Thursday, April 26, 2012

My Panama Journals...1987 - 1991 Chapter Three

Just Another Pretty Face in the Crowd - late 1988 to late 1989

She had reached an impasse, like a stairway to heaven with half the rungs missing.  She loathed being used.  She muted her disappointment and frustration at the realization her training with the Panamanian systems analyst at the army post was a sucker punch.  She'd been her own.  Promises of schooling and climbing the career ladder dangled before her like a carrot leading a poor donkey to places it did not need or want to go.

She had no voice for her husband's sake.  His career left zero tolerance for any complications of a wife burned out on hypocrisy and lies, as for some odd reason they worked in the same building together, at opposite ends.  She had been counting the few days left to the end of October when they could escape back to the states and she would be where she was happier.  She had endured, but she had waited in vain...her feet kicked out from under her again by the one she trusted most.

Her husband had signed up for another two years and she was told the news that evening.  Working a level 12 job at a level 5 pay scale - deserted by her Panamanian mentor who was granted vacation time at the government's year end budget fiasco - working at supervisor level with the burden of $$$$$$ on her shoulders, even though she was in reality just a peon, a nobody, someone they all could blame if the budgets were screwed; she let October pass,  then she ended it all...she quit.

The first time in her life since her teenage years, she was free.  Free to do what she hadn't quite figured out.  She wasn't in the best of places to do much of anything, except stagnate at their house on Morgan Avenue, Panama City, Country of Panama, Central America, meeting point of Northern and Southern Hemispheres, Earth, Universe...she was so doomed.

Pepsi on rocks, feet propped up on the hassock, leaning back on her pretty blue plaid couch she had purchased before her marriage, she closed her eyes and let all her thoughts crowd to the surface like a rush of starving piranhas.  Two years down...two years to go...seemed like a death sentence at that moment.

Many Faces of Panama Churches

Church of the Black Christ

Her Panama was filled with hostility and tension, sporadic demonstrations, and harassment's by the PDF, Panamanian Defense Force...but those trials and tribulations were another world to her.  She saw little of it.  In her sheltered mind it didn't exist.  She manipulated her thoughts to protect herself from the despair of total isolation from her family except for the occasional overseas phone calls or her much more affordable hand written letters.

Driving through areas without rich housing trapped her in a suffocating car with windows always rolled up, doors always locked, no jewelry ever worn, and her purse always tucked under her seat out of sight of hungry eyes.  The have not's always wanted what the have all's had, and she was a have all.  She was frustrated that she was perceived that way...she whose husband was in debt and had dragged her to the ends of the earth to wipe out that burden of no money.

Thatched Beach Huts

Primitive Spinning Top Toy

Here she was again...a prisoner with her husband in their own car...trying to dodge the men at the intersections with soapy water dripping squeegees rushing to try and wash their car windows for a buck when red lights forced them to stop.  She was guessing the speed they needed to reach each intersection while the light was still green.  She had no intentions of paying more than a buck a trip, but she often failed.  She hated all this entrepreneur aggression.

Finally, she stepped out of her car at the brick oven pizza place complete with a transvestite hooking on the corner and an enterprising 'racketeer' appearing out of the shadows to protect her car from thieves.  She knew from experience she would pay the extortionist.  She would pay the thief not to steal from her.  She always preferred coming back to her car with all four tires still attached. 


Outdoor Bar and Restaurant

She ventured to the Panamanian super markets and stores for something different than the PX.  She found her variety of neat stuff, but her Panamanian friends assured her she was paying too much...much more than any local would pay.  Prices were always hiked for the US civilian and military...partly because it was so easy for a business owner to do with the language barrier, and her kind was always looked upon as being rich.  She wished she didn't always have that 'Made in the USA' stamped on her forehead.  She wished it wasn't always assumed she was what she wasn't.  She wished she didn't have to have so many wishes.  She wished she wasn't always wishing her life away.   

Panama Chiva Bus Pottery

Food made her happy.  Good food made her happier.  Excellent food made her ecstatic!  She loved being ecstatic, and she had her favorites to visit more than less.  She was having a love affair with boiled shrimp and sauteed shrimp.  She couldn't get enough.  The only dish she ever had at Manolas was the potato salad chocked full of boiled shrimp, and a large cup of the best cappuccino in the universe with a dusting of cinnamon.

She and husband enjoyed meals outdoors along Via Argentina, rain or shine, with plenty of car exhaust fumes billowing into the air.  She had become a fan of El Trapiche with its tall tables and chairs...corvine seviche, patacones, carimanolas, beans and rice, and those awful pickled beet slices served as the veggie with every meal that she finally acquired a tolerance for.

Tague Nut Carvings

She sometimes enjoyed visits with her contractor friends from work.  Sitting, drinking and eating on the full length balcony of their luxury apartment with its rooftop view of the downtown area felt safe to her.  More worldly, more refined, more high-end materialistic, more everything, she had difficulty feeling like she was at their level...she felt inferior.  She never really knew if she was actually inferior...she just always felt that way.

Soapstone Carving from El Valle

She began to see her world as it really was.  Tension was worsening.  Students rioted at the university throwing all sizes of rocks at the PDF, while the PDF counterattacked with bird shot and tear gas from a mobile unit with a smurf painted on the side.  She saw none of this.  She heard it only from her husband as they started to drive home from work.  She felt like she was in an episode of one of those old Twilight Zone shows as her husband steered their car along that road past the university that looked like all the rocks in the universe had rolled to the sides of the highway to let them pass by.  She should have felt a little fear at what must have happened at that spot earlier that day, but really, all she could think was why did the teargas mobile have a blue smurf painted on its side?

Approaching the square at Via Argentina, just a block from her apartment,her heart skipped a beat.  It was trashed, PDF were on the corners, and she felt from then on that everything was in slow motion.  All she wanted her husband to do was to hurry up and get the hell out of there.  He seemed to take forever, to slow down too much, to look around too much, she knew he was trying to cross the square without being shot at, but it was an eternity for her before they were safely hidden inside the walls of their driveway.

Days came and went when helicopters slowly flew over their apartment with that dreaded sound of propeller blades beating through the air.  The upstairs siblings would be out on their balconies banging their pots and pans, such an idiotic display she thought at the launching spit wads off your fingertips in the direction of an advancing army.  She wondered what her neighbors thought they accomplished with their token display of support or non-support, whatever...that didn't mean much of anything except a bunch of noise from clanging pans.

When orders came through that all Americans working for the Department of Defense were to be evacuated from off-post areas to the safety of quarters on-post, she knew her quality of life would improve immensely...she just needed to survive the month of living in a small bedroom with her husband and three cats at her supervisors' on-post quarters.  Living with her supervisor was a choice she would have run put her in a difficult place, but her husband always took complete control which fueled her fires of discontent deep inside.

Her quality of life ricocheted all over the place when they were put in on-post base housing that was ironically off-post.  Her safe place was not safe.  The base, Quarry Heights, was somewhere at the top of that jungle covered hill beyond their back yard.  She couldn't see it.  She never did see it.  Her house was too big...she loved that.  The grass was lush with tropical plants that grew like trees, and the back covered patio was convenient, but she could keep nothing out there without it disappearing by the next morning.  She stayed a stranger to the lawn because she did not want to cover herself with poisons to prevent the hundreds of ticks that would have latched onto her; and she watched in amazement at the menacing amount of fire ants that were building mounds in her side yard.

House Next Door - Morgan Avenue

Looking at Back of House - Morgan Avenue

Looking From Back of House - Morgan Avenue

Jungle Beyond Back Yard - Morgan Avenue

Here she was on her pretty blue plaid couch, with one cat on her lap and three others lounging about and a puppy between her feet, over thinking and pacifying herself into addiction with her Pepsi's that she never seem to get enough of.  She was giving up...releasing her grip from those broken promises that were now just a figment of her own imagination.  Her husband never spoke of them, and she reasoned he had only made them to subdue her...nothing more.  She had followed him believing.  She now felt so alone in this country.  She felt so betrayed.

She looked at that black, scraggly, skinny pup by her feet; with its multi-length tuffs of long fur, and right ear partially bitten off some time before she ever decided to rescue it from the vet clinic, and wondered how in the world her husband ever thought this was supposed to be protection.  She massaged the cheek and neck of the little calico lying next to her with its visible puncture wounds healing on its rump, and knew she had lucked out on finding this perfect match for her other adopted kitten.


Sweetie Pie Sage

Sage and Michael

The number of furry feet in her household was a concern.  There could be no more.  She knew there would be complications when time came close to escaping back to the states, but she wasn't quite sure of the magnitude of it all.  She just never seemed to know quite enough, and she had a difficult time not letting that lack of knowledge unravel her to pieces.

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