Development In Panama

The best way to learn a new language is to find a local boyfriend (or girlfriend, as the case may be) who speaks no English.

Here’s another way: Hire a maid who speaks no English. If only I’d thought of this in Paris…

Our new maid in Panama, Jacqueline, Colombian, speaks maybe a dozen words of English. As a result, during her first four days with us, I’ve learned more Spanish than I did French during our first four months in France. As Lief and the kids remark regularly, my accent is pathetic. But, at this rate, I’ll be conversational within a few months. Not only Jacqueline, but Panamanians in general are patient with my efforts (and more forgiving than my family of my crazy accent).

A maid who speaks no English earns about half as much as one who does (about $125 per month, versus $250 per month for an English-speaker), by the way…so hiring Spanish-only household help translates not only to free language lessons…but to a lower cost of living, as well.


Our daughter is visiting this week from the States, enjoying a few days vacation with us before starting her sophomore year at St. Johns College in Annapolis later this month.

“I can’t believe how different this city looks even since I was last here in March. The harbor front along Avenida Balboa is completely changed.”

We were standing on the roof of our apartment building, looking down, 28 stories below, at the continuing roadworks. From this vantage point, it’s like watching small boys play with a Tonka Town village. Dump trucks and diggers carry dirt and gravel from one pile to another…then smooth out the piles into what will become the new and expanded main thoroughfare through downtown Panama City, four lanes each direction with parkland in between.

Lief and Jack make the trip to the roof at least daily to check the progress. “The day-to-day change is like nothing I’ve ever seen anywhere,” Lief remarked this morning. “It’s like watching time-lapse photography.”

It’s all super impressive, I agree. If only they didn’t have to take delivery of rock and gravel all night, every night. Even up on the 10th floor, in the wee hours, it often sounds like the construction is in the next room…

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