Count to 10. Take deep breaths. Remember to laugh. Is it life and death?
“They” say that Patience is a virtue. Well, it’s definitely a good quality to have, for lots of reasons. I think it’s very important when visiting a foreign country. It’s far more important if you’ve decided you’re going to actually live in a foreign country.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m often lacking in this area. Just ask my husband…and my children. I am particularly short on patience with myself, and with technology. Yes, inanimate objects have been known to make me swear more than just a little. They’re supposed to work, and work correctly, damn it! More on that later, in another post.
Living in a foreign country, where ever you are originally from, is challenging. Maybe the biggest challenge is to not allow the challenges to become obstacles. In Panama some of the challenges are, in no particular order:
1. The language barrier if you are not a Spanish speaker. I mean a true Spanish speaker. High school Spanish is not going to cut it. Even if you consider yourself fluent in Spanish, what you learned was not Panamanian Spanish. There is a difference. Not to mention the dialects of rural people, who are probably going to be doing your yard and pool work, cleaning your house if you have a maid, running road side vegetable stands, etc. I AM working on shrinking this barrier, but I don’t think I’ll ever be fluent.
2. Understanding the laws and regulations that affect every day life. Don’t expect to walk into the municipal office and get a permit to build a house, or start a business. Let alone dealing with immigration, or simply getting a drivers license. Even if an attorney isn’t required, expect that what ever task you are trying to complete is going to take much longer than you would expect “back home”.
3. Going along with number 2, if you have to go to a government office or a bank, double and triple check the hours before you go. After you’ve confirmed the hours as best as possible , make sure it’s not a holiday. Panamanians love their holidays. Wasted trips are exasperating, and will try the patience of Job.
4. What ever the rules are, they are probably going to change. Or at least not be applied consistently. For instance, you might be able to walk into a pharmacy and buy antibiotics one day, and a few days later be told you need a prescription. Go a few kilometers down the road, to a smaller town, no problem. What’s the difference? Who knows! See numbers 1 and 3.
5. Lack of road signage. Directions are given with landmarks, and time frames of driving in minutes. Because there are so few road signs! This may be a case of which came first, the chicken or the egg. Road signs, particularly street signs in Panama City, would make life so much easier.
6. Hurry up and wait. One of the reasons you moved to a Latin country, right? It’s amazing how quickly we forget that, and our North American need for speed, in everything, comes to the fore. Bureaucracy is not the only culprit here. See number 2. Contractors and laborers have their own time tables. Is this really any different from “back home”? Not really. I think that numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4 contribute to this perception.
Most days, I think…I hope!, I have learned to take this all in stride. To be patient, to relax, to give things extra time. Then there are days, when no matter what I do, everything conspires against me and what ever patience I do have. There were recently two such days in a row. The evening of the second such day a friend asked if I was OK, and I told her that it was one of those “Panama” days. The next morning, in the light of a new day, I realized that Patience is really MY problem, not Panama’s. Patience really is a virtue, that I will renew cultivating today.