After three months in Panama City it is time to draw an interim balance. My Berlin-style walking pace has slowed down to a latina-like creepiness – who needs European rush in this heat? But other than that, my life has changed in many ways. Simply because it had to.
My patience was never really evolved. People who know me, would describe me as gentle and nice, even bubbly. Those who know me really well know also the fierce red blisters of that erupting vulcano in which I turn whenever one slightly might scratch on the surface of my outer patience. Which used to really help keeping down the „magma“ was a regular meditation and yoga practice in the past. But – whilst the sleepless zombiedome during my child’s first year followed by the emigration process – I had kind of lost it.
It was then here in Panama that things changed, slowly but consistently.
My home country has the (admitttedly controversial) reputation abroad of everybody being always punctual, organized and reliable. Well, NO, we don’t drink beer all the time, just as we don’t wear leatherpants all over the year – just as we are not a people of disciplined working automats. Believe me, in Germany you may find a real „service desert“ as we call it, and people are as unpunctual as everywhere else. But compared to what I found here, I have to say, yes, every other country I have traveled to or lived in were heavens of pin point, well-organized reliability.
Take my experience with Cable and Wireless in the second week after my arrival to PC. We had had no phone, no internet, no TV for two weeks. I had already signed the contract with C&W on one of the first days, so with the service desk at C&W I appointed Friday 1 pm for the installation of the technical stuff. I waited three hours in the apartment, dazzling sunshine outside. Noone came. Nobody answered at the call center. I was red with anger! I had wasted three hours not being able to leave the apartment, and we would have to stay without internet and connection to the world for who knew how many more days.
That evening, I got a call by the guy who I had made the contract with. We postponed the installation to Monday.
Again, one hour, two hours went by, nobody showed up.
I couldn’t believe it. Of course, in Europe artisans also often make you wait hours, be it because of the traffic, or because they have a lot to do or also because they know they can make you wait, since the clients depend on them. But some would at least call in between and most of them would show up at least sometime. But they would never make you wait in vain TWICE.
At that point I had already reached such a big frustration that I told myself: Look, you have waited at the Seguro Social three times in vain, for „the sistema no funcionaba“, now this. Sure, it will happen again. If it is not Cable and Wireless it will be another company or just someone else. You have to learn something from it.
So what could I do instead of wasting time?
I tried to swallow down my anger. And, taking a deep breath, I finally remembered what used to calm me down best not too long ago. Just like in a reflex, right where I was standing I got down in a crosslegged position – and started meditating, eyes closed. Concerning (not only) the fact of my long missing meditation practice, it took me a while to settle in.
After that I got a call (the contract-guy of course didn’t know what had happened to the technicians). We arranged the next appointment for the upcoming Friday, 1pm. On Friday, I already didn’t expect anyone to come, so I meditated from the start.
At 2 pm I was done and dialed the number of the callcenter. They told me that the guys were stuck in a „tranque“ (a traffic jam). Everybody gets stuck in Panamanian traffic almost everyday, so on the base of my just then calmed down mind, I sighed and kept on waiting, reading, trying some yoga postures, making calls. At 3 pm, I got a call: they wouldn‘t come anymore, because the car had broken down. And by the way, the guy added, due to Semana Santa (Easter Holiday), the next possible installation date would have been more than one week later. Still 10 days without internet or TV! As if I never had meditated in my entire life, there it was again: the vulcano, erupting in Spanish, English, Italian and German, yelling every word I could think of in my blind furor against my cellphone. And to the poor callcenter agent.
Twenty minutes later, the guys were there and got everything installed the same day. Believe it or not.
Of course I don’t want to spread the message that only yelling at people helps you to tackle tha kind of situations in Panama. At that point, as an excuse, as helpless and made-fun-of as I felt, it just aimed at helping myself. And surprisingly turned out to be the only instrument that really efficiently helped. For sure, in most situations yelling (especially in a mix of foreign languages) would cause just the contrary. Panamanians would not understand your rage – and of course can be stubborn as hell! It was a classical „fall-back“. Of course, you will have to face fall-backs of impatience when implementing a meditation practice.
What I understood is: Panamanians have their very own pace. Everything takes a lot of time, mostly it takes several tries and always a lot of energy. And don’t try to dictate them the time you think it might take to e.g. write down your passport number, address and name for the third time when you just want to purchase something.
Just for calming down oneself I suggest everybody to start meditating. Use the time you stand in line for 20 minutes even if there is only one single customer waiting in front of you. Enjoy this spare time you had been given by surprise! Breath in deeply and, if possible, close your eyes just for some moments. And practice at home: Set a timer, begin with 5-10 minutes and work it up 5 minutes longer everyday. Don’t expect too much from your first tries. Of course, thoughts will come up. Watch them in silence without jugding.
With a regular meditation practice, nothing can really harm your balance. At least not that much that you will turn into an erupting vulcano. It will help you create spaces in everyday’s huzzle and buzzle. So next time you get stuck in a giant tranque or if some „sistema no funciona“ you will see a huge difference in your perception and reaction! People will appear to be the most charming ever. Because it’s you who is charming, calm and relaxed. You get my point.
Just breath and be persistent. The vulcano might still be there somewhere deep down but save your energy for those more important things in your life.