Panama! Part 2
Those of you who know me know I don’t like small dogs. I’m not subsumed by a baby-talking alter ego when I see their bulging eyes and stubby legs. Instead I’m compelled to ask myself big, esoteric questions, like, How far I can punt this thing? Why can’t this thing carry its own weight in whiskey barrels or picnic baskets?
Dogs have always occurred to me as Man’s Best Helpers, so the itty bitty ones that bark and fit into handbags seem like a gross abomination of the species. They seem to be made only for behaving obnoxiously and making their face hair wet with saliva. I hate them. It’s probably because like repels like and our similar anxieties meet in the middle like two magnet ends trying to go at it. Anyway, you should know all this because even I was surprised at how I responded to this little ball of fuzz:
I absolutely fell in love with him. I can’t explain it. If you had told me months ago that I would love a Pomeranian, I would have punched you in the face for even suggesting such a thing. And yet, there I was, covered in sweat and allowing a small hairy thing to rub against my bug-bitten legs. He wasn’t as barky as other dogs- so he had that going for him. And he was genuinely cuddly without being cloying. He only sometimes came out to greet us when we came up the stairs. He played fetch with a stuffed mouse for a short while, and then he stalked off like a nuclear physicist insulted by our pedestrian requests to know what pee-pee was made of. He could take us or leave us, and that was refreshing to see in a small dog. Would I be anthropomorphizing too much to say I thought he was moody? Or brilliant? I rather like the idea that maybe he wouldn’t come when he was called because he was sulking under the bed, writing in his diary, bemoaning how utterly alone he was in the world because his parents had brought him to this godforsaken place where no one understood him. It didn’t feel like such a stretch. And since there was a time in my life when I was also sequestered away in a bedroom ignoring the calls of my family and scribbling about my sad, what-does-it-all-mean-anyway life, I related. It was like I was meeting the sixteen year old dog-version of myself.
So I loved him, and I gave him a dumb nickname. And I couldn’t wait to see him at the end of every day. Lions aren’t my totem animal or anything, but he also looked like something that might guard an ancient Chinese temple, and that gave me pause. Maybe he WAS an ancient Chinese dog, a reincarnated one. And he was mind controlling me. How else do I explain that I fell in love with Lauren and Ryan’s tiny dog? I don’t know. Finney-Finn, you had me at “meh”.
Here are some entries from my journal:
DECEMBER 16th, Monday
Boat ride to Red Frog. Doing the tourist thing. There are children in our boat in the middle of the day. I wonder why they aren’t in school. I understand school to be part of a larger system, one in which there might be something to do after schooling is completed. It requires hopes and dreams and a bigger national vision. What is the vision for these children? Will they ever know life outside this island? Certainly they taste it in the sight of these tourists. But what would schooling do for them if they were to stay here? The fact that I am even thinking this way says a lot about what I think my version of right and proper is. On the walk down to the ocean, the word “Puritan” pops into my head in regard to myself. How stringently I view the world- everyone needing to be formally educated and at work at something useful and productive between the hours of 9 and 5. Who am I to know what useful really is?
Two young boys, maybe 8 or 9 years old, in soccer shirts and board shorts, walk around us on the beach. One has a red tree frog cupped between his hands while the other boy idly kicks a beat-up soccer ball close by. The first kneels down by our friend’s blanket and opens up his palms. Our friend oohs and ahs and I giggle as the frog jumps out of his hands and onto her batiked beach blanket. Our friend startles a little and I laugh harder. The boy retrieves the frog calmly, simply, like it isn’t even alive. “Photo?” he asks in accented English. Our friend pulls out her camera and takes a picture. She puts her camera into the main pocket of her bag and then from a side pocket, she pulls a moist, wrinkled dollar and hands it to the boy. He pockets it and stands up. He catches up to his friend. His back is to me but from the way his friend is trying to hide his smile, I can tell what they are talking about. They skip over me and walk over to the girl on the other side of the beach and the ritutal starts again.
DECEMBER 17th, Tuesday
Today we hiked up the Hill to the organic farm and coffee plantation. The coffee was rich and strong and we drank it with fresh, fresh coconut milk. It did nothing to lighten the coffee, but it added just a hint of sweetness. The mud still isn’t out from between our toes, a light orange clay that squished amongst the vegetation, slick to the touch.
Yoga this morning set my body abuzz. Made me realize I need to do it a lot more often. Soon as we get stateside, I am signing up for more. My hips and quads are unbelievably tight. How long have I been walking around and exercising with quads this tight?
Sitting here watching the waves roll in is highly therapeutic. Almost makes better the fact that my skin burns with mosquito bites. Strange to see the hawks I associate with desert/high altitude nesting in nearby palm trees. The sun has set and now starts the tree frog chorus. The roar of the waves drowns out all else. We move in slow motion here. I feel quiet tonight- maybe the yoga helped. And yet, I want to be that high energy girl, excited and alive. This island has me wrapped up in gauze, has me moving through honey. I am thick and slow.
I wonder what the brown skinned construction worker is thinking as he stares at me, as we stare at each other, really. Am I vain enough to think he’s actually looking at me? Is he looking past me? We both study each other for that fraction of a second, but for that fraction, the whole history of the world passes through our eyes.
There’s a “Crazy Dave” in every one of these ex-pat hideaways, it feels like. Always some guy who’s been doing it the longest, who came twenty years before anyone else did, who came to get away, but stayed for the cheap rum. Always in a tank top, always looking a little far away in the eyes, always using his bar or his house as a place to sing his own renditions of popular songs, in some mismatched get-up like funny sunglasses or a wig. And always there is a crowd of white people. The different cultures on this island mix well enough, I suppose, but it’s pretty clear where preferences lie.
Not that I was really thinking about ANY of that last night as I kicked and jumped up and down and skanked (as best I could in sandals) to the music at Crazy Dave’s. I had a thought while dancing (or maybe it was the beer doing the thinking for me): music is the equalizer. I came of age in a time where women in the scene were just as welcome as the men. That may have been because we were all blinded by the same pain and singing about it similarly so none of us saw the finer details of our features. But no one excluded me from the mosh pits. In fact, it was the one place chivalry was still alive. Grown men used their bodies to barricade me from the more thrashy among us. A dozen pairs of strangers’ hands supported another stranger’s body overhead to give him the experience of flying, or maybe being carted away to his own funeral. Hard to say.
OLZ sang Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”. I have never identified with that song. It was not my anthem. My generation was not forecasting we would survive. We already had (thanks, of course, to the ladies of Gaynor’s time). What was my generation forecasting? We weren’t. We were practicing being in the moment. We were flirting with violence and death in those mosh pits. We were raging against a machine. We had survived, but for what? We we asking ourselves this more and more, using each other as punching bags and the ropes all at once.
DECEMBER 20th, Friday
Outside the Firefly, food is charged at a premium, and there is so little variety. I’m beginning to think of rum as a either a condiment (there at the top of the food pyramid, “Eat these foods sparingly”) or a side dish. It is everywhere. It tastes watered down to me. It goes down smoothly, evaporates off the tongue quickly. The decision to drink it is an economic one- it’s cheaper than water. When alcohol becomes about economics, no one wins.
There is a man here from our corner of the earth who will be starting a brewery on the island, and is married to a Panamanian woman (the smiling, giggling type, a roly poly good housewife/good chef type who neither understands nor needs her husband’s constant shower of compliments couched in good natured ribbing). He offers us a taste of the mediocre white bread he’s come into town for, a moist and sweet airy white bread. Nothing special, and most importantly, nothing you couldn’t find up north. He seemed the type to take comfort in that sort of thing, soft white bread that gave way under your pinch, and a woman who smiled at him no matter how bad the joke. He told us about a restaurant, an Argentine place. He told us they had vegetables, real vegetables, and in a brief moment of solidarity, we all swooned and sighed longingly for the sweet taste of broccoli.
Always we attract the ones that claim they “talk too much”. But always they are full of the best stories. Always they hold the most wisdom. Ricardo’s first wife died in an airplane crash. There is something about the Caribbean. Nothing is ever as it seems. Do I believe him? Or is this one more tale like the price of the water taxi? Some days it is three dollars, others it is five. All things shift and change here. Nothing is fixed. There is no point in having things be stationary. The world here demands that you bend, flex, accept that sometimes four days of storms will crowd out sunny skies.