We live in a Panamanian neighborhood of about 130 houses. Every once in a while, if there is a concern in the neighborhood, they have a meeting about it. I try to go if I can. I’m a foreigner so I don’t want to make decisions, but I will support and help where I can, and it’s an opportunity to meet some more of my neighbors. It is also interesting to see how they organize meetings here.
Here in Panama things don’t always make sense, even for Panamanians. There is a nice little park in the middle of the neighborhood that is run by the city. Unfortunately, it is not well maintained and often has weeds and grass so tall that children cannot play. The city recently decided to make some improvements. They planted trees, built a ranchero (a kind of pavilion) and a couple of bathrooms.
The neighbors are very unhappy because no one was consulted or even informed about what was happening. The workers showed up one day and started making things. The bathrooms are especially a concern. At this point there is no water. Will it connect? Will there be a reserve tank system for those frequent times when there is no water? Who is going to clean the toilets, take out the trash, supply paper and soap? Will there be security or can people just walk into the toilets and do whatever? There is also no electricity, so no lights.
Maybe it was nice of the city to plant trees, but there isn’t enough space in the park for the number of trees they put up. I think they put 6 that will grow a lot, in a park suitable for one or maybe two at the most. There were already two fairly large trees at one end of the park, and a guyacán at the other end that is now medium in size, but can become very large.
Who is going to maintain the park? Who is going to mow the grass often enough to make the park usable. There are batting cages, a soccer field, a slide, swings, and whatnot, but when the city mows the grass, they’re nearly invisible in the greenery. Who is going to set rules for the park about gatherings, loud music, parties, etc.? What will affect the nearby neighbors? Who will enforce the rules?
You see why the neighbors are upset and full of questions. So, they had a meeting at the rancher one afternoon. I think almost 30 people came and it lasted two hours. There was a sign-in sheet for his name, house number, phone number, ID number… I think that was it. There was a bit of socializing and everyone’s usual greetings to anyone upon arrival. The meeting got underway after a while with a couple of the organizers presenting the issues to be discussed. Then anyone who wanted to say something was invited to speak for as long as they wanted until everyone had said everything they wanted to say. One of the organizers took notes. Of course there was a lot of iteration as everyone had more or less the same concerns and on occasion people would go off on another tangent, but I would say the main concerns of the day were covered thoroughly. The only thing decided was to have another meeting in a week.
I went to that meeting and I think 18 people attended. One of the organizers had printed out what looked like a Google map enlarged in satellite view to make it easy to identify the houses. Another had notes from the last meeting about who spoke and what they said, so it was read at the beginning of the meeting. Then again people were invited to speak to the group and again the main concerns were covered in depth. It was decided that there should be a committee to represent the ward, so a president, vice president, alternate, secretary, and spokesperson were nominated and approved by the meeting participants. That was a week ago and I haven’t heard anything about another meeting or plans for the future.
I’ve learned that things don’t always progress the way we think they should. I have been to other meetings where they were going to do this and that to secure or improve the neighborhood, meetings that were held even years ago and nothing ever actually happened. Will they convince the city to undo the unwanted work? or better maintain the park? or have a plan for water connection, bathroom cleaning, security, etc. etc.? I have a feeling not much will happen, but we’ll see.
I also got to see a bit of the cultural differences here. In the US it’s meeting time now, and we make decisions, and we limit talk time, and we DO things RIGHT NOW! Here it is much more relaxed. Everyone is extremely kind and respectful of others. Everyone can say whatever they want and everyone else listens carefully. This takes longer, but I like the more relaxed attitude. But, being a gringa, I prefer to see more real results. But everything is okay. I don’t live near the park nor do I need to use it. I’m curious mostly to see what happens and how things are handled.
I don’t share photos without permission, and I didn’t feel like asking all those people for permission, so imagine a bunch of nice Panamanians hanging out in the park. But I will share a photo of the sky tonight from our night walk. We have had a lot of beautiful skies lately and a fair amount of rain. There was a very heavy downpour last night that lasted well into the night. Although today has been beautiful and comfortable.
I have more ideas running through my head, but I seem to be unusually busy lately. Someday though, maybe even soon!