Panama 2019: Talking with Minga

Yesterday I wrote about how I will miss Minga being there when I arrive in the village  in a little over a week. I wrote about the things she discussed with me, but not so much about what I discussed with her.

Remember that we had vastly different life experience. Minga never read a book — she was illiterate. She never saw a movie, went to a concert or a play or a museum, ate out in a restaurant unless it was with me. She never traveled farther than Panama City, and there only reluctantly. She delivered her babies alone or sometimes with a midwife, and was on her feet again by dinner time to cook for her family. She nursed the newborn, and sometimes also the one year old born the year before. She never married, although she had children by four men, never enjoyed whatever little protection marriage brought even to the very poor. She thought my working out was hilariously funny. She worked so hard every day she had no need to make a thing of it. Her bones and muscles had plenty of workout from the water she carried, the firewood she gathered, the children she lugged around, the baskets of heavy wet clothes she hauled back from the river. She had no choice about large swathes of her life, or limited choice. When the man she was with failed her in some way, she had the choice to go — which she did, her growing number of children in tow. “Working things out” was not on the radar.

I talked with her about politics, a love that we both shared. They loved President and Mrs. Obama, and are perplexed that American voters chose a man like Trump who hates people with brown skin. Minga was surprised, I think, that I am perplexed too.  She and I talked about sex. Panamanians are very overt and candid in discussing such things, much more so than my social circle here. Hardly anyone among my very good friends, even indirectly, has asked me if I miss sex since Jerry died. Minga and I talked about God. They all, not just Minga, assume that I am Catholic because everyone there is. Panama City has an old and well established Jewish community, dating back to World War I. But everyone in the village is Catholic. They also can’t help noting that I don’t go to church — there is only one Mass on Saturday early evening and one on Sunday morning, which makes it easy to see who is there and who not. Minga was non-judgmental, but she did note that I didn’t come into the village at either time Mass was offered. That didn’t stop her from roping me in to her devotion to the Saints, and to the Virgen del Carmen. When I won $70 on one our casino jaunts, she insisted we stop at the church and give thanks to the Virgen. I asked, tongue in cheek, if the Virgen is the patron saint of gambling — to which Minga responded by laughing heartily.

We were never short of things to say, and when companionable silence seemed right, she sat very close to me, her hand in mine or stroking my arm. Either of us might have been the one to break the silence, prompted by a thought or a memory or someone going by on the road. Minga didn’t gossip, but she knew everyone and pretty much everything going on.

I will miss all of that dearly.

2 thoughts on “Panama 2019: Talking with Minga

  1. Your trip to Panama will bring you closer to MInga yet will bring emptiness and sorrow. It’s important that you go and celebrate your wonderful relationship with a wonderful friend, MInga.

  2. for Katie: I am quite sure that all of those feelings will be present, and powerful. Minga is one of the few people in my life who has always been there. Pulling up to her house and not having her come out, big smile and arms open, will be hard.

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