Saturday, July 28, 2007

A few recent photos of Salma

I've been having a little trouble lately with the images I upload to Blogger. They don't seem to upload in their full sizes, or they are not clickable. But here goes. These photos are quite large, so click on the photo to see the larger version:

Playing on the living room carpet with Mama:

Salma with our friend Cleo at her birthday party:

Friday, July 27, 2007

Real Taguas, Fake Taguas

Ok, they're not really fake. They are carved from tagua nuts. But they're not what I expected.

For those who don't know, I have a collection of these fascinating figurines, hand-carved by the Embera and Wounaan Indians from a nut called tagua or palm ivory. The designs typically represent animals endemic to this area, such as native frogs, birds, fish, wild cats, etc. You can see a few of my pieces below. The photos is a little blurry, sorry, but the "garza imperial" (imperial stork) in the center is my finest piece:

I've been buying taguas for about a year and a half now and I've become something of a connoisseur. I know where to go in Panama city to find the best pieces at good prices (Mi Pueblito sellers have the best pieces, without a doubt, while Panama Viejo is the most expensive). I know what to look for and I know how much to pay.

The other day Laura, Salma and I were on our way out of the city after saying goodbye to her family members at the airport. Laura wanted to look at a few molas (her hobby) so I detoured to the Balboa Artesans' Market, where I know there are a lot of mola sellers. The day was broiling hot, so I parked in a corner of the parking lot where there was a small patch of shade.

When we walked into the market, a young Kuna woman was enamored of Salma and took her off our hands while we browsed the stalls. Salma never complains about this. She has grown up being held and carried around by everyone in El Valle.

I came to a stall where the vendor was selling tagua carvings of a type I have not seen before. They were unpainted and had broad, obvious features, unlike the fine work I am used to. The lines were smooth, but they were cute in their own way. These pieces reminded me of children's toys - and in fact the seller claimed that they were carved by children. Here are the ones I bought:

I bought these two, paying $9 each for them (a fairly low price), and back in El Valle I took them to Cleo at the market to get his opinion.

"These are machine made," Cleo said. "Imported, most likely from Ecuador."

"Machine made?" I was very surprised.

"Yes, you see these broad, smooth lines? That's typical of factory work. You'd better keep these away from your other taguas. Look here, you see these tiny holes? These are from insects eating the tagua."

Even though I had paid very little for the two pieces, I was disappointed and annoyed at the seller who had either tricked me, or who was clueless himself.

"You want to buy them," I asked Cleo?

"No, thank you!"

"I'll sell them to you at my cost!" I said, using one of Cleo's favorite lines. "No gano nada!" (I earn nothing!)

He wouldn't take them, so I've stored them in the freezer for now, until I figure out what to do with them. Give them away to local children, perhaps?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Brownie the Dog

Last week Laura, Crystal, Salma and I went for an afternoon walk. This is something we do almost every evening, between about 5:30 and 6:30 pm. Somewhere in the vicinity of the church Crystal spotted a small, skinny brown dog with big ears. The dog had a piece of chewing gum stuck to its thigh. Crystal coaxed it over and removed the gum, and from that point it tagged along as if we were its new family. It trotted along with us up the hot springs road, all the way along Calle de los Millonarios, and back down the dirt road to our house.

I named the dog Brownie, though Laura preferred to call her Dulce (sweet). She was very skittish at first, but once she realized that we were not going to kick or hit her she became very enthusiastic and friendly. I fed her (cat food actually, but the dog didn't seem to mind), brushed her, and put out a cardboard box with a blanket to sleep in. She spent the night, but the next day she disappeared. I was a bit sad about that, but I figured maybe she just preferred life as a stray, or perhaps she was in heat.

After a one day absence, Brownie returned, seemingly very happy to see us. Once again we fed her, watered her and played with her a bit. She had an unfortunate habit of barking at our cats, but after a few stern reprimands she seemed to calm down.

All the girls were going to the beach and then to the Rey in Coronado, so, thinking we had a new member of the family, I asked Laura to buy a bag of dog food, and one of those dog pillows. However, by the time Laura returned with the dog food, a new dog bowl and a toy, Brownie had disappeared again.

She never did come back.

Today we went out to run a few errands and stopped at the Centro Yin, the only store in town that carried fig newtons. Lo and behold, who do we see laying on the cement in front of the store? Brownie! I don't know if she belongs to the Yin or just likes to hang out there during the day. I suspect the latter. Next time I'm there I'll ask the owners about her.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Surprising Place for a Hammock; Cheap Sushi; Escalator Fun

The sun had just dropped away, it was a warm, drizzly evening, and I had just parked in the far corner of the lot at Multiplaza, the newest, shiniest mall in Panama. There was a truck parked in the corner, and Laura noticed that the trucker had strung a hammock beneath the truck, anchored to something on the underside of the carriage, and was fast asleep. The truck had a Guatemala license place. Apparently this was a long haul trucker, taking a break or putting in for the night.

For some reason I keep mulling this over, thinking about this trucker driving from one country to another, so poor that he has to sleep under his truck. On the other hand, what great luck to be in a part of the world where it's never really cold, and to be able to stretch out in a hammock and sleep without having to spend any money at a hotel. I wondered if this was a common phenomenon, so I looked online and found several photos of this same tactic, like the one above, taken in Belize.

We went into the mall, window shopped, and Linda bought Salma a new stroller at the Poppy's store. We went up to the food court. Laura, Crystal and I shared five plates of sushi - 50 pieces! Fortunately, in Panama you can get 50 pieces of good sushi for about $20. Another perk of living here.

Linda and Crystal have gone back to the U.S., and Laura is feeling sad. Salma really loves airports, by the way. She's been to Tocumen International several times now, and she enjoys gawking at the busy groups of people, the children running around, and oh, she really loves the escalators. Going up and down the escalator is a huge thrill for her. As it is for all children. Hey, if I could get away with it, even I would enjoy running up the down escalator.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

To Blog or Not To Blog? That is the Poll Question

I haven't been posting much, as my friends have no doubt realized by now. I've had some severe disillusionments recently in the realm of family and friends, and I seem to have stopped caring about writing in this space.

I have also come to the abrupt realization that not everyone who reads this blog is a friend. Some may object strongly to what I write here. That would be fine if I were, say, a journalist, covering political, crime or business issues for a newspaper. A journalist doesn't post baby photos and write about his residency status or financial situation.

The problem here is that I combine posts about my personal life with my opinions on political and religious issues. So anyone who might be offended by my writings has access to much more personal information about me and my family than they would if I were a journalist for the L.A. Times. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that.

So what are my options?

1. Issues Blog: I could write only about the political, social and religious issues that are on my mind, and eliminate all personal information. But that's no good, because most of my readers are family and friends who want to see photos of the baby, learn more about our lives in Panama, and be informed about our doings.

2. Family Stuff Blog: Alternatively, I could take the opposite tack: stick to the family stuff and baby photos, and leave out my pseudo-intellectual musings about society and religion. But that's not how I think. Everything is tied together. My decisions about where to live, what sort of work to do, who to take as friends and how to interact with those friends, are all tied in with what I believe about the world and how to live. I make very few random choices. And the same is true for my moods and feelings. If I'm depressed one day, it's as likely to be about the ongoing destruction of ancient Iraqi monuments and archaeological sites as it is about the trouble I'm having getting a website configured properly.

Besides, I'd be bored just writing about the family's daily doings and nothing more. I'd find that to be superficial and lacking substance, like a spoonful of saccharine.

3. Private Blog: I could make the blog private, with access allowed to approved members only, so that only my close friends and family could enter. They'd have to put up with the hassle of logging in just to read my ramblings. Still, I am seriously considering this.

4. No Blog: The final option is, of course, to shut the blog down. This approach has merits. Before I began this blog I used to keep a private journal. My journal entries were more detailed and honest than much of what I write here, because I never had to worry about who might read them. So I described people I met in detail, including positive and negative observations. I wrote about my hopes and my naked fears, my hates and desires. I wrote the things that a person thinks but does not share with the public at large, and if someone might read it after I die, well, that's ok.

If all they have to read when I die is this blog, they'll get sore jaws from yawning too much.

Got an opinion? Answer the poll below:

What should Wael do with his blog?
Issues blog
Family stuff blog
Private blog
No blog
It's fine, just stop worrying about it
Is this guy for real? Who cares? free polls

Thanks for your opinions! From now on all my blog posts will contain polls. Welcome to web 2.0!