Home for the Holidays

This Christmas season started with celebrating in the states with different family members and friends which I previously wrote about. So when we returned to Pedasí, we were a little late in decorating the house, but by December 21st, we had the tree decorated and, this time, icicle lights along the front of the house. While visiting Mikkel’s daughter, she and her husband decided to buy a different set of lights for their new home. So they gave us the old set which we packed in one of our suitcases and brought back. The length worked out perfectly and we ended up with the brightest house on our street. Unfortunately, by the next day, one of the cats knocked down the tree, breaking about a dozen of my old dated ornaments I had been collecting over the years and another started playing with a string of lights, stripping one of the wires; so only one out of the 3 strings on the tree worked. Oh well! They are only things and Christmas is more about relationships and sharing it’s true meaning- the birth of Christ Jesus and God’s love.
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Christmas in Pedasí is not as commecialized as it has become in the bigger cities and stores in Panama like the U.S. The local stores sell a few Christmas items and I was able to find some Christmas lights at one in town. Last year I went to Las Tablas and Chitré where I could find a lot more variety of Christmas items. Still many homes do decorate with trees and lights in front, even build minature Bethehem towns on their front patios.

The few days before Christmas, Mikkel was still feeling under the weather with flu-like symptoms and no energy, which started before returning home from the states. So besides putting up the lights and decorating the tree myself, I reminded myself that I had been single for 10 years before marrying Mikkel and was very capable of doing a lot of the work around the house. We had been away for a month, so many of the plants, flowers, and foliage was overgrown now. Things grow fast here. So I got out the clippers, large cutters, and step-stool and started cutting and trimming plants and dead tree branches, letting Mikkel rest in bed for a few days until he got his strength back. The dry season has started, so after checking the hoses for the drip system, I started the routine of watering the garden and plants at least twice a week. I feel pretty satisfied how everything looks, but by next month, things will need trimming again.

Then on Christmas Eve, Mikkel was feeling a little better, enough to drive to Las Tablas to buy a few things for our Christmas dinner and get a new SIM card for his new, what used to be my old, iPhone 5. He had an old iPhone 3 that can no longer be updated, so we bought an iPhone 6 in the states for me. I transferred the SIM card to my new phone, but the iPhone 3 SIM card is a larger size; so he needs a new one now. And I lost it while trying to transfer it and cut it down to the right size. Oh well; at least we have my phone. Anyway, shortly after leaving Pedasí, about15 kilometers down the road, the car overheated and would not restart. An unknown Panamanian and 2 policemen stopped to help, but nothing could be done. I called the insurance company to send roadside assistance, but was not sure when anyone would come, so we were able to contact a friend who came and towed us back to Pedasi, leaving the car at the only known mechanic service in town, Servi-Centro. (More on that later.)

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As tradition, Christmas is celebrated starting Christmas Eve at about 10pm with fireworks, home parties, and loud music for several hours through the night. We watched “White Christmas” on Netflix. The next morning we woke up to a power outage in the area. So someone parked their car in front of our neighbors house and blasted their radio speakers with “tipico” music until the power came back on. Later our friends (2 other couples) joined us for a Christmas traditional turkey dinner Mikkel had prepared. We were all planning to go to the beach that day, but the sky was overcast and the others opted to just stay at our home and visit. Still had a great time.

The Saturday night after Christmas, Pedasí had their Christmas parade. Not sure why is was after Christmas and really wasn’t aware of it until I heard the drums and horns from the bands in the distance. Unfortunately, we had settled down after dinner and didn’t want to venture out again that night. So we listened to the fireworks being shot off most of the night, but I was unable to take picture this time. But here are a few pictures thanks to some friends who posted on FaceBook.

Back to the car – The following day after Christmas we walked over to the mechanic (about 5-6 blocks) to explain the problem with our car. He said he would take a look at it and call us back, which he did that afternoon. Now he only speaks Spanish and I don’t understand very well on the phone. So again we walked back (need the exercise) to find out that a pipe in the exhaust manifold had a leak which they repaired, but they also recommended replacing the head gasket. Mikkel agreed and were told it would be about 2-3 days to be fixed. Well, on Monday we get another call and after walking back (more good exercise), we found the car was on the side with a tarp over it and the head sitting in one box and several parts in another. He explained to us that the head needed to be milled and all the other parts replaced. There was a little mix-up in the translation as we looked at him and he looked at us with some expectation. Thanks to another customer who could speak English, we found out that we were expected to take the boxes and go buy the parts at the Honda dealership and have the head milled at a shop in Chitré. Well, you can imagine our surprise and dilemma. In the U.S. or even larger towns in Panama, the mechanic finds or orders the parts and work to be done if he cannot do it himself. We have no 2nd car, plus there is no Honda dealer in Chitré, only Panama City or David, both 5 hour drive away. So the mechanic wrote out a list (in Spanish) of the parts needed and the name of the shop in Chitré that can mill the head. We left the boxes there until we could possible get some more information as to where to get these parts and where this shop actually was. Later we went back with the help of a local friend to drive us back home with the boxes of parts. In the meantime, Mikkel has been in contact with the Honda dealer in Panamá to see what they could do while I tried to research where this shop in Chitré was located along with other possible parts stores who might have Honda parts. We took pictures of each part and emailed them with the list written out by the mechanic. Honda originally came up with a quote of $1000, but modified it after taking a longer look to $1500 (adding the cost of a radiator which was not on the list) and many parts would have to be special ordered which would take 3+ weeks. WOW!

During all this time, we both are trying out best to hold on to our “tranquilo” and figuring out our best options. Through taking time to think and pray about the best plan, and after a few other phone calls to some friends, we came up with a plan. One friend suggested an English-speaking man who has a parts store in Las Tablas and has a lot of good connections and knowledge. Our friend Tim was open to take Mikkel there on Friday and anywhere else in Las Tablas or Chitre to possibly find parts. Another acquaintance who used to work on Hondas suggested that we make sure that the head really needs to be milled by having someone look at it carefully as well as possibly ordering online the parts ourselves. With all these suggestions, Mikkel will go to Las Tablas this Friday first, and when we find the parts and get the car running again, sell it and eventually buy another. (He will also check for mail and get a new SIM card, so he will finally have his own phone again.) Tim later told us that some other friends were trying to sell their car a couple of months ago for a reasonable affordable price and it might still be available; they will check on that as a possibility. We prefer not to go to the Honda dealer who jacks up the prices if we can find the parts elsewhere. With a plan, our “tranquilo” is back and we were able to enjoy the New Year celebrations.

There are some blessings by not having a car. We can buy most of what we need at the local stores here in town, so walking is good exercise. Our church is in walking distance as well. If we do need to go to Las Tablas for mail or other necessary items, we can take a bus. Schools are out for their “break” (much like the schools’ summer break in the U.S.) until the end of February. So I don’t need to drive to the school where I teach English right now, and we will see what happens by then. Also, Mikkel had bought and brought from the U.S. when we moved a kit to build a 4-wheel, 2-person bicycle; all he needs is pvc pipe for the frame and a couple of boat seats. He has never started building it, but now this gives him the incentive so we can bike down to the beach or other places in town. You can always find the good out of not-so-good circumstances.

Having said all this, on New Year’s Eve we walked to a store to buy a few needed groceries. While passing by the basketball court, there was a toy give-away to all the children in Pedasí (again not sure why this happened after Christmas). Then we passed a “muñeco”, a Panamanian tradition of placing a life-size stuffed or paper machet figure outside, usually in the image of a political figure or past relative. It is usually burned that night or soon after, representing getting rid of the bad and bringing in the good for the new year.

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We were invited to some friends’ newly-built home near the beach for a New Year’s Eve party. Again, Tim joined us and drove us out to their home located in a home development called “Costa Pedasi” about 2-3 kilometers away. Many of the people who were there lived in this community and had never met them before. We had a good evening anyway, with lots of good food and drink, and it gave us a chance to get to know some of them along with others who live in town we had already met. The party ended a little early, and Mikkel and I together spent watching the ball drop live in New York Times Square on our Apple TV to bring in the New Year, listening to the many fireworks shooting off around the town.

To all my readers of this blog: May you have a blessed and happy New Year. In 2015, I look forward to sharing more adventures about our “Third Life” here in Pedasí, Panama. And as the song goes “There is no place like home for the holidays”.

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