Since we moved into our home, Mikkel has been wanting to do some projects. Although we rent, we have always treated our home as ours and don’t mind in investing in some improvements now and then. We’ve added curtain hardware and curtains to the living and dining rooms, cut back palms hanging over the electric wiring, strung lights in the patio to add ambiance for dinner, planted more plants in the garden – to name a few. When we moved in, the concrete of the entrance to the driveway was broken up. It has been no problem entering with our car, but we knew that when the wet season starts (possibly in a couple of weeks), it was going to be a flooded mess. Mikkel also wanted to build a planter box out alongside the already built planter box in front of the house where there would be more sun available to grow herbs and vegetables. The third desire was to add more pebble rock to the garden pathway in back. A lot of the rock had sunk into the dirt and it just needed replenished. Again, all this work needed to be done before the rains begin.
After getting an okay from the landlord and a recommendation from another friend for good workers who would do all this, Mikkel decided this would be a good weekend to get started. One of the workers, Jorge, came over Wednesday and gave him a list of materials needed for the driveway and planter box. Another worker, Jose, came over to talk to Mikkel about the rock for the garden pathways. Thursday, Mikkel ordered and paid for the materials at a local hardware store in Limón, which was delivered to our home about 2 hours later. They dumped the sand and rock on the side of the driveway next to the veranda along with the bricks, concrete, rebar and wire. Dust flew everywhere, but they then took a hose and watered it down as they shoveled out the remainder. I felt sorry for Neli, my housekeeper, who had just swept the veranda, which now had a fine layer of thin dust over the tile and chairs. So I swept the veranda myself as she continued to clean the rest of the house.
On Friday, Jorge and his helper, Edwin, arrived on their bicycles at 8am, ready to work. They started on the driveway right away. Soon after, Jose and his assistant JJ arrived in a truck filled with about 2.5 yards of pebble rock for the garden. Shoveling it into a wheelbarrow, they took it to the back garden and dumped it in small piles on the existing rock pathways to be spread out later with a rake. At around 9am, the power and water went out, but these guys continued to work. Thank God we have a 100 gallon holding tank of water, so they just dipped a bucket in to use to mix the concrete. And we had plenty of frozen water bottles in our freezer that would thaw for drinking.
By 11:30am, the driveway was finished – all done by hand, breaking up the existing driveway with a pic, setting down rebar for reinforcement, mixing the concrete in a wheelbarrow, shoveling it over the rebar, and troweling it smooth and even. We were very pleased and surprised that they had already finished. We gave them some money, sent them off to lunch, and when they returned, they started right away building the two concrete block planter boxes. In the meantime, JJ smoothed out all the rock in the garden, filling in all the gaps throughout the paths. Another great job well-done.
While building the planter boxes, suddenly there was a loud bang, like someone had thrown a firebomb over the fence. We all jumped and discovered the tire to the wheelbarrow which we had borrowed from a friend blew. It was an old wheelbarrow, and we all had a good laugh. So after emptying the wheelbarrow of concrete they used on the planter boxes, it was carried over to the carport to mix more concrete which was in turned shoveled into a bucket and carried to where it was needed. The planter boxes were completely finished by about 5pm, just when the power and water finally came back on. Jorge and Edwin did a marvelous job, more than what we had expected. They had hand-sculpted the concrete around the blocks rounding off the tops of the small walls, giving it a pleasant country look. We were so thrilled to see the finished project and that it was all done in a day. They even swept and cleaned up before the left. The cost? Well, let’s just say it was a lot less than what we would pay for the same quality work in California.
Some say that Panamanians have a “mañana” (not today, but someday) attitude about work. So far we have been very fortunate and have not really experienced that with anyone we have hired or scheduled to do work for us in the past: electricians, gardeners, our housekeeper Neli, and all those who worked for us on Friday. They take pride in their work and they work hard. Like anywhere, it just depend on the individual and their own work ethic.
Now all we need to do is paint and then fill the planter boxes with soil, sand, fertilizer. Mikkel already has a large pile of bokashi, an organic compost made of rice hulls & flour, cow manure, molasses, river dirt, baking powder, and water, which he made last month, waiting in the garage. We have been given many seeds and seedlings of herbs and vegetables, and will probably buy a few more to plant in our new planter boxes, hopefully within the next few weeks. I guess we have started to become small organic garden farmers. I still am putting my foot down on the dozen chickens Mikkel wants for daily fresh eggs. Plenty of local farms to sell eggs and they get to clean up the mess. A dog and 5 cats are plenty to take care of. Still have a few other projects in mind, but they are reserved for another day.