The Owl’s Market

Traditionally in Panama there has always been a shortage of employment.  This is nothing new for a Central American country.  To offset this glaring need, however, the people have set up a curiously effective, albeit disorganized, network of self-employment.

Many people here disparagingly label them as “Buhoneros” – street peddlers, as if it were the most undesirable of commercial activities.  These street vendors can run the gamut from some older person who spreads a piece of cardboard on the street and sells fruit out of used crates, like the man in the picture, or they may be as sophisticated as the owners of “quioscos” or Kiosks.

On whatever level you may find them here, they have always been a source of admiration and wonder for me.  Although in some areas they tend to crowd the pedestrian walkways and sidewalks, and they do become overbearing on occasion, for me they symbolize the entrepreneurial spirit of doing for oneself.

Some groups like the Kuna Indians are especially diligent with their “puestos.”  Their world renowned Mola handicrafts keep them busy and in revenues to provide for their growing families.  I refer in particular to the women as it is the women, hardworking and courageous matrons, who bring their handmade treasures to city spots to sell mostly to the tourists.

Near our residence in the Hotel District, on Vía Veneto, several of these industrious women and their families have set up tables or even use surplus military cots to act as tables to display their merchandise.  Rarely do you catch them sleeping or wasting time.  They appear like clockwork bright and early every morning with their enormous packs and suitcases filled with their goods.  If they aren’t on their cell phones keeping track of their families, their fingers are always occupied with needle and thread working on their latest Mola creation.  They take home the revenues they have generated with their own hands.

The income for many of these street peddlers can vary but many of them admit that with this commercial activity they have been able to raise families, put clothes and shoes on their children and pay for their schooling.  Many of them would surprise the ordinary onlooker in that they can take home a goodly sum on good days.

True, their activity can be limited by the climate but rain or shine (and Panama is famous for driving, torrential rains) they always manage to earn something and take a sum home for the “paila.”  Thus, with a little perseverance, a person who has tired of looking for an ordinary job that might fetch them a paltry $250.00 a month (government job) can enter the ranks of the self employed buhoneros and reach that amount and normally better it.

Some of you may be thinking where I got the title “The Owl’s Market” from.  There is a whole city block which the Municipal government designated a long time ago as the Market for Buhoneros in an effort to have an organized, enclosed area in the city for the tourists, especially, to visit, purchase our handmade goods and gifts and take pictures.  The sign at the entrance of the market, which is near the Cinco de Mayo square downtown, is adorned with the image of an owl and the words Mercado de Buhonería.  Whoever came up with the image had a good idea.

In future posts I will delve more into this topic very dear to my heart.