This little series is about my “travel” to Panamá. I applied at IAESTE for an internship in the IT security department of the UTP (Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá). Here, in my Personal Panama Papers, I’ll write down some of my experiences, problems, and solutions while I find my way into Panamanian society and hopefully some interesting security-related research.
When I left Dresden yesterday, I threw my last keys to the flat into the mailbox outside. I still find it a little weird that at that moment I did not feel anything special. With my backpack and suitcase, I stood in front of the doors and separated from my last possessions in this city – at least for the coming five months – and it felt like the most normal thing in the world. In Berlin, I met up with a very good friend of mine, Alex. We spent a good late evening together having some dinner and talking about old and new times. What makes good friends stand out is not being together all the time. It’s the immediate intimacy when they meet again. Good friends often lose contact – but they always come to find back to each other. And Alex is a very good friend. After some trouble with my accommodation, he spontaneously agreed to give me shelter for a night and hence saved me plenty of money (and some sleep).
I woke up at 5:00 in Berlin. The flight leaves at 7:30 from Tegel airport (TXL). Even though there were no strikes in Germany at that time, the plane still was delayed because the French flight controllers were laying down work. Well, I didn’t mind. I had a good book: “Coding Freedom” by Gabriella Coleman. It’s a really good read on hacker culture and its socio-psychological mechanisms. When I got on the plane I noticed that I had completely forgotten to eat breakfast because I was so absorbed in the book. With an empty stomach, I wished Germany with its ice drizzle and 3°C farewells. and boarded the flight towards Madrid. There I had a 1.5h wait. Of course, during the flight, I was reading again. Head over the book I left the plane, stayed in the security area for the whole time, and boarded the transatlantic flight to Panamá Tocumen airport. Again I forgot to eat. Damn.
At 15:00 local time (22:00 German time) I arrived in Panama. To at least decrease the effects of jet lag I tried not to sleep for the whole 11h flight. It worked quite well for me. At customs, the officer at first did not want to let me into the country. I had to fill out a form about the valuables I was carrying with me. As I did not buy anything and safely hid my million-dollar cash stash in Dresden, I had nothing to fill in. The only piece of information I was not able to give about me was my address in Panamá. My mentor helped me find a flat and all went well, but she did not give me the address in advance. So all I could do was to let the officer know (in my very basic Spanish) that I got an internship at the Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá and that if she needed it, I’d report my address to the authorities once I know it. After loads of discussion (and probably some misunderstandings powered by Language Barrier™) she decided to simply write down the university’s address, shoot some biometric photos of my face, take all of my fingerprints, and let me through. What a kind Orwellian first impression!
After getting my luggage I left for the airport’s main hall. There I saw a smiling afro with a sign that said “IAESTE Dominik”. Finally a happy face! Brigitte, also my mentor, really brightened up my day. What am I saying, she saved me for the rest of the month! My flat’s rental contract was to begin on May 1st. For the internship (and luckily also the cheapest flight) I was however required to arrive before the first day of work. Because of the weekend and a red-letter day in between, I had to arrive that early. To save me some money she offered me to stay in her mom’s house with her for the rest of the month. The house is truly amazing. It’s not luxurious but has its own charms. In the back, there is a big terrace with a hammock and a view of the garden where a giant mango tree is growing. Mango here seems to be like apples or cherries in Germany. They grow easily and during the season you have so much of it that you end up giving it away to all of your friends or you’re forced to throw it away.
The rest of the day Brigitte showed me parts of the city and gave me some basic orientation. The influence of the US is still visible: There is a great variety of fast-food restaurants and you regularly see malls. The inner city is shaped by high-rises with glass façades – mostly owned by banks and insurance companies. Some of them, most notably Trump Tower, however, also provide luxury apartments or hotel space. Traffic here is terrible (especially during rush hours) and cannot be compared to Germany. The street system seems to have grown naturally without the influence of strict supervision and planning. But while it is not the most efficient solution, it still works. Somehow.
I am really looking forward to discovering all the little kinks and quirks of Panamá and its people! Además quería mejorar mi Español aqui.