Tulip Time in Panama

No, no tulips.  You need cold weather for tulips.

Why “Tulip Time” . . . well, I went to seminary in Holland, Michigan which every Spring celebrated its Dutch Heritage of making money by holding a festival called “Tulip Time.”  There were endless parades, Dutch specialties to eat, lots of Dutch stuff to buy, and of course beautiful tulip fields.  My wife, as she was growing up in the Holland High School marching band, got to march it the Tulip Time parades, wearing . . . you got it, wooden shoes!  Every Tulip Time it was madness!  Bus loads of bands coming to compete from all over and hordes and hordes of tourists.

Since Hope College (where my wife went . . . I went to the arch rival school Calvin in Grand Rapids) and Western Seminary, where I went, are in Holland, Michigan and since the tulips bloom in May . . . Tulip Time coincided with exams and studying for exams.  How can you study when outside the library window are three bands practicing endlessly?  So, we tended to hate Tulip Time.

In those days the City of Holland planted tulips all along every road in town.  And there was a hefty fine for picking the tulips: I think something like $50 per flower.  So all the male students at Hope competed with one another to bring their girl friends the most expensive, unpaid for bouquets possible!  And to get back at the town fathers and the noise of Tulip Time, sometimes guys would drive slowly down a street with no cars with the passenger door open, neatly clipping the flowers off all the tulips.  They the city fathers got vicious, and started driving steel stakes randomly in the rows of tulips and ruining doors in lieu of fines.

So what’s all this Tulip Time mania have to do with Panama?

Just this . . . endless, endless drumming . . . over and over and over and over . . . same rhythm.  Bugles . . . which I always knew from summer camp revile were the instruments of the Devil . . . playing the same off-key notes over and over and over and over . . . all this because next week Panama comes to a screeching halt!

Parade dNovember is the patriotic month celebrating the birth of Panama.  Red, white and blue banners are everywhere!  [Kinda makes you wonder how they came up with red, white and blue, doesn’t it.  I mean why not blue and yellow, or red and green?  Well red and green was already taken by the now-province of Chiriqui where I live which declared its own independence 50 ears before Panama.]  Anyway it is a BIG celebration, and it all starts Monday in Boquete with a huge parade that goes on endlessly with nothing but students marching and “bands” . . . we use that term loosely.  Bands in Panama consist of 50 kids with drums playing the same thing over and over, 20 girls playing the same repetitious song on bell lyres, and a few guys with bugles . . . but it is all done with enthusiasm, and I guess that is the point.  The parade itself runs usually about 8 hours!!  Of sameness!

In addition to the drum noise, there are the marching practices.  I swear in October no kid learns anything in Panama but how to march . . . poorly.  And they practice . . . and stop traffic . . . and they practice . . . and they march, and march, and march.  Would that they put as much effort into math and science!

Anyhow it is a wonderful celebration of country!  And there is lots of time for family!  Many official, and even more unofficial days off work.  TWO celebrations of Independence . . . one from Spain and the other from Columbia.   Independence from Spain is celebrated on November 28, and the November 3 holiday is independence or “separation” from Columbia.  So, scratch November.  Then comes the big holiday, Mother’s Day, early in December . . . then Christmas . . . then the Boquete Fair . . . then Carnival . . . then Holy Week . . . so sometime in April life, and work returns to normal.

At least Tulip Time only lasted a week.

And, to answer your unasked question, with all this going on, there is no time for . . . or need for . . . Halloween.

Sometimes it is a struggle to fully enter into and appreciate the culture.  Especially when you aren’t fluent in the language.  My problem, not Panama’s  It’s fine for many folks who come down here and generally make their own lives, pretty much strictly amongst other expats.  I drove into Valle Escondido the other day and saw all the same guys I always see getting ready to spend the morning playing golf.  And I said, in my very halting Spanish, to my Indian worker Sabino, “These gringos just play golf every day.  I just work every day.”  What’s wrong with me???   We’ve chosen to try and enter into the coffee culture, so we end up with a lot of folks who only speak Spanish, and who know a whole lot about coffee and try to communicate it to us . . . and with our limited Spanish skills we only get part of it, or get it backwards . . . yikes!

I have never received the gift of “speaking in tongues.”  For those who have that gift, fine, but God has never given it to me.  But I have prayed, and asked, and worked for the gift of speaking in one tongue . . . Spanish . . . and it eludes me!  I know lots and lots of vocabulary . . . and verbs . . . I just don’t know what to do with the damn verbs!  Some locals have the patience of Job . . . or Jose . . . and manage to interpret my garble and make sense of it.  Sabino, our young Indian guy is amazing at figuring out what I’m trying to say.  Our other Indian guy, Alfonso, thinks he understands me . . . and then runs on in rapid fire Spanish, or is it Gnobe . . . and thinks I understand him.

Living in Panama as an expat is fun . . . but also frustrating at times.

One thought on “Tulip Time in Panama

  1. Richard,

    Greetings from just north of Ventura, near the now defunct Miramar Hotel. Just a quick note of appreciation and admiration of your writing skills. Dreaming for the past 5 years of leaving SB for a quieter life in central america, but at 54 years of age, my wife and I are 3-4 years away from leaving “north L.A.”.

    We have been to Costa Rica and really connected with the slow pace, but could not handle the heat of the coastal region. Visiting Arenal, the climate was exactly what we assume it is like in Boquete and for that reason, we are considering that area of Panama. Once again, we are very glad that we stumbled across your site some 2 years ago and we will continue to due our “due diligence” on exploring our interest in the Boquete area of Panama.

    Cheers! (and bon voyage!)

    Peter & Christen Harmer

    Santa Barbara, Ca 93103

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s