The hours pass by so slowly when you’re in a small town that has no internet or cell phone service but that doesn’t seem to matter to the people of San Miguel. There isn’t a time that you don’t see a group of people chatting on their yards or a group of kids out by the basketball courts and swings. When you come from a country that has become so dependent of technology it is definitely hard to adjust to such a rural community like San Miguel that is rich in social capital.
Social Capital is something that San Miguel has an abundance of and prides itself in. For those that may be confused, social capital is the different way in which a community networks and builds relationships at a micro level leading to positive development in the area. I first heard of this term while reading an article in my Community Organizations Social Work class. I will never forget the way Dr. Lauderdale explained so passionately the importance of social capital and the way in which it affected the U.S. At the time, I disagreed with him. I felt that the United States was not lacking in social capital but simply finding an alternate method towards developing relationships in the community (i.e. technology).
After being in San Miguel for about 2 weeks, I now see what Dr. Lauderdale meant. Social capital is what brings a community together. It is the face to face interaction that lets a person leave a door unlocked at night or ask a neighbor for a favor. How many of us can truly say that they know all the people on their block? Not many, that’s for sure. The people of San Miguel all know each other, so it is my mission to make sure they all know me as well!
I was very unsure where to begin. Should I walk up to the fonda and order something and hope that someone approached me? Or perhaps I should walk up to the group of kids playing in front of the school and hope that they welcome me into their games? No, I would walk up the street to the chinito (mini supermarket) and buy a classic bottle of Coca Cola for 40 cents and scope out the area while I walk. On my way to the chinito, I remembered that earlier that day I had bought a duro (ice pop looking thing) at a house and decided that I would use that as a way to converse. I walked up to the house and yelled out, “Buenas!” (a necessary greeting in Panama) and the woman came out. “Hola otra vez, vengo a comprar un duro y a intrdocuir me soy nueva a San Miguel.” That was all I had to do in order to get la Senora Elodia to talk to me. We spent a couple minutes chatting about my coming to Panama and talked briefly about her growing up in San Miguel.
I felt so accomplished! It might have also been the shortest conversation that I’ve had with anyone but it was the first stepping stone towards establishing my rapport. I will continue to do these little walks around San Miguel until I have met everyone!