Saturday, November 19, 2011

MY FIRST TIME: Episode Three: How much is that urinal in the window?

Synopsis: Having overcome the hurdles of a decapitated hawk and a missed connection, Beloved and I finally arrived in Panama City, Panama, to begin our first short-term, cross-cultural mission experience.

This was my first experience using a passport and a visa to enter a different country. My level of anxiety as I shuffled through customs, carefully eyeing the well-armed soldiers as they carefully eyed me, was somewhere between that of a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs and a three-year-old boy needing desperately to go wee-wee.

Funny I should mention that, because the complimentary ginger ale on the flight had turned me into exactly that...except for the three-year-old part.

The good news is, there was a rest room conveniently located a few feet away. The bad news is, when I went through the first of two doors, there was a woman sitting there. I was about to turn around and double-check the sign on the baƱo to see if the little figure had a skirt, when a fellow traveler said, "It's alright; she's the attendant."

Being only partly convinced that it was "alright," I went through the second door and into the rest room proper. It was a fine and modern facility; fairly clean, I was told, because of The Attendant sitting between the two doors, whose job it was to keep it that way.

Whilst Taking Care of Business, my mind raced with questions: Is Senorita Attendant going to walk in and start cleaning while I'm in here? How much does one tip a person who keeps the paper towel dispenser full and the waste can empty? Would it be impolite to barter?

As I walked past her on the way out, I handed her what I thought was the equivalent of a dollar, but I must have miscalculated because she took one look at my tip, jumped out of her chair, kissed me full on the mouth, and went dancing and skipping down the hallway.

I heard on the news that night something about an upward spike in Panama's national economy...

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