The Joys of Solitude

This is a young monk at Labrang Monastery in Tibet.

During my increasingly frequent moments of deep reflection I began thinking that my culture- the Westindian Panamanian people- would be better off admitting that it as I was in need of institutions which offered secrets like monasteries of Asia.  Yes, monasteries for small boys.

I dreamed of- no, I longed for- a place where boys such as me could remain cloistered while studying and receiving the real spiritual food which was that moral factor that only books and enforced periods of meditation could bring and which I so needed. It had been more than seven years, I figured, since I had embarked on an earnest quest to unravel some questions that had baffled me and, I thought, mankind since the times of Christ.

In the meantime, I still found some childhood joy in solitude and remembered that being alone most of the time had started back when I had been living with my parents and siblings in the old one-room apartment on Mariano Arosemena Street. Although our cramped living arrangements had served as kitchen, bedroom, and children’s play and recreation area, I always found my special “wakita” under our parents’ bed to indulge myself in study and writing.

It’s funny how that word “wakita” was transformed by Panamanian children from its indigenous origins which came from huaca– usually a sacred, secret burial place of the pre-Colombian Indians in which there was usually deposited precious golden articles. For us children it came to mean “my little secret place” or claim to privacy. After all, many children came from very large families where they were lucky if they didn’t have to sleep with more than two or three siblings. Privacy was at a premium. “Mi wakita” or huaquita became our own special hideaway or place where we stashed our most prized possessions, usually a toy or a treasured piece of clothing or a few coins.

Now that I was alone at home with my recently retired grandmother I noticed that she began making it a daily routine to dress and be ready herself, in the mornings, as if she was fixing to take off for work. The day, however, would find her present before a washboard and a washing pan full of clothes, a part of her laundry business. Conveniently, her routine afforded me the space and the time I needed to consult my home library of very old books and magazines.

Quite typically for a developing teenager I was especially interested in the sexology magazines that no one else bothered to read as I hoped, perhaps, to find some answers to nagging questions. It might seem sad to us today but I never did find amongst my people any one to answer my many youthful questions on the subject of sex or anything else that interested me.

Many of these questions lingered in my mind unanswered as they did for every male thinker who’d reached the age of adolescence, questions that continued to plague the whole of Latin America, as people remained mostly illiterate. In fact, most Panamanian Westindian male citizens preferred to get together to drink beer and rum, losing themselves in frivolous discourse, rather than to discuss questions of import with their children.

In fact, to be among Westindian men bored me and I started avoiding going out with one of my young uncles, who would drag me around to visit noisy bars. I felt as though I were in the grips of a childhood in which I had, unwillingly, learned the Westindian way of bringing up children; I felt like I had to learn of a different way of going about that part of life.

But being cloistered for me had resulted from the feelings of isolation and the marginalization that I had experienced growing up. In the meantime, I was enjoying my adolescence in as much as I could and yet still felt closed off although able to observe my people from the vantage of my isolation.

I became keenly interested in noticing the attitudes of the Westindian adults especially the men, as the women that surrounded me, I felt, were generally in denial even about the very places they had come from or in which they had been born and raised.

I wanted to understand Black Westindian men and I would pick them out mentally as I roamed the community. I would pick out the ones whom I thought would show great promise for portraying to me the life I judged as being “cultured” to show admiration and respect for. Unfortunately, seek as I might in those days of my adolescence, I could not come face to face with any man I respected or admired as yet. I continued, however, to study and kept up my visits to the dental clinic run by Westindian men.

I kept remembering all I had been through for the past three years of my young life, and concluded that presently I didn’t have the luxury nor the time to be daydreaming about my future. If there was one thing that my past life had taught me was not to entertain too many plans since life for me was full of insecurities. Having observed the plight of my people, I formed some rather perplexing expectations and felt that just existing in Panama was, necessarily, having a love-hate relationship with the whole situation, as did, unfortunately, all the youth of my time.

This story continues.

One response to “The Joys of Solitude

  1. William J. Skocpol

    Congratulations on an extremely informative and much needed website.

    I discovered this website while doing research on Victor Hugo Duras. He appears frequently, initially as "Panama" Duras, in the Blanche Yurka 1907 diary on my Boston University website. (She was 20, studying to become an opera singer, but by the end of the diary had a stage acting contract with David Belasco. Later she played the Queen to John Barrymore's Hamlet, discovered Bette Davis, and was Madame Dafarge in the 1930's movie, Tale of Two Cities, etc)

    By research at the U.S. National Archives in College Park this summer, I obtained the personnel files of Victor Duras, and ascertained that he was the Secretary and Treasurer of the Municipality of Cristobal from May 1906 to Feb 1907, a time when serious digging accelerated, and Cristobal's population roughly doubled. Now I am trying to piece together what he would have done on a day-to-day basis. He wanted to advance to a judgeship, but while he was acting judge in the mayor's absence he made the mistake of discussing a possible future retainer as lawyer for a Mr.Bethencourt, *after* he retired from public service. Mr. B had business before the court, and when the Isthmian Canal Commission looked into it, Duras was fired.

    He had many interesting adventures for the rest of his life, but no more in Panama. I am writing a biography of him, and have drafted the Panama Canal chapter. I would appreciate any suggestions about local sources of information about Duras and/or Cristobal in that precise time period.