Most who know me, understand that I generally don’t get terribly excited about food….however, they also know that I have no problem leaving bad food behind.  One thing though I have picked up from my travels, is that I do get rather excited about experimenting with new food in different cultures.  So after having such a delightful Ceviche experience, time to take a stroll to the adjacent neighborhood.  Taking another look at the cultural style of the boats in waiting, and catching a bird in flight…I head down the road.

Going from the market to the Old City is a rather nice walk!  Immediately, you can see the shift in architecture and the shift in the feeling.  The city has done a great job of creating a pedestrian friendly walkway connecting the fish market and the Old City.

Getting closer to the Casco Viejo, you can make the old style of the buildings out a bit clearer.  The back side of the White House you see, is the Panamanian version of the White House in the United States.

One thing you have to love about architecture like this is that the scale and style really warm you up and make it easy to relate to the physicality of the neighborhood…proximity, closeness, colors…it pulls you in….it gets your attention…

It just a short walk; however, pausing to look back gives you another view of the downtown area.  As I mentioned, it is the rainy season so the lighting and the huge cloud banks make for quite and interesting view.  This is the view from the Old City, however, it is the second Old City for the first one had to be moved as a result of the Pirates.  As you may recall, the English, French, and Spanish…amongst others were vying for various parts of the world and so the original city had to be moved away from the range of the cannons.  The skyline you see now, is the 3rd iteration of the city.

Considering what it looked like back before the mid-1600’s before all this was being established….

All the lives, the families, the people that have come through this area…really reminds us that time is a continuum…and this period is just a spec in the broader dynamic of civilizations and humanity. Unique about this area is that it represents a major point of confluence in the history of European expansion.  Names such as Vasco Balboa, Amerigo Vespucci, Hernan Cortes and Pedro Davila all come into play when discussing the early history of Panama.  Not lost on this history are the many cultures that were here upon their arrival….this history is so significant, that the Coat of Arms of King Fernando (Queen Isabel) of Spain still stands as the Seal of the City:

If you have been singularly in other parts of the city, then here you get a completely different feel….

The feel is reminiscent of Savannah, Georgia or Charleston, South Carolina and some other places, but this has more of a Spanish style to it…obviously….

The small streets and intimacy give you a sense of comfort.  They obviously have done a remarkable job in restoring some of these buildings…of course with Historic Preservation work, there is always more to be done 🙂  Casco Viejo gets an A+ for these efforts…

Nestled in between the structures, you will find a variety of restaurants…and if you are more of a cafeteria style person….well, you will find that as well…

Several projects currently involve building restoration, but you can tell as well that much is being done to bring back the brick style streets…absolutely amazing….gives a sense of solidness to the experience….after a bit of walking…it is so beautiful…there is no need to do much but to look….and absorb….meticulous is the detail….

Having worked in the Historic Preservation community in Savannah, Georgia and having a great appreciation for its significance….I could not just walk by this sign and not take a picture….give your translation skills a shot 🙂

This structure is amazing and significant….even in its current condition…when you look at it and get a feel for it….you can hear it speaking….it is called “Compania de Jesus” it is a historical convent of the Society of Jesus….amazing…

Now I am loving me some historic preservation, but when I travel…for some reason…I generally take a picture of what I find a dog doing when I travel….as a side note…I have some interesting observations about the characteristics of dogs in different countries, maybe I’ll write about that one day 🙂

Never-the-less, when I walked up…this fella didn’t even move…he opened his eye-lid, and I don’t know if dogs can do this, but it looked like he rolled his eyes at me….as if to say “whatever dude….I am so already over you”, I chuckled…snapped my photo…and let him be 🙂  My Man!

Tucked into this community are also several interesting churches of highly historical significance.  Built during the mid-1600’s, it has an old world style and feeling to it:

Beautiful…makes a statement…

This is a closer view of the front….it is made out of old world Gold…serious, serious craftsmanship and work went into it by the Spanish….regardless to your religion…or lack thereof, you have got to respect the master artisan at work…

Another church not located to far away…this one is under reconstruction I believe…wonderful to see the value placed on history and exemplified importance placed upon its future value…

What a full day of absorbing culture…the inside:

This is the French Embassy.  The French played a role in the history of the development of the Panama Canal as they were the ones that started the process of building it.  Because of this history, the Embassy remains at this location near the Plaza de Francia (the French Plaza):

When the French came, they then imprisoned many of the Spanish that were here.  This is one of the locations where they held prisoners:

The statues represent various individuals who played a significant role in getting the work started of building the Panama Canal.  Watch out for that guy in the middle….. 🙂

Keep looking throughout Casco Viejo and you will come across many significant markers.  This is one that honors Simon Bolivar.  We don’t learn much about him in the United States unless you study Latin American history or listen to Hugo Chavez of Venezuela speak, but he his held in high regard in many places for his efforts…

Okay, wherever we go, we’ve got to look for China Town!  And, like in so many cities, they do have a China Town here.  It isn’t a big one…but, significant all the same 🙂

Being in this community, it could be easy to forget that when you are in Panama you are also in a rain forest.  The contrast between the buildings and the green and colors on this tree…well, sometimes you are forced to stop and smell the ‘roses’….even if they come in the form of tree’s…

Throughout Old Panama City, there are plenty of opportunities to purchase the items of your choice.  Of course, this is the home the Panama Hat 🙂  But, the native Kuna, who are indigenous to this area provide plenty of handmade items to acquire….

This community provides a wonderful day trip….plenty to absorb…the layout, the structures, the redevelopment in-process…the history, make for a memorable day.  Yet, bricks and buildings don’t make a community.  One of the things I really liked about this community, is that they have not completely separated the redevelopment from the people who live here.  Walking through these streets…the buildings have stories and have seen lots of things…but, looking at the people…those eyes have their stories as well…

And, in wondering what those eyes have seen, we could also wonder what these eyes are going to see…what they are wanting to see…the future indeed…

And so, walking behind the plaza….I see a lone fella…riding the waves…okay…give me my props 🙂  Had to use my expert photography skills to catch him…he was pretty far out there…interesting that the wave never really got that high…but it kept going for a long way…He’s got swagger…My Man! 🙂

Beautifully preserved space, and it is a work in progress…but where you find water…and a community…you should also find kids somewhere as well 🙂 couldn’t let this opportunity pass by!

Lots of walking, Panama is humid…so be prepared.  And although I was feeling it, this next scene was a fitting end to the day.  Sitting in the truck, I keep hearing this smacking sound combined with people fussing at each other…looking over I saw these tables with men sitting around smacking the tables and talking loud.  I rolled down the window to take a closer look and realized they were playing dominoes….I said to myself, man all over the world there are so many commonalities…it is amazing that some choose to focus on perceived differences!  Realizing I wanted a picture, Jaime said in a loud voice “MUCHACHO’s”, they all turned around and saw my camera and started waving and smiling like we were all family and cousins playing dominoes at the family reunion…

Man….! I am Loving me some Panama!  Like ‘Ice-Cube’ said…”today, was a good day”

🙂
www.takingownership.org

Mercado de Marisco

September 22, 2012

Obviously, Panama is known throughout the world for the Canal.  However, an absolutely delightful characteristic of the city is the outrageous abundance of fresh ocean fare.  Thus, a frequent stop for many Panamanians and visitors is the Mercado de Marisco: the City Fish Market.  Open nearly every day, local fishermen gather to process their catch and many others line up to participating in the unloading.  On any given day, you will see many colorful boats lined up as people from all walks of life fish to ‘make their own way’.  The market sits adjacent to the world renowned Casco Viejo – the Historic District (Old City Panama).  You can see parts of it in the background…more on that later!

Inside the market, you can see the vast array of seafood available: squid, octopus, corvina, tuna, snapper, langostino’s and countless other varieties.  Now, I’ve been in my share of fish markets around the world…this one ranks high!  I mean clean, fresh…

Makes you want to not just eat…but, makes the idea of cooking quite enjoyable…this is food that you want to put love into making…

Right outside the main market building are lines of vendors selling multiple varieties of seafood.  Here you find all walks of life…this is where all classes of people come together….it is amazing!  On any given day, you have to be mindful of when you come to the market for you may not even be able to get into the parking lot!  But, if you can make it…trust…it is well worth it!  Many of the vendors are selling Ceviche!  My mouth waters just saying the name.

Now, I only learned recently about Ceviche….and just recently learned that by exposing seafood to citrus juice (e.g. lemon juice) over a certain period of time it renders it ready to eat 🙂 … add in some of your favorite seasons such as onion, peppers, cilantro…it varies and you’ve got one serious dish.  Considering the abundance of fresh fish here in Panama, well, your intuition can fill in the rest 🙂  This is one of the many vendors, as you can see the Ceviche is in jars in the cart…take your pic:

For a very affordable price, you get quite a delight.  This is the langostino ceviche….can your hear me say ‘RIDICULOUS’…. I mean, ‘DELICIOUS’ 🙂  I also tried the Corvina ceviche…very good as well…

Friday is also Fish Day…fresh off of the Boat!

Don’t make the mistake of getting in between a man and his fish…they have treated me very well since I’ve been here, but don’t let the smoothness fool you…’Jaime’ doesn’t play 🙂

Definitely, one of my favorite places…delicious, the environment is alive, and it is culturally eclectic…

On our way over to the Old City now…that is Casco Viejo….A Must See!

Follow On! 🙂

www.takingownership.org

Canal de Panama

September 22, 2012

The quality of a sound ‘Strategic Plan’ is dependent upon its production process.  The basis of this process is rooted in information characteristic of in depth analysis, appropriate broadness of consideration, and an awareness of the nuances of structure and culture.  Thus, it begins with discovery.  Consequently, I have the task of spending the next few weeks immersed in Panamanian culture….its community, economy, neighborhoods, and governance.  Whew!  What is a man to do!  Somebody must do it!  🙂

This is Panama….So, let’s go to the Panama Canal!  We are heading to highest peak in Panama City.  From this peak, we can see everything…the new city, the old city, the canal…its gate…but on the way, we stop at….

Mi Pueblita – meaning ‘My Little Town’; it is an example of how some live in the country side…the village with the church at the center of the village, look at the architecture….

We stopped to check out this site on our way to ANCON Hill, ANCON represents Asociación Nacional para la Conservación de la Naturaleza; basically, the National Association for the Conservation of the Nature….I may have the context of Naturaleza wrong, but you get the drift 🙂  ANCON Hill is the highest site to view Panama City.  On its highest site, is the National Flag…had to take a picture to represent for all my new Panamanian Friends!

It is rainy season here in Panama so the clouds are thick and heavy…basically, it rains every day.  Never-the-less, you can tell…this isn’t just some place where big boats float through to get to the other side.  Indeed, we are talking about a major city:

That is the new city, changing directions from ANCON Hill, we can see the old city.  Will show more of the ‘Old City’ later, but it is reminiscent of Savannah, GA and Charleston, SC…we will get to some close ups soon:

Discovery is a difficult task….especially when it has to be experiential 🙂  On the Pacific Ocean…behind me resides the entrance to the Panama Canal….this is called the Bridge of the Americas…. whew…this work is hard! 🙂

Turning to the other side of ANCON Hill, past the Canal de Panama Administration building sits the opening to the gateway to the West…the Atlantic Ocean…where it opens up at Colon.  Looking past the ‘Bridge of Americas’, we get to the first cranes and storage areas for the containers carrying trade and prosperity from all over the world:

Keep in mind…we are in the middle of a rain forest…so the green and the moisture is intense!  This is another shot at the cranes and transfer areas:

Heading up a bit further up the Canal de Panama….we see the first locks…because of the focus on optimal logistics…at this point there is also a railroad to Colon, an airstrip, and warehouses and assembly companies nearby to assemble multiple components for further product development.

Looking at the locks…adjacent to the hill on the left, is where the expansion is taking place.  Scheduled to be completed by 2014…this is where the locks will be large enough for the next generation container ships to come through…serious work taking place here…making this area…and Ciudad de Panama…one of the more significant trade and economic points of interest in our continually globalizing society.

Next Stop…The City 🙂

www.takingownership.org

Municipio de Panama!

September 21, 2012

First day in the office.  I won’t spend a lot of time on this blog writing about our project; however, I will touch on it a bit.  The country of Panama has been going through some huge and significant changes.  As you may know, the French started the Panama Canal as a project, but due to a variety of reasons….were unable to finish.  The United States, along with the sacrifice of many, stepped in and finished the Canal.  Through a series of treaties, the Canal area became a neutral zone and was eventually reverted back under control of the Panamanian Government.  With this reversion, came all of the assets once built and managed by the United States.

This included approximately 97,000 hectares of land, several thousand buildings and facilities including multiple former military bases.  Essentially, over night, the land area within the responsibility of the municipality increased by over half of what its size was then.  The responsibilities of governance increased significantly although the number of employees did not.  Not long ago, the National Government decided to decentralize local governance to the municipalities, thus we have to build institutional capacity for the Municipal Government of Panama.  The objective is to produce a ‘Strategic Plan’ to do just that!  My primary work location will be in the Municipal Building:

This is the first day on location, in the first meeting of the day.  Great information and great presentations.  Right here, I am sitting with a few of the team members I’ll be working with:

All of them have a wealth of information, and already I feel my Panamanian stride developing 🙂 This project will really be amazing!  The city has grown by leaps and bounds, literally, over night; lots of migration from neighboring Columbia and Venezuela; they are currently in the process of building a new Metro Train; they are converting a former Military base into a new city from the ground up (Panama-Pacifico); they have transformed other areas into uniquely developed concepts (Ciudad de Saber – City of Knowledge); and because of the influx of people, they are also experiencing some significant population sprawl….not to mention the expansion of the Canal de Panama to accommodate the next generation of super-size container ships!

The construction of new buildings is everywhere…to the degree that they have a hard time filling construction worker slots!  Did I say there was a lot going on!!!!  And, that is the tip of the Ice-Berg!  The Municipio de Panama is stepping up to build its governance capacity to manage a lot of this activity.

Me! Well, I’m fortunate to be on the team!  An afternoon of meetings, then off to delve into the city!

www.takingownership.org

Hotel el Panama

September 21, 2012

Well, I must give it to my hosts….they are taking care of me very well! My abode resides right on the edge of the Banking district.  You can probably imagine that a place where the America’s meet and where so much of the world’s trade must pass through….obviously has a serious banking district.  Because of the abundance of travel, I have seen many a place.  However, this place, I must say, I am impressed with.  Not just because it looks nice, but because they have figured out the way to make you comfortable…particularly for a rather long stay.  I present to you: Hotel el Panama 🙂

Sits on a hill!  Note that most of the hotels in this area have Casino’s that are positioned next to them.  Personally, I’m not much of a Casino person, but I don’t begrudge a person’s poison 🙂  As you can see, the rooms are huge:

Both rooms are equipped with comfortably sized flat screen tv’s, the furniture is most comfortable, and the bed…well, trying to see if I can fit it into my suitcase…you get the point…very comfortable…very kool…and the view is better than watching tv 🙂  Those who have had their share of a lot of travel can appreciate this….no cheap frequently seen everywhere carpet…and the paintings…well, you can tell they didn’t come off of the xerox machine…and guess what…no carpet 🙂  Just solid hard floors….may not seem significant at first…but over the long haul….ahhhhh….talk to me 🙂

The feeling of the structure is strong…connects you with a sense of permanence…the type of permanence that after a long day of work over extended periods of time…you can release into something less temporal…as if you are connected to a broader sense of time…MAN…I know…a serious description of a room…but, some experiences deserve their recognition and attention…laughing…

If you plan a trip to Ciudad de Panama, I would seriously consider this hotel.  The pool is outrageous, the breakfast in the restaurant is set up the same as it would be for the Gods on Mount Olympus…and it is centrally located. Plenty of things of interest within walking distance! Okay, that is my marketing tid-bit, but mostly a statement of appreciation for the considerations provided by my hosts 🙂

www.takingownership.org

Waking up to the Journey, my hosts were conscious enough to give me a little time to get myself together.  The time shift is only 1 hour, but that is not the primary factor…based on my experience traveling internationally!  It is really more of the mental drain that comes with shifting to a different culture…hearing different languages…conceptualizing different challenges in society, economics, governance…and the individuals….a completely different set of stimuli…

Jaime, picked me up…and drove me by Roberto Duran’s restaurant and home …you remember him!  Mr. Hands of Stone….I forgot that he was Panamanian….keep this in mind…to feel the spirit of this blog…When you say Panama…don’t pronounce the ‘a’ differently throughout the word…pronounce it the same ‘a’ = ‘ah’…’Pah-Nah-Mah’…

It is one thing to be introduced to someone from a different culture who also speaks a different language…quite another to open your dependency…then again, Jaime speaks great English…so he makes getting to know him, much easier 🙂 … With that said, I don’t understand why someone would leave the U.S. and then eat the same food they eat in the U.S….then again, I do understand that…but that is the subject of a more personal conversation 🙂

First stop, an authentic Panamanian experience… “FOOD” 🙂  This place is called ‘La Trapiche’ which represents a machine and process utilized to grind in the rural areas….its reference exemplifies authenticity…not other cultural influences…the fellow in the front, is what you find in many other countries…’he who runs the parking lot’ 🙂  he is how you get in the lot and out! 🙂  Same thing in Asia…same same in Africa…well, commonality with Central America!

I am a firm believer in ‘full cultural immersion’….Panama is hugely influenced by what takes place in the United States.  In fact, it has to be one of the must culturally eclectic places…considering that this is where the world meets through trade and development….you will find a little bit of everything here.  With that said, Dominoes, KFC, McDonald’s are everywhere.  You know you are in trouble when McDonald’s delivers 🙂  However, I am in no danger of experiencing that…
So Jaime made sure to hook me up with some authentic Panamanian fare….So yes, I am doing my Anthony Bourdain:

Okay, this is a mix of several different meets, corn and such.  Put a little pepper sauce on it and it becomes food for the gods 🙂  Especially the small dish of chicken…mmmm…used that to flavor the dish.  I won’t translate what all of it is…as that may ruin the experience for those of my children that are in Spanish class…I didn’t eat all of it…but sampled most of it!  This is the description:

More to come!

www.takingownership.org

 

A commonly known phrase refers to how ‘familiarity breeds contempt’.  But, contempt is not the sole product of familiarity!  For familiarity dulls the senses…it dulls our awareness of the subtleties that are beneath our awareness.  It is the type of awareness that allows subtleties to feed the nuances that make a moment more memorable than others.  It makes us ignore the obvious!  When we ignore the obvious, we become ignorant!

So, feeling familiar is reminiscent of seeing something every day.  Not seeing what it is…just seeing its form.  The more profound danger of what familiarity breeds is not contempt.  The danger is that it gives life to indifference.  It breeds a lack of awareness of the nature of a thing.  We think we see it…but we don’t!!!!  We see its form, but not its nature!  We see Latino and/or Hispanic culture….it is right there in our face everyday.  But, do we really see it!  Do we know the contributions, the sacrifice that has been made?  The connections?  Do we?  Or is it that we have a familiarity with it that breeds indifference and we think we know more than we actually do….

I once heard a wise man say that “you can tell a lot about a person based upon how they treat people they think they don’t need”!

Standing in the International Terminal at the airport…well, that is familiar ground!  A familiar space!  You can still see CNN, FOX, or whatever…talking about immigration policy…..one of the few voices of compassion in the public arena is Condoleeza Rice calling for compassion in the debates and development of U.S. policy on immigration.  But, how many times over the past few years have we heard the lack of compassion regarding immigration policy for Mexicans, Latinos, and Hispanics.

Not long ago, I met a fella…a Latino fella…who talked about how he knew his roots going back 7 to 8 generations.  He talked about how he didn’t even learn English until he was an older young man.  It was interesting listening to him talk about his family roots and the comments or discussions he was engaged in within the context of the national conversation on immigration for Latinos and Hispanics.  The interesting part, is that he is from the geographical region of Texas.  If we recall, that land mass was once a part of Mexico…not the United States.  And so as we talked, he chronicled how he didn’t ‘belly crawl’ or ‘sneak’ or ‘smuggled’ himself into the United States…in fact…his family was in Texas when Texas was part of Mexico.

In fact, this area was annexed and acquired by the United States as a result of the end of the Mexican-American War,   and by way of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hildalgo affirming that the U.S. Border naturalized many Latino and Hispanic citizens.  Consequently, much of U.S culture has a symbiotic relationship with those who are, as we say, “south of the border”.  So when this man said, I didn’t cross the border…the border crossed me, then that gives a different meaning to cultural perception or the “group think” that many may have about Latinos and Hispanics.

In the U.S. every now and then we see signs or statements about English!  Learn it!  Speak it!  Make it the national language!  Well, sitting in the boarding area…on your way to a Spanish speaking country…brings you into the full realization of the implications of such.  So, much of what we think of foreigners comes from our comfort!  Comes from our indifference!  From our perfected ability to ignore the nature of things!  Our ignorance!  However, when you now have to rely on the kindness of another…because you are interested in joining the global community…then, our perceptions become more malleable!

Now, “how you treat a person that you think you don’t need “ becomes a much more powerful statement…Now you need them…to help you become a citizen of not just the United States…but of the WORLD!!!!

I know that I am a very fortunate person!  More than blessed to not just see the world!  Not interested in just being a ride along or a tourist!  I want to know what it is like!  What does it feel like to be…to be…

So I have this travel Blog!  Part of it relates to the fact that consciously creating experiences shapes our perception of ourselves and thus our identity…another part of it is to share the experiences so that others may do the same!!!!

This project is rather technical in nature, so the first few weeks involves being immersed and imbedded in Panamanian culture!  Excellent I must say…an Excellent approach and experience 🙂  One of the people who has taken this charge is this vibrant and affable fellow….

Jaime Montenegro (first name pronounced Hi-May)….

Another is Juan Carlos Garcia, an  aspiring Architect….

Both are very intelligent and capable!  Both have been very kind and very responsible for my person!  While I am here as a Fulbright Specialist!  In reality, I’ll learn way more from them…than they will learn from me.  It is my hope that their counterparts that are in or that come to the United States will be met with such kindness from us.
The Journey moves forward….

www.takingownership.org

Being a firm believer in how we can create and/or select specific experiences to help shape our perceptions and lives, I started this Travel Blog as a way to chronicle the journey as well as share it with others.  My new experience came unexpectedly; however, I’ll embrace it all the same.  This time though, the experience will be both cultural immersion and work 🙂  I’ll be working in Ciudad de Panama, Panama working on a project that is a partnership between the U.S. State Department and the Municipality of Panama through the Fulbright Specialists Program.  As always, I’ll use this experience to bring me closer to being able to see reality 🙂 …. however, I will be working.  The following serves as the project description – a bit technical I know, but here we go…..

This project is designed to promote sustainable development for the City of Panama by supporting the institutional strengthening of the Municipality as it proceeds through a public administration decentralization process.  This will be facilitated by producing a Strategic Action Plan for the development of a prototype geographic information system.  The system will provide support for the public administration process as well as planning and territorial management throughout the municipality.

Project activities involve integrating municipal and local level context and priorities, identifying critical paths for plan development, supporting personnel identification and development as well as coordinating the integration of multiple sectors.  Along with providing training to public personnel on the research findings, additional project objectives include:

  • Recommending a program for human resources selection, recruitment and training of additional personnel, exploring potential training collaborations and agreements between the Municipality, the University of Panama and the experts home institution in the United States,
  • Advising on specific training, technical assistance, infrastructure and technological requirements of the Strategic Action Plan, and
  • Proposing financing options for the formulation and implementation of the Strategic Action Plan.

I will keep you posted!  Hope you can follow along! 🙂

www.takingownership.org