I know it’s hard to keep the Panama people straight. As friend and Panama visitor Phyllis said, it’s like the Begats in the bible. And there are a lot of people who get mentioned. When we had Minga and Emily’s joint birthday party a couple of years ago, 57 of Minga’s extended family showed up.
But here’s a shot at clarifying: I visit two families in the village, although I certainly know others. The families are unrelated. One is Minga’s. The other is Gloria’s, the woman who cooks for us and is our general problem solver at the villa. Gloria’s late mother and Minga were age peers and knew each other from church, although the families lived on opposite sides of the Pan American highway and so were not immediate neighbors. Gloria is in her mid-40’s, a mother and grandmother. Minga was 77 when she died.
Gloria and Minga got to know each other well because both spent time together while they were with me. They developed deep bonds of affection.
With that as preamble, Gloria messaged me that she is going to the evening rosary led by the Prayer Lady at Minga’s house. Gloria said that the funeral mass was extremely well attended, as I suspected it would be. In a setting where basic medical care was sparse until a few years ago and hardship rife, Minga’s longevity conveyed something important. She was as close to village royalty as it gets.
Minga lived along one of the major roads to the market — a narrow dirt road until it was paved fairly recently. Lots of people on Rio Hato’s south side walked by her home daily on their way to and from the market, or to the highway to catch a chiva into Panama City. She loved to be out front, receiving and responding to their called out greetings.
Minga was not only the linchpin of her family and my dear friend, she was a social pillar of the village. I imagine the silence from her front yard weighs heavily on people long about now.