Between the College and The Institute

Colon train station

This vintage photo of Colon’s Train Station is thanks to

The whole thing was outrageous to me. I hadn’t lived with my mother more than a couple of months in Colon when she worked up the nerve to be scolding me for spotting her in one of her questionable moves. Silently I kept recurring back to the day she abandoned us as small children, to leave us with her sisters-in-law whom she hated and who hated her right back.

Something was happening at the time to make her go off the deep end, or maybe it was my dependence on her as a child that would trigger her rages. But if memory served me, there was also the time when she had fought the neighbor lady and drew blood. These memories of my mother’s crimes were serious reminders that such behavior merited some kind of punishment or incarceration, or some kind of detention or planned medical treatment at the very least.

As I suspected, however,  no one but me had seen the inside of my mother and that she was really a disaster waiting to happen again and again. Such frightful notions perturbed me continually as I realized how dificult it was for me to find my rightful place in the scheme of things in a Panama which was confusing. I hoped for the moment to be able to tell her that I had forgiven her, especially of how she had abandoned us as small defenseless children. The accumulation of these things made me realize how it had all caused us a lifetime of emotional trauma plaguing us throughout our short lived generation.

My dilemma was that I continued to live those moments of tragedy and I felt that we in many ways had been cheated. There were so many other horrors and precisely when in my rare moments when I’d be basking in good feelings, my mother never failed to interrupt my bliss.  She never failed to plunge me rapidly into depression and lonelines. I would often find some way of getting out of the house and roaming La Playita, the deserted beach nearby. By then, the more judicious side of me prevailed and I decided to visit the campus of Abel Bravo College, hoping to find someone there who could advice me as to what to do to enroll for the upcoming school year.

When I finally got there I found the Director’s office. A teacher immediately asked me, “What can I help you with young man?” Those words served to wake me up from my litany of thoughts. On my way there I had thoughtfully addressed this strange new environment since at this secondary school I would be spending some of the best years of my youth. My tongue showed signs of life and I replied, “Miss, I need to know what I have to do to enroll in this year’s third year class.” She patiently waited for me to finish, as I finished saying, “I am coming from the National Institute.” “Well ,young man, you would need to return to the Institute in Panama, and request a copy of your credits. When you bring us the document with all those credits, we can enroll you,” she replied immediately.

Politely and gratefully I said, “Thanks Miss!”  Determined not to waste any time I got right down to the train station to take the next train to Panama. Once I boarded that Panama Railroad and took my seat I waited for the train to begin its journey. Suddenly, I remembered how I hadn’t eaten anything all day and also hadn’t visited any of my relatives nor seen my maternal grandmother- my Nani- the one I loved so dearly since I was a small child. Now, I was betwixt and between the National Institute and that Colon College and I still harbored feelings of belonging to the Institute in Panama.

This story continues.

3 responses to “Between the College and The Institute

  1. I would like to commend you for your courage in revealing such intimate passages from your youth.
    Dysfunctional families constitute an all too common reality throughout the African diaspora, and Panama’s West Indian community is surely not immune to this. By reading your posts, I easily see that we have a lot in common, even despite certain differences between us. (I grew up in the 1970’s and 80s in an apparently privileged middle class environment). “West-Indian-style” family dysfunction, nevertheless, has left profound scars in my soul that have just begun to heal. Praise God, nevertheless, I’m finally understanding the relationship between my personal history and that of our people, who continue to pass the pain of slavery from one generation to the next –a pain that, unfortunatelly, continues to perpetuate some negative stereotypes about us amongst “non-blacks”.

    Perhaps we should get together and talk about these things over a cup of coffee, don’t you think? I’m currently writing a couple of novels of which, I believe, you could be an excellent editorial advisor.

    Best wishes!

    Gabriel Leonard.

  2. Dear Mr. Leonard,

    I thank you very much for seeing through the reasons for having to bring out all the facets of our beautiful West Indian Panamanian culture, both the good and the bad. For in my travels I came to realize what a rich and unique heritage we have. Against my supposed “better judgement,” which would have prevented me from revealing my innermost fears and feelings, I decided to embark upon exposing these emotions regarding all the dysfunction I lived so as to begin to deal honestly with this part of our existence that still permeates our

    I profoundly concur with what you said:
    “I’m finally understanding the relationship between my personal history and that of our people, who continue to pass the pain of slavery from one generation to the next –a pain that, unfortunately, continues to perpetuate some negative stereotypes about us amongst “non-blacks”.” I truly feel that “the pain of slavery” continues to affect us terribly despite our continued denial.

    I would very much like for you to join our Afro Heritage of Panama group on Facebook if you are a member. Also I would like to invite you to be a part of our Heritage Foundation which seeks to rescue and promote our forefathers as a cultural treasure to humanity.

    Again thanks and please respond by using the “contact us” form.

  3. I don’t know who you wrote this for but you helped a brother out.