Archive for May, 2014

It’s presidential election time here in Panama! This only happens every 5 years, so it was a really interesting opportunity to experience.  The votes were tallied on May 4th and the new administration will take over on July 1st.  Now, as you all know from US politicians, election campaigns bring out the best in everyone. I would like to share some of my favorite billboard slogans. All of this is verbatim:


“I want your vote!” – Candidate: Uncle Sanchez

“Panama, there is only forwards, no backwards.”

“I will put more money in your pocket.”

“Water for everyone! Latrines for no one!”

“Darien, you’re in my program.” (Um, thanks for recognizing that we exist?)

“Never vote for the same people twice.”


I also feel that I should mention that there was a candidate (not for president but for a different position) that nicknamed himself “Obama” because he was black.


The whole election process is very… open. People hang flags and wear jerseys of the political party they are involved with. Furthermore, politicans are very openhanded with their funds. For example, a political candidate came to my community a few months ago and had, essentially a townhall meeting. Then he left a $100 bill (yes, a Benjamin) with the community leaders. And the community leaders showed it to everyone in the community. The politician also bought us all candy and soda.


Politicians are essentially just a source of funding for… ANYTHING. You can ask for water, sanitation, soccer jerseys (most common), a baseball stadium. They just throw their money at whoever asks, as long as they can put a big sign on it that has their name.


On the actual voting day, it’s was not something individual or private. Every main political party had a truck full of food at the local school (where everyone votes). There were 100 people just hanging out at the polls all day long, eating free food from whatever political party they belonged and watching people vote.


I also had a hard time distinguishing between parties. There appears to be very little discussion on ideology or philosophy and people seem to just vote for whoever they know. I mean, almost everyone has a cousin or aunt or something that’s running for office.


Another interesting tidbit; Panama has never voted for the same party twice. The polls suggested that this year might be different. The current president, Ricardo Martinelli, made his own party, Democratic Change, and they did a fair amount of work in Panama City:


Built a few bridges,

Put in a nice metropolitan park,

Constructed Latin America’s first subway system,

Implemented new city buses (aka NOT old US school buses, I think this is also the first country in Latin America to do this)

Introduced a $1 coin (humbly named, the Martinelli)


So…they did a fair amount in just 5 years. That’s not to say they were perfect. They basically ignored the rest of the country. But it’s interesting that hardly anyone talked about this progress. The current president, Martinelli could not run for re-election by Panamanian law, but he had a successor run and his wife was to be his VP. After they named Mrs. Martinelli as VP, the party took a dive in the polls and apparently could not recover. People felt that it was too much like a dynasty and that you’re not exercising your right to a democracy if you vote for the same person twice.


Anyway, the new president, Varela, is part of a party called the Panamenista, and is apparently very Panamanian. His slogan was “water for everyone, latrines for no one.” He also has an engineering degree for Georgia Tech… which makes me question Georgia Tech’s engineering program. Hopefully I’m just being pessimistic and Varela will actually work to provide these basic needs to the most difficult to reach Panamanians and not just focus on Panama City. We shall see…


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I have a new job.


In my last post (which was actually written 4 months before this one), Lajas had running water. The water committee has been infinitely more organized than I would have imagined, that is mostly thanks to the incredibly industrious and hard-working Eufemio Guaceruca, our water committee president.


So I applied to extend my service a few months to switch gears a little bit and go back to focusing on sanitation. I’m going to be traveling around the last few months essentially trying to find out if people are using compost latrines and their perceptions on using human waste as compost. I still collaborate with Lajas occasionally by phone and try to assist them in whatever way I can.


I’m now living in Meteti, otherwise known as the Dallas of Panama. I live with cowboys. I literally moved from living with Indians to cowboys. The muchachos here walk around in their cowboy boots and ride their horses around town. There are lasso contests. And rodeos. And a baseball stadium. This is civilization people. Well, kind of. I still only have running water every other day and phone signal has gone out 4 times in the last 24 hours.


I have an awesome roommate PCV that works in the school teaching English. She likes to sing Kesha, Adele and Mariah as much as I do, which I honestly didn’t think was possible. She introduced me to who I think must be the only Panamanian that 1) knows how to dance AND 2) can play Adele on his guitar. We had a little jam session the other night and it was amazing. His 12-year old brother actually improvised a traditional Panamanian typico song about us.  Absolutely incredible.


This is so different from the life I was living but I am definitely enjoying the change :) 


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