I just heard the first rumble of thunder.  It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon and we’ve been blessed with a mostly sunny day until now. Soon, the rain will begin and if yesterday’s lightning storm is any example of what to expect today,  I’ll have to go inside and watch from there.

I’ve noticed recently that I work better when the weather is inclement, which is good since Panama is in the middle of the rainy season.

parakeetsPerhaps the problem is the distraction of unending bird songs when it’s sunny. A flock of parakeets, so charming when kept in ones or twos as pets, are raucous in a big group.  Sometimes the whole noisy pack settles in a nearby tree and I almost hope a neighborhood cat will sneak up on them and send them zooming off. In flight, they’re lovely to look at, a long green swath against the sky.

Then there’s the parrot who lives across the street with a pack of dogs.  The parrot does a better growl than any of the canines and is nearly as loud.

palmira-banda-boquete33 Or the distraction could be the drums of the school children who will parade in several celebrations in November. The sound of their practice sessions ricochets off the mountains for months before showtime. I’m sure the kids are playing different pieces of music but to my ears it all sounds like the same cacophony of ta-dum-te-dum. Everyone who is anyone in the grammar school and high school crowd possesses a drum and learns to use it to maximum – or greater — volume.

Panama has a boatload of holidays in November – enough for one every four days — and there are parades for almost all of them.

DayoftheDeadSalvador-800_600Kicking things off is the cheerful Children’s Day, which shares November 1st with the decidedly less cheerful “Day of the Dead.” The drums are silent for this holiday as it is a national day of mourning.

Although it would seem to be redundant, November 2 is the somber All Souls Day. No marching here either.

polleraThe celebratory parades begin on November 3, marking the anniversary of Panama’s separation from Colombia. The U.S. facilitated this as part of the agreement to build the Panama Canal.

flag day November 4, which is the Day of the Bandera, Flag Day, is also commemorated with fanfare. Every hamlet has strings of tiny flags stretched across as many thoroughfares as they can manage.  Stores display flags. Houses do, too.  It’s a lot like Flag Day used to be in the U.S.

Then on the 5th comes Panama’s version of our Columbus Day. Theirs is named Colon Day and is an important time of celebration. Unlike the U.S., Panama still holds Columbus in high esteem and pays him his due.

independence documentNovember 10  is called Primer Grito de Independencia de la Villa de los Santos. This is the equivalent to the “Shot Heard Around the World” from our own history.  The holiday commemorates the uprising against Spain in the tiny Villa de los Santos, which ultimately propelled Panama to independence from that country.

Of all the observations this seems to be the most elaborate.  It occurs with much hoopla on November 28. independence1


Panamanians love all kinds of social activities and observe as many as they can.  In addition to the national holidays, different villages and towns hold their own unique celebrations. independence5

You could probably map out a route that would net you an unending list of fiestas, one after the other all across the country. This picture was taken in one of Panama’s central provinces, where they have more celebrations than any other part of the country.

Getting back to November, writing – at least mine – is finicky.  It likes peace and quiet and frequently demands ear plugs. I use multiple pairs during November alone.



Oddly enough, the crashing and booming of thunderstorms echoing off the mountains and even the occasional earthquake don’t bother me.  I suppose it’s my version of “white noise,” along with the barking dogs on our street and the man with the produce truck who chants into his microphone some variation of “Pinas, lechugas, mangoes, maracuya,” – pineapples, lettuce, mangoes, and passion fruit – in a seemingly endless monotonous loop.

Actually, this white noise now and then penetrates. The other day I noticed I’d written down apio (celery) when I meant to say ape. Another day I wrote papas (potatoes) for pups. If I keep it up, my manuscript will be an unholy mess. But November might just rescue me. An hour or two watching the girls in their beautiful polleras and the boys turning out the sharpest drum music this side of Gene Krupa could be exactly what I need to put the parakeets and vegetable hawker to rest. And if that doesn’t work, November traditionally has more rainy days than almost any other month. My ace in the hole, though, is a sure bet. If all else fails, my new supply of ear plugs is arriving from the States any day.

~~ Jane Vasarhelyi

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *