Image thanks to elpollo.com.pa
The days of my early childhood and adolescence in Panama were my days of exposure to popular culture where, from time to time and at government expense, we were offered opportunities to stay after school protected from the streets.
It was also a time for all kids attending public school to shake off inhibitions and pride and accept the offer of the glass of warm oatmeal porridge and a small loaf of micha bread during morning class. I say loaf because in those days the micha was large and generous not the poor excuse of a piece of bread we are sold today.
I must admit that I was one of those kids in my primary years who accepted this school breakfast readily since it did me much good. It left me fortified enough to last through to the evening classes and beyond into the after-school basketball games organized in the courtyard by Maestro Lucho Ardines, the physical education teacher.
When I think of this first exposure to public cultural events, I cannot help but remember my paternal grandmother. By the time she took us on as her charges she often took us to partake of cultural events at the Jamaican Society Hall. I do remember a young Westindian man singing an aria from the opera Carmen, in a deep baritone voice that I would always consider being a poor imitation of the immortal Paul Robeson the Black American, baritone of world renown.
As time passed I would also find myself sitting next to my Aunt Bernice listening to a famous violinist play to an audience of mostly Black Westindian women somewhere on the Canal Zone. As I looked around during the performance, it seemed that the violinist and I were the only males in the large hall. By then things had moved very slowly in terms of cultural exposure although to someone like me who was living in such a cultural desert, hungering and thirsting for more enriching experiences that did not necessarily include sports, it was still a vast improvement.
Try as I might to avoid sports, however, my schoolmates from primary school who had followed me into the National Institute would always harp back to my surname Reid and always remind me of my resemblance to the famous jockey Bobby Reid. By then I could only secretly yearn about getting involved in the sport of horse racing, one of the prohibited cultural expressions. As we approached manhood we were definitely going to need more than michas to sustain us.
This story continues.