Panama 2017: A Not-So-Simple Life

It’s easy to see Minga as a simple woman, and in many ways she is. She’s never been anywhere but the village and Panama City, not even to the western end of her own country only a few hours away by car. She’s never been to the movies, bought two pairs of shoes at once, taken an Uber car. She doesn’t own a cell phone, or know how to use one. She’s never filed a tax return, been on a jury, or ordered from Amazon. She lives by the values of faith, family, and getting up every day and doing what is expected.

And yet, like all of us, she is a jumble of competing and contrasting behaviors. She hugs me freely and often. She doesn’t hug her daughters, or her grandkids. I think she fears it will make them soft. She has another odd behavior, one that you might not expect: she overtly prefers boys to girls. During the Panama years she had 6 children: Ana, Rufina, Teresa, Daira, Angel, Ita. Angel, then about two years old, was her clear favorite — and his sisters knew it. Among the grandkids, Josue is her favorite — and the other grandkids know that too.

The preference plays out in Minga’s desire to see her offspring taken care of after she dies. She owns the small lot next to her house — I think all nine of them chipped in to buy two plots of land and the building materials. Humberto has a room and kitchen off the main house, which he shares with Margarita and Naty. Now, Minga wants to leave the empty plot of land to Angel and Manuel, who now live in the city. If their women ever leave them and they have no place to go, Minga wants them to be able to come home and each build a small place.

Ita, in the meantime, is the center of her own extended family, many of whom rely on her for some support. She didn’t get any of the Roberto Delgado land on the highway, as Teresa and Daira did. Mari didn’t get any either. Now, Ita wants Roberto’s eldest son by another woman, Robertito, to give her my old house, which has been without a roof for years and is all but falling down. She would try and rebuild the house so she’d have a place to come home to. There is no sign that Robertito is willing to do that.

Angel and Manuel are far better off financially than Ita or Mari, in that both have regular jobs with actual salaries, not day rates. Angel works for a company that fixes air conditioners — an essential for middle and upper class families in this scorching climate. Manuel works for Hertz.

If anyone needs taking care of after Minga dies, it’s Ita and Mari.

Minga’s daughters don’t seem to react much to her preference for boys — they simply shrug and say that’s how she is. But it’s an anomaly to me, that such a strong woman in her own right can’t see and support the strong daughters she has raised.

Accepting each other as who we are.

Accepting each other as who we are.

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