Cell Phones

May 31, 2011

Panamanians are always on their cell phones; the young ones at least. It’s taken some getting used to, and I still don’t like it, but they always have their Blackberrys out texting, calling or googling things. It’s apparently just gotten to be the fashion. I don’t know whether it’s worse than in the United States or not, but I think I just don’t notice it as much because they people I hang out with at home tend to be quasi-luddites. I just don’t understand what they all have to say to each other all the time. It seems like you’d run out of things to talk about, but I guess not. Or maybe they just all have that many friends. Who knows. Even at parties or clubs people are on their phones constantly. Two or more people will inevitably be standing around “talking” to each other, and at least one of them will be on the phone, texting or otherwise. I have noticed that since I have been here, in the last week in particular, I’ve gotten slightly more dependent on mine as well. I am the only person in our group however, that didn’t play the video game on the phones. Everyone else was constantly on the phones playing Jewel Quest, or whatever the name of it is. It’ll be interesting to see if I continue to be as attached to it as I have been here. I hope not, but the need to be in constant contact because of the lack of strict planning may be something that continues to play a significant role in my life.


Discussing gender relations, roles and sexuality in reference to our experiences in Panamá is a bit more difficult than many of the other aspects of culture that we’ve experienced. It’s not as simple as recording observations about how people drive, how they behave at sporting events or how they shop. Perhaps it would be best to begin with the standard subject: cat calls. We’ve all heard that this is a normal practice throughout Latin America and were all “warned” to be prepared for it, since it’s not something that happens in the U.S. The first day we were here we all walked as a big group to the University for our orientation. The entire walk was peppered with whistles, honks and comments from the surrounding construction areas, traffic and local pedestrians. Part of this was due to the fact, I think, that we were obviously a large group of Americans, including at least four blondes. Avoiding that kind of attention was impossible. When we walk in smaller groups it’s much less noticeable, and if I’m by myself it’s usually just a handful and nothing particularly invasive (I have noticed that walking with just one blonde elicits exponentially more shouts and whistles). When I was in Spain I managed to avoid calling too much attention to myself because I looked and dressed relatively European. Obviously in Central American my biscuit dough skin color makes me stand out a bit more, but I frequently get mistaken for a German tourist, so my interactions with locals are often a bit different. Back to the subject at hand though: cat calls. They are indeed a normal part of gender interactions on the street. There is no denying that. There are three standard MOs that I’ve observed: the whistle, the hiss and the comment.

The first and last are things that I was previously familiar with, since they happen with relative frequency in the States also. It shocked me how many people were surprised by it, acting like they’d never heard it before, but I suppose that’s a result of they neighborhoods we all live in. I grew up essentially on Bardstown Road where honking and whistling is pretty normal (although admittedly not as frequent as it is here). I didn’t notice the hissing at first, either. I think I was hearing it and just thought that it was some sort of automotive noise, which is pretty funny I guess, but that’s what it sounded like.

This sort of cultural practice would seem to indicate a subjugated position for women in society as a whole. However, from what we’ve been told Panamanian women occupy a different position in society. They are purportedly highly independent and strong willed, with single mothers often priding themselves on the fact that they are both mother and father to their children.

Spanish Mass

May 30, 2011

I went to mass with one of my roommates on Sunday morning. I had wanted to go to mass in the Cathedral in Segovia when I was there, but didn’t manage to make it out of bed after a trip to Valencia and missed out on my chance. I decided that while I was here I was going to go to mass and see what it was like in Latin America. We went to the church around the corner from our hotel, Nuestra Señora del Carmen. I don’t know how old of a church it is. I can’t seem to find the information anywhere, but it’s a pretty traditional building.

The church itself is much more intricate than most Catholic churches in Louisville, at least in its exterior decorative program. They keep the parking lot roped off outside of church hours, which is kind of interesting. I walk through it every day on the way to class. However, during mass there is no room to move there are so many cars, and everyone double parks. Watching people back out of this side lot onto the street was a bit nerve wracking, I have to say. I wouldn’t want to do it. The inside of the church is beautiful. The reredos is entirely covered in mosaic, and its bright colors are striking against the off white pillars and crystal blue ceiling.

The mass schedule was the first thing that I noticed. Mass is held on Sunday mornings from six to noon; every hour on the hour. We went for the 10:00 mass and got there about ten minutes before since I figured it might be kind of crowded. They still hadn’t finished the nine o’clock mass though. Just a few minutes before 10:00 they wrapped things up and went almost directly in to the next service. There were no hymnals, but they had printed programs with the day’s readings, etcetera. The music was a bit different than I had anticipated, although I’ve never been to a Spanish mass, so I don’t really know what I was anticipating. I think it just sounded more contemporary than I thought it would. The priest spoke slowly and distinctly, so I found it very easy to understand everything, although being familiar with mass protocol in general went a long way. It reminded me very much of mass at St. Joseph’s church in Louisville. The pastor there is hispanic and has a very different style than that of pastors at many other parishes. Being familiar with hispanic culture to a certain extent, I was aware that some of his manner was a result of his cultural background. After sitting through mass in Panamá though, I realized just how very Latin American Fr. Sanchez’s masses are. What really struck me about the service was how child oriented it was. I don’t know if that’s standard, but Fr. Sanchez displays a similar focus in his involvement with the congregation, allowing the children to participate as fully as possible.

El béisbol

May 22, 2011

I’ve been to two baseball games in the last week. I’d been itching to go to a game for over a year and just never seemed to find the time, so when Roly told us the National Championship finals were happening and he wanted to take us I had to go. I don’t care about sports at all, but for some reason I just really love going to baseball games. Go figure. I knew that any sporting event in Latin American was going to be more lively, shall we say, than any in the U.S., but I didn’t really know what we were in for. Los Santos and Bocas del Toro were playing, and Bocas hasn’t won a championship in 53 years. Driving to the game was an experience in and of itself. We crammed way too many people into three cars, and then we parked said cars on the side of the highway near the stadium. Apparently Rod Carew Estadio Nacional doesn’t have a very big parking lot, so this is a completely normal practice. This was the first time in my life I’ve ever walked on the expressway (with traffic still moving in particular). We made our way through the throngs of orange and green clad fans, and waited about three different places for our “chaperones” to get the tickets sorted out. When we finally made it inside the stadium we found ourselves in a sparsely decorated concrete maze, following closely behind our local hosts trying not to get lost in the crowds. The stadium didn’t have actual seats, just concrete risers, which I thought was actually kind of nice. It made moving around easier at least.

The first game we went to was crowded, but the Bocas side of the stadium was a bit sparse, so we had plenty of room. The second game, however, was absolutely packed. There was barely room to move once we got inside. It was the final game of the National Championship though, so that’s to be expected. It was interesting going to a baseball game with people who know all of the players, getting the inside scoop on who played for who, who went pro, etcetera. One of the most interesting (and different) things that I noticed was the musical presence at the game. There was a band, with drums and horns, and a small dance troupe as well. We all got up and danced with them at one point, which was fun. That is something that you never see in the States (unfortunately). Beer at baseball games is also cheap; $1 beer all the time. That would also explain why they’re all so willing to throw their beer at the drop of a hat. I doubt they’d be so eager to chuck it into the air if it cost $3 or $4. Since our side of the stadium wasn’t as full during the first game we didn’t really get to experience the beer shower at its best, but the final game was another story. We’d all been pretty well doused by the end of the night. It’s light beer at least. I can’t imagine getting showered with Guinness. Bad calls, runs, anything can instigate a beer shower. You just have to make sure to dodge the plastic cups that follow. There wasn’t quite as much dancing during the final game, probably due in part to the density of the crowd, but it was still a much livelier audience in general than those you find at the games I’ve been to in Kentucky.

We also had an interesting bunch of beer hawkers around us. From what I could tell there were about three of them working one section of the stadium and getting into frequent arguments about something. I couldn’t really figure out what was going on, but it had something to do with getting the best price for a cooler of 14 beers. These were the only ones who seemed to be having issues, though, so they may not have been directly associated with the stadium. I at least assume that food/beverage venders are working for the stadium and therefore not in competition with each other. Maybe these were “black market” beers, unlicensed beer hawking gang wars if you will. The cops did have to step in once or twice at both games, although not because of the beer venders. There were a couple of fights that broke out among the spectators in the stands.

Los Santos ended up winning in the final game, continuing Bocas 53 year losing streak, but being in the middle of such a big game was pretty incredible. I just don’t think I’ll be able to feel the same way about North American baseball games again.