Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Old and new, where is the beginnning and end?

This city really has been pretty boring, though this may well be changing pretty quick. There is growing civil unrest, after 50 deaths within the construction industry in two months, the workers are protesting. Big hotels have been rushed and mayhem caused inside, ambulances have been burned and the police have proved completely ineffective; at least they have not opened fire yet! So the Gringo penchant for financial investment into poverty stricken countries meets some resistanc.,Could it be a kickback from days gone past, albeit nearly 500 years too late. I'm surprised the workers have the energy to fight back in this humidity! The thought of the Conquistadors, in full armour, battling through this humidity in the jungle; no wonder they were so barbaric to the indigenous peoples. Jeez, I’d be pissed off after days of such travel, and that’s without being eaten alive by mosquitoes!

It’s a weird concept, a long ago conquered nation (or should that be culture) which now celebrates those who persecuted them. Statues abound of the figureheads of the conquest, the perpetrators of so many atrocities! Do the present day population actually identify with these figures as heroes? Are they proud of them? I can’t see how they can be; unless their perception of themselves is as descendants of the glorious Spanish. Of course that ignores completely their other ancestors who were beaten, raped and enslaved. Surely today’s Latinos aren’t stupid enough to think their genes are of pure Spanish stock, if they do it must be the largest self deceit of a sub-continent. Where does the sense of national identity lie? Of the people I've spoken to, a fair few have proudly declared themselves American-Panamanian!

There is no such deceipt for the indigenous peoples, they remain clearly distinguished. The flamboyance of their dress is wonderful to see, it's not worn through poverty, nor simplicity. The colours betray a richness not evident in their financial wealth, it is more elaborate then the western style clothes they could otherwise wear. Their presence is not overly obvious in the city, a shame it inevitably coincides with street stalls selling the ubiquitous tourist trophies. At least they have an advantage, their wares include rich woven fabrics, hot off the home loom. These people still have their pride, not for them the pretense at being descended from the butchers of their nation. Could these fine folk really be the true elven race?

Populations are always divided; there is often a noticeable divide between ethnic groups. Here, the most squalid areas are predominantly black, the beggars and street folk also. Similar to Nicaragua, the past is ever present, a group originally brought in as slaves have found it harder to rise into higher levels of society. I would not be so outrageous to suggest none of African descent have gained favourable positions in society here, but it is predominantly a Latino privilege. Maybe I’m a bit touchy on this subject, but when I see a black waitress dressed like an old fashioned serving wench, it smacks of ingrained bigotry. However, my views on this may simply show my own bigotry! Do I see prejudice and degradation where innocent commercialism is the reality? Or can the imagery used, from the days of slavery, ever be classed as innocent?

Latin America has a reputation for there being a large number of fire arms stockpiled. This is in a different way to the USA, or so the media would have us believe. The manner in which they are seen is different, I can’t imagine a normal sort of guy giving me an AK47 or .308 assault rifle to shoot off a couple of hundred rounds. Weapons kept in the home as items for enjoyment may be the American way, it’s not what it’s about down here. Every bank has at least one armed guard, and I don’t mean a fat old guy with a side arm. Shotguns and automatic rifles are common place on the street, any number of properties have a hired gun in attendance at all times; even clinics and dentists! So it would be no surprise to see the police patrolling, two up on a motorbike, with fully automatic weapons brandished by the passenger. Well, now I know the term riding shotgun has more than a ring of truth surrounding it. These motorcycle cops look more like deadly assassins, en route to dastardly deeds.

In the old part of the city stand the old colonial buildings, ornate facades hiding the power of old and new. The Presidential Palace can be found here, a maze of narrow streets punctuated by heavily armed militia. Well guarded maybe, but such lovely manners! You don’t get past without showing you have nothing of any threat hidden inside your shorts or T-Shirt. Actually I was only asked to show what was inside my case, why a camera of course sir! I was always brought up to be polite to strangers bearing machine guns; I thanked the man in true British style, only to be thanked more profusely by the guard. And no those are not stuffed birds, though I’m not sure how marble flooring reacts to birdshit.

On the approach to the city I was disgruntled at crossing the Panama canal, there was nowhere to stop and snap the impressive ironwork of the bridge. I merely chugged over the span of the canal, marvelling at how narrow the passage was. Unfortunately there were no freighters passing through at the time, such a shame; I’m lead to believe such a sight brings the canal’s true spirit to light. Huge ships almost scraping through an impossibly narrow passage, there were plenty anchored offshore, waiting their turn; alas none up anchored and to delight me as I crossed. From a distance the bridge is not so impressive, but still makes for a nice view. Surely much nicer than looking down onto the shoreline, sewage outflows and discarded truck tyres just don’t hold the same appeal for me.

Whilst feeling refreshed, even relieved, at the prospect of returning home it also brings a new wave of emotion. Obviously my thoughts have been directed at life in North Wales without a son, dealing with a life I never imagined. Yeah, this is the new future! This is what I have to deal with, what I felt I was ready for. I don’t doubt my readiness, but I realise it will be another stage of grief; more tears, more insecurity! But I am ready for it, I know the timing is right. I could travel for an eternity, it wouldn’t achieve what returning home will. Seven months, 16,000 miles and a sore butt have allowed me to deal with the initial devastation of Cai’s death. I’ve pictured my own, as I headed for the back of a truck in Mexico, but that only gave me strength when I most needed it. If I wanted an excuse to give up that was it, but I didn’t. Now I feel free to do what I want, no need to prove anything to myself, or anyone else. Well, maybe just the mortgage company; that I can meet my monthly payments. Anyone want to buy a house in Tregarth?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very nice blog! The reflexions about latin culture are clearly interesting (like that thing about the conquerors beeing raised like heroes on the "plazas"). I'll keep reading, and hope to see a book from you on the libraries in the future. Good luck on your way back home.

Greetings, Domingo.

(I'm a chilean guy you met making the papers for the shippment, on Panama City).