As you probably already know, we live in a small town. Pedasí has a population of about 2000, give or take a few hundred, and the Pedalsí district (from Purio to Cañas) has about 4000 inhabitants. Although there is some new housing being built throughout the area, it seems while some move in, others move out. Many come here seasonally (snowbirds from Canada and the U.S.). Some are weekenders getting away from the city or visiting relatives especially during holidays. Some come as tourists on vacation seeking a beach retreat, a surfing or fishing adventure, or exploring their options for a place to retire. This is one of the reasons we have met so many people since we moved to Pedasí in August of 2013. And living in a small town, one can’t help to meet new people here constantly.
Often we hear the term, “Pedasí is like Mayberry”. For those who may not be old enough, “Mayberry” was the fictitious town setting for a situational comedy TV series called “The Andy Griffith Show” back in the ’60’s. Anyway, like “Mayberry” (or even when I was growing up in Tustin, California in the ’50’s), children feel safe to play in the streets or even when it’s dark, neighbors look out for each other, and families sit out in front of the homes or meet in the townsquare greeting everyone as they walk or drive by. The people of Pedasí and most of Panamá actually look at you in the eye while greeting you with “Buena” or “Hola”; they may not even know you, but most will always greet you with a smile. When they enter an office or restaurant, they greet you. Mikkel and I have gotten into the same habit of greeting people or returning greetings. There have been some crimes committed here, mostly burglaries and not violent. Though unlike when I grew up where we never locked our doors at home (didn’t even have a key), we do lock our doors and gate at night and when we are away. Our neighbors do the same. We are fortunate so far as compared to some other towns in Panamá. I still feel safe enough to walk home by myself in the dark late at night, although I am prudent of my surroundings as I walk.
There are some disadvantages living in a small community. Yes, there are towns that are smaller here in Panamá and the U.S. as well. We had a visitor from Michigan recently who lived in a small town with a population of about 250. In those towns, everyone knows everyone and everyone’s business. Here, we may not know everyone or their personal business, but news and, unfortunately, rumors and gossip travel fast among those who do know you and others who know them. Similar to anywhere else, we all have our quirks and differences, likes and dislikes, opinions and beliefs. In a small town it can be hard at times when something is said that may be misunderstood or hurtful, whether it is true or false. And like the game of “telephone” we used to play as children, the story gets changed dramatically as it is passed around from one to the next. So as in Mayberry, and even in large cities, there will always be those who enjoy gossiping or publicly sharing their political and personal opinions. Unlike Mayberry, today Facebook and email can be used to spread this even faster. But in a small town, it can get annoying and even devastating at times. I try my best not to get all wrapped up in it. We are all human and make mistakes. We may say something not even realizing that it may hurt someone’s feelings. But then it gets out there, shared with someone who shares it with another. The next thing you know, people are sharing all kinds of stories that are not even close to the original story. Enough of my ranting about gossip.
Other disadvantages, as the case in Pedasí, may be that not everything you want is available here. So you have to drive a ways to get it. Although the price of gas is down and there are regular scheduled buses available, it does take some planning ahead to combine stops for acquiring what you want. We have been with and without a car; each time we want something that we can only get or do in Las Tablas or Chitré (or sometimes as far as Panama City), we have to plan ahead. Such things as getting our mail at Mailboxes, Etc. in Las Tablas, certain food items we like such as English Muffins and Bagels, unsalted peanuts for the peanut butter I make, some official government transactions such as inspecting our car for registration, car parts, etc., all require going to another town and hours out of our day. Las Tablas is a half hour drive away, Chitré is 1 hour, Panama City is about 4-5 hours away. Most of the time we make due with what is available here in the markets and hardware stores. But if I want to shop for clothing or go to the dentist, we have to plan to spend part or most of the day, combining as many tasks as possible while going to another larger town or city. We have met many friends who live in other towns as well, so many times we combine our travels with a visit to one of them.
But I still enjoy the advantages of living in a small town. Our home is located near the center of town in a typical Panamanian neighborhood. We can walk or ride a bike almost anywhere in the town of Pedasí. Other than during festivals, it is usually very peaceful and quiet. (Although presently there is a house being built behind our home and the cement mixer hums throughout the day. But that doesn’t really bother us.) There are many choices now for restaurants or “fondas”, markets, a “ferretería” (hardware store), a Farmacia (pharmacy) where we can also pay our utility bills, a couple of bakeries and ice cream stores, a tire shop and a car mechanic, a liquor store, churches, a language school, two banks with ATMs, two beauty salons. There is the town square with a gazebo, trees for shade, and benches and a children’s playground (recently refurbished). And there are the beaches and now a beach club with pool nearby. Almost everywhere we go in town, we will see someone we know, or get introduced to someone new. In this small town, we not only know most of the expats and many of the Panamanian locals, but we personally know the alcalde (mayor), the pharmacist, the grocer, the postmaster, the bank guard, the hostel & hotel owners, the restaurant owners, the police, etc. So if we see them on the street in or outside of their place of business, we always receive a greeting. I really can’t say that of where we used to live in Auburn, California; I didn’t even know very many of my neighbors in the gated condo community we lived in.
To me, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. There are still the challenges of living in a different country: learning the language (which I have not mastered, but seem to communicate sufficiently now), understanding the culture and traditions, acclimating to the weather and fauna (mosquitos, chitras or no-see-ums, other insects, snakes, etc.), and acquiring information about how to, where to go for this and that, and what the laws are. But we seemed to have successfully move through these challenges for the most part.
Pedasí is our home now. We have become part of the community, working with Animal Advocates of Pedasí and other groups when we can. We do have problems and challenges, but that’s life anywhere. I would rather dwell on the good parts and look for solutions when problems occur, considering them more as adventures and learning experiences. One of my favorite chapters in the Bible is the first chapter of James (which I memorized years ago), starting with “Consider it all joy…”. Many of the things I wrote about today in this blog could be reflected upon these good words of wisdom shared throughout this chapter. I therefore choose to be an optimist, reminding myself of my blessings but not ignoring the challenges, and enjoy “our third life”. And wherever you choose to be home, may you also enjoy your blessings.
I leave you with another “Thought of the Week”:
“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts: therefore, guard accordingly, and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature.”― Marcus Aurelius