Plague days diary
by Eric Jackson
“There, in the bin in Anton, just my size, was a pair of garish day-glow orange, black and green Chinese-made flip flops…”
“But Boris, what does that have to do with Moose and Squorrel?”
April 22, Earth Day
Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 21st Century.
Were it not for the COVID-19 pandemic, Panamanians with much sense would have our attention fixed on a decades-long drying trend and how it’s affecting our principal industry, the Panama Canal, and our original industries, the fisheries and agriculture.
Yes, there are viable technical fixes and we might take some of the sharper edges off of the drought by massive tree planting and conversions to water saving farm techniques. To get to that point we probably need to slap down the eternal considerations of “Who pays?” and “What’s my percentage?” Panama needs a very Panamanian Green New Deal and part of the New Deal aspect has to be a smackdown of the eternal percentage takers.
The people who have customarily been counted as nothing are bearing the brunt of the ongoing epidemic – which is also in the grand scheme of things environmental – and would be called upon to do most of the heavy lifting in a green transformation of a Panama whose credit was maxed out before the virus hit. It’s not going to be the same Panama, or the same world, when this plague has run its course.
Working offline now – again. Is it that the Claro system is out, or that they ripped me off again for services for which I had paid but they pulled a bait-and-switch, or…? Sooner or later I will know. I hope that it’s in time for me to upload my Earth Day playlist.
Were the country not on lockdown, the drill would be easy enough. I’d take a bus to where there is free WiFi, connect there and quickly upload stuff that I prepare offline. Now they have turned off the WiFi where I used to go because they don’t want people hanging around and browsing the web. Plus I have but four hours a week of legal time out of the house and have to do my grocery shopping in those hours.
Extra added microbial terror today. Got up in the wee hours as usual, sat down in front of the computer, felt an itch behind my left knee, and sure enough, a tiny male tick. It was a terrible fate for him – gooshed at a young age. But did he get his revenge by passing something on to me? In the tropics there are so many tick borne diseases and the ranges of both ticks and the pathogens they carry around a moving as the climate changes.
Shopping day tomorrow. I expect to go to Anton rather than Penonome. The default place in the latter town, Cocle’s provincial seat, is for me El Machetazo. But lines and cops create delays, distractions and bans that cut into my shopping time. The main reason I go there is because they have a Western Union counter there. In Anton there is no behemoth box store nor Western Union, but there are five smaller supermarkets situated close to one another near the town’s bus terminals on the Pan-American Highway. Need to get milk, whatever fruits and vegetables look good, dog food, cat food and new flip flops.
The bread truck! Only bread and sticky buns today.
Little before 7 p.m., still offline, and the robot operator says my brother’s phone in the next province over (Panama Oeste) I s out of service. Wonder if some weird or momentous stuff is coming down and telecommunications are cut for the occasion.
So, when (if?) I get back online, how much will the anger have risen?
The anger is palpable in many sectors, for many reasons. The worst of it is contrived.
Furious speeches in the National Assembly by those who are always furious and generally point fingers in absolutely unwarranted directions.
High school in crowd snubs from gate expat enclaves via social media.
Agitation inspired from the north and often directly FROM the north – or should I say from rednecks in the US Deep South – fanning opposition to the Panamanian government’s quarantine measures.
Clashes of ideology. Much of it from Americans who know far more about the techniques of abuse than about making an argument. Some of it from Panamanians who were educated in schools where civics classes were on a continuum between atrophied and a dead letter. Then Canadians, Costa Ricans, Brits, South Africans, West Indians, Europeans and others, each without thinking much about it expressing not only a personal point of view but a cultural origin every time she or he argues.
As my Internet signal went off, there was ever more anger and defiance being expressed on the streets of the metro area and Chorrera. As in many choices for the government, one of which is the riot squad, one of which is suppressing news about whats going on. There were and are better choices, but those two have been the banal usual ones over the years.
Thursday, April 23
Almost 3 a.m. Thursday and still no Internet connection. Go back to bed. Little after seven in the morning now, and still no connection.
The little gray dog from down the street has my number. She walked through the bar of my external front door and came into my writing room to greet and to bum some food off of me. Half of the remaining loaf from last night’s bread truck haul for her effort. In criollo dog language, the Yoda ears folded down and back against the neck means “gracias.” Or “gotcha, chump!”
Neighbor comes over with his toddler son, asking for an empty jar with a lid. Not a problem parting with those but I wish they would stay home.
More sleep than usual but not a whole lot of energy. Yesterday I swept up a dry season’s accumulation of leaves and dust on the front porch – disturbing the habitat of a couple of scorpions while doing that – and distributed it into the big L-shaped planter box, onto the existing soil of which I had previously sprinkled with dried and well composted horse droppings. Then I seeded it with green beans, both the long Chinese ones and the shorter string beans. This morning I topped that off with an intermittent sprinkling of the red clay soil upon which this community rests. Still want to do a sprinkling of compost from out back, another sprinkling of red clay, and then a big flood. But not sure that I’ll get around to the tasks still to be done anytime today.
When beans start to sprout then it will be time to patch up, restore and rebuild my weird hippie trellis, allowing new vines to grow on the vines and strings of yesteryear. Part of that project combines with another. In my bamboo stand one stalk is growing off into an inconvenient direction, so on that score alone merits the big chop. Plus, the picking stick has rotted away, with the metal basket atop still usable. So, once it is felled then part of that bamboo, with the right diameter atop and the curvy and too-thick parts cut away along the shoots off of the main stalk, becomes my new picking stick. Some of the side shoots will get added to the front porch trellises, laced together with string and leaning into the detritus of previous seasons. The new growth will make each trellis look better and bind it into a new whole.
Will there be any order? First of all, aren’t hippie radicals supposed to LIKE disorder? Nevertheless, as with the universe in general, weird hippie trellises DO have a certain order. Green bean vines grow UP and TOWARD THE SUN. On the front porch that’s toward the morning sun. I am not so geeked out on ancient traditions as to make human or animal sacrifices to it, but the sun must be given its due respect.
We probably have a new US ambassador coming. Not sure if it will be one of these interim appointments that takes effect without Senate approval, another Trump nominee jammed through with little scrutiny, or other possibilities. He’s from the worlds of business and banking, not diplomacy per se. He was the World Bank’s blockchain guy, which raises all sorts of questions in my not nearly completely enough informed mind. A sophisticated cryptocurrency hustler? A bureaucrat wise to the ways of rich Americans concealing assets in Panama? Not so much into the cryptocurrencies as in the peer-to-peer Internet documentation systems that are supposed to prevent all manner of cryptocurrency and online signature frauds? A wise guy sent by Donald Trump the con man for nefarious purposes? Shall see.
We have often had good ambassadors sent here by bad US presidents. Most of these have been career diplomats. But with all this “drain the swamp” stuff, one of the most damaged ecological niches has been the US Foreign Service.
American diplomacy will have to be rebuilt, starting with what remains. Probably there will be a dispensing with or putting back a space or more in line those junior diplomats who went along for the ride for the wrong reasons. I fear that a doddering President Biden will mostly leave it to corporate lobbyists to replenish the State Department. A lot can happen between now and next January 21.
An hour and a half into Anton and back. Hope I didn’t forget anything too serious. It will be Tuesday before they let me out shopping again.
Do nationality and ideology come into play on shopping day? Of course, and not just because I walked picket lines for the United Farmworkers way back when. And the way MY mind works….
I just can’t relate to the recycled Cold War memes that corporate Democrats would run against Trump on, and much less foreign policies based on those stereotypes. Not that Russia and China are not each in their own ways rival power, nor that Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi are wonderful guys.
Back in 2014 we needed a US president who understood that sponsoring a specifically anti-Russian coup in a Ukraine that was at the time nearly half ethnic Russian, and supporting “our” jihadis against “bad” jihadis and the Syrian dictator so as to threaten the Russian navy’s tenure at its old Mediterranean base at Tartus would create a strong popular demand in Russia for a ballistic response, which Putin delivered.
Long about last December, when it leaked out that there was an outbreak of a new and deadly virus in Wuhan and the Chinese authorities were punishing the physician who informed the world, we needed a US president who understood the Confucian revival aspect of Xi’s politics, the old Confucian notion that disasters could spell the withdrawal of a regime’s “Mandate of Heaven” and thus to protect itself from those sorts of public opinions the government in Beijing was likely to misrepresent the magnitude of the calamity, which it did.
As an old antiwar hippie I have usually disliked aspects of US foreign policy, under administrations of either party. Density between the ears of those in high places, hubris, the persuasive direct and indirect influence of arms merchants and the calculation that most Americans couldn’t find a place like Panama on a map combine for lots of cruel, dangerous and hyper-expensive stupidity.
But all that said, I wouldn’t want people to think that I’m a big fan of Boris and Natasha. Even if I do make sick jokes about Ypsilanti, Michigan’s squirrel molesting law.
No way, Boris and Natasha! I’m a Moose and Squirrel guy!
I needed to replace worn-out flip flops. There, in the bin in Anton, just my size, was a pair of garish day-glow orange, black and green Chinese-made flip flops bearing a moose trademark!
“But Boris, what about the squorrel?”
“Has recruited useful fool – weird old hippie wearing flip flops with image of stupid moose!”
Except at Machetazo and government offices, I am properly shod again.
Last time in Anton, nobody had oranges but that stop was on the return from the Machetazo in Penonome, where I did manage to find a small bag of grown in the USA pink grapefruit.
This time in Anton, one of the fruit vendors did have oranges. A bag of six for a buck, but par for the course, one was going bad. That one got tossed in the back yard, perhaps to grow into an orange tree. That leaves me an orange a day between now and my next shopping day.
As a man of few means, I eat a pretty starchy diet, enhanced by fruits and veggies that I grow. I will eat some meat, fish or fowl. I mostly go heavy on the legumes for protein. But apart from that, and apart from the caffeine addiction and the condiments for that, there are three varieties of keep the doctor away staples in my diet: citrus fruit, cruciferous vegetables and the anti-oxidant garlic and onions. Essential ingredients of Purina Buzzard Chow?
Back online for who knows how long and cooking a couple of pounds of chicken livers to share with the dogs and cats. Dinner will be a little later than usual for them, but they will like it.
MEANWHILE, I’m using the burner that leaks a little, and can smell gas. I take that as a good sign.
Thing is, in plague days hypochondria can set in. Will my temperature be slightly high, the guy at the store catching me with the thermometer and summoning the cops, and after the ordeal that might just be a few days, I will have no home or animals upon my return? That itch? Could it be the virus, or something worse like the diseases I used to look at in my dad’s tropical medicine books? That stumble in the garden? Am I getting terminally spasmodic? And so on.
I think I’ll survive.
The rising anger? Today most especially in the National Assembly, where San Miguelito deputy Kayra Harding accused Colon deputy Jairo “Bolota” Salazar of violence against women. I’ll have to look into the particulars before even beginning to pronounce on the allegation. They’re both PRD but it looks like that party may break asunder. By and large the rest of the legislators sat through the display in stony silence, amplified by their masks.
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