Coffee, Chayote, and Conspiracy Theories

Boquete is the kind of town where you can leave your doors unlocked and everybody knows everybody.  The weather is nice, and the nights are cool.  I didn’t realize at the time that I was there during winter or the rainy season.  I assumed July was summertime everywhere.  Ah the things we learn when we actually leave the country.


My first day there, my “host mother” (as they called her) Alidia, made me a lunch with a vegetable I had never heard of before.  Chayote is sort of like a hybrid between a potato and a zucchini, and is pretty darn good.  I had heard from prior students that she was a good cook, and they weren’t wrong.  She prepared meals for me every day and even accomodated my vegetarian diet.  Breakfast included fresh (and I mean fresh) coffee every morning.  You could literally pick the coffee beans off the tree. Now, I’m not what you would call a coffee person but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have Panamanaian coffee in Panama. steamed-chayote-6

I tried to keep up with the pace of speech, but my conversation skills quickly dwindled into “Si” and “No” to indicate I did or did not understand something.  If it’s Spanish immersion I wanted, it was Spanish immersion I was going to get.  We found a way to communicate without words–mostly through pictures and hand gestures. 

My Spanish immersion had turned into primal caveman immersion. 

While I was sure this wasn’t helping, I was confident with time my language would improve.  After all, I was in classes 4 hours a day with a small group talking only in Spanish.

Over meals we all sat at the table, and I tried to  understand what was being said.  One day I got up the courage to ask her how her day went, and she excitedly started to answer.  The only word remember hearing was “entonces” which, at the time, I had no idea what it meant.  Now I know that it’s such a common word, that it was amazing I had never heard it before.

coffee beansIt was then I realized that my prior Spanish classes hadn’t adequately prepared me for actual Spanish, even though I took the language in high school through level 6.   I wanted badly to call my high school to ask for a refund when I remembered I had received a free public school education.

You get what you pay for.

Either way, I was able to understand the gist of what she said.  It had been a busy day with lots of traffic in her office and at some point, the camera stopped working.  She was in charge of taking photos for some type of IDs.  Bronze star for me :-|.


Then the conversation took an unexpected turn to religion.  I was able to say “soy musulmana” to let them know I was a muslim.  To my host mother, this wasn’t alarming.  She believed all religions were pretty much the same, and that there are bad apples in every bunch.  They explained to me that there was a muslim community of Arab expats in some areas of Panama, especially in Bocas del Toro.  On the Caribbean side of the country, Bocas was known for its nice beach and wild parties.  Apparently it was also a haven for muslims.

Who knew.

At first when I was asked did I know about “nueve once” I was completely confused.  But I finally caught on to the conversation about the US terror attacks.  They began talking about the DaVinci code and conspiracy theories about 9/11.

This was getting interesting.

But I would soon find there would be more fun and interesting things to do outside the house, and outside the classroom.

More on my excursions around Boquete tomorrow…


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