During these crucial times of considering my career options, whether to push to get on the Governor’s list of teacher appointees for the Province of Bocas del Toro or to travel to New York City at my father’s beckoning to obtain employment there, I was asked to do a favor for my Aunt Elsie.
I patiently waited in front of the Ministry of Education to get my little cousin enrolled in school as her mother, my Aunt Elsie, requested. I almost refused her petition reasoning that it was her job to do it but she begged me to do it and assured me that I was quite competent. When the Ministry official finally showed up I said to him in Spanish, “Look teacher, I am here with this young lady’s mother’s permission and authority to get her enrolled in school.” He immediately answered, “ You can’t do any such a thing!” I froze at hearing the expected response. “Where is her mother?” he asked. “She is busy going to work and so she asked me to get this girl enrolled,” I said respectfully. He answered us with all the courtesy he could muster. “Look son, you also are barely much older than this girl, and so you go back and tell her mother that she is the one that has to come and enroll her daughter in school.”
I knew what to expect when we got back and explained the realities of school life to my Aunt Elsie for even after the long walk back, I was thinking about how happy I was going to be to get away from these cantankerous West Indian family members. Rather than gratitude for my attempt to enroll her daughter I received a tongue lashing from my Aunt Elsie for not being convincing enough. I just backed out of the whole thing, disgusted with my dependent situation and my family. It was probably then that I finally decided to take up my father’s offer to go live and work in New York City and join the hordes of young people from Panama looking for work.
Long before getting to New York, and in spite of my reluctance to go, my name was being “called abroad” among the people who would become my new set of cousins, aunts, uncles and other people I’d be calling my new circle of Panamanians- all of us new Americans. The offer in my father’s letter had spiked my hopes of traveling one day and getting acquainted with New York and other distant lands.
On the one hand, Panama offered me ways of escaping total economic dependence on my dysfunctional family. On the other, the offer to seek my total independence seemed even more feasible in New York, or at least it would start there. But, the story on my entrapment in New York for a while will be told in later posts.
At any rate, I was not yet prepared to play a new career role in dealing in the Panamanian court system. I was called by my Aunt Marie to do her a big favor by standing in for her husband Dickie- who was definitely not one of my favorite persons. My Aunt ordered me to, “go to this house today by yourself. The lawyer is waiting on you, so hurry up and get there.” Let me just say that I didn’t know what I was headed for- what my Uncle was being accused of. Little did I know that I was being used to “stand in” for my uncle. When I got off the bus and walked up the street to the address my Aunt gave me, I wouldn’t have suspected that I would be rescuing her husband from serious jail time. So, I appeared dutifully at the barristers home, complying with my Aunt’s wishes, not knowing that I was being set up.