Balancing Compassion & Respect Can Be An Unbelievably Interesting Tightrope Act

With one land purchase, the woman we were going to buy the property from wanted a house. She would move from her land onto a spot with one of her children. Some of her children got involved and supposedly were building the home for her with the funds when, in reality, they were not. Those children took loans against her deposit because one daughter ensured she was a co-signator on the account. These children didn’t repay their loans or build their mother a house. They squandered the funds because the bank took the collateral, so the woman had nowhere to go. She continued to live in the home on our land until the place was ready to fall.

It wasn’t easy to allow it to unfold as it did, but the same thing could have happened anywhere. A person makes a deal and then relies upon another to help them with their funds. The third person turns out to be untrustworthy, and the seller ends up without the “thing” they were trying to acquire with the proceeds from the sale.

As a buyer, we were in no position to affect the situation’s outcome. As compassionate people, we allowed her to live as she had been doing for an extended period. We didn’t evict her even though she had sold her rights to us. We gave her and her family time to develop a plan. She stayed on far after we had finished paying for the land. Yet, once the time came to either move or somehow build a new home at her current spot, we had to remind her and her family of the boundary we had all agreed upon. She sold us the land. We had paid for it and allowed her to continue living when she had a problem. She was not permitted to build anew on land we purchased because her children had stolen from her. We fulfilled our part of the transaction and allowed her to stay beyond the agreed upon timeframe. It was time for her to find a new home.

Because we had both respect and compassion, we allowed the situation to go past what most purchasers would. According to Albert Schweitzer, “Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man will not himself find peace.” Our attorney was concerned about her failure to depart once we had finished paying. Since we were her neighbors, we were not as worried as the attorney. Yet, we knew we could not afford to purchase it a second time from a third party, so we had to stay close to the transaction parameters. Balancing compassion and respect can be a tightrope at times.

Broken System Breeds Complications in Authentic Relationships

Choosing to lay a groundwork of mutual respect has been an essential part of the foundation for our business.

We believe it has contributed to the fact that we have not had any issues with neighbors or our direct community about property lines. We have a respectful relationship with most of our immediate neighbors.

The strained relationships are strained because we value following laws and regulations, and our neighbors do not have faith in that system. We get it. The infrastructure of the legal system and the government of a long-forgotten province is limited. People have not been accustomed to abiding by the law within such a scenario. Why? Because it is not enforced at all levels. It goes toward the low-hanging fruit and foreigners first when it is attempted. Local people get a pass. Again, it makes sense, but if this community wants to sustain itself in the long run, it needs to include equal enforcement under the law as it charts its path towards regeneration.

As a lawyer, I may be more apt to see these things, yet it is visible. Any time you choose or allow officials to determine whether to enforce a law – it opens the door to corruption. Then there are the laws that might make sense in some parts of the country but not in others. When attempting to enforce a law that physically cannot be applied – officials must turn a blind eye. If the site is to prosper, passing a more limited law or one specific to an area must be part of the plan.

There is a tiny mangrove island islet in front of Tranquilo Bay. We didn’t want anything to be developed on it, so we needed to buy it. Two different people claimed ownership of it, yet neither had occupied it, so it was impossible to confirm. One party had been around longer and had permitted the other party to build in front of a different piece of land. That second party never purchased any land – only built over the water in front of a piece of land. Over time the second party expanded its footprint and abused the gift the first party had given them. We knew that we had to purchase whatever rights both parties believed they had to eliminate any possible issues in the future. So we did – we bought the possessory right to that islet from two different people.

Why? We purchased a tiny island from two parties to maintain community and to dispose of any future problems for ourselves. Lauren Morton defines community as act, “Community is an intentional action rooted in faith, peace, truth, and love.” We chose to buy land from two non-possessory parties because it circles back to having a permanence mindset as part of our decision-making compass.

Mutual Respect Supports Creation of Promising Private Conservation Reserve

Tranquilo Bay’s path to regeneration has been a winding trail with ups, downs, and spills. We didn’t start our business with a defined intention to set up our space within the vocabulary we find in regeneration now, and yet – we did.

Our approach has been more about being a permanent part of the community in which we live. We believe this colors all decisions one makes. When you begin with a permanence mindset and know you are in for a long haul, you make different decisions than if you expect to be around for a season of life.

Because we planned on making Bocas del Toro our home, we took steps to manage our relationships with our neighbors and our community from the beginning. When we completed the survey for the land we were purchasing, we walked the boundaries. We made sure the surveyor drew the survey lines correctly. We spoke to each of our neighbors to ensure we had the limits right. We confirmed that no one else had a stake in the land we were purchasing. We got to know our neighbors, and we began a relationship of mutual respect in these types of matters.

Conservation Reserve Infographic

Dr. Brené Brown tells us that “when we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.” We didn’t want to feel used or mistreated, nor did we want our neighbors to feel that way. So, we set appropriate boundaries and became contributing members of our community.

We applied our values of taking care of your immediate neighborhood to our new home. All our adjacent neighbors became our immediate neighborhood.

Laying this groundwork has been an essential part of the foundation for our business. Mutual respect rather than an assumption of privilege makes for a far better long-term relationship.

What does mutual respect look like? How do you know if it is present or if you are pursuing it?

For us, it meant making sure we knew where the boundaries lay. Then we knew where we stopped, and our neighbors started. It meant we were responsible for our side and not crossing onto their side.

It meant structuring land deals so that both parties had a long-term benefit and relationship. In Bocas del Toro, many people sold their land only to be without cash in a short time because the money came and went. If we were purchasing a piece of land from someone that wasn’t a part of their primary residence, we would buy it straight away because there was no concern about the community’s trajectory. However, whenever we purchased land that was a part of someone’s residence, we took a different path.

We structured a payment plan that worked best for that person and transaction. Structuring it this way gave each party a benefit. The party we were purchasing from had an extended source of regular income. We gave them a sufficient down payment to have a cash bump. They could do something like make significant improvements, buy a boat, or provide a dividend for each of their children. In return, we were able to pay for our investment over time.

Some of the payment plans were based on a set value for the property – those were paid out over a shorter period. Others were based upon a much longer payout where we guaranteed a half-salary for them for many years or until death. While we didn’t know the ultimate price for the land under this setup, we believed it was the right way to support our community.

Where are the people? Curious natives want to know.

White-faced Capuchin Monkey at Panama eco lodge.

Six months into the pause, the locals are wondering, where are all the people? Given there are only a few people around, I believe they might think they can take us.

I check on each of the cabanas every other day. So, when I walked up to the porch of cabana four and a chair was missing, I wondered where it had gone. The fire extinguisher was turned on its side and a walking stick was lying down directly in front of the French doors. I paused, had there been a storm in the night? No.

Looking over the side of the porch, I found the chair. Broken to pieces, but somehow still upright. Were the kids playing on this porch? Not sure, note to self, investigation necessary. 

After I turned on the air-conditioner in that cabana, I continued my walk around the others. I remembered a couple of things out of place at cabana eight, so I went over to check it out. As I approached, I heard something unusual out in the open area.

A barrel of monkeys! White-faced capuchins, to be exact. Looking at me with serious teenage angst, as I made my way up to the cabana. Hmm. Was it possible they were my vandals?

White-faced Capuchin Monkey at Bocas del Toro, Panama lodge.

The troop had been visiting cabanas five and six of late, staying mostly within the trees. A few brave individuals had decided to walk onto cabana five’s porch. Could it be the same rascals who had been on the porches of the other units? When I went up to the dining room, I asked Jim, Jay, and the kids if they thought a monkey could toss a chair off a cabana porch. Based upon what we had seen of late, the unanimous response was sure. What to do now?

The same day, we encountered a group of monkeys on the porch of cabana five. We shooed them away, but only over to cabana six. The next day, Scott scared a capuchin as he was trying to come into the dining room to pilfer a banana off the bar.  Inside the DMZ!

Something had to be done. We wanted to avoid “five little monkeys jumping on the bed.” We like watching monkeys, but we don’t want them on porches or attempting to enter any building, or God forbid, taking off with your binoculars, camera, or scope.  As much as they might enjoy these tools to spy on the other monkey tribes, we are sure you are not interested in donating them to the monkey cause. Nor do we want any of our guests waking up to this:

Monkey looking through glass directly at you.

In fairness, this monkey business had really started in January when we were placing bananas out for the birds on a feeder hanging off of the porch.  Many of our wildlife operators have asked for access to view and photograph the local birds directly from the porch.  Once the local monkeys found free food was available, they visited the bird feeder each day.  We knew we had to keep them off of the porch.  Scott quickly engineered a change to the bird feeders and put together a “monkey” feeder to keep them away from the porch and the bird feeders.  It worked, but only until it didn’t. 

We remembered a story about a similar problem some friend of ours had with monkeys entering one of their buildings and fighting with the other tribe they saw in the mirror. Their guests insisted that the local kids were tearing the place up, however, a game camera later confirmed it was indeed locals – just not humans.  So, they made a curtain and had guests close the curtain whenever they left the building. The reflection was no longer available.  No more troop skirmishes in the bathroom.

Our solution was along the same lines, but we are hoping it is temporary. Now all of our units have “curtains” over the porch windows and French doors. Thus, no reflections are available for the monkeys to wage war with the “visitors.” We also cleaned up the palm fronds and trimmed some of the trees near units, so our buildings were less accessible to our native friends.

It appears the problem is abating—limited signs of monkeys near our structures for a little over a week. Maybe we will install a distortion mirror nearby so they can “reflect” upon their behavior.

Distortion mirror photo

Outside of wanting to avoid broken glass, we need to avoid allowing the monkeys to make porches a regular part of their daily commute. They are wild animals and should be observed from afar, not quite so up close and personal as on your porch.

Many years ago, when we had just opened, a capuchin ran off with Jay’s glasses. It was a pet at a restaurant in town.  Jay went over to take a look at him and before he knew what happened, the monkey was up a tree bending his new toy in all directions.  The owner quickly responded by retrieving Jay’s freshly bent glasses and delivering a couple of cold beers for the trouble.

From Mentalfloss “Eleven Mischievous Facts about Capuchin Monkeys” by Rosemary Mosco:

“Professor Susan Perry of UCLA has been studying white-faced capuchins in the jungles of Costa Rica for 25 years. It’s grueling work, she says; “I’m always wet, chewed on, or stung.” But her hard work has paid off. She and her team have observed some amazing monkey business.

Capuchins often invent new behaviors—Dr. Perry calls them traditions—that spread through the group. One of them is, well, shoving your finger in someone else’s eye. Other traditions include sniffing each other’s hands and sucking on tails, fingers, and ears. Capuchins even bite a tuft of hair from another’s face and pass it around with their mouths. This might all be about reinforcing social bonds [PDF]. Just don’t try it with your coworkers.”

Monkeys have also been observed to do some pretty disgusting things.  They clean their feet with urine.  They great each other by sticking their fingers up each other’s noses.  Jim and Jay have stories to tell from construction days about how the monkeys would throw their own waste at passersby. Cute from afar, not so great where you want to pass some time. Thus, changing their behavior before it becomes a pattern is essential.

We want to avoid potential problems where the monkeys have become so accustomed to humans that they cause mischief as in some Costa Rican national parks. In any place where the monkeys are used to daily interactions with humans, they may approach visitors, grab or steal personal belongings, and in some cases, get aggressive. This can become a serious problem because there are shared risks in that humans are exposed to possible bites, and the animals have changed their natural behavior. Human interaction with monkeys can also spread illness such as a virus amongst the monkeys.  Better to leave each other alone and observe from a distance. At Tranquilo Bay, we like our wildlife wild!

As you can see in Tres’ video, watching them from afar is cool. Seeing them eat, jump, and move about the jungle is fun. We plan on keeping them off the buildings because, as we all remember, “George promised to be good. But it is easy for little monkeys to forget” (H. A. Ray, Curious George).

Women in Science

Gender bias?  Here in Panama, at Tranquilo Bay, not so much, but in many other parts of the world, yes.  When many people think of women in science they do not think of the same people who my daughter brings to her mind.  Why, well, we are blessed to live on a spot on this earth that brings many scientists to us.  And believe it or not, the majority of the scientists that we have met working here in Bocas del Toro, are women.

We welcome scientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute out to our place to study whatever it is they are studying.  We figure it helps science, we learn something and our kids have an opportunity to meet new scientists on a regular basis.

We have naturalist guides who are on site to work with our guests who have both studied different sciences and who teach us about biology, nature and many different types of science on a daily basis.

We have group leaders who are scientists or naturalists of some form that visit us on a regular basis.

We have a family member who studied ecology and is working with TIDE so that she might become a marine biologist one day.

Why this conversation?  Well, one of the scientists we met in October 2015 is also a National Geographic Photographer.  Clare Fiesler contacted us to see about working with us on a kayak circumnavigation of Isla Bastimentos while she was studying at STRI.  She and her buddy, Becca Skinner, used two portable Orukayaks to complete this expedition.  They stayed the first night with us.  Both of them have shared some details about their adventure on Nat Geo’s blog and Instagram account.

Since then, Clare suggested that a group of students from UNC Chapel Hill spend some time documenting Bocas del Toro and she kindly gave them our name.  The result is this award-winning multimedia website created by the students under the supervision of a great group of professors and coaches.  Clare was one of the coaches.

Bocas del Toro Documentary

Several years ago, Clare worked on a  project:  “Outnumbered:  Portraits of Women Scientists.”  She explains a bit about the project in this video.  You can also get more information here:  http://college.unc.edu/2014/11/12/outnumbered/.

Most recently Clare used words to explain in An Ecologist’s Guide to Writing Obituaries about the “death” of the Great Barrier Reef as well as obituaries as a genre.  We take writing very seriously around here as part of our school curriculum so when we find people who are skilled with this craft, we learn whatever we can from them.

My children have met a number of female scientists and a number of people named Clare, but only one female scientist named Clare.  So when I tell them that Clare is in Bocas del Toro working on another research project they immediately know to ask, “Mom, are you talking about the Clare that did the kayak project?”  They do this because to them, Clare isn’t the only female scientist they know so they have learned to identify her in a different way.  I wish that more people had the same perspective on life – we can work towards whatever interests us and it doesn’t need to fit a specific mold.  We can make it into what works for us.  Clare’s camera and her words are some of the tools she uses to expand people’s horizons and help tell people’s stories.  Many of those stories touch science in one way or another.

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Undercurrent

Bocas del Toro Documentary

We participated in a project with UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Media and Journalism students last month entitled Undercurrent.  The students divided up into five different pairs to work on the primary part of the video for each documentary.  Other students participated by taking 360 degree video, as reporters, graphic designers, etc.  All in all they spent a little over a week in and around the province of Bocas del Toro along with their coaches and professors.

Tranquilo Bay Documentary

The project launched last night.  The stories proceed in chapters which are five separate yet interrelated stories about Bocas del Toro.  Tranquilo Bay is Chapter Three, “Raising Up Wild.”  It was fun to be a part of this project and to have some good friends along for the ride.

The 360 degree footage they captured at Tranquilo Bay is pretty sweet.  It is best viewed on a mobile device that can be moved around to get to different parts of the video.

We are grateful to be a part of this process.  We are fortunate to have crossed paths with Claire Fieseler when she was at STRI in Bocas working with corals.  Anne Marie, Paris and Tegan along with the rest of the students and coaches did an amazing job.  I look forward to whatever they all continue to create.  Thanks guys!

 

Proud Moment

Yohany Miranda came to work at Tranquilo Bay in December 2005. She was around when we brought Boty home from the hospital. She had Boty speaking Spanish at age one.

 

After a period of a few years, Yohany decided she needed to try things out in the city. So she headed to Panama and got a job. With a commute of at least an hour and a half each direction, the job in Panama City wasn’t as fun as she thought it might be. So, she went back to Puerto Muelles to decide what to do.

We found out she was back at home without a job and asked her to come back to TB. She did.   After a period of time she confessed that she really wanted to go to university to get a degree. We told her to find an university that would allow her to take her classes online or to go on occasions to school rather than needed to attend in person each day. She found one.

We told her if she made an A or a B we would pay for the class. Needless to say she made only As and Bs.

Last Saturday Jim and I attended a graduation. Yohany graduated from college, with a degree in Tourism, in about four years. The entire time she was attending school she was working full-time for us. Jay, Jim and I along with the children and all of our staff could not be more proud of her. I cried at the graduation. I think I might have been the only person there that cried. We are so proud of her. She has worked so hard and developed into an amazing person over the eight plus years that we have known her.

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We joke that we have already paid for our first college education, but really we have. Spending the time to work with an employee and help her grow into a better version of herself has been so rewarding to us. We are so grateful for who she is and who she is becoming and because of her we look forward to finding ways to help other employees in one way or another.

Congratulations Yohany! Enjoy your vacation because we can’t wait for you to get back to work.