I was in the U.S. when three weeks prior to census day,the first letters arrived telling us to prepare for the 2010 Census. Then, two weeks in advance they again mailed out millions of notices to millions of mailboxes to let us know that the Census was coming. I thought it a bit redundant, but not unlike other government procedures. I was still there when the actual census (es) arrived at my dad’s house. Dad, wanting to follow the letter of the law, was confused about what to do with the second census envelope. He read through all of the literature to see what he should do about it. He has an RV park, with several year-round tenants, but as he only received one extra envelop he was in a quandary. Finally after reading through the whole thing, and then asking me to do the same, he called the information number. You have to know my dad to appreciate this, but the call was answered by a machine which offered him 20 options to continue, none of which addressed his question. Yes, there are still miracles – he did not hang up!!!! He hung in there for another three rounds of options which never concluded with a real person, or the answer to his question. This took about three hours of his afternoon, then he quit for the day. Three days later he finally had spoken with a real live person, and they told him to throw the second envelope away. He did. He filled out one and put it into the mailbox.
Such was the process for the 2010 Census in the United States of America; Land of high technology and efficiency, though we don’t always use it wisely.
Sunday, May 16 2010 was Census day here in Panamá. I could not help but notice a few differences. Preparation began with radio ads three weeks ago. No letters, just a simple ad that said every human being in the country must remain in their home until after a census worker comes and fill out the information sheets with them. They are under penalty of fine if they are not available for the 30 minute interview. Not sure if that is just a lame threat, or if they would really do it, but it doesn’t matter because everyone stayed home to meet the census worker. At least everyone around here. So, remember back to your days of Bible study – remember when Joseph and Mary had to return to Bethlehem for the census? It is still alive and well in Panamá!
So, back to preparation; One week before the big day all those who will work the census meet for training. They have seminar classes for three days, for which they are paid $5 daily and are provided lunch. That concludes the preparation for the Census day. There is approximately one worker for every ten houses here in Volcán, and I assume it is the same all over Panama. I do not have the mind, or the energy to figure out a cost comparison per capita, but I think it is probably less costly here than in the States.
So, on Sunday morning Lynn and I are sitting on the porch awaiting our turn. At 10:30 am a very nice young lady comes to our gate and asks permission to enter. We sit and she asks questions for about 20 minutes. She fills out the form, and thanks us for our time. In conversation she shares that we are her last house of the day. Her work is done. When she leaves our house she will go to the house serving as headquarters for Volcán and receive her $40. She is content.
As luck would have it our friend, Mari, who is working the census as well, is given only one house to visit. The house is empty, and has been for several months. She went through the training, woke up Sunday morning and walked to one house to put a sticker on the door that said that the house was vacant, then went to receive her $40. So, it isn’t perfect here either. Furthermore there have been complaints that some houses were not visited.
The worker who visited us placed a hot pink sticker on the door post that said we had been counted. She told us to leave the sticker there for at least one week as supervisors would be coming around to check them. We have had fun checking out everyone’s doorposts around town!
All in all, the day was very quiet. No trucks running out to the farms, no families passing to go to town. It was quite unique. Imagine a day when everyone in the U.S. was forced to stay home with their families, just for a day – how cool would that be?
Such was Census Day 2010 in Panamá, Central America. Land of family-oriented lives , where relationship and face – to – face contact still have value. Before some of you say that I am dissing my home country, I am not. I love the beliefs on which our country was founded. But we could still learn a little from our southern neighbors, ya know?