I have decided upon some of the most striking cultural differences between The United States of America and Panama. I would like to write my views here, for everyone to consider and, if you’re feeling intercultural at the moment, to adopt.
Over the past few weeks I have used a number of bathrooms in and around Panama. The latrines I have used are normal latrines, concrete block over a big hole in the ground. Latrines are generally unpleasant, they are outside, they stink, there are insects hovering around and you can smell and see what you and everyone in your family did yesterday. If you’re lucky, and happen to be in a nice block house, there might be a luxurious flush-toilet available. Imagine, as you enter the bathroom, take your seat, and proceed to look up towards the door, you (invariably) see a sign. Of course this sign is laminated for sanitary reasons or I do rather mean the sign is shielded for clarity. Anyhow, the signs usually say a variation of the following sentence, “Please help us protect the environment, throw your used toilet paper in the trash can.” After your read this sign, your head involuntarily swings to the trashcan located in the nearest corner, which is now behind you because you have already sat down to dispose your bio-waste when your eyes happened upon the laminated sign. You see that the trashcan is full of off-white wads, wipe size, of toilet paper. At this moment, without realizing you are doing it, you take a big sniff, just to make sure your eyes aren’t deceiving you. And sure enough, the wretched smell is clearly more striking now than when you first entered the luxurious flush-toilet bathroom with stars in your eyes and, well, nose.
I found this to be odd, and i still don't understand why they throw used toilet paper in the trash can.
Coming from Atlanta, the city that loves to hate its transportation system or as I would say "It's harda to ride MARTA", I was curious to find out how a transportation system which is actually needed by the people functions. Let me try to be more clear. Atlanta is a concrete jungle. You need a car to get from point A to point B because, either there is no public transportation or the distance is great enough to rule out walking/biking. Moreover, many people in the Atlanta area are affluent enough to afford a car, which decreases the demand for an extensive public transportation system. MARTA is highly organized with specific routes that arrive and depart at regulated times throught the day and night. You pay a flat fee when you get on and can, for the most part, stop where ever you like. I would venture to say that the Atlanta public transportation system is organized but not much used.
Panama, on the other hand, is a living jungle. The majority of people cannot afford cars and even if they could, there may not be a paved road to their community if it is more than 5 miles off the interamericana interstate. Here, I should explain the interamericana. The interamericana is the spinal chord of Panama. It is a 4 lane interstate that runs from Mexico to the Frontier of Panama. In Panama, the most developed towns and the richest people are near the interamericana. Businesses and cities have grown along side the interestate simply because the interamericana offers quick and reliable access to goods and services otherwise unreachable in the campo. People have to get to work, they have to shop, and they have to visit family. So, the majority of people need public transportation to move around the country. How does it work?
In Panama City, there is a national bus terminal. Lets start with the "Diablo Rojos" (Red Devils). The buses that people who live in and around Panama City use are old American "Blue Bird" school buses called diablo rojos. However, each diablo rojo is owned and operated as a private enterprise. So the owner of the diablo rojo can decorate it however they want. This is where Panamanian culture enters the picture. Some buses have elaborate murals of the jungle, others have Disney cartoon characters painted on the side, others have American movie stars like Bruce Willi (yes, it was a picture of Bruce Willis with a gun with his name underneath that read Bruce Willi), some have religious symbolism, others have half naked women, and still others have fantasic murals of fantasy worlds with unicorns, fairies, cyclops, minotaurs, castles ect. Moreover, the inside of the buses are also decorated with various colored lights, pictures, quotes, ect. The diablo rojos are an awesome part of the culture. I think MARTA needs to spice up their buses with original artwork or something to make them more atractive. I mean, when a diablo rojo rolls by, oh, you will not miss the tremendous cacouphany that accompanies the bus, everyone looks to see the artwork, which makes public transportation much more noticable and acceptable within the society.
So, all the diablo rojos start from the central terminal and follow a predermined path to their destination. The name of the destination is painted in Olde English along the front winshield. During the trip to your destination, the bus stops whenever someone wants to get on or off. This can get annoying because you will stop and pick up three people, and 15 seconds later you will stop and pick up another 5 and 10 seconds later you will stop and let 2 off and so on. But it works because people can just walk from where ever they are to the nearest paved road to wait for a bus. Once the bus arrives at its destination, it turns around and heads back to the national terminal, picking up people along the way.
The cost of the trip depends on where you get on and off. When you get on the bus the driver gives you a poker chip denoting where he picked you up. When you get off, you return the chip and pay the price, it maybe anywhere from 25 cents to 85 cents.
The diablo rojos are known for driving at high speeds along shoddily paven roads in the center of the street, with someone hanging out the door, the music blaring and the horn constantly honking. The ride is always sensational, to say the least. A little about honking. In The United States of America, for the most part, people honk to caution others, and do so sparingly. In Panama, the honk is used to say hello and goodbye, to let someone know you're going to pass, to get the attention of a pedestrian, to flirt with women, when you like a song, when you are happy, when you are sad, and i'm sure there are other uses I have yet to see or hear. But it is safe to say that in Panama, the honk of a horn has a hundred hues.
To get anywhere out side of Panama proper, you get on a big charter bus heading to a city along the interamericana. These buses are more regulated and do not stop as often. You can also catch what is called a busito, or small bus, which is essentially a converted van that serves as an express bus because once it fills up it heads straight for the destination city. These buses cost from 2.00 to 14.00 depending on how far you travel. I traveled clear across the country on a charter bus and it cost me 13 dollars and took 6 hours. Oh yes, the charter bus drivers like to blast the airconditiong, which is refreshing at first, but results in near hypothermia after 6 hours. However, the cold bus helps to keep the passengers relatively calm and quiet.
I just realized I spent half an hour writing about transportation systems. I don't think I can pay attention to this topic anymore right now. I would rather look at a picture book.Buenos,