What’s it like being a Jamaican living in Panama?
Interviews

What’s it like being a Jamaican living in Panama?

Have you ever wondered what’s it like being a Jamaican living in Panama? On our “Jamaicans to the World” Facebook Live show, Jamaicans.com founder Xavier Murphy spoke with Diane Batchelor. She is a Jamaican living in Panama.

Xavier: What is it like being a Jamaican in Panama? Hi as Xavier Murphy, founder of Jamaicans.com and today, on this issue of Jamaicans to the world, I’m interviewing Diane Bachelor, who is has been living in Panama for a while. Hi, Diane, how are you?

Diane: Hi, I’m good, thanks for having me.

Xavier: Good to have you, my first question is this one, which paat a Jamaica yuh come fram? (Where in Jamaica are you from)?

Diane: Okay. So here’s the thing. I usually answer this question like this. I come from Jamaica. Why? I was born in Accompong, that little town in Elizabeth, up in the hills of St. Elizabeth. I lived there, I understand for two weeks then we moved to St. Catherine and I know we lived in Kingston, St. Mary, then St. Catherine and again Kingston. When people ask me, where am I from? I don’t know what to tell them. My high school years were in Spanish Town so I guess…. but then most of my life if I add it up it was in Kingston but I was born in Accompong and I’m a maroon for that reason. When people ask me, I am like, you know, I’m from Jamaica.

Xavier: Now that Maroon story is an interesting one and I think we will we have to talk about that, because there has to be a story in that one.

Diane: Story. Yes.

Xavier: How did you end up in in Panama?

Diane: Well, that is a story in itself, because we got married in 1982 and shortly after that my husband and I woke up one morning with having had the same dream. And well, I guess it was unpacked, we talked about it and discovered we had the same dream and so it had something to do with us being in a country that spoke Spanish, but there were tribes. And so over our life, we’ve watched different things that how the Lord had spoken in our lives and impressed on us and we’ve seen it coming to pass, but this Spanish thing and I remember my husband… I studied Spanish University but my husband there has been absolutely no language, anything. I thought maybe I was going to do Bible translation or something like that. When I did think of ever migrating, it would have been to Vancouver in particular, never Panama. I’d visited and it was just a place, but come one year, when I saw this thing, “Panama a haven for retirees”, at the time, I was nowhere near retirement but something sparked inside of me. I showed it to my husband and he had the same reaction. It just happened one of my friend call it God incidents, it is one of those. It has happened that we saw that thing like about in September and that November, we actually had already planned to be at a conference in Panama. So we thought, okay, when we come we’ll check it out. But by the time we came in five days, we had sorted out school for the children, house to live, paid down on the house that we now live in that was being built and bought furniture. I mean, it was just like one of these world wind things. And so we’ve been in Panama since January 2006.

Xavier: Man, that is amazing, you get to a conference and then you… if you don’t mind me asking how old were your children when you when you made the decision to live in Panama.

Diane: My oldest was eight going on nine and my daughter she was three going on four or four going five and my second son, he would have been seven going on eight. So yes, they were they were pretty young. My oldest son he still can speak Patois, the others laugh at him, but the other two, not so much. And then they went to an Americans school so of course they come out with the American accent but he still can do a good Patois but the others not so much.

Xavier: You’re in Panama and one of the things, I went to Panama about three years ago on a journey to see how our story went in Panama, because a lot of us are there. Do you encounter a lot of Jamaican descendants where you’re living and the Patois. I hear Patois is pretty much almost died out. You know, there are people that speak it, but not many, you’d have to go in the country sides and so on. Have you encountered a lot of the descendants and any form of Patois while you’ve been there?

Diane: A lot of the descendants as a matter of fact, when I came here, at first, I thought that every every black person was a Jamaican because nearly everybody I met, when you ask them about their antecedents, it was always Jamaica. However, a few years in, I began to hear a lot about Barbadians, especially in the building of the canal. History, my husband is a bit of a history buff and so he, in doing his research, realized that the Jamaicans have been here, first for the railroad, then they came again. The government apparently had sent them but apparently they weren’t treated so well. When the Americans came now with the canal when they were all… I think it went from the French, the government said they wouldn’t send people but people came on their own. Nearly every black person you meet here has some Jamaican connection, and, of course, speaking of Patois, the most shocking thing for me was when I went into the interior, it would be what we call country they call the Interior. We went into the interior and sure enough, we were standing there talking in an area called Bocas Del Toro, and literally, you heard Jamaican Patois, regular Jamaican patois, there are some areas in the city, I can’t remember the name of it but there’s this like a very Jamaican descendant area. Yes, when you hear them speaking, you could think you’re in Jamaica. It’s not that died out as you would think but apparently, there was a time in history, where here where black people were encouraging their children, not to speak English, or Patois but to speak Spanish so that they could be incorporated into the society. unfortunately, yes, some of the younger generation no longer speak even English because of that.

The Panama Canal

Xavier: I’m a history buff myself. I went to the Caribbean museum when I got there. I would recommend it to anyone who goes there because it talks about the history, it actually… It’s a small museum, I think it was a church building in Panama City, and it’s not the one on the hill. It’s a small museum that is right there in the middle of the city. And it was just amazing, as you said, everything you said, they said. They tell them stop, don’t speak English, stop the Patois like you said, the first wave of people that came from what I understand in the museum, were Jamaican, with the French, they were treated badly. The Jamaican government said they were not sending these people back or not signing an agreement. The second wave was Jamaicans and Barbadians but the Jamaicans mainly came on their own.

Diane: Exactly, exactly.

Xavier: My friend that took us around while I was in Panama he spoke mainly Spanish, he spoke some English, but he would use terms and he would use these Jamaican terms, not even realizing he was using these Jamaican terms because, his descendants are Jamaican and I’m like, yes, you’re using a Jamaican term.

Diane: It’s so funny one of the most influential Panamanians with Jamaican roots that I’ve met here, He never says Ackee he always says Hackee. ‘I am going to bring some Hackee’, and that is because that’s obviously how he learnt it from his grandfather who used to live there. Because I mean, he’s a very educated gentleman, but for him the word is not Ackee, it’s Hackee.

Xavier: Next question, is this one, what do you like the most about Panama?

Diane: I like the general lifestyle, its very family oriented, I like that. One of the things my son said when we just got here, he said, ‘Mom, it’s obvious that children are very important here’. Because almost everywhere even in what you would consider very poor neighborhoods, you will see a sports facility with fields; football, basketball court. I mean they really consider… as a matter of fact this… the first time I saw Children’s Day, like they have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Children’s Day celebrated was here in Panama. So I really like that family orientation that they have. Then I’m also very proud of them as a nation that is supposed to be… like to those who think that we are third world but when you see what this little country. You’ve been here so you see the skyline, right? You see some of the buildings that they have put up that rival any first world country. I’m very proud of them for that. I’m also very proud of Panama for the fact that despite what people like to talk about corruption, etc. When a new government comes in, there is… I don’t think I’ll have to look hard to find a government that hasn’t left and left the country in a better place in terms of its infrastructure, because somehow everybody wants to have their name left on something. They will work through the night, when they’re coming to the end of their term to make sure they finish a project and leave their name. I kind of wish we would do that.

Xavier: I like that and you know it is interesting. I know that the story is about you but I have got to talk about my experience and when I got there, they were celebrating… and correct me if I’m wrong. I think it was like Black History Month there.

Diane: Yes, they do not have that celebration there.

Xavier: What amazed me was everyone was celebrating it. The school children were brought to the museum for that reason to learn about black history. They had their uniforms on, but they also had different things kind of commemorating it. I was amazed that I’m in South Florida, Kingston 21. But it’s still America and our Black History is celebrating, but the way it came together there and the way I see it happening, there was just a little different with the kids And I commend them on that. It was very good.

Diane: As a matter of fact during that time, they have a big… you probably know they have this huge conference center, usually, there’s a week, I think of activities at the conference center, where they had the craft, the music, the food, and that is when I realized just how similar the food was, the influence of Jamaican food has been on Panama because if you walked to some of the stalls, you would be getting some real old time Jamaican food,

Xavier: We had some Escovitch fish there and yes, I see definitely there are some similarities. My next question is this one, what do you like the least about Panama?

Diane: Funnily enough, I was so happy to have listened to Ruth KwaKwa’s, her interview, because it helped me to put the thing I like the least into perspective and that is what I now realize. It’s very Jamaican in a sense, but not as Jamaican as it is now, I realized it is West African or certainly the Ghanian way and that is this whole thing. They call it mega vivo, but really it is kind of like ginnal ship in Jamaican context, but not quite so. This thing where nobody is willing to tell you, they don’t know or willing to tell you no, they will tell you something and you believe that, that’s what’s going to happen, but it’s not going to happen. They don’t want to, I guess offend you, Ruth really explained it so well, by telling you the truth. And that thing was the thing that drove me crazy. As a matter of fact, I was living here for five years, when one day, a gentleman was doing some work at my house, he had told me the work would have been finished, I think like in three days, it was now three weeks, the work wasn’t finished. I drove by him working at somebody else’s house in my neighborhood. I waved and didn’t feel anger rise up inside of me and I was, Oh, my gosh, I have acclimatized, I am good because before that time, I would have been so angry, because you told me and you’re supposed to be coming and da da daa. Now I just know that’s the way they are. They come when they come, they either come before the time or after the time, or they’re not going to tell you if they tell you. You go to the store and you ask for so and so and they tell you it’s not there, go look for it, it’s there. They just don’t know, and they’re not going to tell you they don’t know it’s not there. Those kinds of things used to really annoy me. To an extent it still does, but I am now learning that it’s cultural and Ruth, I thank you wherever you are Ruth because your explanation of what happens in Ghana helped me so much.

Xavier: The Ghana experience, yes, she dug deep into some of that and actually had me changed some of my questions with other folks because of the great information she provided.

Diane: It was a really good interview! Yes.

Xavier: What is one of the popular terms people typically use. We have ‘soon come’, and we have all sorts of different popular terms. You know some Spanish or you are fluent enough in Spanish. What is one of the popular terms that you typically are going to hear people use all the time in Panama?

Diane: Wow! you catch me off guard but I’m going to say, Panama… here is the thing. They mix English and Spanish, a word like, ‘what’s up’ we would say, ‘que sopa’

Xavier: Is it not ‘que pasa’? Okay, so explain what does that mean? How does that translate?

Diane: It doesn’t translate that is their way of saying instead of saying ‘wat a gwaan’ (what is going on) they say ‘que sopa’. Then they will talk about, ‘hombre man’ and ‘fren’ and so there’s all of this Spanglish. As a matter of fact, I discovered that some of the words that we now use as regular words in Panama, came from the melding of the American language, or the way they spoke. Apparently, in the days of the zoyion period, and the garbage company was a company apparently called Tin and Company. Apparently people got used to calling the garbage bins, ‘tinaco’. Now, people will generally talk about the ‘tinaco’. and the ‘tinaco’ is the garbage bin. One neighborhood is called Arian. Why is it called Arian. Because the Americans would say, Oh, that neighborhood is on the right-hand. So on the right-hand became the name of the neighborhood. So there’s that kind of melding, which is very interesting to hear the Panamanians. I’ve had to learn as I had not used Spanish for years, before I came here. So coming here is what kind of revived my Spanish but I’m realizing that some of the words that I’m using and thinking now that Yes, I am now speaking Spanish. I am really not speaking Spanish I am speaking Panamanian, but I enjoy it.

Sancocho

Xavier: That reminds me every diaper you called ‘nappy’, if you’re going to spray your car, you are going to spray your car, you are going to ‘duco’ yuh(your) car, not knowing that Duco is the name of the brand. I will move on to food, what is your favorite Panamanian dish?

Diane: I have to start out by saying I had to get my taste buds acclimatized because the flavors are different, but one of the things that I discovered that I have actually taken a very strong liking to is their soup called, sancocho, which is like chicken soup, but don’t taste like our chicken soup at all, that is where you’re going to find yum and cocoa that kind of Jamaican food. They don’t serve it like how we would serve it as a side dish, the food that is in their sancocho and their sancocho whereas we would put a little chicken back just to flavor the soup, they will put almost sometimes what it seems a whole chicken. So when you when you go into your soup, you’re picking up some big chunks of meat. That’s one of my favorites. The other thing that I find, and this was because of my nostalgia for Jamaica, their liver. I know a lot of people don’t like liver, I like liver. They do a liver with a dumpling, they don’t have dumplings like us, they have something they call hojaldres which is kind of almost like …you make a dumpling batter, but then you make it flat and you fry it. It opens up kind of like a cross between a dumpling and a roti. It’s swollen and it’s a little bigger and fluffier, I guess kind of like what they serve I understanding in Trinidad on the road that kind of flour thing. But that’s one of my favorite things of course most of my favorite things are I understand not so healthy because it’s the fried stuff. They have a lot of really interesting fried food, but I’m am trying to be decent these days and don’t eat them, but yes, those are some of my favorites.

Sancocho

Xavier: You talk about the soup. When I came there I went to, it starts with a ‘C’, the Jamaica town that’s famous for a lot of Jamaicans, Colón.

Diane: Colón, yes Colón, one, two, three, four Colón man a come. It was when I came here I understood it for the first time.

Xavier: I went there and he said, Listen, you have to come to this restaurant and try the cow foot soup. Man. Oh, I had the cow foot soup there and the cow foot soup had pig tail and it had a total different flavor. It was great, I totally enjoyed it, as you said it was more food and meat than it was actual soup.
My other questions this one, let’s move on to attractions. If a Jamaican or anybody was coming to Panama, what would be the one place you would say you have to go and see…. go visit this place, what’s the one place you would say?

Diane: Okay, I’m going to say the one place everybody’s going to say because really, it’s bad if you’re coming to Panama for the first time and don’t go and clearly that is the canal you have to go and see the canal you have to go to the canal museum. Yes, definitely do that. For Jamaicans, of course the history, so you want to go to Casco Viejo and Panama Viejo. If I tell you what I would want you to go to see for real, it is Boquete which is not in the city. It’s seven hours away from the city, but that town, Oh my goodness. I’m so in love with that town. It’s a mountain town, it’s cool. It reminds me so much of Jamaica of the Blue Mountains and they do coffee there and I’ve now realized recently from a guy here in Panama who is so into coffee. He went and did a tour and discovered that the coffee that they have in Boquete started with a Jamaican woman bringing coffee and planting it in Boquete and I never had coffee before, I liked the smell, but I never liked the taste until I got here and out of nostalgia, I started drinking the coffee. For some reason, the Panamanian coffee smelled to me just like our Blue Mountain coffee and now I know why. Boqueta is that little mountain town and I say little because, Panama starts over there. They talked about Oh pequeno patio meaning Oh, small little country. Now for us who come from Jamaica, Panama is a big country, right? We don’t have to drive seven hours to go anywhere. But they think it is small and their mountain town I’m talking about which they call a little mountain town. Their mountain is really much higher than ours and more extensive and there is where they grow their coffee. A beautiful, beautiful area, I would recommend anybody if you have some days, take maybe two or three and go up into Boquete.

Casco Viejo

Xavier: My next question is this one what do you miss the most about Jamaica?

Diane: The people, the people and on top of that, there is something. Panama is beautiful. I really was very bias when I got here and nothing was as beautiful as Jamaica. I’ve lived here long enough to realize that Panama has its beautiful spots. There’s no question about it. It’s a beautiful country. But I am bias, I’m openly bias towards Jamaican so when I go in, I feel like Jamaica’s vegetation just hugs me. I feel like the mountains even before I land, when I look down at the cockpit country, I mean, Jamaica just overwhelms me. And there are places in Panama that have beautiful beaches, like our own Jamaican beaches. They’re not as popular, not as common as our Jamaican beaches. We can find beautiful beaches almost everywhere. Panama’s beaches are unique in that you have black sand, like black magnetic sand, volcanic. That’s totally different, it has its own appeal and its own beauty but to me to go into a Jamaican water, to just see that clarity and the color, that’s just… and the sand. I really miss that about Jamaica and I miss the people. There’s a certain warmth a certain I know you’re even though I don’t know you feeling with Jamaica? I just miss that a lot.

Xavier: Well, that was my last question but I know you recently published a new book. Just give us a quick snapshot, we will have you back to discuss the book there on some other shows we have… that’s going to have your back. Give us a quick synopsis, you went out and recently published a book.

Diane: Yes, something I thought would…What they say don’t happen in a year happen in a day. I actually, funnily enough, I had come back from Jamaica, I spent a lovely time and a friend of mine, one of my old friends. There’s nothing like an old friend. One of my old friends in Jamaica said to me, Hey, girl, this year, we’re going to be sixty we need to do something and I started thinking but nothing appealed to me. I put it out there. And I said to people, tell me, what do you think I should do to celebrate my 60th? Somebody said, why you don’t write a book. My birthday was coming up in July, and would have been about February, March and I said, you know what, I’m going to do. With the help of a Jamaican independent publisher, I got started. I wrote and wrote and wrote, and I have the proof copy, I still don’t have my proper one without the ‘not for sale’ thing. This is what came out of it. It’s a book that really tells just highlights from my life, about how God has just been blown my mind in so many ways. Times that I thought things were really terrible that I realized, on the contrary, it was the best thing that could have happened to me. Basically, that’s why the title is ‘God in the mean times’, because I’m playing on that word ‘mean’, because some of the times that I thought were mean, but really God doing some beautiful things in my life. So yes, I’m very excited.

Xavier: In closing, thank you for joining, and thank you for being a part of this. Thank you for telling your story. In closing, any piece of advice for a Jamaican that’s thinking of actually making that move to Panama, any piece of advice? That’s my very last question.

Diane: My advice would be lower your expectations. Don’t come thinking that you’re coming to a first world country where everything is going to be fine, lower your expectations. I see this from having lived here and realized that we come with ideas that we just need to be open and just say, you know what, I’m just going to go with the flow. If we have that attitude, then we will adjust better but if we come thinking, this has to be this way, it’s going to be a frustrating time for you. As one of the things that Panamanians like to say is ‘no te preocupes, no te preocupes’ that means don’t worry, and then the other one is ‘tranquila, tranquila’! So that’s what I would say to anybody coming, don’t get too upset about anything, just chill.

Xavier: Thanks again, for joining us great information, and all the best on your book, and we look forward to having another conversation probably on another show about your book and some of the other things you and I talked about. We will catch up.

Photo Source: DepositPhotos

About the author

Xavier Murphy