Several months ago there were government census takers in the burg going house to house asking questions of anyone who was home and answered their door. When the government wants some questions answered you see, they don’t simply call you on the phone or mail you a questionnaire because most Panameños don’t have mail service or land lines. Workers must go and do “outreach” to find the people in the little towns and countryside here because of the lack of technology.
SU answered the door last time but not feeling confident with his español quickly corralled me into answering the questions on the very long form. The census takers don’t care whether you’re a citizen or not, if you’re a resident they want to hear your opinion. The last census that was taken was mostly questions about education and it was completed fairly quickly, in my muddle through español way with a very patient woman working through the very long form.
Today I answered the “Hola!” through the windows at the front of the house and was surprised once again by a census taker. Now that my español is a little better and knowing the procedure I caught on right away. It was much easier this time to aid the worker and it helped to read the long form through with her as I answered her questions. This time it was a public safety questionnaire.
As with the previous census, background information is completed first. Because I’d done the other form I knew right away where we fell in the criteria for our status as “pensionado”. We got stuck though when I was trying to remember the educations part. High school here is called secundaria which is a little confusing but with the help of the supervisor who knew the equivalent in English we were off to the races. And it helped explain the puzzled look on the worker’s face when I wanted her to check a previous line that was probably elementary school!
The questions mostly centered on what kind of information systems we had; what type of phone – land line or cellular, did we have a computer and how do we get our internet – mobile or wired, for both of these questions I told her we had no wired services on our street, only wireless internet and cell phones. There was a question about security systems; what kind of security system do you have alarms, locks, dogs etc. I told them our gatos acted like dogs as Boomer sat in his perch in the front window watching us.
Parts of the form asked my opinion on if I thought schools were safe and if enough is taught about safety, if I thought my community was safe, whether I belonged to any community groups, if I thought there was enough street lighting, and if I thought the community did enough to keep me informed of safety issues. We agreed that Pedasi is “muy tranquilo” but I tried to express that as a gringa that sometimes I didn’t find out a lot of information. And I think they understood. One of the questions did center on how we get our information and how many hours we listen to the radio. I think they were surprised at the amount of time we have the radio on. If we can get a good signal from Panama City we always have the radio on while we’re outside, which is for most of the day.
When we had completed the questionnaire the supervisor thanked me very much in both español and English. She then said that next year when they returned to survey me again that my Spanish would be better and thanked me for learning the language. She said that she was at Venao yesterday and had a terrible time with people who didn’t know Spanish. And then she pointed across the field to the neighbor’s house and told me they spoke no Spanish at all and it was terrible. I told her that it was muy importante for us to learn español and that we were going to escuela to learn, but poco a poco. I hope I’m muddling through a little less, although sometimes I feel like I’m butchering a wonderful, romantic language!
As they left I couldn’t help but think about how far we’ve come in less than a year. Seeing someone with a long form would have sent my heart beating in terror not long ago. Today I was quite pleased with myself at how I had managed and somehow I think that I’ve earned a bit of respect in two Panameño women’s eyes today. Although the day is only partly done, it’s been a good day in the campo.