A Saturday cat food run’s glimpses of the local economy

Anton piquera
Saturday afternoon bus riders, waiting for their rides from the town of Anton to the various corregimientos of the sprawling municipal district. Photo taken by Eric Jackson while waiting on the Altos de La Estancia bus. It was Saturday the 15th, so figure that those with regular jobs with regular paydays were out in greater numbers, having just been paid. But still, more shoppers in the stores — not HUGE increases but significant ones — than on similar Saturdays over the last two and a half years. It suggests something of an economic recovery.

At a casual glance…

by Eric Jackson

Out the front gate, onto the tarred but not finished street. Jobs and contracts for PRD folks, a frustrating pain when cats and dogs come in, having walked on it. makes a mess of my flip flops and feet.

On the road out to the highway the representante had other PRD crews putting in speed bumps. Jobs for some, building materials sales for some, not sure if there was much wise planning put into it. I’m pretty sure that few of the people who live in Juan Díaz de Antón were asked what we thought about it — I know I wasn’t.

Also along that road, and once the bus into town got to the intersection with the main highway, multiple untended roadside stands. Some becoming overgrown with weeds, some obviously still tended, but closed. On a weekend? Might it mean that high fuel prices just keep the numbers going to the Interior for a couple of days down? Might it mean that people forced from regular jobs and into the informal economy have found more regular, better-paying work again? Might it mean that people still out of formal work have decided that the money to be made selling from these places makes it an unprofitable investment of time and resources? Hard to say.

In Anton, some of the little stands from which people informally sell things are also unoccupied. I did spend a buck to get a bag of six tangerines, and another buck to get a package of masks, from two of the vendors still working. I got some little plastic tubs of manjar from another. At one of the panaderias I got two bags of michitas, a dollar each.

In the supermarkets the prices remained high. $1.19 for a pound of chicken livers that sold for 69¢ just a few months ago. A lot of the price controlled items not in stock. Shelf life milk is way up, but the small cans of price controlled powdered milk were still available. Infant formula — just looking, no babies to feed in my life — is also way up, and that may have something to do with the Similac recall as much or more than the economy in general.

Tasty if not the healthiest poverty rations lunch at Lissy’s. Two hojaldres, two pieces of crusty fried chicken, a bottle of Coke. The cheap goodies that I bring home to the furry kids — deep-fried chicharrones, bofe or beef heart strips — were all out. As in people so far out on the margins that they are feeding themselves more, and their dogs and cats less, on these things.

Prices in generally were higher so that with the money in my pockets I couldn’t afford all the things I had hoped and expected to buy. I skipped the cheese curls for the cats, the paper towels for this enormous and depressing clean-up job that I confront at home. I bought a smaller bag of cat food than planned. Price controlled rice and lentils, those I bought in the planned quantities. Didn’t top off my coffee stash.

Picked up my usual hard copy of one of the decadent bourgeois newspapers — Karl Marx used to pore over such thing in his London exile, too — but only glanced at the self-serving pronouncements of business group leaders. I never buy Ricky Martinelli’s rags, nor pay for necro-porn tabloids. But you do want to know what the mainstream is reporting from behind their online pay walls. THEN, upon closer inspection, more opinion and analysis and less boots-on-the-ground reporting. The rabiblanco press is also hit by layoffs, so it seems.

I’m not and never really have been assimilated to the “time is money” gringo obsession. Not even when up in the States working at jobs where “billable hours” are the coin of the realm. Seeing no Juan Díaz bus waiting, and the San Juan de Dios bus almost full, I got on the other waiting bus for a bit longer wait, which I mostly spent reading but also looking for pictures to take. That’s the Altos de La Estancia bus, which eventually goes to the rim of the old volcano crater, at the bottom of which is El Valle. I get off much sooner than that — El Bajito is along the way.

This bus is, I believe, a family business. A middle aged man does the driving. A decades-younger woman, or sometimes a younger than her man, are the usual secretaria or sometimes secretario. There are not many women who work on the buses that I take from points A to B in Panama. I like to see the exceptions, and not JUST because I’m this dirty old man. To prosper, Panama needs to be a more equal and a more equitable society. For one thing, if things get more outrageous than they usually are, angry people might start blocking the roads again and it takes forever for the bus to get to point B.

No stops at farm supply places on the way back. Especially on the Altos de La Estancia buses, there usually are. But we are into the season of the heavy rains, and with the seasons vary the cycles of local agricultural activity. Yes, the livestock still need to be fed, but when the ground is so squishy it may not be time to plant or to fertilize.

On to my stop. No apparent gang activity. No young man on a bicycle watching who gets on or off the bus and texting or calling after he sees. That sort of stuff more or less stopped after some people went to prison for invading my home last year.

Past the Martinelista house of the pleasant Evangelical hotel worker, with the Don Ricky banner flying out front. Past the PRD house, with the yellow-striped pickup that the representante drives parked out front. Onto my street, with some of the dogs in the local pack who are regular dinner guests waiting. By now they KNOW not to jump on me with their tar-stained paws. Nobody had broken in, or if someone did, she or he left no obvious traces.

It’s a rough economy out there. It seems like the hopelessness and despair are diminished, but these are still hard times in Anton.


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