"Oh my God!" I said. "We've got to go inside right now!"
Nothing puts me in a panic like noseeums gathering for their evening feeding frenzy.
Watermelons are in season. Everywhere along the InterAmerican Highway are makeshift fruit stands, piled high with hundreds of sweet watermelons. And sweet they are, like red candy. No such thing as seedless down here, though.
I've been holding irregular Hapkido training sessions here in my home, with Nico the craft seller and Eric the apprentice electrician. Both are Panamanians, locals from here in El Valle de Antón, though Nico is originally from Panama city and it shows in a certain toughness that he exhibits. I've noticed something different about them, compared to martial arts students in North America, which is this: they do not complain or make any exclamations of pain.
Some of our Hapkido techniques are painful, and I know that Nico and Eric feel the pain, but they never say, "Ow, that hurts", or "Ok, take it easy", or "No more, please!" - All of which I have said on many occasions when training. When we're doing crunches or pushups, I am always the first to quit as I exclaim, "Ay, I can't do anymore." When I apply a joint lock to one of them, I have to really cinch it and work it to make him tap.
I attribute this to Latino machismo, which does not allow a man to express anything that might make him seem less manly.
I went to Penonomé for Jum'uah prayer today, and Laura and Salma came along for the ride. I've been missing Friday prayer because the city is just too far for a weekly daytrip, but Penonomé is closer, so I thought I'd give it a try. None of us have been to Penonomé before, and I was worried that I might not be able to find the masjid, so we left early.
The drive west is unremarkable, mostly lightly treed pastureland. We passed through the small towns of Rio Hato and Antón, and arrived at Penonomé in almost exactly one hour, quite early. Locating the masjid was easy - it is a large building with a minaret, right on the highway before you get into town. Since it was early for prayer, we went to El Machetazo, a sort of department store at the outskirts of town. We bought some snacks and a pair of white shoes for Salma.
Laura dropped me off at the masjid and went with Salma in the car to explore Penonomé. There were about 20 men in attendance for prayer, and a few women. The Imam was Egyptian, judging by his accent, and all the worshippers were Arabs, unlike Panama city where most of the congregation is of Indian origin. The khutbah (sermon) was in Arabic, and I was able to follow it fairly well. After prayer several of the men introduced themselves to me, and asked a few questions about where I was from.
None of these men spoke English, but all spoke both Arabic and Spanish, so I found myself in the unenviable position of having to choose between two languages in which I communicate poorly. I chose Arabic, because most of the men were clearly more comfortable in Arabic, with the exception of one young fellow named Akram who spoke Spanish like a Panamanian. As I spoke with them, I found that whenever I tried to remember an Arabic word a Spanish word would pop up in its place. I had to push the Spanish word away and retrieve the Arabic word from the depths of my brain. I think I'll have to brush up on my Arabic - isn't that funny!
After prayer, as I waited outside the mosque for Laura to return from her jaunt into Penonomé, the Imam approached me and encouraged me to come more often. I probably will, just because it's much closer then Panama.
On the way back we made three stops worth writing about. You can read about them in Part Two, perhaps tomorrow.