The Day Panama Stood Still

Mon, 17 May 2010

This past Sunday, 16 May 2010, the Panamanian Government did its official census. On this day, Panama became, for all intents and purposes, a prison colony. No one could leave their home until they had a pass from the census takers, until they'd been "incensed" -- OK, yeah, I know that's not the word, but it works here.

So the census takers (who met outside in front of our house at 7 a.m. and promptly dispersed to the four winds in search of folks who were not awake), finally stopped by in the late afternoon. Among the questions were: names of folks in the house (all of us), type of construction of the house (block), if the house had water (ocassionally), if anyone in the house was looking for or had work last week, and a myriad other silly, often ambiguous questions.

So here I am, a gringo (so what do I know of a Panamanian census) and they never asked some fairly obvious questions: identification number or passport number, nationality (US/Panamanian/other), status in the country (Panamanian national, resident alien, tourist, tourist with pension, alien married to a Panamanian, investor visa, illegal alien, or other). Everyone ALWAYS wants to know your ID or passport number here. Even if they don't know anything else, the ID or passport number can be used to check your status. So they counted millions of people and have no idea what nationality they are. Did I miss something?

Well, if you are just passing through, apparently, you're counted the same as someone who was born, raised, and will most likely die here. If that makes no sense to you, join the crowd.

I would also remark on the lack of knowledge the census takers showed. Several questions had to me a number of basically equivalent answers (a la Microsoft's Wizards -- perhaps the same folks that wrote the MS Wizards wrote the census) and the census taker could not explain the difference between the answers.

Well this census, that had the entire country locked down for the day (with close to 2,000 arrested for being out without a pass) isn't over yet. They will continue the census during the course of the week. So much for the 6 P's (prior planning prevents piss-poor performance). I always wondered how they'd manage to get to many of the remote areas in one day -- but they couldn't even get to entire buildings in Panama City!

I'm still unclear on the whole lockdown deal. Are those uncounted folks/buildings still encarcerated in their own homes, or are the census takers going to have to try to catch up with these people at whatever hour of the night they decide to show up at home?

Yep, the Panamanian Census. The census here is, they still won't know how many folks live here until at least May 2020, when they do it all over again.

They also got real wound up over "head of household" versus married to the head of the household. Does this even matter? How many adults (vs minors) live here? Sex (as often as I can get it), or who's sleeping with whom? Age? Nationality? Immigrant Status (if applicable). And other pertinent questions. I'm still reeling with the questions they asked (knowing the answers if they'd open their eyes). I pay a water, an electric, and a telephone bill. We have 8 computers in the house for 5 people (the three Blackberry's are counted as computers). Please don't ask why these were even questions -- I don't know!

I'm still wondering if/when they'll realize that they still don't know how many foreigners there are here? I'm here as one status, but the rest of the family has dual citizenship. I will be interested in the results. Was hoping to know how many gringos/europeans/other 1st world expatriots live here. Guess I'll never know.

David-

The Day Panama Stood Still

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