I was genuinely aghast at what I was hearing proceeding from the lips of this white lady who was acting as though she were beside herself, more like in a trance, as she scolded and repeated to me saying, “Are you hearing what I am saying?” Before I could answer with my customary, “Yes Ana,” she was off again.
All I could see was her back as she rushed off repeating vehemently her words of counsel. “I want you to come back to Panama and be a very important man!” she said. She was so insistent that her strong invectives sent her into an ever more violent fit of coughing- her worse ever.
I automatically reached into my pocket only to discover that I had no handkerchief to offer my beloved teacher Ana who was visibly distressed as she retched painfully during her attack. I patiently waited and watched since all I could do was pat her on the back trying to be of some help during this extraordinary day. That incident would ultimately be the last place where we’d pass the evening together far away from the school.
We then proceeded down into Panama City’s Chinatown on Avenue B where we stopped to retrieve a handful of donations to then continue up towards the train station on Central Avenue. Like two efficient, professional scouts we were headed back for our “headquarters,” the Spanish public school with the mission of accepting a mixture of humanity which they hoped would soon become what the country of Panama needed.
Our barrio’s primary school had been named after Pedro J. Sosa, until then an unknown historical figure, which was to transform those children from the surrounding poorer neighborhoods into useful people for a growing Panamanian Society. In the decades to come, however, it would become what an impoverished Panama would inevitably become.
Another stop at yet another business establishment and then we would finally be on our way as evening turned into night, overtaking the day’s events as we neared the school on Avenida Central in the district of Calidonia of Panama City.
All our return trips to the school’s director office had produced quite a bulk of the items needed for a school fair and this trip was to be my last. We entered the school Director’s office where a clothing closet had been converted into a storage space for the myriad of donated items.
Reflecting on the events leading up to this final day of canvassing, however, I had gained some insight into another side of Panamanian society during all those weeks out on the road with Ana. I was convinced that, had it not been for this extraordinary experience with Ana Sanchez, I would have never in my life met that side of a Panama so divided.
I was on my way out of the director’s office which also served as a teacher’s lounge when I heard Teacher Ana say, “Juni you take over; take charge of everything! Pick some of them and go back to the places we missed and pick up the rest of the stuff.” “Ok Ana,” I said and turned around to immediately do as she asked.
This story continues.