418: Whipper-snipper and other local colloquiliaisms

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Today in Panama, outside my office window, I heard the unmistakable sound of a two-cycle internal combustion engine, commonly used to operate motor scooters and lawn trimming machines: weed whackers, weed eaters, whipper-snippers, and other imaginative names for a fairly functional device. Taking a peek out the window confirmed the sound – seven, count ém, SEVEN men, dressed like Muslim women in pants (completely hijabéd in fabric from any contact with grass – in 95 degree weather) were busily mowing, by hand, with these weed eaters, an area of ground I estimated conservatively at five ACRES.

While this is a fairly common sight in Panama, it would be a very uncommon sight in America. In America, where the minimum wage for a laborer is over 7 bucks an hour and rising, there is the impetus to mow maximum grass in minimum time, and equipment is acquired which facilitates that aim. This is not a concept that has penetrated the Panamanian psyche. In fact, maximum work in minimum time is not a concept that has even introduced itself to the Panamanian psyche, much less cozied up to it and taken it to bed. Panamanian work psyche is still virgin territory, totally unpenetrated by anything approximating a work ethic – much less an ethic of efficiency.

It is perfectly reasonable, when you pay a worker twenty dollars a day (or LESS), to give him the cheapest piece of equipment you can find (I have seen men cutting grass on the roadside with machetes – I kid you not), expecting it to take him three or four days to mow what one Kubota triple-swath tractor could cut in two hours.

This attitude of it takes as long as it takes, using the cheapest equipment we can find, permeates this society. It is one reason I ride to and from work in a 20 year-old reconditioned BlueBird school bus, shipped down from America once it was retired from school service there, smartened up with a wild coat of paint (Jesus and a busty, suggestively posed bikini-clad girl jostling for the prime space on the back), tricked out with flashing neon lights and outfitted with a blasting turbo-charged horn, since that is what Panamanians drive with, anyway.

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Well. It does make life interesting, in a drop-your-jaw and stare sort of way…………







340: FRUSTRATION plus one, times infinity

I don’t KNOW any expletives of sufficient strength and quality for this, and I have an impressive vocabulary of both G and X rated cuss words. Cuss you never know when you’re gonna need ’em, and when you might just need to use all of them at once. Like now.

I have a sincere, abject apology to make to Morocco. I just thought they had their head up their a…….bums. Not so. I have learned that Morocco is astonishingly efficient and competent in handling government documents……compared to Panama. Now, Panama has had a long and intimate relationship with the USA, and you would THINK (and you would be WRONG) that the get-‘er-done American attitude would also have taken effect in Panama – oh, heck no.

I believe, honestly and sincerely, that the attitude in Panama for government employees (hell, spread that toe jam out to any employee in any business here whatsoever) is that the longer you can delay doing anything useful to help anybody, the more secure your own job will forever be, because the line of people waiting for your attention (read: lack thereof) NEVER, EVER gets any shorter, thus proving that you are a vital and necessary part of the Panamanian economy, and therefore, worth keeping in the position you currently occupy. I am not joking. I wish I was joking.

These people specialize in the art of delaying progress. There is another document you don’t have that is vital to completing this mission – and when you have it, it must be photocopied (and they don’t make copies here, thank you very much) and notarized first. When you have THAT one, then there is another one you also don’t have, that we did not tell you about when we told you about the first one you did not have, that you now do have – do not pass go, do not collect $200 dollars. And believe me, there is NO LIMIT to the number of times they can play this game out – I think there is an office lottery for stringing people along using this particular ploy………..

Then there are the “professionals” who you pay money to, who then just don’t show up – and then who call you AFTER the scheduled meeting which they did not make it to, to reschedule: MULTIPLE times. NEVER pay these mofos ANY money up front for ANYthing. That is the only way you have a prayer of getting anything accomplished before you DIE.

FML. Seriously.

25: New Computer Lab

Our school had one computer lab last year. It was difficult to schedule multiple teachers to use the lab, and often, we had two classes at once in the lab, trying to make accommodation for everyone to be able to use the computers. In our classrooms, each teacher had one or two computer workstations, which seldom were used. Over the summer, we teachers got the bright idea to take those one or two workstations in the classrooms that were seldom used anyway, and take them all to a room and use them to set up a second computer lab. WOW. What a difference.

Today, my seniors were researching a United Nations issues research project, and the science teacher was already scheduled to show a film (DVD) in the computer lab that I usually use – so my class all trooped off to the second lab. Now, these computers are older, so they are a little slower – but hey! We HAVE a second lab of computers to use, for which I am very grateful! These previously not-much-used computers have been put to use this year. The math teacher tells me that he uses the second lab frequently, and now, whenever the other lab (which is actually closer to my classrooms) is in use, I will make use of the second lab, for those times when we have completed our work and have part of the class left for completing homework, or writing our journals, or for whatever work a student needs to get done.

We are making better use of our available resources, and our students have a second lab for use during the school day. We might be an efficient bunch, after all!