Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Is Panama the Land of Lovers?

I've been asked if Panama is the land of lovers. I would say that for the locals, it is the land of working two jobs at a time, living with an extended family, trying to survive, trying to make ends meet, and not worrying too much about things that are seemingly beyond your control, such as a corrupt government, services that don't work, and unrestrained development. Love is not in the forefront of the imagination.

For gringos, however, Panama may indeed be the land of lovers, or perhaps I should call it the "land of young, attractive Panamanians who are happy to romance older gringos who can provide them with financial security."

These relationships are irritatingly common in Panama, particularly the matchup between the older male gringo and the younger female Panamanian. Some seem almost equitable, like one couple I met at cafe Pomodoro: he was a handsome 50-something retired Canadian hockey player, she was an attractive 40-something president of a large Panamanian law firm.

Of course some of these relationships are truly loving and healthy, like Henry and Nora Smith: he a white American from Texas, she a black Panamanian, the two of them married now for thirty something years, proud parents and grandparents.

The more extreme pairings, however, are hard to stomach. A 75 year old American gringo with a 25 year old Panamanian girl. A 55 year old man with an 18 year old girl. Often the women in these twisted little partnerships are pretty and black, and come from Panama's poorest communities. These are women who in Panamanian society would have no chance of getting involved with a "rich" man. And the men, in turn, are dried up old lechers who would never be able to score such a lovely woman in the USA, but here in Panama their two thousand dollar a month pensions, or two hundred thousand dollar savings, make them rich.

Is this moral or not? Let's face it, both players are using each other. I find these relationships to be cynical and distasteful because they are not based on true love or caring, but on expediency. Both parties had better know going in that they are using each other. The man better know that for the rest of his life he will be a bankroll for all her extended family. Anytime someone in the family is sick, or in debt, or has a problem, he will be expected to "help out." And the woman better know that she will be little more than a housemaid and sex partner.

Just to be clear, I'm not referring to my friend Tracy here. Yes, Tracy and Ella are twenty years apart in age, but Ella is a professional woman, a chemist and a teacher, from a middle class family. And I believe that Tracy and Ella genuinely cared for each other, even if it ultimately did not work out.

Nor am I referring to Brooke and Nelson (mentioned in a recent post), who are roughly equal in age and earning power. Don't want to get in hot water with any of my new friends here.

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