Tag Archives: Wachipali

Homesick for Wachipali

old diaryI began writing in my diary more often now that I was in Colon. Of all things, I wrote about how I missed being in Panama City and my old neighborhood in Calidonia and that special section of Wachipali that had always played a big part in our town and which gave me a sense of belonging. Continue reading

Earning the Rite of Passage

Images: top CZimages.com; bottom: La Prensa

The act of joining the colorful marching bands of that year of 1952 gave a kid like me access to the needed elements to shine in my world of darkness. This would forever remain “my moment” regardless of whatever else happened in my life. Continue reading

My Life Paraded in Front of Me

El Cruce Building just before it was demolished in June 2009; in my youth it was all one-room rentals for Westindian families

San Ramon Building at the entrance of “M” Street.

The parade route had not left the Calidonia/Wachipali district as fast as we all anticipated, as the marching pace slowed down to a halt. As we stood there marking time we noticed how official functionaries were suddenly ahead of us. It seemed as though it had been planned that way, so that the large contingent of the National Police and Firemen or “red shirts” we all called the Bomberos, was now at rest in the midst of us school children on precisely this point on the parade route.  Continue reading

We Won’t Let Them Die!

“Lord” Byron Downing as he appeared in an interview from 2008.

We usually equate the Ukulele with the famous Hawaiian singers.

With the news of the death of one of the few remaining Panamanian Calypsonians, “Lord” Byron Downing, we can’t help but feel even more motivated and convinced that they are gone but not forgotten. We are also convinced of the great importance of preserving our wonderful Westindian heritage here in Panama and for the entire world to recognize and cherish. Continue reading

The Battle for Honor

This image is from an extremely interesting
site called The Art of Manliness.


The scene was now turned around. As I saw it my honor was being challenged as the challenger made it known to everyone that he was about to pummel two big mouths in one day, the two who had sullied the name of a damsel- presumably my neighbor. So, this was the real issue and I honestly did not want to appear to be fighting over some foolish girl. Continue reading

Goodbye Good Neighbors

The nasty street fight with Donaldo in which I had seen myself cornered into defending myself apparently also became the cause for my next door neighbors to move away. I awoke one morning and Donaldo and his family had moved away silently without saying goodbye.

Although I was pretty sure of the “why” for their sudden departure it left me truly saddened and touched in my heart that I hadn’t been given the opportunity to tell my side of the story to anyone. So strongly was I affected by the incident that my emotional state slipped into a kind of silent turmoil, although my family did not seem aware of it. At least, that is how I perceived it.

Even though the reasons for my aggressive gut reaction to being threatened by a boy, who heretofore had been like a brother, were quite clear to me, I still blamed myself for the fight, for the boy’s broken arm and for the eventual decision of the boy’s family to move away. It was probably then that I earnestly turned to religion to provide answers to my plight at so young an age. My encounter with my own explosive emotions scared me though I knew that most boys my age probably would have reacted in a similar fashion.

I remembered that since early childhood I had attended the St. Paul’s Methodist-Episcopal Church but hadn’t learned to read the Holy Bible which sat on the little bookshelf with the rest of the small collection of books at home but which my family rarely touched. I voluntarily joined the Sunday school at the Salvation Army Church in Wachipali, the area of the city known in Spanish as “Marañon.”

I purposely chose this venue for my spiritual studies of the Bible because it was required of us to read directly out of the Bible by the Lady Captain who, by her strong accent, was obviously Barbadian. God had endowed her with the gift of great patience and forbearance and I began to enjoy my lessons. In fact, I started to read the bible at home while on summer vacation, taking advantage of the infrequently used Bible we had in preparation for my Sunday school readings.

Soon, however, new neighbors moved into the two room apartment next door where Donaldo’s family had lived and, as it turned out, it was a single mother with a daughter who was my age. I really had no interest in girls even then although I had experienced the bliss of that one night out dancing with a classmate at the school fair. I also assumed that girls had no interest in me since after the dance I never heard anything more from my lovely Albina. Well, I was in for a surprise soon enough. By this time, however, I was a complete loner, a puny kid who avoided the streets entirely.

During this time my Aunts also decided that I had to be circumcised and their decision might have been influenced by their frequent conversations with our new neighbor lady who happened to work at Santo Tomas Hospital. I knew nothing of what was being planned for me but one day I was simply marched down to the hospital by my grandmother in the same manner that she had done when she’d taken me to the morgue for the preparation of Miss Polly’s coffin. Of course, I never opened my mouth to question her in any way.

Without any explanation as to what was about to occur to me I was given a bit of anesthetic and the surgical procedure was performed in one of the hospital operating rooms. It was all carried out on an outpatient type basis with my grandmother hovering nearby outside the O.R. until I was whisked away to another room to recover.

Concerned for me since she had already suffered the losses of a husband and a young son, she asked the hospital personnel in English, “What is wrong with him?” The nurses reassured her in Spanish that I was all right and was put there to recover thoroughly. She stayed close until I was conscious enough to leave with her.

To my dear aunts and my grandmother I had been the good, cooperative, tolerant and submissive boy, nothing of what they seemed to be experiencing with Westindian men at the time or so it seemed to me.

I swore to myself, however, to be different in mood and attitude to any man I had known up to that time in my young life, and as the wound from my circumcision healed, my emotional wounds from the recent encounter with my own rage also began to heal. The Bible readings helped this along a great deal I believe.

This story continues.