¡La vida es buena!
David van Harn moved to the highlands rain-forest town of Boquete, Panamá near the Costa Rica border over 10 years ago at the age of 70. After losing his retirement investments in the stock market, it was either move to subsidized senior housing – or move to a less expensive location, a place where he could live more comfortably on his Social Security pension. So in February of 2012, he moved to a place some call the “land of eternal spring and rainbows” – the mountain town of Boquete on the slopes of Volcan Baru in Western Panamá.
David is now a permanent legal resident of Panamá – a “pensionado” – a retired person (jubilado) with a guaranteed lifetime income (pension) that met the government’s requirements for a permanent visa. However, he cannot work full time or earn significant income here – and in particular, expats (extranjeros) cannot take work away from Panamanian citizens.
After he settled in, and realizing that there are over 2,300 species of trees in Panamá and Costa Rica, his desire to continue his hobby of woodturning became a reality. David had taken up woodturning as a hobby in my mid-sixties when he worked at a Santa Rosa, California Woodcraft store to supplement his pension. At the age of 69, his skills and sense of design had advanced enough to create a piece that won a top award in juried competition. The event was the 24th annual “Artistry in Wood” exhibit at Santa Rosa’s Sonoma County Museum in Northern California in 2011.
A few months after relocating to Panamá, David purchased a bench-top wood lathe. Then, on his next trip back to California, he retrieved his woodturning tools and accessories, and brought them back to Panamá in a suitcase. He began turning plates and bowls, honey dippers, bottle stoppers and coffee scoop handles and selling them at a table at the local Tuesday Morning Market at the Boquete Community Players center. He didn’t make much money, but at least he covered the costs of his hobby. Here is a picture of some of his turnings in 2014:
In 2016, a fellow vendor, Richar Huisa, stopped by David’s table at the market. Richar is a Peruvian artist, and he asked David to turn some wooden plates on which he could paint tropical birds. It was the beginning of a wonderful friendship and collaboration is now manifesting in Davids working to build and administer a website and online store to sell reproductions of Richar’s art. The bird plates were gorgeous, and David sold some them for Richar at his table. Richar’s talent, drive and sincere friendliness are to me irresistible. He works incredibly hard, has a positive attitude, and David is comitted to do everything he can to help Richar find success and move his family out of a tiny, two-room apartment.
Richar is attempting to teach David Spanish, and David is helping Richar with his English. However, David’s 80 year-old mind is learning slowly, while Richar has become quite fluent in English.
As their shared affinity for combining wood and other natural substrates for art developed, Richar wanted to try some new ideas. David introduced him to painting and carving on tagua nut slices, and bought him both a beginner’s professional pyrography kit and rotary power carving kit. (In the past David sold rotary carving and pyrography equipment at the Woodcraft store, but had neither the talent nor skill to use them to make good art.) Richar instantly took to the new media and techniques, and within days was creating beauiful new art.
The first photograph below is from a Christmas celebration that I spent with with Richar, His wife Eulogia Gia), and their then 3 y/o (now 7 y/o) daughter Micaela. They have become my family here in Panama. I ran a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to help ensure that they could complete the immigration process and get their permanent resident papers. That campaign was successful, and combined with other loans and donations, the Huisa family received their 8-year residency papers.
(Please read the “About” page for information about the current status of my life in Panamá. )