on a Slate Board. We thank our
friends over at Oberlin Heritage Center for the beautiful image.
In those earlier days of Panama City’s barrios we, as children, were facing the repercussions of being part of a cruel heritage of racial segregation both in and out of the United States Panama Canal Zone. These were the years that history tells us were some of the worst for the policy of expulsion of Black Westindian employees out of the Black Canal Zone townships, and for our family, we were especially catching it.
If our difficult housing situation wasn’t pressure enough we, the children, suddenly faced the disconcerting reality of being left alone all day and often part of the night as our parents would go out to indulge themselves like newly weds, something they could never do when they were first married.
Being alone for small children was sometimes scary since we were very young and I became distinctly aware during the day that we were easy to spot amongst the children in that old neighborhood since we were the only kids left behind many times when the rest were off to school. So, Aminta and I made out the best we could, particularly during rainy days when the heavy and constant tropical downpours muted everything around us. We sought shelter on the floor of our small but familiar space in our one-room. Space, in fact, became a growing issue as the one room housing arrangement left us kids with an ever shrinking area to grow up in as we approached our sixth and seventh birthdays.
Eventually the daytime loneliness would send us seeking outside refuge from our cramped quarters and our parents’ constant bickering to the huge neighboring wooden edifice nearby, a building equal in appearance and one of the many structures that made the city what it was in those times. Day upon lonely day would pass painfully slow for us until evening time when we would go in our search for our missing playmates who had been at school all day. Glad to see them home again the best part of our daily reunions would be that they were teaching us Westindian “left outs,” what it was like to be in the Spanish School although they never talked much about their school activities.
The day arrived, however, when we were presented with the good news that we would be going to school. “Its not far,” said our young mother one morning with a smile, as she packed us off to meet up with what would be our first Westindian teacher. We would have to walk quite a way for small children in a partially deserted city barrio- all of three city blocks during the late morning.
In the beginning we couldn’t help but display unbridled happiness to actually be off to school with our first slate board. The precious item had, apparently, been purchased by our parents and we would see them for the first time that same, unforgettable, first day of school. It was a special treasure to me since I had been giving myself writing lessons with materials garnered from the neighborhood trash cans way in the back of the building- old cardboard and discarded pieces of newspapers. Now, at last, I had a real writing slate of my very own to begin my jottings.
This story continues.