That first day on the job the foreman had tried to explain the job at hand to me and to the boy who would work with me knowing that we both were neophytes but, he decided to rush off leaving us to our own devices. I sensed that the foreman was a white Colombian man due to his way of pronouncing words in the Spanish language.
He left us abruptly to see if we could take orders and also stand the strain of a day’s labor. I detected on his part that he expected one or both of us to just walk off and quit as soon as we started the real work. I had to admit that, I in particular, did not know anything about working more than eight hours a day in the hot Panama sun.
And so, we both secured our lunch bags which consisted of a Quaker Oats can containing our lunch, tucked it away somewhere safe, and started to do as we had been instructed. We were soon taking a rest after carrying the rough and heavy concrete weights to the other end of the barren expanse of the banana farm.
The next time we stopped to rest, I asked my co-worker, “Where are you from?” He answered “I am from David, Chiriquí.” And so I said to him “Look, amigo, I think we are going to have to coöperate, so that we can get this job done.” “I am from Colon and also Panama City both,” I continued saying to him, “… and I have worked some. But this is my first time here in Bocas.” The boy seemed reserved, so I added, ”I am going to use my jacket as a support to my shoulder, because we can get really hurt if we continue this way, not finding a safer way to take these things into this farm.” I paused a minute and then said, “They call me Juni. What they call you?” “My name is Carlos!” he said, coming to life. He then continued to lift the heavy concrete anchor until, at one point, we found a long piece of a tree branch and started using it as a lever to make the trips easier, until we almost got them all placed at both ends of the parcel of land like we had been instructed.
Suddenly we heard, “ You two over there! You don’t know it’s lunch time?” The foreman was irritable with us both. So I piped in, “How are we to know the time, if we don’t have a watch?” All of a sudden, we heard what sounded like another older man shouting back saying, “Jesus Crist, these two don’t even know to read their own shadow!” “What’s your name son?” said the experienced one to me. “Everyone call me Juni,” I shouted back. Then he said to me over the expanse, “Look Juni, next pay-day you take yourself down to the company store and buy yourself some work clothes, because you are going to spoil all your good clothing working in these fields. With a good pants like the one you are wearing it would not last the week in here.” “Thank you, Sir, “ I said. “I will try and do that. Thank you.”
Carlos and I then sat down and we must have resembled a couple of school boys trying to make some money before we went back to school. As we settled down to eat the contents of the Quaker Oats can, Carlos seemed to be more versed at eating out in the open than I was. Neither of us spoke about our schooling or family and we remained more or less silent during our short lunch break.
For the first time I looked into my Quaker Oats can containing my lunch. I started to reminisce quietly about the Silver Roll commissary back home and how I had seen them on the shelves and now these same cans served as lunch cans for us, the men working on a banana plantation.
After popping off the lid, I peered shyly into the can seeing only the white rice which was packed tightly in there. I started to eat just a little of the rice, leaving the rest for later. I was looking forward to eating the rest of what looked like a very good meal that evening, except, I thought, I just couldn’t eat so much rice.
This story continues.