Micha Bread and Operas

Michita, Panamanian style.

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.

3 responses to “Micha Bread and Operas

  1. My mother and I this morning were talking about her growing up in Red Tank. She lived in the Titanic building. We had a laugh because our Spanish heritage neighbors we in the Zone called them Vecino. It was not until later when I went to IJA in Paitilla did I realize this was not a person’s name but a noun for neighbor. We had a good laugh about this. My father loved La Boca. He was born and raised in Gatun but La Boca was his town.

    It is strange to hear all this because the Americans did a great job of eviscerating these towns, because unless my parents told me about them I would never know. I still have difficulty placing Red Tank from Chiva Chiva.

    • Felipe,

      We are glad to see you here. Your comment gave us a good laugh. It is also too sad that the Americans did a good job of “eviscerating these towns,” as you have said, and unless we keep these Internet sites up and recounting our stories, our history and culture and legacy will be lost forever to the up and coming generations. Thanks again for your memories.

  2. I grew up in Cristobal between 1941 (born in Colon Hospital) and 1963 when my dad retired and we moved to the U.S.

    I’m curious about that phrase “eviscerating these towns.” What do you mean by that? I know that Cristobal was given to the Panamanians in a treaty of 1954 so we had to move to the Pacific Side in 1957, out of our beloved home. But the town wasn’t “eviscerated.” It was just given to the Panamanian government and they sold the houses we lived in to Panamanians who could afford them.