The Gardens - In the Beginning

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Panama 1989 - Game of Jeopardy

It's complicated living an unordinary life in an ordinary way. Sometimes I feel like normal glanced my way and opted out for a double scotch neat at the local bar.  What I wouldn't give to be buddies with that allusive character for just one year.  At least that is what I'm always tossing out there into a conversation that has the misfortune of spiraling downward in logicality when quality of life - unhappiness verses contentment - becomes the topic.  Of course these conversations are always centered around and between the same two people, and the end is always to be continued next time... unresolved.  I swear, if another one of these talks has no ending, I do believe husband will be making his bed in the back seat of that little red Toyota Solara that's parked at the end of our driveway.

Boring seems to be the new worn out word in my vocabulary to describe the long dry spells in between the extraordinary times I've had.  I'm anguishing in the middle of a mind made desert at the moment.  Life's always seemed out of control when it comes to anything resembling normality, as I've ricocheted between normal, near normal, subnormal, abnormal  non-normal...whatever.  I think I'm viewed as a downright all out crazy nut case sometimes by my living on the tippy toe edge partner, and that in itself has to be some kind of enormous feat to have accomplished.  I'm having to embrace the fact that my life's becoming years overdue for another rush of excitement.

Quit panicking!  We're not talking house burning down, gas line explosion, car careening off a cliff, or heaven forbid - another pet from hell type of scenario.  We're talking adventure...a new game in life.  The difficulty is topping the Panama debacle and still coming out alive at the end.  Okay, I want it all...coming out alive and WELL at the end.  The discomforting part is that I'm always thrown into an adventure not of my own choosing, then working through a maze of obstacles in my quest to survive perhaps physically but mostly mentally in the process.  Now that I think about it...isn't that more accurately called having a misadventure?  Oh...pooh!  Adventure...misadventure...attitude determines the call, so am I an optimist or am I a pessimist?  I'm not telling, so THERE!

While my partner looks back at Panama as his adventure most excellent, I usually try never to look back at that exciting phase that definitely became the biggest misadventure of all time for me.  The threat of poison frogs, banana spiders, fer-de-lance pit vipers, tree vipers, bushmasters, and mosquito borne diseases paled in comparison to the plight of homeless diseased cats roaming the alleys and byways of city streets, and the extortion and thieving practices of the poor whenever we ventured out our front door.

Morgan Avenue became my sanctuary of contentment after leaving all the unrest happening in the middle of Panama City.  A quiet tree lined road with a sharp drop-off on the tree side, a row of neat yards surrounding large houses on the opposite side, all topped off with a lush backdrop of jungle covered hills beyond the tidy backyards.  Except for the billions of ticks, tons of mosquitoes, gigantic herds of fire and leaf cutter ants, sweltering humidity, over abundance of wild things, and anything left in the yard within half a day of its placement being stolen; it was pure heaven.

Another non-military couple near the beginning of the avenue became close friends and accompanied us on many of our shorter excursions.  The others were military and usually each week of the dry season found everyone at the playground area next to the backyards just beyond our living quarters playing volleyball and enjoying potluck dinners.  I was frightfully energetic back then and most of my wardrobe was hand sewn from those Pauloa and Victoria Jones Hawaii patterns...classy stuff, those long beautiful cotton dresses.  Joining the group of ladies from the avenue for a downtown excursion and lunch every month was possible after I terminated my job, and kept things more lively.  It was a lovely short stretch of peacefulness that was terminated too quickly before the oncoming Christmas season.

Always a late stay upper and a late get upper, the evening found me alone; an all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse type of night.  Watching a movie on the military sponsored channel, the only one in a language I understood, all was so silent that I do believe if I had coughed just one measly little cough, all of the walls of the house would have shook with a rumble.  Outbursts of rapid firing from guns softly interrupted my train of thought, immediately causing me to shutdown my entertainment and strain with my ear close to the window to determine direction of that elusive commotion that was starting to increase in the number of firearms being used.

Alarmed, I woke my husband out of a sound sleep and watched the disbelief on his face as he listened to my outburst exclaiming that a war was going on somewhere down the road.  This is the tropics, and our house is covered in windows with blinds to block out the view.  I swear my entire conversation after that was don't open the door, stay away from the windows, what the hell is wrong with you-do you want to get us killed?  As the momentum picked up, tanks and troops were on the avenue moving towards the Panamanian military station that was just over the hill on the next street from Morgan Avenue, the slums of that area overflowing with the poor.

Mind was still pitch black out there in the late night, and not much could be seen from any window.  It was all a horrible feast for the ears alone, and not knowing has a way of creating the most frightening fear of all.  Mortars began flying over the house from somewhere, a deafening sound that triggered our dog Misty on a rampage of barking.  All the lights were off, the blinds were pulled tightly closed and the doors braced as our yard and carport became deluged with people scattering from the hill and slums beyond to the safety of the yards on Morgan Avenue.  Fear that if people knew we were in the house the windows would have been broken in, we huddled on the bedroom floor with our hands over our ears to soften the roars of the mortars with Misty barking out-of-control for one of the longest hours I have ever experienced.

Daylight broke, and as the mortar firing ceased, troops and vehicles traveled up and down the avenue collecting all the bloody and scared refuges, taking them to a holding area.  A soldier knocked at our door and my husband talked to him.  I think everyone was surprised that all the resident of Morgan Avenue were still in their homes.  We later found out that we all should have been evacuated through a tunnel at the base of the hill behind us that led to the US base at the top of that hill.  We had no idea a tunnel even existed.  Falling through the cracks of bureaucracy, it was evident that our safety was a moot point to our government.  We were on our own.

We began talking to all the other residents on our avenue, and learned the solder near the far end from us shot and killed an intruder.  Several Americans driving through a Panamanian check point near us were gunned down and killed.  An American downtown who stupidly opened his apartment door to knocking was gunned down also.  Realizing that we were viewed as expendable collateral puts a different slant on where loyalty really lies in my physiological makeup.  I'm more of an all for me and my family first type of war product these days.

Fear of snipers in the sewer tunnels and the jungle areas kept things on edge for the next several months, and Christmas that year was spent with the Christmas tree lights never turned on, and a loaded six shooter always close by on the coffee table. Months passed before we truly felt safe when venturing out in our little non-air conditioned car to pick up groceries miles away at the PX. The revelation that evacuation to anywhere, even back to the states, didn't include the pets killed all desire within me of ever living abroad another time.

Much later, when returning to the states after four very long years abroad, I confess that an urge almost overtook me to kneel down and kiss the ground beneath my feet after I stepped off that Pan Am flight, even though my definition of loyalty had been rewritten.  I had changed.  I had advanced beyond naivety for all time.


  1. That was a lot to deal with.
    It's always nice to have calm down time after all the stress. At the same time, things seem eerily quiet.

  2. Wow, what a difference! I live in quiet Springfield, Oregon
    (think Simpsons!) and nothing ever happens here!
    Nice writing, always like to read your posts!

  3. Oh my...that would be way too much excitement for my poor little nervous system! But I guess we do what we have to and sometimes we find inner strength that we didn't know about. Your vivid descriptions make me feel like I was there...but so glad I wasn't! I thrive on peace and what passes for normal for me! (Thank you for visiting my blog and commenting!)


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