Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Point of View

I woke up this morning realizing that in a destructive way, for me, this blog has started to dominate my life.  I understand that that happens.  What interests me is that La Gringa in Honduras has gone through the same thing.  Our blogs are similar, in that we talk about life here and she, too, takes an interest in trying to point out the risks of uninformed decisions to move to Central America.  Lately, however, that seems to be all I'm doing or thinking about, and that's simply not what I want to focus on.

I realized that through the Comments I've come to "know" a few of you--certainly not well, but have gotten a little bit of a nice "feel" as to who you are. 

I'm not concerned about the rich, and I sincerely doubt that any of them read this blog, which is just as well.  But I am concerned about people like us--retirees or anyone else who is living on modest incomes, who is feeling perhaps financial or other pressures and who dreams about getting away "from it all" and fulfilling some--again-- dream, of comfortable living in a tropical paradise.  Too much Hollywood.

It's these people to whom I address my concerns, almost frantic when I read about the innocence and naiveté upon which people seem to be headed towards making life-changing decisions.

Mary and I went through the list of the ex-pats we know around here--not every ex-pat who has moved here because we certainly don't know everyone by any means--and counted how many households are in the process of leaving or trying to leave.  It adds up to 40% or 50%, depending on what we think one person is going to do.  Of 10 households, fully 4 and possibly 5 want out or are on their way out.  The financial loss for at least two is or will be considerable.  I'd hate to see some of yo wind up in that position, or so unhappy that what should be really good years for you turn out to be miserable.

However, I have the nasty character attribute of sort of taking responsibility that definitely isn't mine on my shoulders.  Whether or not any of you make informed decisions, whether or not you come here at least considering the risks, whether or not you're going to continue to be so desperate or so blind or so in love with a fantasy that you move here regardless and then fall victims to the predators, both Panamanians and gringo (especially American), who are here waiting for you, is really not my concern.  

So, thank you to those who have made comments that they've found my blog informative.  I think I was never so happy with the blog as when it served as an information exchange for tick removal and suppression, because that sort of thing is exactly who I am.  I will continue to write about what I encounter here--I have one post in mind about problems with labor that have come up for us quite recently--but mostly I want to document the real reason why we came here--what we enjoy about living in this area.  I'm going to be busy for the next few days, but when I return to this blog, it will be with photos, hopefully videos about the Potrerillos library and the new additions to the school.

By the way, Dan, I did follow up on Charles Colburn and learned some things last night; I intend to learn much more over the next few days. but you're right--he helped the Potrerillos library enormously.

So I want to leave the subject of risks with this warning:  if you intend to buy land and build, you will face the two greatest risks you have in moving here--buying the land and not being taken (no water, for instance) and then finding an honest and/or competent contractor.  There is absolutely no way to overemphasize those dangers.  It's not possible.

If you decide to buy in a development or another type of existing house, you are merely facing those risks once removed.  I know every screw, every tubo, every bag of cement, every piece of rebar, every beam in this house because I bought them and I checked them out as they arrived.  This is not the US--you don't have the same disclosure laws protecting you.  Buying into a development that exists only on paper is or is only partially complete is, at this point, a horrendous risk for many different reasons, not the least of which is that developers are going broke and leaving people high and dry with no possibility of getting their considerable deposits back.

Sometimes I think I make it sound like we knew everything and avoided all problems and had some sort of easy time of it here, because we were all-knowing.  No.  But from our individual experiences in Latin America--Mary spent three years in the Caribbean doing graduate work, me the equivalent of over a year in the poor parts of Brasil--we knew what we were in for as far as culture and the lack of infrastructure was concerned.  We knew the kinds of things we would have to do without but we also knew what we considered to be the benefits.

We also listened to the advice and warnings of some gringos--American and Canadian--who had been here for a long time.  I will be forever indebted to those three people for their kindness, patience, advice, and help.  Without them, and the sharp but honest and extraordinarily helpful Panamanian businesswoman who sold us our land, I don't know that we would have come out of the experience here in any kind of good shape.  We are not rich.  We built here based on the proceeds of the sale of a very modest house in the US, and we live on Social Security.  We could not afford a major disaster and we didn't have one, thanks in good part to these three people.

Without question, we also had a certain amount of luck.  What percentage that was, I couldn't say.  But it factored in.

Even then, we made mistakes.  But after you get through the major hassles, the rest you can deal with.

So that's it.  If you have questions, you can ask me, and I'll give you whatever information I have based on my experiences and those of people I know (within limits--don't ask me about real estate).  But for the most part, I need to get out from underneath what this blog has become.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Joyce for the unvarnished truth. I really believe that bloggers like you and LG will save some people a lot of heartache.

It seems that people want to believe in Paradise no matter what you tell them. Thanks again for a informative and funny blog.


Joyce said...

Hi, tom--

Thanks for the extremely kind words. I can only hope that you're right, especially those people with limited means. but I really get discouraged when I read things like the Gringos in David digest and see comments, even from those who live here and should know better, that say to me again that I'm wasting my time. For instance, even I didn't know how bad the soil instability situation was in the Jaramillo areas. But I've lived in similar places where rainfall causes problems and have seen the reports of damage done in Seattle and nearby areas because of accumulated rainfall and development.

Some of the people who live here and are posting to Gringos in David are pure, plain, hopeless idiots and that's the kindest thing I can think of to say. They dismiss, in their ignorance, the dangers of mud slides. They clearly don't know what they're talking about in terms of rainfall and the problems of accumulated water in unstable soil. Period. They haven't bothered looking up what rainfall data is available. What may be true for Minnesota or Wyoming or Arizona, for example, is NOT true here.

OK, enough! I have some material for great blogs on food and other aspects o this area that I love, and will much prefer to write about them next.

Thanks again for your very kind words.


Mary said...

Joyce. I can see how you could get discouraged. Telling folks the hard side of things, and having them parrot back the paradise side, must get frustrating. On the other hand, if they listened, they wouldn't come find out for themselves.
In the meantime, your blog, and the others, does a huge service, both for those there, but also for those coming along behind. One or two will be more wary, take more time, stay longer before committing to buy or build. I can't imagine moving anywhere and plunking down some big chunk of money without growing to know the place first.
Keep doing what you're doing. It's a public service, appreciated by many.

Anonymous said...

Hola Joyce:

I am a chiricana living in Orlando, FL. I dicovered your blog and like the way you describe living in Chiriqui with clear reality. It is an education for me to see how "extranjeros" see my country, with no emotions attached. And I have learned more about my people and myself by looking thru a different glass. I like to read what kind of people like to live outside the US when you have everything here. And, always come to the conclusion that they are more open minded with a sense of adventure.
When people ask me what it's like to live in Panama, I always say to visit and stay a while. Do not move to live there just because you read or hear that is cheaper, or don't snow.
Keep the wood work with your blog!!
I find it funny, informative and describe Chiriqui just the way it is living in paradise. You seem to make something positive out of negative.

Linda & Clyde said...

Joyce - please be kind to yourself.
Sometimes we all "want to nuture and explain and provoke thought.." and we, your reading public, do appreciate and understand when you are passionate about something. I read this article this morning and thought about you...Linda Keith

Old Age, I decided, is a gift.

I am now, probably for the first time in my life, the person I have
always wanted to be. Oh, not my body! I sometime despair over my body, the wrinkles, the baggy eyes, and the sagging butt.

And often I am taken aback by that old person that lives in my mirror, but I don't agonize over those things for long.

I would never trade my amazing friends, my wonderful life, my loving family for less gray hair or a flatter belly.

As I've aged, I've become more kind to myself, and less critical of myself. I've become my own friend.

I don't chide myself for eating that extra cookie, or for not making my bed, or for buying that silly cement gecko that I didn't need, but looks so avant-garde on my patio. I am entitled to a treat, to be messy, to be extravagant.

I have seen too many dear friends leave this world too soon; before they understood the great freedom that comes with aging.

Whose business is it if I choose to read or play on the computer until 4 AM and sleep until noon?

I will dance with myself to those wonderful tunes of the 60's; 70's, and if I, at the same time, wish to weep over a lost love ... I will.

I will walk the beach in a swim suit that is stretched over a bulging body, and will dive into the waves with abandon if I choose to, despite the pitying glances from the jet set .They, too, will get old.

I know I am sometimes forgetful.

But there again, some of life is just as well forgotten.

And I eventually remember the important things.

Sure, over the years my heart has been broken.

How can your heart not break when you lose a loved one, or when a child suffers, or when somebody's beloved pet gets hit by a car? But broken hearts are what give us strength and understanding and compassion. A heart never broken is pristine and sterile and will never know the joy of being imperfect.

I am so blessed to have lived long enough to have my hair turning gray, and to have my youthful laughs be forever etched into deep grooves on my face.

So many have never laughed, and so many have died before their hair could turn silver.

As you get older, it is easier to be positive. You care less about what other people think.

I don't question myself anymore. I've even earned the right to be wrong.

So, to answer your question, I like being old. It has set me free. I
like the person I have become.

I am not going to live forever, but while I am still here, I will not
waste time lamenting what could have been, or worrying about what will be. And I shall eat dessert every single day. (If I feel like it)

Anonymous said...

Your blog is one of the first things I read in the morning when I get up.

I think your advice to prospective expats is spot-on. I intend to retire to Panama and am in the process of getting all the required papers together for the Pensionado Visa.

Have I even visited Panama? The answer is No!

Then why do I think I'm immune to your advice? Well, I intend to come down with my own house. A sailboat. It has the advantage in that no matter where you are, YOU'RE HOME!

What makes me think I'll be successful? Well, I've lived outside the States for several years and am well acquainted with culture shock and from previous comments I've posted, I'm not intimidated by living in a country where the native tongue is not my own. I have a better than rudimentary grasp of the Spanish language beyond "una mas cerveza." This mornign I also bought Barron's 300 Spanish verbs.

And if I should either tire of Panama or simply not like it I can just slip the lines or hoist anchor and see what's over the horizon.

But, as stated, your advice is well thought out and more people should take it, too. A similar situation happens with cruising on boats. It's usually one of a couple's dream and the other is going along with it because it DOES sound like a neat way to retire.

But cruising isn't all beautiful sunsets and palm-lined islands. Cruising can pretty much be summed up as "repairing broken equipment in exotic locations with inadequate tools and supplies." And if you want to find real bargains in cruising sailboats one only needs to go to ports which are usually the first destination reached by novice offshore cruisers from their jumping off point. The wife (generally, but not always) hates living on an angle underway and lays down the "it's either ME or the boat" ultimatum and the For Sale sign is run up to the yardarm.

Anyway, keep up the good work.


Joyce said...

Hi, Richard!

What a perfect post! Your description of cruising was exactly the conclusion we came to when we considered it many, many years ago. We read up on it and talked with people, and I decided that I was too old to learn the incredible set of skills you need to do exactly what you've described and what other people warned me was the case. Which was too bad because there are ways in which a nomadic existence can appeal to me.

Just up the road from us is a Canadian couple who did what you described for 10 years and then decided to drop anchor for good in Panamá after having visited here as well as other Caribbean/Central American countries. They are incredibly clever, imaginative people who took an old, beat up Panamanian house and turned it into a cozy, wonderfully livable, charming place--on the cheap because they'd learned how to get along like that in 10 years of being "boat people". As I've said before, I'm not against people coming here--after all, we did--but you have to be realistic and be able to survive. They, like we, are thriving.

Good luck and good sailing--enjoy your retirement here, which I'm sure you will!