I guess I did indeed make you guys wait a little longer than expected, for that I apologize. So its december and I we (Negros Americanos) have almost been living back in the states on and off for about a year. We moved back from Panama in the early part of 2012 and have already accomplished much of what we set out to do. The goal of living in Panama was to learn spanish in an environment where we can fit in being urban black youth. Not to be a part of any collegiate programs, but to find a job and live as the average struggling Panamanian; to completely submerge ourselves in another culture and let it change our psyche and how we view the Planet Earth. The struggle in Panama City was real, and honestly if it weren’t for Cielo, I don’t know how well this story would have ended up.
We (mc enigma and I) worked as english teachers for an internationally known language institute, and weren’t exactly rolling in doe. To be precise, well off students (usually foreigners from Venezuela escaping Chavez’s government flooded to Panama along with Spaniards, French and Colombian ‘workers’) paid $40/hour for english classes at this school, while the language center only paid us $7.50/hr, while we were the ones that actually did the teaching. Needless to say we offered our services to the students on the side for some extra money like we learned we could do when we were researching this transition on the internet before we came to Panama. Its not exactly what the Language Center would like you to be doing so we had to keep it under wraps, but I quickly learned that a great number of these wealthy students (almost all of which were white) didn’t take to kindly to the idea of taking private lessons with someone who looked anything like me.
When I first moved to my 1 bedroom apartment in Ciudad Radial, Juan Diaz I was paying 120 a month 60 out of every check for rent.
I flipped when “La Dueña” told me the price, I thought I misunderstood her spanish. That price was stupid cheap………..back when we kept the schedule that we had when we first found our jobs. But we quickly realized that with a 7 am to 8:30pm schedule constantly speaking english, the dream of learning spanish and forming an international bi lingual hip hop/reggae group was not going to happen. I made up a lie to get out of having to work that many hours; I approached my supervisor and in a shaken state I told him that a gang of young bandits threatened me while walking and pointed their hands like a pistol at me and I could no longer work nights. My plan worked but backfired at the same time, because we serviced professionals the hours were geared towards a working 9 to 5 schedule so we gave classes from 7-10:30 am had pause another class form 12 -1pm and a last from 6-8:30pm. After that we were reduced to working 7-10:30 everyday and some days occasionally staying until 1.
When the mice began to infest my apartment I was ready for it. We tried to fight back, sliced and diced a couple, why-we even put glue traps down only to capture other animals (mc enigma actually used a photo of two lizards that got caught in my glue mouse traps to advertise the project that he was working on at the time; mc enigma L.y.L.e rainy season.
It was like with each mouse killed 2 or more decided to join the party. It felt disgusting sleeping in my bed above and hearing the scurrying below as they were foraging for food in my apartment, as my home had become their habitat. After I met Cielo and got comfortable it just made sense for me to move into with her. I knew what I was getting myself into, I knew the risks but its really what I wanted to do, no different than a journalist who travels to Iraq to get that winning scoop. I guess it’s time to pick up where I left off in the story right. So, before I ever entered Cielo’s building, I was always at her stand.
It was a ritual to go there and just soak in the atmosphere, the people, the smells (usually of the putrid ooze and black water that ran along the side of the street where it met the curb, that mixed in such a distinct way with the papas rellenas y el pescado frito). One thing that I noticed about many people as they walked past the Kiosko de Plantas Medicinales was that the number of amputees in this small area was astronomical.
I saw some of the most sexy women with missing limbs. I saw so many young men my age missing an arm or a leg, as i often found myself wondering what their stories were. I listened as she talked and laughed with her customers, I learned the names of all of the plants and when she had to go on runs, even with my limited Spanish, I was able to help her conduct business alone. I found myself buying newspapers everyday (they still costed 25 cents in Panama). While the more distinguished Panamanians would always suggest that I practice reading ‘La Prensa’, which could be compared to a ‘New York Times’, I opted for ‘El Siglo’, Your ‘New York Post’ equivalent, but on steroids. I never in my long legged life saw such macabre images on a national print sold at every major business and in the street. The bodies that made it to the front page were usually covered in blood, hacked up or shot an ignorant amount of times. Sometimes they would black out the eye area, but most times they just kind of left the body as is in the edit. I wondered how the family members of these victims felt about their loved ones being used to sell cheap classless papers. Oh did I mention that on the back cover of the paper featured images of half naked Panamanian women (some of which had to have been the most sexy women that I have ever feasted my eyes on in life). I collected at least 30 issues of ‘El Siglo’ to bring back with me to the states to show my brethren how their papers differ from ours.
I made a friend in Cielo’s neighborhood. A disgruntled rasta from Colon, Panama (on the Caribbean side of the isthmus….the black town as it is looked at). His name was Sea Mon. Well, that is the name that I was given, I never really asked him for his real name, everyone just called him Sea Mon, because he sold Issinglass (or Irish Moss, as it is rightfully called) on the street. he would boast that his issinglass was the best because he would actually go to the sea and collect the sea algae himself, instead of relying on vendors like his competition. This man was an outcast, an anomaly, he hated everyone in his surroundings he spent most of the time sitting on an upside down bucket talking to himself in a west indian broken english about how he hated all Spaniards (white people I presumed). I was a listening ear for him and his woes, and he took a liking to me. We would talk day to day about racism, immigration, women and money. People looked at me strangely because we talked everyday but I didn’t care, and he needed that human interaction. One day I found myself in need of my own version of plantas medicinales and I talked to him about it. He said “sure I know where to find that mon”. I followed this man that I barely knew into an open door on the side of the decrepit building, as I walked up the stairs I saw the walls tagged up with drawings of Ak-47’s and pistols, gang initials and muerte (death). I wanted to stop and turn back, but I couldn’t look weak, so I decided to continue as we made our way to the top of the steps, the first thing I saw was a wall riddled with bullet holes and what appeared to be dried blood on the floor. we turned around the ben and I saw a group of youth hanging out smoking and playing music from their stolen blackberry’s (more on the whole blackberry craze in a later post). “XopA Fren” (wuss good homie) says one of the baby gangsters. I kept quiet, they seemed to look rather soft and boy like but the overall scenery was something out of a “Saw” movie “to bien, es que traje un amigo que quiere kenked” (I brought a friend thats wants some medicinal plants) said Sea Mon. “To bien kompa” (cool bro) we left that building and it was my introduction to where i would be living, and the people I would be living with . At that time Cielo had not yet lived there, she was living in a hotel down the street. She settled for that building about a month into our relationship, and when she told me i begged her not to move in there but she assured me that things would be good. I said I would never visit her in there but she assured me that I would, and she was right.
The sex was incredible, I never imagined that sex with a woman in her 40’s could be so slippery and invigorating. The way she craved it 24/7 made me feel like a young Leonardo DeCaprio. She needed me, she needed the service that I provided. It never failed I never needed pills or breaks. I did what was required of me, I fulfilled my obligations and that made her happy. Now what I had a problem with was the fact that she loved for us to make sweet music at night. Now that is all well and good, but the apartment was so small, and her son was there sleeping, but at his age he was fully aware of what sex was. I felt uncomfortable having sex because of all of the moans screams and bed noises, I knew it was only a matter of time before he was to wake up. Im sure he woke up several times during that experience and the trauma from that would never allow for him to take too kindly to me. A rift started between her and I at this moment and it killed me because I felt like I was never understood with her. She thought that I found her unattractive and that I was looking at all of the young women that walked around her stand. We used to argue all the time, at the time I hated it, I mean every situation called either for an argument or her trying to undermine me in front of her constituents. But all of these situations forced me to think on my feet quickly for a response. I needed to be able to defend myself from the onslaught of “Vete a la foking mierda Jordan”” Pa la pinga” all of these things were said to me almost on a daily basis and those situations helped me to learn Spanish faster.
I noticed interesting things about her. For instance she avoided stepping on any cracks, she wouldn’t drink from the same bottle as me or anyone else from that matter and she always had strangers over. Many of which who were gay and transexual Santeros, namely one fat gay witch named La Burbuja (the bubble). he was such an odd character, he always tried to practice his english with me and that was cool and all, but when she gave him a key and he would go upstairs conducting ‘business’ with women who wanted to either know their future or find out if their husbands were cheating on them I started to get suspicious. I heard some of the most strange noises, but I refused to see what it was that they were doing as it was none of my concern. Come to think of it so many strange things happened when i was in there, I remember one time I was looking over the balcony and along with the trash I saw a dead baby being picked apart by vultures. I vomited in my mouth, I went back and forth to that spot for about 15 days and noticed that the heavy torrential rains would move the body to different locations on the roof. Out of respect i never took a picture of the baby but sometimes i wish I had. I even bought mc enigma (who stayed at his apartment several miles away in Ciudad Radial) to the building, because I had to share these nightmares with someone. It sounds harsh to me, but I tried to show Cielo and she never really made a big case of it. One time I remember that i was touching one of her yellow feathers and she came out of no where and told me “eh Sigue tocando era pluma y vas a convertir en un sapo”! Which scared me, but when i bought mc enigma up there we were joking about what she had said and a flame lit from a candle stick out of no where, needless to say we hightailed it out of there. What I can say really impressed me was that I remember getting so sick that I almost felt the life slipping out of me. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t keep food down. I didn’t have any energy to walk and pills weren’t helping so she got some of those plants that she sells and made some type of remedy and after drinking that within 2 days I was back on my feet again. I fought drinking it for about a week, she kept trying to give it to me, but my distrust in what I didn’t understand prevented me from taking it. As I continued to worsen I figured I had no other choice, I now am an advocate for natural herbal healing.
My relationship was cool with those that lived in the building, it was more of a hi and bye thing but a lot of times we sat and had real conversations. We would talk about life and how they feel that there is nothing out there for them, how many of them have never left a four block radious. They wanted to know what the world was like…..I was a mystery to them, and probably to a lot of other people walking the streets. Rasta! is what they called me, and I tried my best to play that role. I always said Bless broder and indulged in medicinal activities with these young lost youth. There was a girl, however. I believe she was a prostitute but Im not 100% sure, her eye contact was overwhelming, she was about my same age and had the craaaaaziest body that i had ever seen a face like an angel minus the devilish eyes and disposition. She constantly stared at me and even though I knew about her shady dealings with thievery and getting rival gang members set up in a trap and murdered, something about her was still calling me. I fought it vehemently but it was a difficult task. During the day in that building there was no running water that came from the showers so if you woke up past 9 and wanted to shower before 7 at night, you had to do it on the first floor for all to see. I saw her shower so many times, I mean she kept her underwear on and piece of fabric that covered her breasts, but all wet and sudded up I saw everything, and she saw me watch her and she smiled. One time i was walking up the steps with Cielo and she was up there smoking with her homeboys, she was wearing a skirt and she placed her leg in a way that allowed both of us to see her clean shaven vagina…I just looked away quickly, I didn’t want to seem too interested, I really wanted to just keep my eyes there a little longer, but I remember that the gang in that building gave me a list of clearly laid out guidelines and i really wasn’t trying to break them (self control is a must…but so difficult).
I lived in that building for about 10 months, I saw death I saw rats take over the building at night ( I prefer that to the mice because if you secured your door right they never actually got into your apartment). I saw police run up into the building searching for people AK47 in hand only to have me spread out on the wall like I was in the same life, perplexed as to why someone from my country would choose to live in such a crime infested red zone environment. But it wasn’t something I planned, it is just what happened and Im so glad that it happened like that because it gave me such a new appreciation for life. Struggle is struggle and no one’s pain can outweigh anthers, however what I once thought of as hood changed to Beverly Hills once I returned to my city. Me and Cielo had to end. We discussed pipe dreams of maintaining a long distance love, but really she’s not an online nor phone type of person it just wouldn’t have worked. Plus at my age now, I want children someday, and with her I was never going to be able to procreate. I still miss the shit out of her, I owe her and when Negros Americanos makes it I am entitled to take care of her because if it weren’t for her and the experience that she provided me with, my spanish wouldn’t be so good and i wouldn’t have been able to feel comfortable maneuvering through other countries and hoods in Latin America like I have done, and those stories will come in the following chapters. For now ladies and gents I bid you Adieu!