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Panama Ghetto Official

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Written by Matt   
Monday, 04 January 2010 16:18
About two weeks after moving into an apartment in Casco Viejo, and I gave up on trying to understand the locals and took the easy way out. All I'd ever say was "could you repeat that?" anyways and generally this was in response to something commonplace: the speaker saying it was nice out, seek for example, or asking if I'd had a good weekend. As a result, I adopted the word ofi, which is a shortened version of oficial, a confirmation of sorts used by the people in my neighborhood. Saying ofi is like saying "right on," and each time I used it, I felt delighted with possibilities. It's important to note that ofi is a word used by the people in my neighborhood and not, say, people in Punta Pacifica or Costa del Este. By most standards, where I live is something of a ghetto and by association, what you hear on the streets is a totally different language.

I say totally different but that's not entirely true. The basics of Spanish are still there of course. It's just the way the words are put together that's different. Understanding this, you'd have to go no further than your nearest American city and find a street like Martin Luther King Ave. where people sport sheets on their windows and sit on the curb selling drugs. It is here where a phrase as simple as, "good day, my name is Matt and I just moved in next door" translates to something like, "hey yo, pimp-tight day! Ma muh fuckin name iz Matt an' ah live next do'."

As one might imagine, trying to improve your Spanish in the vicinity of teachers like these is not unlike taking golf lessons from a drunk, but in a weird, convivial sort of way, my progress seems to have made strides. I tell this to friends and they like the reversal of roles as if to say that ghetto folks usually aren't the ones doing the teaching.

"Ofi," I said to one of the local gangsters, and the next thing I knew, I was copying a pirated Playstation game for him onto a blank DVD. "Ofi," I said to the crackhead who then walked me around to his little shelter and showed me a pillow made from used plastic bottles. The world of possibilities with ofi was unlimited and growing with every day.

This was right around this time that I was training for the first triathlon of my life and on the day before the race, I went out for a light ride on my bicycle and got hit by a truck. It wasn't too serious of a bike wreck or anything. The driver apologized profusely and, while clutching my bleeding leg, told him "ofi." I arrived at the emergency room and told the doctor "ofi" which led to a box of painkillers and a nice dose of anesthetic (probably the best ofi ever got me). I remember being a little bit in shock of the accident and lying in the hospital. It was a large building with lots of sick people and fancy machines and flashing lights. Bing bing bing. Not all that different from a casino, I figured, just that nobody leaves a hospital with more money than they came in with. That and you can't smoke cigars.
Hospitals in Panama are, for the most part, a little depressing. With one or two exceptions, most of them conjure up thoughts of death or suicide or at least chronic disorders and tropical diseases. During my surgery, I thought briefly about a time when my brother was four years old and we were at an elegant dinner party. Some incident happened on his plate - maybe food fell to the floor or he couldn't grasp a grape - and in front of all fifteen or so guests he stood up in his chair and said "son of a bitch!" It was spectacular, as if this little inarticulate child pulled the words out of thin air. Much, I realized, the same way I do when using my ofi.

Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but to me, the sight of a surprisingly inexpensive hospital bill is a million times more enjoyable when followed with ofi. A bootleg Playstation game will work for a few years, a pillow made of plastic maybe a three days. Even emotions like the pride exuded when your baby brother curses at the dinner table is expendable, which is to say you will eventually forget about it over time. On the other hand, it is the concept, the ability to respond accurately in a foreign tongue, that acts like a building block for a proper lifetime of embarrassment. Something like that is oficial in the truest sense of the word.

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Last Updated on Monday, 04 January 2010 16:33