In last month’s newsletter, I said I would write about the frustrations of living in Panama.
Specifically, how life in Panama was a factor in delaying July’s newsletter.
Life in Panama is not all roses.
Like Playing Out In Right Field
It can seem that things take forever to happen here.
But once something does happen, you are often required to act quickly, if not immediately.
Life in Panama can be like playing right field in baseball. Mostly you get to hang out, but you never know when you will be required spring into action and catch a fly ball.
2 Spring-Into-Action Appointments
2 things happened last month. 2 events that stole time I had allocated to doing last month’s Living In Panama newsletter.
Both times we were suddenly notified that we had an appointment, with just a few hours notice.
Such short notice announcements are not uncommon. It is simply expected that you will rearrange your schedule. Getting mad about it will do no good. Of course, if you really cannot make the meeting, it can usually be rearranged.
But in general, if you can, it is best to make the appointment. Especially if it is something you want to resolve. Sometimes the meeting won’t be rescheduled for a quite a long time. Plus you are not guaranteed you will get any greater advanced notice of that meeting either.
Early Morning Summons
The first sudden notice of an appointment happened at our house. A policeman, who we know, showed up on his motorcycle about 8am one day. He was giving us notice that we needed to show up at the Ministry of Labor (Ministero de Trajabo) at 10am. Yes, in 2 hours.
We all shook our heads and shrugged over the notice. And we had a nice chat together.
So many things in this particular scenario can be frustrating, especially to expats. That is, in addition to being exasperated over the very short notice.
The worker who had the dispute did not even work for us. He worked for a local contractor. Our only connection was helping to set up the local contractor with an expat’s building project. We also helped communicate between the parties.
The worker knew he was very unlikely to get any money from the local contractor, so he didn’t cite him. The worker also knew he wouldn’t get anything from the expat who had the building project. Not only was that expat not in town, but the worker had stolen a sodering machine from the expat.
Basically, he was looking around for someone to get money form and the only person around who vaguely fit the bill was us.
So we all met at the Ministry of Labor here in Puerto Armuelles. We have had dealings with the Labor Minister over the years. Also he lives right next to our Casa Sunshine property.
The worker said his piece. We said our piece. The Labor Minister asked us all questions. Then we had to wait while the Labor Minister slowly typed up a document on his computer. It was a document that basically said that all the parties had discussed the problem and we had come to no resolution. Then we all signed it.
The Labor Minister told the worker, these are the wrong folks for you to lodge a complaint against. Call in the local contractor, or the expat who the contractor worked for. The worker was a bit shame-faced when we explained he couldn’t go to the expat because he had stolen from that expat.
The whole procedure probably happened faster for us than it would have if the worker had called in an expat unknown to the Labor Minister. As I said, the Labor Minister knows us. He knows we are good employers who treat our workers well and always pay a good wage, in full, and on-time.
The Labor Minister seemed to acknowledge that the worker had no real claim against anyone. But he never said it outright to the worker. He simply told him all the avenues he could pursue his claim, not that his claim had no basis.
So nothing bad occurred to us from being called to the Ministerio de Trabajo. But it did cost us our morning.
Go With The Flow
But it could have been worse.
We could have spent time and energy being upset about the short notice and the ridiculousness of having to defend ourselves against a baseless claim.
Everything takes much less time and energy, if you just go with what is actually happening. Personally, I find it both exhausting and demoralizing to keep insisting that reality should happen in some other way.
And it is possible to turn the event into a relatively pleasant experience. During the time we were waiting at the office, my husband and I chatted pleasantly. I actually rarely get a chance to simply hang out with my husband. I was even able to use my phone to respond to some emails. It is unlikely I would have done either of those items if I had been all scrunched up with anger and exasperation.
About Ministerio de Trabajo
Something you should know is that you do not have to pay any money at the Ministerio of Trabajo. No matter what they tell you. Do NOT sign anything saying that you owe any money or other item. The Labor Ministers are mediators only. They have no authority to make you pay anything to a worker. However, if you sign something saying you owe money, then you are on the hook for that payment.
Often both parties meet after going to the Labor Minister, but not with the Labor Minister, to settle for lessor amount than the worker(s) were demanding in front of the Labor Minister. If you do that, make sure the worker(s) sign a document saying you no longer owe them any money in any way. However, settling with the worker is totally optional.
If the workers are serious, they will make their claim at Labor Court. The Labor Court is generally fair, so if you don’t think you owe anything to the worker(s) don’t be afraid to be taken to court.
Another Sudden Appointment
That same week, our lawyer Whatsapped us at 6am saying we needed to sign a form at an office in Puerto at 9am. Yes, that same day; a 3 hour notice this time.
It is a good thing that Reyn and I are early risers.
So we quickly rearranged our morning and went. It turns out that it was much more than signing a form.
Patience Is Needed
According to our lawyer, signing a form was all that was really needed. She said that in David the same procedure only requires a signature. But, for some unknown reason, they made a whole meal of this simple procedure in Puerto.
NOTE: Generally, when dealing with officialdom in Panama, just do what they request. No matter how wrong-headed you think it is. Having good relations with those officials is much more important than being right.
The lawyer had also arranged for an official translator from David to be there as well. The translator wasn’t really needed, but he was there. I asked the translator when he had been notified of this event. He said 2 weeks ago!
He had 2 weeks notice and we had 3 hours. Okay, another frustration. I, of course, mentioned this to our lawyer. The explanation the lawyer provided was unsatisfactory. In my opinion, she had simply forgotten to notify us.
This event took many hours. Part of that time was spent waiting for the office staff to get ready for the appointment they had set themselves. Oh, well.
You should know that “playing right field-type” things will happen in Panama. You may have been talking with someone for months, maybe years, about buying or selling a property, or setting up a boy scouts pack. Then one day they will show up at your house ready to make it happen. And they will expect you to do it now. Right then.
My advice, if you are sure you want to make it happen, do it right then.
Things change. Some folks will take offense that you won’t do it right then. You need to know the players and how they are likely to respond to you delaying action now that they are finally ready to take action themselves.
This month, like most months, no sudden and unexpected appointments occurred.
Internet & Electricity Failures
This month’s frustrations mostly involved electricity and Internet. Or rather, the lack of those items.
We had a few electrical outages this month due to trees falling during storms and work being done on the electrical lines. The electricity was never out for long. Well, not more than 3 or 7 hours. But still.
FYI – It is unlikely you will be notified in advance of an electrical out-age due to work being done. There is not alot of emphasis on customer service in Panama.
Of course, when there is no electricity, there is no Internet either.
This month we have also lost Internet alot. Much more than usual. Months can go by without any failure in Internet. But this month, we lost Internet multiple times for significant periods of time.
In an unusual situation, 2 times in 2 weeks someone decided to steal the Internet cable that feeds the Las Palmas neighborhood. I live in the Las Palmas neighborhood. They stole it for the copper.
The 1st time it took 3 days for Cable & Wireless (nicknamed Cable & Worthless) to replace the cable. The 2nd time it took them 5 days. 5 days! I was not happy.
Milton of Heavenly’s Hotel lent me his Claro hotspot router. He said it always worked great for him. But Claro must not have much coverage in my neighborhood because trying to make it work was just another source of frustration for me. Though, I do appreciate his thoughtfulness.
Cable & Wireless’s Internet failed a few other times during the month. When we called about it, there was an outgoing message notifying us that a significant portion of Panama was experiencing similar problems. They said they were working on it. Typically, they had it functioning again within 24 hours, at most. But, of course, each time you have no idea how long it will be until they can fix the Internet.
Find out more about Internet in Panama here.
Much Patience Needed
I have the most difficulty in being patient when there is no Internet. I find being tolerant of sudden and urgent appointments and bewildering decisions by officials to be much easier. But after 5 or 6 hours of no Internet, I have to start reminding myself to breathe and to accept the reality of the situation.
Changing Internet Provider
It will come as no surprise to you that I am going to change internet providers! I am going to switch to Cable Onda. I have been considering this change for quite some time.
Some people love Cable Onda, and some hate it. It is the typical dilemma of staying with the devil you know, rather than switching to a devil you don’t. But this month’s Internet issues has strengthened my resolve to switch. Plus Cable Onda has been promising faster speeds in our area. Definitely faster than Cable & Worthless.
We will see whether their promises and reality coincide. I will let you know.
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