Panama 2018: Baby Axel

Axel, son of Luis and Lynette and Gloria’s fourth grandbaby, is now two months old. He looks healthy and thriving.

You’d never know it was 85 degrees there. I imagine it’s been raining. When it rains, they all think it’s freezing — even if the rain is accompanied by the usual hot temperatures, which it always is.  Their feeling chilly has something to do with cold vapors released by falling rain, they tell me. I’ve been there during rainy months, and for me,  rain just makes it all the more sticky and humid. You wouldn’t get a knit cap on me for all the money in the world. But even the adults wear wool caps, and jackets, when it rains.

Panama 2018: Gabriel and His Children

Gabriel is Gloria and Luis’ middle son, the one who is a Guardia Nacional and member of the Presidential Protection detail. He and Fani have two children: Alia and Gabrielito. Longtime readers of the blog know that Gabrielito was born with a complex heart defect, tetralogy of Fallot. His life was saved by a visiting cardiology team from the United States with surgery when he was about 18 months old. He will always be a cardiac patient, as the multiple repairs can develop leaks as the child grows. But as you can see, he is healthy and happy. He’s now six, a few months younger than Archie. Alia is about fifteen months old — I think she looks a lot like her papa.

These children are cousins to baby Axel. There is a fourth cousin, Milenys, who lives with her mother in the district capital Penonome.



Panama 2019: Call from Minga

I’m up early to watch the day’s stage of the Tour de France live. I also tape it, so I can watch key parts of the race again later in the day. The best part of any stage is the finish, which often involves a thrilling sprint even after a grueling climb up a mountain like the Alp d’Huez. I’m basically offline re phone calls during those final exciting moments, trusting that I can call pretty much anyone back after the race is over.

Except when Minga calls, or more accurately when her daughter Ana tees up a WhatsApp video call . The call came in right before the sprint and of course I answered. I would have even if I didn’t have the taping feature to look at the sprint to the finish at a later time.

Minga says she is fine, although she again looked very tired to me. She likes living with Ana, who attends to her in a gentle and non-directive manner. Ana’s husband Raoul sees to Minga’s needs as if she were his own mother, which is lovely and touching — not a characteristic of all Panamanian men. Miley, when she is home from school, is devoted to her great grandmother.

Ana says that Minga is having radiografia, which is some sort of scan, to help her doctors adjust the port or catheter in her chest — not sure of the right medical language here — through which she receives dialysis. I can’t get a clear answer whether this is a big problem, or a normal, minor adjustment.

Ana tells me that Miley, who is a sophomore in high school, is committed to going to university when she graduates. This is a huge thing. None of Miley’s birth siblings, and there are eight, have had this opportunity. Nor, I believe, did any of Ana and Raoul’s five children go to college — including Miley’s birth mother Titi.

I’m touched by Ana’s goodness as a human being, taking in an infant granddaughter after raising her own five sons and daughters, taking in her mother now, when Minga most needs care. Ana and Raoul are poor, hard working people. Minga’s other adult offspring are helping, but more with in-kind things like transportation, clothing, and sitting at the hospital on dialysis day, than with cash.

Day by day, and with the help of God.” That’s how Minga and Ana are living through this bittersweet and difficult, but most precious time. I told Ana that I am grateful for her devoted care of my Panamanian sister. She responded that she must, it’s her duty as a daughter. Yes, but it doesn’t always happen, does it? Not in any culture.

I’m quite sure the blue/white matching attire is intentional. 🙂

Panama 2019: Already Underway

I’ve tried renting a few different places in Buenaventura, and have pretty much settled on my favorite place: a villa only a few steps from the ocean and from the main hotel pool. July is early to book, but I’ve been following the availability online and someone has nabbed the week after the time block I’m looking at. All I need is for someone to book a four day weekend in the middle of my intended three week block and I’m cooked until February or early March. Another complication is that the Pope is coming to Panama on January 23 — bringing crowds and higher airline and hotel ticket prices.

Looks like this year’s trip will have to be nailed down much earlier than usual.

I was able to find a decent flight to Panama City on January 17th, and so I went ahead with booking the villa from January 19-Feb. 8. I’ll stay one more night in Panama City, and then return home on February 9.

Fun to anticipate.

Update on Minga

Lily let me know that Minga is having an evaluation because there’s some problem with the placement of her catheter. Originally the catheter was in her chest, but quite high up near her neck, and it bothered her greatly when getting dialysis. They lowered the position of the catheter so she doesn’t have to keep her head tilted so much during the 3-4 hours of treatment, but now there is something amiss. Some people can tolerate a port in their forearm, just under the skin, or in the abdomen — but neither of those are options for Minga. I don’t know why.

For dialysis to work over the long term there has to be a place through which treatment can happen. If the site becomes problematic, and there isn’t another option for placement of the catheter, Minga could be in a good deal of trouble.

I’ll keep you informed as I find out more.

Panama 2018: Jari and Joel

Minga’s grandaughter Jari and her husband Joel, parents of Joelito, have had their second child, a little girl named Britney. She is home and healthy. Felicidades to this wonderful young family.

Joelito and Britney are Minga’s great-grandchildren.

Thanks to Ana and Miley, who sent me the pics.

Panama 2018: Why Minga Fights to Stay Alive

This, in a nutshell, is why Minga puts up with so much discomfort with her dialysis to stay alive. Here she is at the center of her family. Great granddaughter Mileybus, the quinceaneros girl, is on her left. Raoul and Ana, Minga’s eldest daughter, are on her right. Raoul and Ana are actually Miley’s grandparents, but they have raised her from infancy.

Minga’s catheter has been moved down a bit, so you can just see the tip of her bandage above the collar of her blouse — but it’s not the hugely visible bandage from before. I think she looks beautiful.

Minga has a rich legacy of family. Her family, she tells us proudly, is her gift to the world.

Panama 2018: Miley’s Quinceaneros

Mileybus is celebrating her 15th birthday, which in Latina cultural is the transition from girl to woman. The young lady wears a fancy dress — in this case Ana, who is a skilled seamstress, made this gorgeous gown. Miley is wearing make-up. Her escorts have left aside their jeans and sneakers and ball caps and are dressed to the nines.

I wanted Miley’s party to be special, and so helped a bit financially. I knew Ana would create something wonderful if she could buy the fabric she needed. I think the dress is breathtaking, and Miley wears it so beautifully.

I wish I could have been there.

Panama 2018: More of Gloria’s Family

Gloria sent me this montage of her sons and their children. For many poor Panamanians, “legacy” is defined by richness in family relationships. Gloria has that. Her boys are devoted to her. Her husband Luis is as well. And her grandkids adore her.

From top left corner: youngest son Luis, father of baby Axel who is in the middle. Top right corner: Middle son Gabriel and Gabrielito, who is about Archie’s age. Don’t dad and lad look alike? Bottom right, Gabriel’s daughter Alia. Bottom left, eldest son Raoul with Milenys.

Panama 2018: Gloria’s New Grandbaby

Babies in Panama are a family affair. New mothers are never isolated, as they sometimes are here. A new  mother is surrounded by older women who help her care for her baby, and often, help care for her. There is always someone to hold and rock and soothe a fussy baby. The corollary, of course, is that everyone has an opinion about the mothering skills of the new mother. But that is typically outweighed by the tremendous amount of support that new parents get, and the strong sense of family that a new baby like Axel will grow up with.

Axel is now two weeks old, and thriving.

Gloria had an immensely impoverished childhood in a material sense, although her parents were loving. Often, she and her eight siblings went without anything to eat for days at a time. She became pregnant and dropped out of school in sophomore year, and her life seemed to get harder and harder. Finally, she met Luis and they formed a stable and loving relationship. Now she has a home, enough food, a husband who loves her, three grown sons, two daughters in law, and four grandchildren.

I think she looks happy, and content, and proud, and I’m glad.