596: Competition for the Labor Market

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It has suddenly occurred to me that employers who are seeking employees are in competition with the Federal Government for those workers.

The employers have to be attractive enough with both the work AND the wages to offset the other option offered by the Federal Government: being able to sit on your butt pretty much 24/7, take benefits, and procreate for a living.

And it appears that the employers are losing the battle.

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395: Shopping for Produce

Shopping in Panama is an adventure. You can do things the safe, familiar way and go to a Panama grocery store: there are three big ones here in the capital city. Super 99, Rey and Riba Smith, in order of cheaper to more expensive. The problem with the easy way is that it is certainly far and away the most expensive way. If you are someone who freaks out that a spot of dirt is on your potato (yes, I do know people like that), you need to shop there and just bite the bullet on the cost. Also, if you are someone who has to have a gold-plated certificate of organic purity, well…..you might as well shop only at Organica stores, where one apple is five dollars. I don’t want to eat radioactive food, either, but there has to be a balance. I try to stay out of the “real” stores, at least for produce. And, produce is the primary food that I am eating these days.

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Once you decide not to go “normal” grocery store shopping, life gets interesting in Panama. There are street vendors and the Mercado Del Abastos (the local wholesale/retail farmer’s market). If I buy LOCALLY grown produce, it’s reasonable – good, even. If I want imported, I pay through the nose…but still not as much as Organica or the big three grocery stores.

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I can buy three medium-sized pineapples for a dollar, and a good-sized bunch of local spinach (grows on a vine!) is the same. Limes are 10 or 12 for a dollar, and eggs are a half dozen for a buck (if my chickens don’t lay enough to suit me). Plus, there are big, juicy globe grapes a dollar a pound, and coconuts are fifty cents. Carrots, tomatoes and onions are all fifty cents a pound. Melons are a dollar or less each. Plantains are six for a dollar. Papayas are a dollar each, for big, ripe ones. Yucca is four pounds for a dollar. Guyabas, maracuya, guanabanas – yum! Plus broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, zucchini, winter squashes, leeks, lettuces, fresh herbs, sweet and hot peppers, and more and more and more. Some of the fruits I can’t name yet, but they sure are tasty!!

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And mangos? Who buys mangos? The trees drop them everywhere – pick up all you want! I have mango smoothies nearly every day for free. More than one, if I want.  Life is good.

45: Donkeys

Since coming to Morocco, I have discovered a new respect for an animal not generally accorded much respect: the humble donkey. Moroccans who are not wealthy still need transportation, and many opt to purchase a donkey. They are better than cars for several reasons. They do not require expensive gasoline to run, and they replace themselves (if yours is a girl, that is), unlike a mechanical means of transportation. Unlike a bicycle, they propel themselves up hills, and they can carry more than a bicycle, too.

Besides, they are sooooooo cute. When they are loaded up with goods and people, sometimes all you can see of them beneath their loads are their two little ears sticking up and those busy little four hooves, trotting alongside their owner. The rest of the whole donkey is hidden from sight under wood sticks, green vegetables, multiple people or other stuff. Sometimes the people riding them are bigger than the little donkey is, and the passenger actually has to hold up their feet to keep them from dragging the ground as the donkey trots along underneath them. They could stand up and the donkey would just keep on going out from under them.

Here in Morocco, people often take their donkeys to the place where they can catch the bus to attend the souq (the outdoor market), at whatever town is closest nearby. They leave their donkeys “parked” while they are gone to market. So, if you are driving along and there is this whole herd of little donkeys standing around saddled up with their pack baskets on the side of the road, you know two things: first, that is a bus stop, and second, those donkeys are not loose, they are “parked.”

Moroccans “park” their donkeys using hobbles. A hobble is a piece of material that is tied around the donkey’s front feet, so that he has to take little baby steps. This keeps him (approximately) in  the same place where you left him. I said “approximately.” I have seen donkeys far ahead of their owners who were running to catch them, and the donkey was baby-stepping himself down the road as fast and as diligently as he was able with his two front feet tied together. I have also seen donkeys who obviously had broken their hobbles, standing in the middle of someone’s garden, happily and naughtily eating their heads off on the vegetables they knew they were not supposed to be eating. When a donkey is not working, he is usually being naughty – quite happily. In this respect, they are a lot like a goat. Goats love to cause trouble, too.

And baby donkeys alongside their  mothers are absolutely darling. Donkeys are cute, anyway, with their lighter-colored muzzle and their long, rabbit ears, but baby donkeys are just thoroughly charming. Their thin little legs are so busy, they are a blur when they are trotting down alongside the road behind their busily trotting mamas. Their riders guide them by tapping their neck with a long, thin stick. The donkey knows, or it trained, to turn away from the stick (obviously) so if you want to go left, you tap the donkey’s neck so his head turns left, away from the stick, and the rest of his busily trotting body follows suit.

I have petted several of them when they were parked outside of a shop, waiting patiently for their master to finish buying their goods and return to collect them. Their fur is soft and warm, and their ears are surprisingly firm – not like a rabbit’s ears at all. And they really like apples, just like horses do.