The dinner party was lively enough.
An Australian couple, an American couple and their kids, an American man and his Austrian wife, myself and a handful of other pals… we had all gathered for dinner at a beach-side villa near Pedasi, Panama.
We started with freshly caught tuna, diced into thick slabs of sashimi. By fresh, I mean my pal Doug had caught the tuna earlier that morning just off the coast of Pedasi.
This sushi feast, I remarked at the gathering, would start at a $100 in any U.S. city, and would probably have been previously frozen by a large commercial fishery before being shipped hundreds or thousands of miles to its destination before finally reaching our plates. Here in Panama, this fish went from swimming in the sea to our kitchen in just a few hours. God bless that fish.
The next morning I picked up some eggs at the local convenience store – Panama’s version of a 7-11. Convenience stores in Panama are exclusively controlled and managed by Chinese Panamanians. In fact, the locals call these stores “chinos”, which literally means, “Chinese”.
Like most things Chinese, these stores are run effectively, and efficiently. From rice and beans to beach sandals and sun screen, the Chinese corner stores carry 90% of everything you’ll ever need to get by in Panama, and you probably don’t need the other 10% – you just think you do.
I bought a half dozen eggs at the chino on the corner for 90 cents.
I took a look at the eggs. They were different shades of light brown and varied in size. They looked like real farm eggs. Not only were these eggs inexpensive, they probably came from a local farmer up the road, and had most certainly not come from a 50,000 sq. ft. poultry processing center owned by a multinational food conglomerate.
I paused and thought for a moment. It’s not the price of these eggs that’s so remarkable, it’s the quality. Farm fresh, locally produced, and tasting great for 15 cents a piece. And the same goes for the fresh tuna from the night previous. And my coffee that morning was no different – grown in the volcanic soils skirting Volcan Baru right here in Panama – Panamanian coffee has won international awards for flavor and quality.
And it’s the same story with most of the food products in Panama. You can stop at a corner store and buy inexpensive food that was provided by a farmer from your community. But why is this important?
Because most North Americans are dependent on the globalized just-in-time delivery of their food supply, which is managed by large corporations with a pure profit motive. It’s not the profit motive that bothers me, it’s the scale of the operation, and it’s disconnection from the way nature was intended. It bothers me that agricultural profits in America are made possible only by massive farm subsidies, heavy use of chemicals and fertilizers, and political agendas sponsored by the global business elite.
Next I popped in to Las Tablas for a dental appointment – nothing serious – just a check up and a cleaning. Las Tablas is a small agricultural town on the Azuero Peninsula of Panama about 20 minutes from Pedasi.
I knew the dental hygienist personally, and we chatted socially while I waited for the dentist. She was adding me to her Facebook page while we discussed the local baseball league and what our mutual friends were up to.
In the U.S. I’d probably be signing a liability waiver and jostling for space in the waiting room before forking out a few hundred dollars for the service. The fee at this dental office in Las Tablas was $25 and took about 15 minutes.
Next, I stopped into the public notary office to check on some legal documents. I was whisked into the notary’s private office where we sat and chatted for about a half an hour. Neither her nor I were in a hurry. I was offered a list of additional services she could provide, all at really good prices. I felt welcomed by her smile, and there were no forms to fill out, no numbers to take, and no jaded public officers to face off with.
Pleased, I checked on some of the workers at my farm who had been digging a ditch for about a week now. They smile and greet me. They earn about $12 per day and are thrilled that I also cover their $2 round trip bus fare in addition to their daily wage. I respect their hard work and pause a minute to thank them. I imagine they don’t dig very hard all day but probably just work bit by bit, but that doesn’t bother me (one bit). I pick a marinon (cashew) fruit off a tree and savored the freshness of it. The ditch is coming along nicely even if it’s taking four times longer than it should.
Then I realize, “paradise” has nothing to do with gazing over the ocean while servants drop grapes into your mouth. Those images portrayed on TV an in magazines are a hoax. Paradise is about eating fresh, locally grown food that is not dependent on global commodity prices, Middle East oil supply, or debt laden agro-pharma monstrosities like Kraft, Nestle, or Monsanto.
Paradise is about knowing your health practitioners, and about leading a lifestyle that reduces your chances of requiring their services. Even better if you don’t have to render your health practitioner free of legal liability before they check your pulse.
Paradise is about dealing in a society where honest wages are earned, where hand outs are few, and where no one depends on the courts to remedy a dispute. A place where it’s your own fault if you spill hot coffee on yourself, or trip over a crack in the sidewalk.
Paradise is about disconnecting yourself from the corpocratic grid that cares absolutely nothing about who you are, and is 100% geared toward extracting the most amount of money from you for the least amount of effort.
Panama is not without challenges. Doing business here is tough. But as a place to live, it offers significant benefits over the strip mall siphoning, media blinging, big pharma dependent urbanism that is sucking the life out of middle class North Americans without them even knowing it.
Upon returning to America, it hits me hard as I wade through the McDs, the KFCs, the 7-11s and the Pizza Huts crowded around every major intersection like poisonous barbs waiting to protrude me.
I recoil as I read “hydrogenated”, “enriched”, and “may contain” on the back of food labels.
I shudder as I watch a drug deal go down on a street corner and several more go down at Walgreens.
And I shake my head as I read about war planes over Lybia, record gold prices, and “averted government shutdown”.
The American model is failing and the American dream?
It’s alive, but like an ebbing flame deprived of oxygen, the American dream struggles to survive – courtesy of the heavy handed global elite, a rapid degradation of environmental purity, and a haze of materialistic portrayals by the mass media, intent on fueling a system of consumerism and ego insecurity.
Paradise is not convenient, it is a way of life. It’s about the quality of the relationships between you, your family, your friends, your community, and the Earth that sustains you.
Images From Pedasi, Panama.