”. But who isn’t on the cell phone between or during each of those events? Who isn’t rushing the yellow light (or fuming in traffic that isn’t moving through the signal)? Who uses the oven or stove every day, instead of the microwave or take out?

Here, in Panama City, I’m it is the same (except no traffic lights, and fewer personal cars, so more folks in taxis or buses). But we aren’t living in Panama City (thank goodness). In the smaller towns of Panama, patience can be limited too. Lines at the counter in small stores or food kiosks are often non-existent: just walk up infront of whoever was there ahead of you and yell “joven, dame un galleta” (“hey you, give me a cookie” is the best I can translate the meaning). Push onto the bus regardless of who is waiting to get off or who else was waiting at the stop and when they got there. Interrupt if you have a question for someone who in the midst of a conversation.

And yet, there is a patience I can’t recall seeing in the states. While waiting for the bus on a country road, people will just sit and think and wait. If there is someone to talk to, they may talk, but they are content to just wait. In the states, people would be on their cell phone, listening to their iPod, reading the paper or a book, checking the time, and generally fuming. Personally, I would want my book, or something to fill the time – to feel like I was doing something, not just sitting. But I’ve seen neighbors waiting for a friend or the kids just sit, patiently, for half an hour or an hour.

Maybe they’re thinking of what to cook for dinner (“hmmm, rice”, I guess doesn’t take too long to think about) or enjoying the weather (“hmmm, 80 degrees again today”, I guess also doesn’t take too long), or listening to the waves or the birds. Or maybe they aren’t thinking anything, and are just patient. I hope I bring back some of this patience with me.

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