Baseline: Learning the Ropes

image thanks to

image thanks to

I made the trip back to Baseline on the last train and, reaching the station after crossing the Changuinola River Bridge, made stops into some of the sections of the farms or fincas I would later get to know as places of work. The darkness of the night, however, didn’t help with any clues of the terrain outside. Getting back to Baseline during the early morning  gave me a chance to size up the place that I would now call work and home for an indefinite period of time.

I walked quietly back to the barracks and made every effort not to wake up the other men, opened the gated screen door and made it to my bunk. I silently disrobed, trying not to disturb the sleeping men. I knew that I would get the opportunity to meet most of them the next morning or even after work.

I had gotten enough information from my young friend from the previous day to know what to expect at morning light, which would soon be on us all in a few hours. So, I crawled into my bunk feeling the hardness of the wood beneath making me swear that as soon as I could I would shore up the mattress making my bunk much more comfortable to my liking.

Morning came sooner than I would have liked and I dressed and dashed out to find a place to wash-up at an open water spigot. I dressed in the closest thing I had to work clothes and made my way over to the dining area under the house.

I sat down to a bowl of breakfast of oatmeal and toast with milk on the side which was placed before me for me to gobble up as fast as possible. The boss-lady-cook, who had already started handing the men their lunch bags for the day, had the sober look of a general on her face. I only had time to hurriedly eat half of what I had been served before I quickly picking up my own lunch bag to join the other men who would show me the ropes that day.

I managed to get in step with the crew who walked slow enough for me to catch up with them and soon we were all waiting at the platform for a truck to get there. No one spoke or made any remarks or played the boss. There was a respectful hush over our entire group. Soon the big truck arrived and men who were standing around the surrounding gate climbed in until the truck took off.

The ride out to the work site that morning was a revelation to me. The dew cleared up some and the men were already starting to jump off the truck before it made it to its first stop. By the second stop some other men jumped off and removed some tools such as picks and shovels, the tools they would use that day. Someone who had stayed inside the truck to instruct me motioned to me to get off and I hopped off before the truck took off leaving me puzzled as to what I should do next. So, I stayed put waiting for someone to give me further instructions.

Soon, another worker appeared and the truck came back with two or more men making up a respectable crew. Before we got too comfortable, a man who appeared to be a foreman arrived and left with a man to a different part of the area until at last he appeared with a boy not too much older than myself and ordered us to follow him.

We ended up at the other end of the field and he said to us both, “You two will be working together today picking up these special cement weights and leaving them there because they are for holding down the ancla.” I only focused on delivering the heavy rectangular shaped cement objects that day as it would take some doing by the two of us young rookies to transport them to the other side of that section of the farm.

This story continues.

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