In Panama outings are limited to one hour per day and men and women have to go out on alternate days. The sale and consumption of alcohol is forbidden “ley seca”. In the forest the natives are patient. No case of Coronavirus has been detected to date in the region that I work in but the rule is the same for all the villages. Only in the large village of Meteti, situated on the transamerican route where I regularly make a stop, has found a few cases testing positive. But I learned yesterday that three people have died in the indigenous villages close to the border, they are amongst the poorest part of the country and the Colombian government is concerned. In all the villages the native population is subject to the same controls as in the capital, Panama City. Everyone can spend an hour by going to the river and the men are authorised to go to the farms close to their village where they grow vegetables for the family. The rest of the time they are confined to the “choza”. “There are only dogs and chickens outside” says Daniel, one of my contacts there, who I keep in touch with by phone. The river is there, close by. It is their lifeline.They wash there, they use the water for drinking and cooking, they wash their clothes and poultry and in normal times you would hear the laughter and cries of the children who spend most of their time in the water. The villages are all established along the rivers, the only means of transport. In every indigenous village there is a police station. These police, specially trained in border surveillance with Colombia, are now also having to oversee the application of this new exceptional law.The people stay at home, in their wooden huts, with usually between three and four generations all living together. Benicio tells me that the women are waiting for me, everything was interrupted just a few days before my arrival, now everything seems to be held in suspense. He tells me that they are taking advantage of this time to make masks, at least those women who have the materials to make them. I don’t want to become anxious and think: What is one going to do with all the masks? Are we going to regain all our clients? I prefer to think: Soon I will be there again and I will be filled with wonder as always by the new masks that await me, the women's smiles and the children's laughter. And we shall be happy to see each other and to start once more. All will be well.
The indigenous villages I work with are situated on the Panamanian side of the border between Panama and Colombia. Today these villages are also in quarantine, obeying the strict rules put in place by the Panamanian government.