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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Panama's Front Door Service Opportunities

Yesterday afternoon, while working on my new website, I heard someone calling out, "Buenas!" It was coming from outside my front door. My first thought was, "Shoot, it's the Buenas People. Hide." 

If I've never mentioned it before, I call the traveling church visitors the "Buenas People." I don't mean it to be rude. It's just that at least once per week people will stop by the house, stand outside, and keep saying "Buenas!" (which is short for buenas tardes/noches and means good day). They'll stay out there for a little while too, calling out "Buenas!" until either they get bored and walk away, or you answer the door.

The first few times, I answered the door, and I always had a hard time explaining that I don't speak Spanish. Even if I did speak Spanish, I wouldn't want to stand at the door and discuss religion. Don't get me wrong, I'm a Christian and a firm believer in Jesus and God. I just don't want to stand outside my front door and carry on a conversation. I'd rather go to church and pray. You don't need to sell me on something I'm already sold on. 

I do, however, have a strong respect for these people because I understand what they're doing and I know that it takes thick skin to do that every week. 

So, yesterday, I approached the front door like a ninja, crouched down, in stealth mode, waddled over to the window, and peeked through the slots in the glass, to see that it was just a guy on a bicycle. He had a weed wacker slung over the handlebars. I opened the door and said hello. He asked if we needed someone to cut the grass at the front of the house. Usually, I'd be more than happy to let the guy fix up the lawn, but I didn't have any cash on me at the time, and these guys don't take Clave (the debit card here in Panama). 

This guy goes door to door offering to fix peoples' shoes

It got me thinking though, about how convenient it is that people will come to your house and offer their services. A few weeks ago, a guy came to the house and offered to repair my mom-in-law's shoes. This guy was on a bicycle too. He'd worked on her shoes in the past, so she brought out a plastic bag full of sandals and high-heels. My wife threw a pair into the bag too. How much did it cost to get this bag full of shoes repaired? Ten dollars. And the guy called the house before bringing them back, to make sure we'd be at the house, and to make sure we had his money.

He's showing me the label that says his bike 
was donated to him by President Martinelli's wife

My wife had a hairdresser come to the house once. With four kids, that's quite handy. She had all her equipment with her and I think she charged about $5 per person. We used to pay a guy $10 to clean the entire backyard. He'd climb the tree with a machete, chop down all of the unnecessary branches (too many branches bring bugs and animals), tie everything up in bags, and haul it all out to the front of the house for garbage collection. 

Even the school buses here offer front door service. Now, I'm not a big fan of how the school bus system is handled here (basically there is no system), and I'll talk more about that later in a school-specific post, but at least they bring your kids right to your house. That's amazing. When I was a kid, I'd have to walk several blocks and hang out at a central bus stop (dodging bullies was always fun). Here, the driver brings your kid straight to your house.

School buses here are owned by each individual driver, not the school,
which can sometimes lead to payment and/or overcrowding issues

Each day a palatero comes to our house. A palatero is like the ice cream man back in the States, only these guys don't drive around in trucks. Instead, they walk through every neighborhood, pushing a refrigerated cart full of ice cream and popsicles. So whenever my kids hear the ringing of the bell, they haul ass to the front door and start screaming, "Paletas! Paletas!"

The popsicle flavors offered here are much better than you'll find in the States. Passion fruit, banana, strawberry, cherry, mango, and many others are available for about 40 cents each. If you want to splurge and go for the chocolate you can expect to pay a whopping 60 cents. 

Many Panamanians have auto mechanics that come to their house. My father-in-law does this. Here, it's all about who you know, and he always knows somebody who knows somebody. A couple of weeks ago he payed a guy to clean and wax the outside of his wife's car, and wipe down the motor and everything else under the hood. It's amazing what you can have done right at your home here in Panama. It's true front-door service. 

Thanks for reading,