Expatriating & ID Theft


The shredder’s whinge and rattle sounded like Donald Trump’s tax prep office

Mariah and I are in the middle of a move from Ohio to Panama. The house is upside down; we’re upside down; our world’s upside down. All this upside-down-ness offers a real upside-up for identity thieves. Here’s why.

Those who choose to prey on their fellow humans, either for sport, for fun, for profit, or just because they’d rather be saprophytes and leech off others, those individuals thrive on chaos. And chaos is what a move of 2,000 miles (to another country) creates. The sinister and exploitative among us understand that chaos and confusion force us to misread, forget, overlook and zone out, perfect conditions for allowing them in to do their nefarious work. We’re in the middle of the same disruption John & Susan experienced in their move, as Susan says here in her 4/15 blog post.  Or this post from Joel & Kris about the insanity surrounding their move to David in 2012.

Move 4

Almost there…Amazing the stuff we accumulate. This is nearly empty. Note the forlorn little box that holds ‘movable’ items!

The other side of this scenario is that due to this disrupted, emotionally charged environment, we’ve lost a bit of our usual equanimity and poise. We interrupt each other mid-sentence; minor irritations become monumental obstacles; we forget stuff. If multi-tasking was difficult before, it’s impossible now, and we realize that we need to check each other for oversights and omissions. “Did I turn that iron off? Duh…we gave the iron to Goodwill. Then what’s this ironing board doing here..? Holy buckets, I’m losing it.” We may at one time have had a memory like a steel trap. But in the midst of a move like this, with boxes everywhere, whole days and nights of utter confusion, dismay at the mountainous tasks that need to be accomplished and despair at what items must be left behind, we’re fortunate to remember our address, much less passwords. Cindy & David of Tombseekers go into detail about moving ‘stuff’ to Panama. It’s not easy, nor inexpensive, and reading about their experience convinces us that, as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said, ‘Less is more.’ He could have added, ‘…and cheaper, too.’

Bare walls, another Goodwill load, fresh paint, yep, we’re moving!

Speaking of bank accounts and passwords, one realization we had amidst the confusion is that changing them is a fine idea, for a lot of reasons. One of the biggest reasons is that files are being discarded, and though we’re extremely cautious to sort them, the chance of a sensitive document escaping the ‘burn pile,’ or an info-rich document finding its way into the (very public) trash can is high. I can’t claim that it’s been all drudgery. For a solid hour last week we fed papers and files into the maw of the Chiminea and watched years worth of tax returns, mortgage documents, medical files and assorted outdated and/or superfluous papers singe and turn to ash. Given the IRS requirement to keep files for three years, there’s still a small stack of stuff, but nothing like before. Think the Sunday New York Times Versus War and Peace. Once the weather turned too hot to sit by the fire we finished up the erasure process with the shredder. The machine’s whinge and rattle, the grappling of its little teeth went on so long it sounded like Donald Trump’s tax prep office.

And the elimination of paperwork is a critical nexus when it comes to ID theft. We’ve been careful to pore over every document for traces of ID: Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, credit score info, medical records, VA accounts, even utility bills that may contain fragments of traceable data. It’s easy to become paranoid during this process. But the fact remains that ID thieves are out there, they’re ambitious, they’re sophisticated and they’re always looking for (and finding) new angles to exploit.

We’d planned to scrub the computers and hock them on Craigslist, or schlep them to a local consignment shop to see what they’d bring. On second thought, despite assurances from several ‘experts,’ we weren’t comfortable having those ID info-rich machines out there somewhere, their innards being probed and tweaked to see what data about us they might contain. We were convinced that the scrubbing was sufficient. But there’s a difference between being convinced and being comfortable. The computers will be given away to trusted friends.

Move 3

The actual dinner table exited via Craigslist, so the card table took its place.

(Note the nearly empty wine rack. There’s a reason it’s like that)

Then there’s the existential aspect of a move across thousands of miles. Not to lapse into airey-fairey mode, but after witnessing the contortions and alterations we’ve been through over the past few months, we begin to understand that our ID has indeed been accessed. We’ve met the enemy and he is…us! Holly has a lot to say about this in Let The Adventure Begin. As Heraclitus said, we never step into the same river twice, and a move of such magnitude proves it. After all the disruption, uncertainty and upset across 2,000 miles to a new home, will we have a new identity as well? Of course we will. It remains to be seen who we’ll be, and what’s become of our identity, but at least we’ll recognize the thieves.

What’s that Thing-A-Ma-Bob?


Just a quick post with a chuckle for my loyal readers. Years ago a friend of mine in Iowa retired and headed south. He affixed one of the above thing-a-ma-bobs to the front of his car. (Not the dumpster, the other red thing-a-ma-bob) When I asked him why he’d do this, he replied: “I’m going to drive south until someone asks me, ‘what the hell is that?’ then I’ll stop.”

The above picture is our red thing-a-ma-bob parked next to our dumpster. Those of you reading this from Boquete, Panama, or anywhere south of approximately 20 degrees north latitude might be tempted to ask: ‘what the hell is that?’ Here’s my response: “I intend to forget what they’re used for.”

And here’s a reminder, as if any of us need one. The picture was taken in April. In April, I tell you. Late April.


I rest my case, and hopefully my red thing-a-ma-bob.

Impressions of Panama: Land of Contrast

1-Miraflores Locks                   2- Chickens as baggage

Panama is a land of contrasts: Home of an engineering & operational marvel, the Panama Canal; Home of simple farmers who fly prized chickens on COPA, the national airline.

1-Public transport in Panama City      2-Ancient transport still in use

 Panama City is a vibrant, dynamic and emerging first-world city with all the modern conveniences, and many of the growing pains of any metropolis; Panamanians cling to their heritage with tributes to the old, venerable ways.

1-Panamonte, Boquete, 2-Farmer’s Market Boquete, 3-Local festival, new friends

Modern facilities can be found anywhere in Panama; right next to traditional methods of doing things. Panamanians cherish their social ties; while welcoming new friends.

1-Learning survival skills                       2-Learning language skills

Contrasts also include the bad and/or threatening and the good & serendipitous. Yes, there are dangerous creatures lurking about in Panama, and it’s good to heed the signs. At the same time, there are opportunities to read hopeful signs, as residents do all they can to welcome us into their midst. (Here at Boquete’s wonderful new Biblioteca, six-year old Erick teaches Mariah a Spanish phrase, with due emphasis to make sure she ‘gets it.’ These two are on track to be life-long friends.)

Boquete’s Biblioteca

1-Optical scope at SETI observatory   2-Dreamcatcher, an ancient counterpart

The mountains of Western Panama hide artifacts of many things ancient and modern. They contain the dreams, aspirations, triumphs and tragedies of extant and lost civilizations; they hold the evidence of humankind’s yearning to discover what lies across the next mountain…and the next; they house the old and the new, the bones of explorers, the hardware to explore the far reaches of the universe. Ben Schuetz is ensconced in the hills above Boquete involved in a tireless search for extra-terrestrial signals. Panama is a land of contrasts indeed. Like the ancient Nazca with their so called landing strips, and their enigmatic lines across the Peruvian terrain, the tradition continues of reaching for the cosmos, of transcending the primordial bounds to imagine a world beyond. Does simplicity engender and encourage quiet contemplation? If so, these ancient hills and the serene, simple environment of Panama may be the best place in all the world to indulge a life of the mind.

1-Alleged UFO landing strip                2-Nazca figure in Peru

We encountered many contrasts, many confounding and serendipitous discoveries during our nine weeks in Panama. It’s a land that cherishes its ancient past, while emerging headlong into and discovering the modern world. Meanwhile, people from all over the world all discovering Panama. Expats from North America, Canada, Western Europe, South America, Asia and several other places are coming to Panama for its stability in turbulent times, for its laid-back easy life, its temperate climate, safe and wholesome atmosphere, cultural richness, social and travel opportunities and its access to the rest of the world. Here are a few more pictures of our own exploration of Panama, a place of contrasts that we intend to call home very soon. Enjoy, and thanks for reading.

Panamanian friends

1-Life at Finca Luz; 2-Street fair, Boquete; 3-Lazy at Limones; 4-Boquete & Rio Caldera; 5-Panama City; 6-By & the late Mort Rabkin; 7-‘Downtown’ Boquete; 8-An appropriate sign in Boquete from Panama Pathfinders–and they mean it!

Adios Finca Luz


Finca Gothic

It’s been an interesting, and quite revealing three weeks for us city people here at Finca Luz. In Espanol, Finca Luz means ‘Farm of Light,’ and this little spread on the side of Jaramillo Mountain in Western Panama has certainly enlightened us. While there are numerous charms, attractions and benefits to living in such a bucolic setting, we’ve learned that some of what makes it charming, attractive and beneficial does not fit the style we’ve become accustomed to. It’s not sad, negative, good or bad. It’s just true.

We came up the mountain as house sitters for friends away in the States, and were happy to help them. Our presence here at Finca Luz allowed them to focus on the important family matters that had drawn them to North Carolina. They needed to know that the coffee, casas and critters back in Panama were well attended. On our end, the opportunity allowed us to focus on what mattered most to us in our exploration of Panama as a retirement spot. If our friends’ experience away from Finca Luz provided comfort to them, our experience on the farm provided a revelation to us. Our time here became a metaphor for our overall experience in Panama, the rawness, difference, beauty and exhilaration of living close to the earth, and absorbing its crude and visceral lessons. And, like Holly says in Let the Adventure Begin, to explore a casual, uncluttered life.


Pre-Wrapped Farm Fresh Chicken

The main product here at Finca Luz is Mariposa Azul Coffee, a wake-up beverage from some of the finest beans in Panama. And they certainly woke us to a few things.

Here’s an example: During our short stay at the farm we lost two chickens. I shouldn’t say ‘lost’ lost, I should tell the rough and grisly truth of it. You see, when Senor Coyote is hungry, Senor Coyote is going to eat, and hens were available. Good god there were feathers everywhere! It was ghastly. Gruesome. Like real life, in other words. It looked like the aftermath of a six-year-old’s pillow fight. I’m afraid we’ll always be city folks, people who reach for our fresh meat wrapped carefully in its pristine, sanitized package, never once thinking about the violent, blood-spattered path that shrink-wrapped ‘Prime Choice’ selection followed to its hygienic shelf. Not to put too fine a point on things, nor to inject a political stain into this post, but for those of us in the good old U.S. of A, the luxury of that antiseptic meat shelf is something we take for granted. It behooves us to give more thought to other, similar offerings and the carnal system we’re shielded from. These so called externalities, the sub-surface gristle and grit of our food infrastructure system are kept from public view lest the Dow take a major plunge.

                     All in a day’s work

1-Gathering eggs;  2-Feeding Critters; 3-Fetching bananas

Here’s another example: While our little casita is warm, comfy, safe and adequate, it’s not quite the standard we’re used to. There are insects aplenty. Creepy, crawly, fuzzy fellows that explore the bedding each night and aviate across the room at all hours. There are wild, wooly, animalistic groans and moans just beyond our flimsy doorway, and things that go bang and whimper in the ink-black night. When the rains come it is biblical, gushing, flooding. This we expected. What we didn’t anticipate was the racket. The roof of the little house is tin, one layer, with zero insulation. We’ve never actually been frightened by a deluge of water before, but this torrential freshet is like the Anvil Chorus, Verdi’s gypsies from Trovatore celebrating their deafening work directly above our heads.

All these are ‘first world problems’ as a friend labels them. We’re aware of that. We’re spoiled rotten gringos, we’re aware of that, too. But it’s been good to learn of those personal quirks and expectations on a gut level, and to be forced to deal with our need for such creature comforts. Cindy & David mention this in Loving Retirement in Panama. No electric? Candles are good. No pressure or hot water? Showers are overrated.

It’s easy to dismiss feelings of unease and wariness when confronted with difference and oddity. But we must listen to those visceral feelings. We’re planning to live in Panama, not to vacation here, so we must address these fundamental issues and either work to live with them, or realize we cannot. Like John & Susan in Latitude Adjustment, we look forward to several anniversaries in our adopted home.

Snakes, beetles and beasties, oh my!

Something else Finca Luz has taught us is that the beauty atop this green studded mountain is all the more luxurious & elegant because it’s ferociously, blatantly feral. Like Rousseaun art, The Equatorial Jungle, or Tropical Forest, this is life at its fundament. No protective wrapper has been applied; the viscera and gore are in your face and nostrils and it sticks to your skin; no shielding exists for our delicate, over-civilized eyes and sensibilities. Farm life is nothing if not aromatic.

We’re grateful for the opportunity to help our friends in their time of need, and we gained a great deal of respect for what they do every day, indeed, what folks who toil like this do day after day. It’s shown us how easy we have it, partly at their expense. The word pampered comes to mind. And we’ve been grateful to learn these lessons about our pampered selves, to have Finca Luz, the Farm of Light enlighten us.

Onward. We depart Panama soon, back to Ohio to close that chapter, to liquidate holdings, settle affairs, say goodbyes to dear friends and then make our way back to Boquete. Next blog: The expanded version of what we’ve learned, and some in-depth advice about becoming expats.  Gracias por leendo nuestro blog!