This article was published in the Ames Tribune June 2, 2009 .
Guest commentary: A tragedy in Panama
There was a machetazo (machete attack) in our village on Mothers’ Day, celebrated on the day of The Immaculate Conception. It followed the normal mode of holidays in our town. The men were drinking and the women were making food.
It was between cousins and their fathers (brothers-in-law) over something we still know little about. We heard the yelling, but our neighbors are usually noisy on weekends and holidays so we didn’t think much of it until a woman came to ask Jeff to call for ambulances. It had to be two ambulances because if all the injured were put in the same vehicle, it wouldn’t have been good.
I took over some first aid supplies. I was going to stay and help put on bandages, but the ground was covered in blood and the smell was overwhelming. The ambulances, a fire truck and some military type police showed up about two hours later and left with roughly one fifth of our community. Only one uncle’s injuries were bad enough to keep him in the hospital. He returned home in a week but his hand is still bandaged a month later.
The irony is that he was the one trying to break up the fight. All the violence was within a family so the police didn’t do much. One cousin spent one night in jail and paid a fine. The others should have received the same punishment but they left the hospital and came home. The police came back up to collect them, but by the time their truck rolled noisily into town, the three people they were looking for were all mysteriously gone. The police left with a big bag of oranges instead.
Machetazos are fairly common in Panama. Someone died in a nearby community from machete wounds when we first arrived. They frequently happen at bailes (dances) and often start as drunken disputes.
A machete costs less than $2 and every house has at least half a dozen sitting around, poked point first into the ground or stuck with a causal chop into a sideboard. Children use the old dull ones as toys and camposinos (farmers) use them for everything. Rare is the camposino who doesn’t have impressive machete scars, and not all of those scars were accidents.
Junior has been sent to live with his half brother. He’s the one who started the fight with his dad.
Foy and Jeff are Peace Corps volunteers in central Panama, some 40 miles northeast of Panama City. They live in a town of about 50 people that has no electricity. Their Peace Corps assignment is from May 2007 to August 2009.