Expat Life In Panama City, Panama

So It Goes In Paradise…

“Sr. Lief?! Alberto is in trouble…”

It was Elodia, our office manager, calling upstairs to Lief in a meeting in my office. Lief excused himself and went down to find out what the trouble could be now.

It was just after lunch, but already it’d been an eventful day.

Gary, Lief’s project manager for Los Islotes, had left the office early to drive out to the west coast of the Azuero Peninsula, where Los Islotes sits, to meet with an inspector from ANAM, Panama’s environmental agency. The inspector was coming out for a regularly scheduled site visit. The guy, though, called Gary, just after Gary had pulled away from the office, to say that the trip was off. Would have to be rescheduled. Because of the Indians.

Members of Panama’s Ngobe-Bugle indigenous tribe, protesting mining and hydro-electric dams on their land, have been registering their opposition to these projects by blockading roads around the country. No way to get from Panama City to Azuero the morning Gary and the inspector intended to make that trip. No way, in fact, to get many places in the country that day…or for some days to follow. Gary and the inspector would have to make their site visit another time.

Gary turned around and came back to the office. Which ultimately proved a good thing, as he was around later, to help with the Alberto thing. But I’m getting a little ahead of my story.

Alberto had been busy all morning. He and Marion had two urgent agenda items that day.

First, we had some furniture that needed to be put into storage. This wasn’t so much urgent as scheduled. We had movers showing up. Someone needed to show them what to move where.

The second agenda, though, did qualify as critical. Thanks to a paperwork snafu, Lief, Kaitlin, and Jackson’s residency visas were about to expire. (For some reason, my application was made separately and was all in order…while the rest of my family was at risk of becoming illegal aliens. Why? Who knows. We’ve learned not to ask those kinds of questions…)

Marion was meeting the movers to manage the transport of the furniture to the rented storage unit. Marion orchestrating the move, Alberto would be free to run around the city getting together the documentation that we needed to be able to file the visa extensions. The deadline for this was 24 hours away. If we didn’t get the right papers filed with the right authorities inside that window, Lief, Kaitlin, and Jackson might have to begin their visa processes all over again. From the start. Dios mio.

So Alberto dropped Marion off with the movers and then set off on his paper chase. When he’d finished collecting the paperwork, he was to collect Marion from the storage depot and then go with her to make the required filings on our behalf. The clock was ticking.

Meantime, back in the office, Lief and I were trying to get a little work done. Until Elodia called upstairs to us in a panic.

“What’s the trouble?” I asked Lief when he came back up to my office after speaking with Elodia.

“Alberto hit a guy. I mean, he hit a guy’s van. With his car. Well, our car. The guy cut Alberto off, trying to pass him, and Alberto smashed into him. They’re waiting for the police to show up.”

In Panama, it’s illegal for anyone in a vehicle to leave the scene of an accident involving that vehicle until after the police have arrived on the scene and taken statements. Not any policeman will do. It must be one of the special traffic policemen authorized for this duty. In the end, that day, Alberto waited four hours for the right policeman to show up (three other types of cops stopped by sooner, but their visits didn’t count).

Gary volunteered to go help Alberto. He took his digital camera and said he’d be back with photos.

Marion called. The movers had finished. Where was Alberto? He was with our bashed-up Prado. Marion should hail a cab.

By the time this message was relayed, it was too late for Marion to make it over to the scene of Alberto’s accident, get the required documents from him, and then go back across town to the Department of Immigration. They’d be closed for the day. That would have to wait for the next morning. When we’d be within 12 hours of the pending deadline.

The Prado out of commission, Lief and I would be hailing a cab, too, I guess, to get home that night…

No, no…not so fast. We’d use our friend’s car, parked, at the time, on the street in front of our office.

The friend, on an extended stay out of the country, left his car with us for safe-keeping. We’d been wondering where we’d store it. Didn’t want to leave it on the street indefinitely. Not that we’d worry so much about it being stolen. But a car parked on the side of the road in this town is fair game. You never know who might swerve, slide, or smash into it. Panama’s capital is increasingly a great big bumper-car arena. Too many vehicles. Too much construction. Nowhere any shoulder.

Where could we park our friend’s car so it’d be under cover and safe from the free-for-all that Panama City’s calles have become?

Now, an answer to that question had presented itself. The Prado would be away for repairs, probably for some time…leaving an open spot in our covered driveway.

Problem solved.

Kathleen Peddicord

P.S. We made the filing deadline with the Department of Immigration…with three hours to spare. Lief, Kaitlin, and Jackson remain legal aliens.