Tag Archives: Calidonia

Puppy Love

The legendary romantic duo in Mexican classic movies, Pedro Infante and Maria Felix.

The intrepid girl who appeared to take me out had surprised me if only because she had previously rejected me. Although she had been in love with me for quite some time, her aunt, whom I was helping at her restaurant business had been violently opposed to our “noviazgo.” Somehow her family had been alerted to our attraction for one another and had suddenly become cold toward me. Despite the rejection I acted quite cool and didn’t pursue the issue, turning my thoughts to better things and not thinking of going out with any girl. Continue reading

Preparing for Achievements

Instituto Nacional of Panama as I remember it. aerial view.

My war with Rico that night had drawn an enormous crowd.  All or a good part of the neighborhood in which we lived either ran over to see the spectacle or later heard about it from people who had. Rico, on the other hand, wound up with a nasty baseball-size knot on his head, and the whole fracas quickly became “the event” to remember.  I came out pretty unscathed. Continue reading

Another Unfortunate Street Fight

Here is the classic image of James Dean on
his motorcycle. I don’t think that even he would
approve of the coward on a motorcycle that
forever drove a wedge between two childhood

Although my graduation from primary school had been marked by a sense of tremulous hope and expectation, the beginning of the year 1951 became for me a time of entering into an even more desperate period of my life. As I said before, it was a time of passage into manhood for most of us boys growing up in Panama City and it was full of uncertainty. Continue reading

An Afternoon to Remember

Image thanks to eHow

I was genuinely aghast at what I was hearing proceeding from the lips of this white lady who was acting as though she were beside herself, more like in a trance, as she scolded and repeated to me saying, “Are you hearing what I am saying?” Before I could answer with my customary, “Yes Ana,” she was off again.

All I could see was her back as she rushed off repeating vehemently her words of counsel. “I want you to come back to Panama and be a very important man!” she said. She was so insistent that her strong invectives sent her into an ever more violent fit of coughing- her worse ever.

I automatically reached into my pocket only to discover that I had no handkerchief to offer my beloved teacher Ana who was visibly distressed as she retched painfully during her attack. I patiently waited and watched since all I could do was pat her on the back trying to be of some help during this extraordinary day. That incident would ultimately be the last place where we’d pass the evening together far away from the school.

We then proceeded down into Panama City’s Chinatown on Avenue B where we stopped to retrieve a handful of donations to then continue up towards the train station on Central Avenue. Like two efficient, professional scouts we were headed back for our “headquarters,” the Spanish public school with the mission of accepting a mixture of humanity which they hoped would soon become what the country of Panama needed.

Our barrio’s primary school had been named after Pedro J. Sosa, until then an unknown historical figure, which was to transform those children from the surrounding poorer neighborhoods into useful people for a growing Panamanian Society. In the decades to come, however, it would become what an impoverished Panama would inevitably become.

Another stop at yet another business establishment and then we would finally be on our way as evening turned into night, overtaking the day’s events as we neared the school on Avenida Central in the district of Calidonia of Panama City.

All our return trips to the school’s director office had produced quite a bulk of the items needed for a school fair and this trip was to be my last. We entered the school Director’s office where a clothing closet had been converted into a storage space for the myriad of donated items.

Reflecting on the events leading up to this final day of canvassing, however, I had gained some insight into another side of Panamanian society during all those weeks out on the road with Ana. I was convinced that, had it not been for this extraordinary experience with Ana Sanchez, I would have never in my life met that side of a Panama so divided.

I was on my way out of the director’s office which also served as a teacher’s lounge when I heard Teacher Ana say, “Juni you take over; take charge of everything! Pick some of them and go back to the places we missed and pick up the rest of the stuff.” “Ok Ana,” I said and turned around to immediately do as she asked.

This story continues.

Ana’s Grand Vision for Me

This is “Twenty Five Street,” as we Westindian Panamanians
have always called it. It is in the heart of Calidonia in downtown
Panama City and has always been a meeting place for our
people since the beginning of the Republic.
Except for the surrounding concrete buildings, the street
has changed very little.

The evening shower had cooled not only the temperament but the idealism of a confused youngster. My thoughts went back over the events of the day that ultimately led to the lectures that my teacher Ana Sanchez invariably directed at me. But the life she had in mind for me, since her lectures were centered on her vision for my future, seemed quite remote to me- far fetched in fact.

Her grand vision for me was something that I hadn’t experienced even in my most treasured dreams so far in Panama. I really didn’t believe them possible. I was dealing with too many issues, a young individual lost in a sea of conflicting messages with my immediate family members. My life had been filled primarily with women who, it seemed to me, were more confused than I was.

My evenings spent with Teacher Ana, however, had taken a different turn than any of my previous encounters with her; like the time she slapped my face and browbeat me into submission. I mean, she probably viewed it as disciplining me or taking care of me but these encounters with her were usually intense.

This time, however, Ana was more gentle, communicative, even respectful and concerned. She didn’t once reprimand me for any believed or perceived behavioral infraction that some other teacher might have brought her about me.

We were already into the fourth week of our daily treks together to raise funds and my thoughts again turned to the women in my young life. My sister Aminta had run away to the City of Colon fifty miles away, but it might as well have been to Mars in those days since Colon and Panama, although divided by only fifty short miles, were seemingly leagues apart. That was the way it was in the Panama of our days.

I had always been a loner, so to speak, a boy child surrounded by adult women. There I was living with my three paternal aunts and my grandmother, Fannie Elizabeth, who was as reclusive as I was and who, at times, left me doubting that I knew her at all. All my relatives in Panama were related to my father’s side of the family and he, at last reporting, was living in a place called Harlem in New York City.

These were the people in my life, my people and my links to our past and to our origins in the countries of Jamaica, Barbados and the Martinique some of our members had married into. Especially those intermarriages I considered positive experiences and at times these new “in-laws” made me feel like they were more than just aunts and uncles. Some of these “acquired” aunts had replaced my mother in every sense of the word since they were more nurturing towards me than my mother ever was.

Even my teachers became part of this extended form of family to me. In fact, at that time I wasn’t aware that my teachers at school were planning a surprise gift for me; something that would become quite a memorable day in my life and not only for me but for the whole class- indeed, for the whole school.

As I roamed the city of Panama that I had known since my eighth year of life when I was free to roam freely while I ran errands for my grandmother I took note of my progress. I had had to learn my way around quickly and figure things out all by myself since the avenues with broad side walks and wide streets were places that I would just as soon have avoided. These streets were full of unexpected and potentially traumatic encounters.

The patios and callejones, however, the large inner courtyards and the alleyways, was where I enjoyed being the most, the places where I had become blended into the Spanish culture, where I had heard those great Calypsonians for the first time, and even witnessed the beginnings of a political row one night. The places that Teacher Ana was introducing me to, on the other hand, were new to me, unexplored territory; but, through her, they became part of the Panama City that had seen me grow up.

As I turned my thoughts back to Ana who seemed to be getting over her occasional and fretful bout of coughing- a severe smoker’s cough- I began thinking about her as opposed to my family who had never nurtured me in any spirit of parenting. I thought of my aunts and my grandmother who had never been especially motherly. I dwelled on my mother and how she had never left any memory of any special moments of nurturing but only of abandonment.

The few rare thoughts about indulging my passions of becoming an artist and a writer or even a lawyer seemed distant and full of troubles ahead. Such thoughts plagued me since the day my mother had abandoned my younger siblings and me on Calle Mariano Arosemena; they were more like jewels in the sky that I could only glimpse but could not reach.

More often I had thoughts of the freedom of running off and being on my own forever. These were my special new passions which had replaced the memory of that day me and my younger brother and sister had fallen into the hands of women we hardly knew, women that often acted as though they had been saddled with the likes of us.

Secretly, though, I still jealously guarded the memory of my mother and always harbored a lingering hope.

This story continues.


Fundraising with Maestra Ana

The beautiful Pollera, national dress
of Panama. Image thanks to Skyscraperlife.com

The teacher’s call forced one of the few Westindian students in the school to gather his belongings off the desk. As quickly as I could I put up my papers and the book I was reading. I stood waiting outside the classroom door while my teacher and Teacher Ana Sanchez finished talking. Continue reading