Holidays in Panama

Fri, 12 Nov 2010

Having lived for some time here I have a somewhat unique (if not jaundiced) perspective. This comes from a number of things including being married to a diligent, hardworking, dedicated wife who sometimes enjoys her work in the morgue a little too much. It also comes from applying an engineers eye to all the little details and constantly asking why.

Panama is certainly not alone as a third world country in lacking certain commodities, including things for folks to do in their spare time. But as a country with some of the most liberal, accomodating labor laws in the world (accomodating for the workers, not the employers), and a government bent on providing ample opportunity for holidays, you have a recipe for a most unpleasant brew.

Panamanians love to party. I've known some party animals in my time. Never seen much sense in it myself, but they'd all be put to shame down here. Wouldn't be so bad if it was just partying. But for whatever reason, these parties end up way too often with someone in the hospital or the morgue.

Last week Panama celebrated 3 straight days of non-stop partying. First was Independence Day (Panama has two, one Independence from Spain, the other Independence from Colombia, on Nov 3 and Nov 28), then Flag Day (Nov 4). This holiday was expanded this year to include Nov 5, Founding of Colon (Panama's 2d largest city, the main Atlantic port and north entrance to the Panama Canal).

As Chief Medical Examiner, my wife decided she'd be on call during this holiday. And, as expected, bodies started piling up in the morgue. So fast, in fact, that on the third day of the holidays, she left for work at 7 a.m. and finally returned home at 9 p.m. This included not only numerous autopsies, but also a trip to the hospital to see several casualties from parties as well as evaluations of several rape cases (here Doctors of Forensics do autopsies, but also see workers comp cases, rapes, abuse, and anything else of a legal nature -- they don't generally, however, do pathology, that's left to a lab).

What one has to ask (apart from where is all the needed help so someone like my wife isn't working an 18 hour day on her day off), is what gives that murders, rapes, and robberies soar on holidays?

Well, apparently, this is what is called "having a good time" down here. Just as the holidays were about to start, I had had over $2,000 of heavy electrical cable cut and pulled up one night so that the thieves would have a couple hundred dollars to party on. In preparation for holidays, the rate of robberies also skyrockets. Aided by junkyards looking to turn a profit on scrap metal, thieves steal cables right off telephone poles, chop it up, burn off the plastic sheathing, and sell it. On rare occasion (not rare enough), thieves are found dead hanging from telephone poles when they've erroneously tried to steal cable carrying 19,000 volts.

Once they have enough money to party (several hundred $$$ judging by the way they go about it), folks here don't stop at drinking themselves into a stupor. Nope, the night isn't complete until they've killed someone for looking at them the wrong way or making a pass at their girlfriend (not to mention their wife), or failing a good fight, raping some local girl who didn't want to sleep with them.

Of course some just get mad because they couldn't get any and go home and beat up the wife. She's an easier target than one of the other drunks who might fight back. And what does the law say about this? Well, here in Panama, a woman has to file three complaints of spousal abuse (each one documented by a Doctor of Forensics as to the extent of the injuries received) before a judge will do anything. Few women make it past the first complaint.

Just so you're not confused, Panama is not a Muslim country where women are treated like chattel. Panama is a Catholic country, where God forgives all. Besides, if men were held accountable for beating their wife even the first time, then Panama's Attorney General would be in jail. Oh, yes, his wife retracted the charges (no doubt after some sense was beaten into her).

I occasionally complain about the long hours my wife slaves away for the government. But only during long stretches with no holidays do things remain "normal" long enough for us to enjoy some time together. Which means, basically, things should get back to normal some time after 10 January next year. Meanwhile, I think it's time to go out and party.


Holidays in Panama

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