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Eating Spiders in Panama

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Written by Matt   
Wednesday, 21 October 2009 09:02
For the first time in several years, search a Panamanian asked me for directions. "Excuse me, medical " he said in Spanish, "but can you tell me where is the Plaza Santa Ana?" In my book, troche it's one thing to pass as a local and another to be able to respond accurately, which is exactly what I did. "Why sure I can," I told the man. "Just climb this street until you reach the Coca Cola Café." In Spanish, if a street has even the slightest degree of incline, you either climb or descend it. For this particular man, he had several blocks of climbing to do before he arrived. I say for the first time in years because the last time this happened, I was eating a hotdog on the street in El Cangrejo. The hotdog selection in Panama is weird: there are about forty different brands and packages to choose from, but almost none of them have a unique trait. Various combinations of turkey, chicken and pork: no important culture in the world is without a wide selection of mystery meat stuffed into tubular casing.

It was one of these unremarkable hotdogs that I had ordered from a street vendor for just twenty-five cents when a small family of Embera Indians stood in front of me. Both my Spanish and my sense of direction were significantly stunted back then so when asked how to get to Obarrio, I looked like a confused bird enthusiast trying to re-locate a rare breed. "That way," I predicted. "Obarrio is very very far, in that way I think."

As poor as the performance was, the incident boosted my morale immensely. There's something innately fulfilling about being asked for directions in a foreign land. It is, I imagine, the feeling magicians get when they've executed a successful trick as if to say, you have been fooled by my immense amount of skill. This comes of course, the day after I was unable to articulate my sandwich to a woman at Go Green, a healthy fast food restaurant in Multi Plaza Mall. "If you prefer," she chimed in, "just order in English, I spent twelve years studying literature in your country."

"And now you're rolling wrap sandwiches...because?" I wanted to say.

With my level of Spanish, it's probably not fair to criticize the way anyone here speaks English. There was a time I was walking with a visiting girlfriend through Plaza Bolivar in Casco Viejo and two teenagers approached asking if they could show us around and practice their English. Had I not seen them several minutes before drinking beers out of paper bags, I wouldn't have assumed they were drunk. "No thanks," my friend Meghan said, but she's always turning down good opportunities like these.

"Sure, we'll do it," I added. "It will be fun."

We began walking in the direction of the ocean when I asked how old this particular church was. "Old." One of the boys said.

"Very old." Added the other. "It have many years."

After explaining some things about the neighborhood, my conversation with the guy I had come to think of as my guide, turned personal and we began discussing his favorite restaurants. "They have the raw fish and the...the little spy-dahs." I assumed he had the wrong word as little spiders didn't sound terribly appetizing.
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"Yes, they have fried...spy-dahs? Is that how you pronounce? Spy-dahs?"

"Spiders?" I ran my fingers up and down my arm like a dancing daddy longlegs. "You put the spiders in your mouth and chew on them? You can digest spiders?"

"What are you guys talking about over there?" Meghan asked.

"Just eating spiders," my teenager said.

Of course, I would later find out that the teenager was entirely correct in his translation of spiders, which are what they call fried calamari tentacles. And since then, I've stopped myself in advance, anytime I prepare to correct a local. There's not much to gain from it anyways, besides the illusion that you actually know what you are talking about, which, against all odds, occasionally comes off as a natural thing.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 22 October 2009 21:01
 
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