For two weeks I adopted the job of walking my neighbors’ two cocker spaniels, Kizzy and Ouija. Because the Los Cuatro Tulipanes hotel office is practically next door, I found it no problem, even a bit flattering, that they’d trust me with their two dogs, affectionately referred to as “the kids”.
One facet of this adoption involved extensive walks throughout the cobblestone streets of Casco Antiguo, a suggested four times a day. I began walking them when I woke up at the crack of dawn, then around lunchtime, then around dinnertime, and finally before I went to sleep. The walks themselves were uncomplicated as they involved only following the lead of the two dogs, then encouraging their urination and collecting their fecal contributions.
This went on for a few days, until I was approached by one of the Casco’s squatters known intimately as Mendoza. He asked curiously what I had in the plastic bag I was carrying and if at all possible, he could have it as he hadn’t eaten anything in a while.
(This is a common thing in the Casco. Once you’ve made a fair amount of friends, they all poke you every now and then for your Coca Cola or bag of chips claiming that, like a fat person watching a marathon, they need it desperately more than you do.)
What I had in this bag though wasn’t as sweet as a bottle of Coke nor was it as tasty as a bag of Lays. It was poo: freshly dropped feces that had come out so willingly from the anus of my dear friend Kizzy over on Calle 3. Mendoza stared at me with a peculiar glance and had me repeat it, just incase something had been lost in translation.
“Seriously” I said. “There’s poo in here. Trust me, you don’t want it.”
With the confused and somewhat disgusted look on Mendoza’s face, it struck me that as an ambassador from the First World, I had been put in a very unique situation. For so long, I have lived like a sponge, soaking up the Panamanian way of life. But now, I was in the driver’s seat. Now I was responsible for instructing the people of Panama, and more specifically Mendoza, about my culture. I had become, through the magic of caca, the international educationalist.
I explained to Mendoza that in the North, it is common to pick up after your dogs when in public. “Most people like to use a plastic grocery bag, but some people have special tools made to collect the solid waste after passed through the colon and the anus.” I took pride in explaining my people, much like a father talking about his son. “Yes, we even have signs as reminders: in the park, on the sidewalk, everywhere!”
“These special contraptions” he said, “what do they look like?”
Now I realize that, to Mendoza, this concept was probably about as far out as the Japanese commuter pod. If you were to tell me of a people who enjoyed accumulating fecal matter I would probably laugh too. Mendoza must’ve envisioned a nation obsessed with poo—a people who’d do anything and invent anything, to hoard as much canine waste as humanly possible. He probably pictured me taking the poo home and adding it to a collection resembling a small Mt. Fuji. No wonder people can’t understand Americans!
Upon finally understanding that indeed, the plastic bag was filled with a warm sample, Mendoza quickly backed off, appalled with what he now realizes is a cultural norm. It was a step in the right direction though, of sharing my culture with his. And while it doesn’t come off as the most sophisticated of hobbies, I’m pretty sure Mendoza is content letting me do the job.