An Adventure…



Today (Monday) I shared on my Facebook page, a little adventure I had with one of our workers Martin. He came to talk to Scott this morning (Monday morning) as our crew was just getting started. Apparently he needed help getting his young wife to the hospital because she was in labor. Yikes! This conversation with Scott took place on my terrace right in front of the open kitchen window where I was washing dishes. I stopped what I was doing and grabbed my keys. I could understand enough of the conversation to get that Scott told Martin I would drive them to the hospital. So I happily grabbed my purse and my keys, Martin and I got into my car and he directed me to where they live. Martin is only about 21 years old, he’s been working with us on our construction project for about 6 months now. He and his wife are a very young indigenous couple and he speaks very broken Spanish she speaks no spanish or english. Their native language is the Ngobe language and he seems to have about as much Spanish as me, maybe even less! So his ability to direct me to where he lives was a comedy of errors, but I got there eventually.

This was the fun part…they live way way up in the mountains above our property in Jaramillo. Of course I had to drive up a (and I use the word ‘road’ lightly, because you would not call this dirt path a road!) dirt road that lead into a really pretty forested area where I could see no signs of people actually living there. He motioned for me to stop and proceeded to get out of my car and run through the forest, apparently where they live. I waited and in a few minutes a very small young woman came walking towards the car, from a distance I couldn’t even tell she was pregnant, at first I thought this must not be her. But as she reached out and protectively held her little pregnant tummy I could see that this was the laboring wife of Martin. I got out of the car and helped her into the back seat. We waited a few more minutes and then Martin also walked back to the car, he had changed into his good clothes for this special occasion. Off we went…

The new mom to be sat quietly in the car breathing heavily as I drove down into Boquete to the small clinic in town. I so badly wanted to comfort this poor little woman, she looked so young an so afraid. Sadly we have no common language to communicate with so I smiled and gently patted her little arm as Martin gently helped her out of the car at the clinic. I wanted to say something and all I could think to say was,”Hoy es dia de madre para ella”…Martin smiled but I doubt he understood me.

I wish I knew how she is doing. We did see Martin walking down the hill from having gone home to retrieve clothes for her. He said she is not doing well and has not had the baby yet. From what we could understand from him, when we stopped our car to talk to him on the road, he said he had not slept all night , and from how he looked I could see he was not exaggerating. We had given him $20.00 yesterday because he had no money, and we understood that he would need to take a bus back up to Boquete. From what we managed to understand, he would somehow have to get to the hospital in David. I think he said she was taken by ambulance to David. He asked for $30.00 more, which we gave him and he was on his way back to be by her side. Ugh! Life here sometimes seems so hard, especially for the indigenous.

I’m not really sure how it works here as far as healthcare. I know that Martin had never registered at the Social Security Department before I took him to the office. We pay our share of taxes for our workers which allows them to receive medical insurance. But I wonder what would have happened to Martin and his wife had they not had that little Seguro card. Would she have had the baby at home? I wonder how that works. I’ll have to learn about that. Even with the insurance, does it cost them to be taken by ambulance? How long do they keep her in the hospital when she is laboring for such a long time? I don’t know and I only hope that she is well cared for and that all will be well.

You may be wondering where the family of this young couple is. Especially in this very family oriented latin culture one would expect to find a large group of family and extended family gathering to support them. Well, Martin and I assume his young wife, have lived on one of the Comarcas here in Panama for their whole life. I’ve likely explained before that here in Panama there are several indigenous tribes and they have large, remote areas similar to the indian reservations in the states where they live. But these Comarcas are much more primitive and remote than what we know of a reservation in the States.

I understand that a large majority of indigenous live in extreme poverty, many never getting much education at all. So here in Boquete we see large groups of indigenous who travel up here to the mountains to work in the coffee plantations during the coffee harvest. There are some who make Boquete their permanent homes, like my neighbors who live just down the hill from us. These Ngobe men and women find work as year around workers any place they can and many send their children to the local public schools, hoping to provide them with a better education and a better future ,than they would get living on the Comarca. Again, much like my sweet neighbor kids who I have grown to really adore and care about. I know there are some indigenous who leave the comarcas to pursue a better life but I don’t think its a large amount who actually do this.

Martin and his wife, I believe are relatively new to living in Boquete and have not got much in the way of family support, it would seem. I would venture a guess that life here is so very different from how they are accustomed to living on the Comarca. I don’t think they either of them, have ever lived anyplace other than with their families. This job with us is a huge score for him. Making $24.00 a day plus benefits and health insurance is like winning the lottery for him. Its quite possible that when our job ends, he may never find another position like this one. He is an unskilled, uneducated worker who really doesn’t have the mentality of aspiring to improve his situation much more than just working to afford the bare essentials. I’m not saying this is bad, its just the way that it is. Although, the mere fact that he journeyed to Boquete with his young bride and went walking around asking for work, which is how he got a job with us, is actually very ambitious for a Ngobe man. He could have just stayed living in the Comarca just the same as his family and never pursued anything different than his parents before him.

So, even though my American sensibilities sees a poor, uneducated, unambitious guy, the truth may be that in his family he very likely may be a very impressive young man. Having decided for whatever reason so set out on his own and try to work here in Boquete is actually pretty darn ambitious in his world. So I am not right to think such a judgmental thing, I would be dead wrong. I’m slowly learning to let go of my limited world view and to stop placing my standards on so many things here because its often just plain wrong.

(An update!)
This morning, (Thursday), I saw Martin. As I was driving up our driveway with all the workers in the car with me he was walking down the hill. I stopped the car and rolled down the window. All the guys asked him about the baby. Martins face didn’t crack a smile at all…He was so serious and stoic my heart dropped, I thought for sure there had been a terrible tragedy with his wife…But the guys asked him if he had a baby and he nodded ,”Si”…and then they asked ,”Nino o Nina?”…Martin said, again with no sign of happiness, “Nino”…”Feliciado” all around! So, he has a son. The wife is still in the hospital in David and all is well. As I drove away I asked my workers why he was so serious and looked so unhappy. They told me that men are serious and that Martin is “timido”. Oh. I see. Well, all is well that ends well! I hope Martin brings the baby by to see us one day and if he does I will be sure to get a photo of the happy family, (well I think they are happy?) hah!


8 responses »

  1. You are so kind Holly and learning so much about your surrounding people. Thank you, for sharing more insights into this culture and the differences. It is so very easy to judge and place our boundaries and sensibilities onto their style of living but you are doing a fantastic job of keeping it real. To each their own, right? I look forward to a picture of this young family 🙂

  2. Such a great story and a wonderful adventure that you were an intricate part of. It’s interesting to chip away at the judgemental edge and accept how things are in Cental America. I can’t wait to see a picture of the family. How wonderful that he is making a new life for the next generation.
    Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Great story, I am sure if he continues to work with Scott he will no longer be an uneducated worker but a skilled one with a good reference the best anyone can have in any country. Honest good workers are always treasured by honest good people.

  4. Reblogged this on Latitude Adjustment and commented:
    Here’s a great story from our friend Holly down in Boquete. You’ll be hearing more about her and her husband Scott, whom we met on our last trip down and who are building a house in Boquete. We love Holly’s blogs about her experiences with the indigenous Panamanians she’s encountered, including the workers that are helping their house. She has such a kind heart!

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