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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Nothing goes to waste in Panama

Hey everybody,

First I just want to apologize for not posting anything the last few days. I've had some pretty bad back problems (pinched sciatic nerve), which wouldn't allow me to sit down at the computer at all. I'm slowly getting back to normal. So here's a new post.

When I lived in the United States, I’d grown accustomed to either donating items that were of no use to me, or simply throwing them away. If it were something that someone else could use, I’d call up Salvation Army, Goodwill, or a local church and give it to them. However, if my pots and pans were charred, or my clothes were ripped, or my shoes were falling apart, I’d usually just chuck ‘em in the trash bin. 

I learned an interesting fact when I moved here. Nothing goes to waste in Panama. Down the street from my house is a Zapateria, which is basically a (guy who fixes shoes). I know they used to fix shoes back in the old days, back when Hans Christian Anderson was singing about mermaids and such, but it would never occur to me to take my tennis shoes, or even my dress shoes in to a Cobbler to have them repaired. I would honestly just throw torn up shoes in the trash. I’d never realized that someone else could fix the shoes and put them to good use. 

Same with pots and pans. Panamanians cook with a lot of oil. Everything is fried here. From the empanadas (pastries usually stuffed with meat or chicken) to the tortillas or even lunch meat (Panamanians don’t trust eating ham right out of the package), everything is tossed in oil. Eventually, no matter how well you clean your pots and pans, more than likely they’ll begin to char and turn black. Again, in the States I would have just gotten rid of them and bought new ones. Probably cheap new ones from Walmart, but still, I wouldn’t hold on to nasty ol’ pots and pans. Here, over near the Los Pueblos outdoor shopping center, there’s a guy who’s sole purpose, his entire business, is to clean charred pots and pans. People actually pay this guy to return their pans to new. 

Same with couches and chairs. In the States, if my couch or another piece of living room furniture was old, with stains, and I wasn’t able to clean it with a good ol’ upholstery cleaner, I’d probably sell it at a garage sale, or put it out on the corner for someone to pick up, or donate it if it were still in good enough shape. You should’ve seen the look on my mother-in-law’s face when I told her I wanted to get rid of my old couch. We were moving, and we’d had rat problems at the old house. I knew the little rodents had been crawling around inside the bottom of the couch. We’d found holes and rat crap all in the bottom of the sofa. She begged me not to throw it away. She said she’d take it to someone to have the fabric ripped off, the inside cleaned, and then have it reupholstered. She wanted to give it to her mother who could really use a new couch. That’s awesome.

Even simple things like oscillating fans with the motors burned out will be reused here. It’s hot in Panama, and fans are put through more wear and tear than the poor things deserve. So when my $20 fan goes kaput, I won’t hesitate to toss it. My wife’s uncle won’t let me. He’s taken old fans off my hands, lamps, and even a worn out toaster. These are things that you could pick up in the store for no more than $20. Yet, he’d rather repair them. I figure, if he can fix it, he can have it. And he’s fixed and kept quite a few of my old things. 

It’s very rare that you’ll see a garage sale or any kind of yard sale here. In Panama, if something works, it’s passed on to family. Shoes, clothing, electronics, household goods…you name it. If it can still be used, even if it needs to be repaired, someone in the family will be glad to take it off your hands. It’s probably the same reason you don’t see many used clothing stores or old consignment shops. My aunt in Boca Raton owns a consignment shop. People bring in everything from books to clothes to furniture. The whole point of the consignment shop is for people to make a little bit of money, some sort of commission, when the store sells their stuff. However, most people just give their stuff to her. They just don’t want it anymore and they don’t know what else to do with it.

That kind of store would never work here because no one would be willing to give the store anything. The consignment idea might possibly work, but you wouldn’t prosper with that kind of business here. People would rather pass items down to their family members than give it to some wealthy gringo/gringa running a consignment shop. The old saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” definitely applies in Panama. 

Thanks for reading, and just to throw this out there, I welcome any comments. I haven’t received many. Don’t hesitate to comment on any post. If you have a question, or want further clarification on something I’ve written, don’t hesitate to comment. I promise I’ll get back to you.