Saturday, March 29, 2008
No Such Thing as a Normal Day
My days vary wildly, all over the map. Used to be, when living in the US, I pretty much knew what I was going to do from one day to the next, and even, talk about a schedule, for a whole week!
Here? I can plan all I want, but chances are good that by 8 am, I've completely changed around whatever it was I intended to do. Mostly it's due to "crises"--something I had better take care of immediately or all hell will break loose in whatever arena the emergency is occurring.
Part of the problem is that I'm trying to get a lot done at once around here. This is the first year for the garden, and I'm learning an enormous amount--mostly through very ugly surprises. Then I have several small projects going--a "potting shed", except it's not really a shed and it's not just for potting. It's a small structure that is a cross between a greenhouse (totally unnecessary here), potting area, and indoor growing space. Concrete slab with bamboo supports and the side that faces the wind and probably a corregated plastic roof with shade cloth on top. I'm responsible for buying or at least arranging for the materials, as with everything else here. sometimes that means, as in the case of bamboo, finding out where to get what I want and then negotiating for the stuff.
Or maybe I wake up and find we have no water. Then comes the fun of finding out whether it's IDAAN, the government-owned water company or whether there's a break in the mile or so of PVC lines from the IDAAN connection up on the carretera (highway) down to our place--whether it's due to a cow stepping in a hole and breaking the 3/4" pipe (yes, it happened), or a bulldozer running over an exposed pipe (right), or a careless worker tromping on the shutoff valve in the gander next door (ditto). Why so vulnerable? Because the man who installed the line was told to bury it at least a foot deep and therefore he buried it about 2-3" deep. I've been slowly getting the line buried deeper.
If there's a break, it means that I haul out my repair kit--I have a plastic tool box, a little one, filled with joins, PVC cement, pliers, and other goodies--put a length of PVC in the back of the truck, and then travel to wherever the break is and fix the line with water pouring out at well over 100 lbs pressure. In all kinds of weather. Mostly it happens on Sunday morning when no one is around to help. I've learned to be self-sufficient. And it often happens in a downpour. I've actually slipped and slid down a small embankment during a hard rain, wrenching my knee in the process, fixing a break.
There's the house maintenance/repair work. Finding a decent builder who won't rob you blind is a problem here in Panamá. Our builder was relatively honest--which was good, because I knew nothing about construction either in Spanish or in English at that time--but he had his limitations, and one of them was installing our polypropylene roof. It's almost impossible to avoid roof leaks here upon first installation, and our roof has developed a number over time. so--where to find a good person for repair and then how to insure that he actually does get over here and work? That is NOT trivial. There is nothing even remotely like a Yellow Pages here. You find people by word of mouth. It is not a quick process. But I finally got our usual worker over here--finally, after 3 broken promises to get here, not uncommon for this area--and today, he has washed the roof, stopped up spaces in the cumbreros with polyfoam, and is now introducing silicon sealant into the screw holes and then resealing the screws. Later, I want him to paint the roof and then do an overcoat of silicon paint to really seal it off and shed the downpours of September and October.
Equipment maintenance is always a barrel of laughs, given the incredibly rough ground we have and the likelihood that through nobody's fault, I'll have to get the lawnmower into a repair shop once every other month at the worst possible time of year--smack in the middle of the rainy season when the grass grows 2-3 inches overnight. Try and find a workshop (taller) that a) can indeed repair anything mechanical and b) won't rob you blind because you're a gringo/a and by definition rich and stupid. I'm on our 3rd weed eater in 3 years, thanks to the incompetence of our garden workers, ditto the tallers in David. I have eliminated at least 4 weed eater repair tallers and am going on recommendations of friends in Volcan for the next lawn mower crisis.
The competency thing is a real problem here. Without too much exaggeration, this particular area of Panama is about one generation from the wheelbarrow being the latest technological advance (other rural areas may not be that far ahead). We religiously take our truck into the Nissan dealer, whose mechanics are trained by Nissan; there are other, "cheaper" tallers--but not after you spend time taking the car back in, arguing with the mechanic about what's wrong, etc. etc. and so forth, if they even know what's wrong to begin with.
Then there's Fred's Fence, which is a post all by itself. Our darling chocolate Lab, Fred is a wonderful dog who loves us dearly as we do him--but who is also, like just about every Lab I've ever know, a Happy Wanderer. He particularly loves the neighbors next door, who return the affection--a mutual admiration society that has Fred burrowing underneath the barbed wire fence and jumping over the stone one to cross the quebrada (creek), get his hugs and a bribe to return in the form of a dog biscuit. I think we FINALLY have him contained--but believe me, it hasn't been easy. So some days I'm doing crisis stone wall work, humping 20-35 lb rocks, thanks to the need to plug Fred's latest escape route.
The garden. Because I gardened organically back in the US, I never had an aphid problem, and we lived too far north to get acquainted with white flies. I have been rudely introduced to both here (never mind trying to save bougainvillea from leaf cutter ants who can strip a plant overnight). I have had to figure out the best and least toxic way to deal with them and other pests. I never know what I'm going to find when I walk out to water.
More on all of it later.