Rotarian Party in Panama

Rotarian Party in Panama
By James E. Sellars

Panama City skyline
People who don’t travel miss some interesting events. The other day we were invited to a special house party at the home of a Past President of Rotary International in Panama City. The first question out of my mouth was, “May I bring my children as well?” To which the reply was, “Of course!”

Our close friend and fellow Rotarian, Gonzalo de la Guardia, a Past President of the local Rotary club, called us to explain that we should be there between 5:30 and 6 o’clock, and that I should catch a cab and give the driver the general direction of Del Golf, after which I should call him, Gonzalo, on his cell and he would explain the rest to the cab driver. It sounded all very fun and very interesting to us so at around the appointed hour we made our way to the street to hail a cab.

Sure enough, the arrangements with the cab driver worked well and soon we were at the house of Quetita, a very attractive lady of approximately 60 years, who welcomed us with, “Will it be Spanish, English or French?” To which I answered, “English would be nice if it is possible.” The introductions were made all around; very friendly and attentive to my wife and children, and we began to take in the home. We were among twenty odd people who were early arrivals, all of who were able and willing to speak to us in English, and were genuinely interested in our comfort and pleasure in Panama. The setting; the beautiful covered terrace of our hostess’ backyard, the terrace was resplendent with plush furniture, and low tables and on a lower level was a 10-metre pool surrounded by more furniture. In one corner was a sushi bar complete with a man preparing all the delicacies of that cuisine, in another a band was setting up and in a third was an open bar offering chilled champagne, with two waiters who quickly met one’s slightest wish. There was even a self-serve frozen Margarita machine, as it was a warm evening after all.

The party was in honour of the teachers of Panama who work in particularly remote parts of the country. It was the habit of the Panama City Union Club, branch of the Rotary Club, to sponsor those teachers from the most remote parts of the country to attend a conference for a couple of weeks each summer. In Panama January and February are regarded as the summer since it is the dry season, the best weather of the year and the time given as a holiday to schools in the country. These teachers are brought to Panama City to attend meetings and training sessions to learn more of the extra knowledge their remote assignments require of them, such as first-aid and radio operations, public health issues and skills deemed valuable to the only educated person in a remote village. This party was a send off for them and we were allowed to attend too!

I began to settle in with a glass of cold water, and worked my way towards the sushi bar, I was repeatedly greeted and welcomed by more and more of the guests as they arrived who were also Rotarians and remembered meeting me at a meeting in November of 2005, at the Union Club, in downtown Panama City. After about an hour the teachers arrived from their hotel, the band struck up, and the party got underway in earnest. Checking for the kids I noticed that they were sitting with some other children at a table near the pool, they were clearly enjoying themselves so I kept my distance. My wife, Barb, was deep in a discussion with the wife of a new friend, Carlos, and didn’t need anything either so I felt safe to switch to the chilled bubbly. It was looking like a very interesting evening.

Off to one side all attention swung, as a fellow stood dripping having innocently been brushed into the pool as he passed too near the edge. It was an especially light moment for me amongst a very pleasant evening, as the hostess came over to guide him off to have his clothes dried, he grinning sheepishly. Good cheer flowed freely and everywhere people were engaged in exciting conversations and camaraderie. A little while later, food was served in an anteroom off the terrace, a great spread of ham, beef and seafood, in a buffet that seemed built for twice as many people as the 70 or more who were lined up. It was delicious. And then to add insult to my diet, there was the dessert buffet at another level that had to be investigated. Champagne in hand I bravely ventured forth.

French Embassy, Panama
After all was cleared away, the ladies began to sing and dance around the band doing all the local favourites. It was a very happy time for everyone. About at this moment, with much fan fair, a fully costumed Mariachi Band entered the party to much applause. Sure enough one of the trumpet players during a break in the action asked me, if I was the Canadian that had been at the trumpet clinics at Curumbu. It seemed we were blessed with friends at every turn amongst this very friendly people. Early in our stay in Panama I had been invited to attend music clinics put on by the Berkley School of Music in co-ordination with the Panama Jazz Festival. Berkley is a world-renowned school of music and being there amongst all that talent at the Fine Arts campus of the University of Panama, was a real treat and pleasure. Check out more of the Jazz Festival at where you will be able to get more on hotels and of course the Jazz Festival promoted by the famous Danillo Perez, the fellow who invited me to attend.

It was all music and drink and friends, with a warm tropical breeze blowing through the trees in the backyard of this beautiful home, a sky of brilliant stars, when my friend Gonzalo asked me, “Did you remember to bring the cigars?” You will be proud to know that I had a box of 25 Cubans I had bought that afternoon for just this occasion, for which my status as instant hero was assured. Gonzalo, Jorge, and I sat amongst the young teachers, and other Rotarians, around a large coffee table enjoying the evening and the warmth of new friends, with a good cigar. What a fitting end to this wonderful evening. For more info about Panama and issues of lifestyle change and retirement opportunities take a look at our web page at

James E Sellars, B.A. (econ), CFP, is a Tax Accountant and Certified Financial Planner for Keybase Financial Group in Moncton, NB. Telephone (506) 856-7977, fax: (506) 859-8504 email: