Thursday, January 20, 2011

National November - For Cate(!)

Panama is a tiny country, geographically speaking. An isthmus lying east to west between North and South America, it looks something like a skinny "S" turned on its side. At its narrowest point it is 48 miles north to south. At its widest it is a whopping 114 miles north to south. It is about 480 miles east to west.

By comparison, the state of Tennessee is about 110 miles north to south, and about 430 miles east to west.

For such a tiny country, Panama has a rich, often bloody history, from the indigenous peoples who have lived here for thousands of years, to the fabled "lost civilizations", to the invasions by Spain, Colombia, and, yes, the United States of America. We are the country of the "big ditch", the path between the oceans, wonder of the modern world: The Panama Canal. We grow internationally famous and desired coffee. Coffee that consistently is judged among the best, if not the best, in the world.

One of the wonderfully unique things about Panama is the number of national holidays related to our history, most of which, coincidentally, fall in November. During the first week of November, we had a religious holiday on Tuesday, and "political" holidays on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

November 2 is the Day of the Dead. This is a solemn religious holiday - not at all like the celebrations in Mexico. More akin to Memorial Day or Remembrance Day, this is a time to visit the cemeteries and tidy up the sepulchers, cleaning the tiles and statues and decorating them with flowers.

November 3 is "El Dia de Independencia"! A day for parades and fireworks and fiestas! On this day in 1903, Panama became an independent republic, severing ties with Colombia. (Aided by the US, which wanted control of the land extending 3 miles on either side of the canal under construction.)

November 4 is "El Dia de Bandera" - flag day. The first Panamanian flag was sewn in secret by the first First Lady of the newly created republic and flown for the first time on this date in 1903.

November 5 is "Colon Day" - not like the US Columbus Day, this day commemorates the day the last Colombian troops withdrew from Panama from the port city of Colon, which is on the north end of the Panama Canal. (Remember that the Panama Canal lies northwest to southeast. This means that if you want to travel from the Atlantic Ocean ("east") to the Pacific Ocean ("west"), you are actually sailing southeast. Don't worry. It gives me a headache, too.)

Then today, November 10 is "El Premer Dia de Grito Independencia". On this day in 1821, the first call for independence from Spain was raised in the streets of Villa de Los Santos, by the women, so I'm told! (You go, girls!)

Finally, on November 28, we celebrate "El Dia de Independencia" from Spain! This happened also in 1821. But you must remember that from 1821 to 1903, Panama was a province of Colombia. November 28 is a huge day of celebration throughout the country, but especially here in Boquete. Our tiny mountain village plays host to bands from high schools and colleges all over the country and there will be a parade filled with drummers and xylophone players, beautiful young girls in polleras and trembleques that put my feeble attempt to shame (although I'm working on remedying that!). There will be fireworks starting at 11:59PM on the 27th, calling us to wake up and start celebrating!

As I said at the beginning, Panama is a tiny country. But we have a long, proud history. And a vital place in the world. And, I believe, a bright and prosperous future. I am so glad to be able to say I am a guest in this country. It is my heart's desire to welcome you here as a guest in my home so I can share this beauty and history with you!

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