Central America is a noisy place. Make no mistake. If your nerves unravel easily, this may not be the place for you.
In the Azuero you can expect serenades of wonderfully cheerful Panamanian accordion music at any hour of the day or night. You can expect firecrackers on any day – or night – not just holidays. You can expect drums all year, but especially through October, November, and December, and then again right before and during Carnaval. You can expect to hear deeply sad, ethnic chant-singing sometimes, when whatever Indians of Panama who might be living nearby hold ceremonies to remember their ancestors. You can expect large trucks to joyfully gear down outside your windows, motorcycles to delightedly wind up their engines nearby before shooting off somewhere. Both car and moto drivers will happily alert you to their presence any time with a little toot, as is required by Panamanian driving law. You will hear chickens, and dogs, and more chickens and more dogs. And don’t forget the car alarms.
You will hear your next door neighbor’s TV and his stereo system. You might or might not hear him fight with his wife, but you WILL hear her blister someone’s ears from time to time.
Most of this doesn’t bother me. That’s because I’m so perfect, of course. (*Coff*) Actually, some of it does bother me, quite a lot. And it bothers many of my gringo friends. And some of my Panamanian friends as well. If the prospect of all this racket alarms you, too… well, we all share several options.
The first, most obvious, is to rethink one’s plan. This is Panama. This is how Panama is, and neither your nor my arrival nor our opinions has changed or will change it.
Our second option involves where we choose to live. Waaaaaay out in the country, with no one else around for miles and miles, it MIGHT be quiet. But Panama is a very small country and the population is increasing. So it might not stay quiet. Not to mention that such a retreat will probably have placed one beyond both electricity and internet service. Most of us find that unacceptable these days. Plus, it might not be as safe to be that isolated.
The third option is to bitch a lot. Make sure our neighbors know what we think. Ask them to turn down their stereos and TV’s, and change the way they like to live for the benefit of ourselves, the Foreign Invaders. That will surely be effective, right?
Hmm. I am reminded that Panama enjoys at least three different Independence Days, from at least three distinct sets of Foreign Invaders.
My own favorite pick is the fourth option, which I consider pretty much the simplest, if not the easiest: adjust myself to live with it. After all, it was my choice to move here. I try to open my mind and think: WHY are things done here the way they are? I think about this a lot. I consider the structure of the buildings. Because of the heat, windows and doors are open as much and as often as possible and sound carries. It becomes tedious trying to be quiet all the time, so people seem to just ignore each other’s noise instead. Some European and Asian cultures deal with lack of personal space by simply ignoring it. I know how to do that! I have elevator training, pretending no one else is in that little box with me. Everyone I know is good at that. So much effort to deal with such a short-term experience! Could I perhaps do the same kind of thing for the noise? Panamanians do. They consider their neighbors to be part of their family, permanent factors in their lives. Confrontation can have unpleasant long-term effects, so it is avoided. I suppose it might be best for me to follow that plan, too.
People can get used to anything, but the more we struggle against something, the harder it is to adjust. I remind myself that the situation won’t change. The only thing I have real control over is myself. It’s up to me, and I can change me. So can I learn to like, or if that isn’t possible, to at least tolerate zydeco? If I lived in Nashville, wouldn’t I at least make an effort to enjoy country music?
But that’s easy to say and harder to do. Let’s be more practical. There are a couple of other things that might help. How about option five, “white noise”? “White noise” can be static, or the sound of the ocean, or crickets chirping or the like. You can play it in the background to help you ignore whatever else you hear, or to help you sleep through a racket. I have a couple of CDs that treat me to frog chorales, cricket serenades and babbling brooks. Have to watch that last one, though. Must be judicious with the iced tea intake before bedtime or other needs than fight or flight will wake me up.
But there is a (IMHO fabulous) fifth option for when you just can’t take it anymore! And it works! It works! I listen to TV and my computer, and my MP3 player, etc. using headphones. I discovered the sanity-giving properties of headphones in North Carolina when I lived next door to an extremely foul-mouthed, probably psychotic woman who never spoke to her family or anyone else at lower than a curse-filled shriek. With her as a previous experience, I find most of Central America’s noise very positive. Only the dude with the garage down the street really bothers me sometimes. Could he be building race cars? But there’s nowhere nearby that he could use one! He cranks those engines up to maximum whine and then releases them, over and over and over. And over. It wouldn’t be so bad if he didn’t do it Sundays, Christmas, New Year’s Day, etc., until well past midnight.
BUT. When I put on my headphones and play white noise or some music I enjoy, he drops to the back of my consciousness. I almost don’t hear him. I can ignore the irritation. So THEN, his joy in whatever he’s up to no longer fills me with anger. That’s sufficient for me and my peace of mind. Tranquilo.