In order to get residency in Panama, you have to have a police report (make that an FBI report if you're from the U.S.). But the first step in the process is to get fingerprinted.
If you know you're going to be a resident before you come to Panama, you can easily have this done at home. Otherwise, you'll be traipsing down to the main police station in Panama City, like myself and two girlfriends did. It's important to note that the two women I went to the police station with are two very thin girly-girls from North America. Even dressed down, the three of us stood out like rednecks at a debutante ball.
We were waiting behind a handcuffed convict to go into the fingerprint room when the power went out. The convict actually didn't look dangerous, just intoxicated. In the minute it took for the generators to power up, I experienced real fear. What if the power outage caused the jail doors to open? What if an a convict (who wasn't just a drunk) escaped and took a Gringa as a hostage? I'd always thought there was safety in numbers, but I realized that's a fallacy unless your numbers include big, buff guys who know martial arts. (Note to self... the next time I go to the police station, take bigger friends.)
The generators kicked on and the Panamanian police couldn't have been nicer. We got what we needed and left without incident, thinking the power outage had only been in the police station. We returned back to my neighborhood and went to a restaurant I've been wanting to try for a late lunch. The restaurant was open, but the host indicated that the power was off and they weren't serving food. Since he was talking to us in Spanish and none of us speak Spanish very well, we thought he said that the entire city of Panama was without power. What we lack in language skills we make up in the ability to read body language. Thank you, Charades!
Still hungry, we walked across the street to one of the many casinos, knowing that they had to have backup generators. Yes, they did, but cash was at stake and they weren't letting anyone in. My Coronado friends decided to call it a day and drive back to Coronado. All the traffic lights were out, and traffic was already getting bad so I walked home. I walk a lot in my neighborhood, and I know the pedestrian traffic patterns at all hours of the day. The streets were crowded with office workers in suits. Although this is typical in a place like Manhattan, it's unusual for Panama City in the middle of the afternoon. The full streets confirmed our interpretation of what the host at the restaurant had said... the power was out and people were going home.
It only took 10 minutes to walk home, and each condo I passed had the deafening roar of diesel-powered generators. The combined noise of all the generators made the city sound like the tarmac of an airport. Most summer days in Panama are quite nice because the humidity is down. The day of the power outage was an exception. It was the most humid day in months. As I walked home, I wondered if I'd have to walk up 15 flights of stairs to my apartment. And more importantly, would my apartment still be cool or would I have to spend the afternoon in the pool? There are worse ways to spend an afternoon, especially if I still had ice cubes to put in my rum punch.
Being slightly deaf after walking past my condo's generators, I communicated with the security guard on duty through sign language. He gave me a thumbs-up sign. I asked if the elevators were working, and he said yes. Hmmm. Did he really understand what I asked? I entered the elevators with trepidation. It's not that I feared the confined space of getting caught in the elevator for five hours, but I feared melting into a puddle of sweat if I got caught in an elevator without air conditioning. I took a breath and took the risk. Anything to avoid climbing 15 flights of stairs in my long maxi dress. I got on the elevator and pressed the button for the fifteenth floor. I didn't exhale until I stepped out onto my floor. Whew! I made it!
I walked into my apartment, and the air conditioner was working normally. Not only that, all of my electronics were on and charging. God bless generators. I had full power; life in my condo was perfectly normal.
I found out later that two transformers had gone down, causing the country-wide power outage. The power was out a total of about 5 hours. I have to say I was impressed. I've lost power for longer periods of time in the U.S.
For those who think Panama is a third-world country, think again. Aside from missing lunch with my friends, the power outage didn't affect my life at all. Darn! I was looking forward to a lazy afternoon lolling in the pool with an adult beverage.