Well, we are smack dab in the middle of Carnaval 2014 right now, here in Las Tablas. Last year (and, they tell me all the years before), the shelves in the stores were stripped. There was very little left to buy, if you needed food.
Naturally, of course, the cases and cases of beer and the bottles and bottles of rum were gone. Carnaval is “a time for drinking,” so those flew out the doors first.
The junk food snack aisles were empty, too. Naturally. Of course.
But so was the milk gone, the cheese, the meat, the eggs, the bread.
The produce section was a sad display of almost nothing. At least, of almost nothing not withered or wilted.
Why? Why couldn’t the stores stay stocked during Carnaval?
One reason is that Las Tablas is invaded by thousands and thousands, and yet more thousands, of visitors during Carnaval. Some of them have a home here that they use only for festivals and fiestas. Others rent a home here for the week. Some stay in hotels and hostels. Still others rent “camping space,” whether that is in an open field, or in someone’s backyard or driveway. All of them have to eat. And there aren’t enough restaurants to feed them all. Not to mention how many actually good restaurants there are not. But all of these temporary nests are filled with hungry mouths. Every year. That accounts for some of the missing groceries.
Next, there are the local householders who go into business as temporary restaurants, cooking for all those open beaks waving money at them. They have to stock up too. So they buy everything they can afford.
The rest? Simple hoarding. Ordinarily I am a bit opposed to hoarding, but in this case, I engaged in it, just like everyone else living here during Carnaval. Those who have been here longer than I have say it was an annual treat.
The thing is, the food shortage didn’t just last the week – for some reason it takes at least another week for the big trucks to roll into town with new supplies. Maybe because it takes that long for all the truckers and truck-loaders and warehouse folks to recover from their Carnaval excesses and exhaustions (the all-night-long aspects of Carnaval are celebrated all over Panama, Las Tablas is just the most prominent). And maybe it’s because when a truck is unloaded it often has to go all the way back to the City to reload. And Las Tablas is one of the last stops on the road.
So the permanent Tableños – the prudent ones, anyway – are in the habit of laying in a minimum of two week’s supply of everything the week before Carnaval. They expect the stores to be stripped, and their expectations have always been met.
There is a shopping motto here in Panama that applies year-round. If you see something you want to buy, GET IT. Because it won’t be there the next time you check. That’s even more true during fiestas.
This year I have a young friend who is working as a product rep at the local grocery stores. He tells me he had to work late several nights before Carnaval began because his boss was determined the products his company represents would still be available even after the locusts arrived. The shelves were groaning with their load of goodies.
However, the very nervous local locusts, the ones who actually live here, who know the motto and don’t want to go hungry because of the invasion, didn’t believe him. I’m one of them now. We looked at those over-laden shelves and thought, if there is more available for hoarding, it’s extra insurance. Buy it. So we all bought as much as we can, just in case. And three days ago the store was looking pretty empty.
It’s one of “Them Vicious Circle Things,” right?
Well, guess what? I went up to Super Carnes today just to see if it was famine time again, or if at least the shelves my young friend stocks were full.
I was stunned. Apparently, someone has gotten smart. Not only were my buddy’s shelves fully loaded, the entire store was absolutely stuffed with product. There was even beer, stacked man-high in the aisles. Lots of milk, lots of eggs, lots of everything! What a miracle!
Nobody needs to hoard now. I’m dropping my membership in the Local Locust Club. We have moved into the modern world.