History Items of the Canal Zone


Book One

May 26, 1996

Introduction

My autobiography was finished and bound on December 1995. It was sent out to a number of my relatives,daughter, half brother and cousins. I received a few well dones by some of them but a bit of silence by others. It took me over 15 years to finish it and I am proud of the job I have done.

Over the years and during the writing of my autobiography I said I would write more later about my life not as a autobiography but as events that happened, not in order but helter skelter. During these past years I have read a lot of books on Panama which I will reflect on and incidents that happened to me during the good and bad times.

This writing may take a few years and I will write as long as I can make it or until I get tired of the writing of it. The mistakes I make in gramar and punctuation will have to stay and be criticized by the reader.

As I am just learning to use this computer there may be something happen along the way as far as erasers are concerned, so I will save as often as possible.That is save to a disk so If I lose it on the hard disk I will not lose this document all together.

My brother and myself were baptized in the Union Church at Balboa, Canal Zone, that was while my Mother was still living and so even though I don't remember much about that time on the Canal Zone I will start there. Most of this document will be about the Canal Zone and Panama.

Book one is written by Robert H. Rolofson about Christian Cooperation at the World's Crossroads, depicting the amazing power of cooperative Christianity as directed, since 1914, by The General Council and the Seven Parish Units of the Union Church Of The Canal Zone, including liberal dashes of local color in both picture and text.

Howard Linden Clarke, Jr.

BOOK ONE

Zonelore

Everything from an amusing yarn to a solitaire is influenced by its setting. This of course applies to the history of Cooperative Christianity at the world's crossroads. Before telling that story, therefore, it has seemed important to orient the uninitiated reader, and to renew the memories of the experienced, with a brief portrayal of certain interesting and unique aspects of life in the Canal Zone and its environs. Meanwhile, let two things be clear. This section of the volume, unlike its companions, depends largely upon casual observations for its data, while its style is informal. Second: The author desires it known that all viewpoints are his alone.

A Blending of Cultures

The most obvious local novelty is the Canal Zone itself, for surely there is no other ten-by-fifty mile strip of land carrying a world marine highway connecting two major oceans and completely bisecting one republic while controlled and operated by another! The landlady is one of the smallest of autonomous lands, her tenant one of the world's strongest. Inside the Zone the tenant has complete authority, outside it the landlady is sovereign-quite! By comparison she is physically inept, yet the pointing of her tiny finger to chapter and verse of the treaty-lease brings her giant tenant to instant compliance with the letter of the law-plus!

The traditions, the cultures, the customs, and the innate philosophies of these countries are widely separated. The land-lady's household echoes ancient Spain, whereas her tenant is the most progressive exponent of the Western world. Yet, without warning or the slightest preparation, these widely variant ways of life were thrown into the most intimate daily relationships. On no border street is there even a designating chalk mark, much less a guard, to hinder or even observe the freest interchange. Moreover, thousands of the landlady's family are employed by the tenant, working and often residing in proximity to latter's citizens. Both countries may rightly be proud of the basic harmony that prevails despite the adverse influence coming from imported radical labor agitators, unspanked juvenile intellectuals, and prejudice-dominated North Americans.

Whether language is to serve as a bridge or a barrier frequently determines success or failure in human relationships, all the way from mutual understanding of two individuals to international affairs. The landlady's life is, of necessity, bilingual. To Spanish she must add at least English, if her tenant contacts are to be efficient and if her tradesmen are to serve their cosmopolitan customers. Quite appropriately she insists that official communications with her government must be in the language of her people. The English dialogue of motion pictures, however, is briefed with synchronized Spanish titles, while most news reels have Spanish commentation. . National pride is alleged to have given birth to an edict requiring that Panama's newspapers be published in both English and Spanish and that when folded for delivery the Spanish section must be on the outside. When verandas are wet during the rainy season the protective inside folding inadvertently becomes a safety measure for English readers.

In both areas traffic signs are bi-lingual. Panama's enthusiasm for baseball--pronounced as "beisbol"-- is approaching North America's love for that sport. Between the two law enforcement systems there is also splendid accord. Automobiles and their drivers, licensed in either area, may readily gain a license in the other. In all local trade, the American dollar, the Pananamanian balboa, and lesser currency are interchangeable at face value University of Panama, erected with some of the funds originally paid for the Canal rights, offers courses in many areas of interest to Zonians. Spanish, long taught in the Zone high schools, is now in the elementary schools as well. There is an interesting tendency on both sides to appropriate words and phrases from the other. For example, one hears Panamanians, in Panama, order a "sandwich" instead of their "emparodado."

Most of this blending of cultures is of unalloyed benefit. But in the area of mixed marriages, of which there are a great many, questions arise. Strangely enough, a high percentage of men entering mixed marriages come from the Southern states where the color line is most traditional. In addition to the hazards of variant traditions and cultural inheritance, there is the deep-seated color prejudice on the part of all too many North American families and friends. This reflects harshly on the children born of the mixed marriage. Not welcoming such difficulties as would come from adjustment to totally white communities, many American men find that failure to return to the native land is an expedient solution. In consequence, there are in the Zone a sizable number of such families. The success or failure of these conubial ventures, as with any other, lies chiefly in the behavior and character of the participants.

But the bi-cultural process is a large story within itself and may not be told here.

The West Indian: General Factotum

A large portion of the Zone's population is West Indian. He adds to its life plenty of exasperation, amusement, helpfulness and pathos, but never serious tragedy. He is "West Indian" in the sense that more than four centuries ago he was brought in cruel chains from his native Africa to the Greater Antilles. Subsequently he served equally cruel Spanish masters in the early colonies established in Panama. The last major importation, employed as Canal construction labor, came largely from Barbados and Jamaica. A small minority are naturalized citizens of Panama. The remainder are still British subjects.

The West Indian retains much of the Cockney flavor in his speech, as might be illustrated by an oft-told tale. An exhausted foreman asked his Barbadian helper to heat his lunch. After an abnormally long absence the helper reappeared announcing that he was ready to resume his post-lunch duties. When asked why he had not complied with the foreman's request, he insisted that he had "heated" the foreman's lunch. "Well, then, please bring it to me," pleaded his hungry boss. "Bring hit! Hi've halready heated hit!" The accent involved is popularly known as "Bajan (Barbadian). To mimic strange accents and dialects is a universally popular source of amusement. Some Zonians have mastered "Bajan" to the point of proficiency. A kindred amusement is the exchange of endless glossaries of West Indian idioms. The West Indian, as well as the Zonian, enjoys this exchange.

Here are some samples:

Comb--"Hair rake"

Collar--"Neck fence"

Corset--"Waist leggin"

Head--"Coco Bone"

Hospital--"Rest house"

Glove--"Hand shoe"

Maturity--"Ripeness" (She don't ripe enough to be a good maid)

Meat Grinder--"Beef mill"

Rain Coat--"Tent"

Shoes--"Ground mashers"

Tooth Brush--"Mouth broom"

Umbrella--"Shower stick,"House in hand" or "Bumba shoot"

Verbs develop fantastic twists in "Bajan," like "Hit fat you," "Hi build ho ha suit," "Don' vex for that," and "My mistress she don't cranky this week." Small words like "next" find themselves in strange lingual usages. "The nex mango he don' there," "Duz you wan' a nex helping?" If the 'Button is squaling" it is the door bell ringing. A man badly injured is "mash up good." If a lady has not yet come out, "She isolate herself until now." If a flower is in bloom , "Hit hyatch." One of the most popular and truthful excuses for wanting a vacation is the hardy perennial, "She makin a baby."

The West Indian is long removed from an unenlightened environment, yet there lingers a confidence in unreasonable tradition. Moonlight, for example , can "tech one in the haid." If a cross be made over a wound and covered by the hand, the bleeding supposedly will stop, provided the proper words are mumbled. Evil spirits are said to be warded off by the possession of a small stone called, and often believed to be, a petrified toad's eye. Some say the same result may be accomplished by wearing a necklace of teeth which were once owned and operated by a snake or a monkey. The burning of a chicken feathers is also declared to be effective. To a neutral bystander this seems probable, unless the evil spirit's olfactory equipment be defective. It should be made clear, however, that a parallel case exists among some North American Negroes and white folks, and that the more intelligent and better informed West Indians are beyond such beliefs.

With the first slaves came voodooism, which for uncounted centuries had struck fear in the hearts of the Negroes' ancestors deep in the African forests. This crude cult, with all its murderous mystery, flowered in Panama's jungles until recent decades. According to an educated and trusted West Indian it lingers today in diluted form. He asserts that in the capital city alone there are twelve "meeting houses" for Voodoo fanciers, with a number of full-time missionary promoters. Of course, zombies are no longer created, nor are murders committed by the enemies of the doomed, but ghosts of such evil ones are said to walk in the eerie darkness of the hysteria-dominated meetings. There, bodily contortions, weird shoutings, the muffled beat of the tom-toms, and other hypnotic media are dominant. The old Medicine Man, with his uncanny skill at carving out the heart of a selected victim, is no longer present, but a modern likeness of him, fully equipped with luck charms, taboos, chicanery, herbs, and mystery-instilling chatter thrives on ignorance and age-old superstition.

The other side of the picture of local West Indian life is an improvement over the condition of his neglected cousin in North America. Earnest, devoted and intelligent missionaries from the States and England are effectively lifting the level of his moral life and spiritual outreach. The Canal Zone Government provides for its colored employees and their families essentially the same services maintained for white employees--excellent schools, libraries, theaters, clubhouses, recreation facilities and commissaries.

r Every community has its laboring class of people. In the Canal Zone the West Indian carries that role well, Save for the planning and the bossing, he does nearly everything. He is deck hand, grass cutter, and collector of garbage and laundry. He carpenters and drives trucks of all sorts. He cooks meals and serves them. He is janitor, painter, and an inevitable helper to every sort of artisan. As a policeman he is designated as a "patrolman." Among his own folk, he is often a teacher or a preacher, while his wife or daughter may be a dressmaker, a domestic servant, a laundress, a waitress or a clerk. A top p minority are mentally alert, courteous and efficient. Everyone, including the Canal A executives, joins in the wish that a way might be found to give him a more commensurated stipend than is permitted by an inflexible wage scale, necessarily geared to the earnings of the majority. The line of a graph analysis of efficiency would probably descend rapidly from the top few, through a thin layer of the average, to a bottom layer. The economic wisdom of employing the latter is doubtful, if interest in the job, dependability, alertness and courtesy are determining factors. Many of the mature women are domestic servants with a rare "plus" in dependability, honesty, industry and genuinely motherly interest in the welfare of the entire household. Such qualities, for example, characterize the faithful servant inherited by the current occupants of the Balboa parsonage. other homes are staffed with maids whose grandmothers allegedly are capable of averaging a funeral every fortnight! Rare ingenuity is exercised in concocting alibis. It is said to be bad luck to put one's hand into water on the same day that one irons. Need the point be explained? Again, since the skilled operator of a machine deserves more pay than a common laborer with a simple shovel, it is convenient to conclude that she who knows how to operate a complicated electric washing machine should receive more than she who uses only a washboard. Well??

If the Canal Zone West Indian worries, it is not about the sources of his income. To him there is a Santa Clause. His name is "Uncle Sam." The sources for filling Uncle Sam's money bags are thought to be as inexhaustible as are the sources for filling the gift pack of that other Santa Claus. So why bother about cause and effect, supply and demand, efficiency or economy? ? What matter is it whether the job be completed today, manana, or ever? When one job is finished, there will only be another. Why be worried? or anxious? Actually considering what he has observed among some of Uncle Sam-Santa Claus' own white sons over the past forty years, what other attitude might one expect?

We are told that it is as clerks in commissaries and clubhouses that these folks most often irritate North Americans. "They know little, and many of them care less, about the purchasing habits of the public they are paid to serve" is a frequent commentary of the exasperated. Like every other colored person around the globe, they harbor an undercurrent of resentment at color lines. For centuries they have observed at close range the Latin gentry's allergy to menial labor, and many of them therefore feel that it is becoming to imitate that if one would aspire to enlarged opportunities. Inherent in these folk is a most annoying and unfortunate pride in downright stubbornness, a hair-trigger persecution complex, and a frustrating zombian tempo which nothing, save the approach of closing time, can quicken. When these characteristics are topped with an obvious conviction that the customer is always wrong, plus the hope that he won't buy anything anyhow, (especially if it needs wrapping) there remains no doubt in the customer's mind that he is over the proverbial barrel.

Nevertheless, a sneaking doubt lodges itself in the thoughtful Zonian's mind. What if, too long, the North American buying public has fattened its world-famous boorishness and allowed its huge ego to become overstuffed with the retailer's dubious slogan, "The customer is always right'? The world did not "go to the dogs" during the log centuries prior to United States' super-speed and expeditious efficiency. Moreover, as a matter of fact, canal employees are the fortunate beneficiaries of economics inhering in the Canal Zone sales channels. Perhaps one's patience benefits by the enforced exercise it gets in clubhouses and commissaries.

Response to Autocracy

The Canal Zone is to the Federal Government as a colony or ward. The budget, domestic control, and over-all policies concerning every phase of its life come from Washington through established channels. At the top is the Canal Zone Governor, invariably an Army officer. In relation to the governed he is a dictator. In fairness to those who have held this position it must be said that they have sought to be open-minded. In a difficult position they have served well both the interests of the people and the government. There has not been the slightest hint of dishonest conniving to mar the splendid record of honesty on the part of the succession of Governors and their associates extending over a period of 35 years. The grist of office holders ground out by the multiplicity of political machines in North America is frequently of a quite inferior grade. But having been chosen by "the voice of the people" such politicians and their policies are customarily accepted, or at least silently endured. In the Canal Zone, however, no one has a vote on anything, not even a school board. There is, in fact, no school board. Instead there is a division of Schools, responsible, like all other Divisions, directly to the Governor's office. Contingent on such an arrangement, so entirely foreign to North American tradition, are two obvious responses. First, a blind compensation is sought by passing on to one's inferior in occupational rank the spirit of autocratic authority. Second, there grows out of the autocracy, in exaggerated form, the prerogative of "griping." For similar reason this practice has been developed into an art among service personnel who from their youth have been steeped in the democratic way. Among certain Zonians "griping" reaches the plain and fancy stage. A minority who have not found perfection else-where, and are willing to settle for less in the Canal Zone, find their neighbor's habit of constant complaining no small annoyance. Yet, perhaps studied and systematic kicking has values. There is at least a precautionary value in giving one's instinct of pugnacity enough exercise to avoid its breaking its leash. The victims of this verbal vitrolization are virtually every phase of Canal Zone and Panamanian life. At the apex of popularity are the insane policies of occupational superiors and the stupidities of inferiors. A close competitor is the "debilitating tropical climate," and the steaming disease-infested jungles." Meanwhile, the realistic probability is that if any spot in North America could boast a climate comparable in consistent pleasantness and freedom from earthquakes, floods, blizzards or cyclones, the altitude of real estate prices would exclude all but the Astors and the Gotrocks. Meanwhile, the local Chamber of Commerce would seriously sponsor an amendment to the Federal Constitution prohibiting negative criticism!

When the Panamanian, his country, customs, and multitude of faults come up for reprehension, the defense witnesses are amazingly scarce. The anvil chorus crescendoes into a climax of lamentation when the serious saviors of "what is left of the wreck" dip potent pens into corrective ink. Through news columns available for the purpose, profound conclusions are announced to the world in general, while ponderous anathemas are catapulted at clearly identifiable adversaries. Incidentally the concoctors of these verbal bombs usually seek security behind thick walls of anonymity. Some of the replies and counter replies involve philosophies that would prompt Socrates to double his dosage of hemlock. Others are literary gems sufficiently unique to give William Shakespeare the willies.

Housing

It is probable that more "deep-seated-let's-do-something-about-it dissatisfaction accrues from inadequate housing than from any other single Canal Zone factor. Despite minimum rental rates, satisfactory incomes, and other assets of Zone life, families do return home rather than live out their days in houses which, with minor changes, perpetuate construction camp patterns.

Wood, the perfect termite diet, continues to be used instead of equally inexpensive concrete, to which most termites are allergic. The elevation of living quarters to second story altitude, by means of awkward stilts, seems to have been initiated by the French, who might easily have copied it from the tree-dwelling Indians of Darien. The arguments on behalf of the custom are denied by Panama City's most beautiful residential sectioins. With paper-thin walls, privacy in the universally abhorred twelve-family apartments is but wishful thinking. Their design offers little convenience and no beauty. There are, however, an increasing number of quite acceptable dwellings now being constructed. Those in charge declare that their hands are tied by Washington's reluctance to approve appreciable changes in the traditional housing patterns or to provide an adequate budget. The latter, most Zonians think, could be materially augmented if drastic changes were made in the enormous overhead charges of the Building Division.

Rather than to benefit by the experience in countless communities in adopting a system for numbering houses, the planning authorities preferred originality. Consequently Zonians point with meaningless pride to unimpressive fact that no house number appears twice in the same community. For reasons difficult to justify, this plan seems to have been devised as an automatic record of the order in which houses were constructed. Whatever values (if any) originally inhered, are negated today by the resultant confusion. This is particularly true in areas where no allowance was made for the subsequent numbering of lots left vacant. When such lots were later occupied, confusing numbers had to be synthesized as, for example, 801. 801 X 801 X-A to the numbering of streets that cavort into almost concentric circles, dwellings which for blocks on end look exactly alike, families which are perpetually on the move, and it adds up to sheer madness for him whose work requires the locating of specific home addresses.

On the seniority rating plan a quarter of a century of Canal service will entitle a family to a coveted cottage or a duplex with plenty of bedroom space for all the children who, by that time, are grown and gone! The base rental on a fairly adequate three bedroom apartment averages around $40 to $50 per month, including facilities.

Difficult for stranger to conceive is the government's ownership of literally everything in the Canal Zone, including the 10,000 dwelling units and their furnishings. Exceptions include the properties of a few shipping and oil companies and religious organizations. These properties occupy government controlled land, the leases of which are revocable.

The silver lining on the housing cloud is a $67,000,000 program being submitted to Washington for new and modernized dwellings.

Charged with the responsibility of assigning quarters, providing household equipment, and maintaining all sorts of services for house-holders is the Quartermaster. Needless to say, his job is an elongated headache. He is forever between-the dictum of rules, wise or otherwise, and the demands, reasonable or unreasonable, of every family in the Canal Zone. Moreover, there are such things as budget limitations, the frailties of employed personnel, and delays which are quite unavoidable. Everything, from the destructive antics of a neighbor's pet monkey or his screaming parrot, termite destructiveness, roof repairs, uncut grass, new paint, broken chairs, the offensive odor of plant fertilizer, drunken truck drivers, fleas on the dog next door, the love calls of a tom cat, unresponsive air pumps at the gas station and the need of a new electric range, to violent charges of discrimination in the assignment of quarters, pyramid into maddening exasperation for the Quartermaster.

The employee, however, insists that there is another angle which may be hinted at by the saga of "grandma's pulley." During the Stateside leave of grandma's son, a clothesline pulley broke. This she reported quite politely in writing. After several weeks of silence, there came a letter suggesting that she contact "Mr. I Pass Bucks." she did. That gentleman deeply regretted that mid-air pulley-supported clotheslines were officially frowned upon as being unsightly. He feared that the rather brittle rules could not therefore safely be stretched. A kindly neighbor, perhaps, not rule-bound, might be willing, etc., etc. At that point grandma, without batting a diplomatic eye, and with machine-gun rapidity, verbally tore yards of red tape into shreds. Spurning interruption, and with a strategy becoming a veteran street-corner orator, she then swung into a passionate affirmation of her unbounded faith in the Quartermaster's desire to care adequately for all housing problems. That educed an almost cordial response, immediately buttressed by designating Mr. Will Fix Pulley as the man whom grandma should contact. After all, he was assistant-to-somebody in charge of pulleys. How stupid not to have named him before! At latest account, however, trusting grandma has awaited action for nearly two years, with rapidly diminishing trust!

Uncle Sam as Salesman

Annually government commissaries retail $33,000, 000 worth of goods to Canal employees. Transiting ships pay $20,000, 000 in tolls and purchase another $10,000,000 worth of supplies-food fuel and repairs. The government also owns, and operates between Colon and New York, three of the most modern and the most richly appointed passenger ships afloat. At either terminal of the Canal is a large hotel under excellent management.

With negligible exceptions all of the Zone residents are employed by the U.S. Government. The annual payroll is almost $41,000,000. For the convenience of employees there are bowling alleys, swimming pools and playgrounds in advantageous locations. In each community there is also a Post Office, and a clubhouse with a restaurant, soda fountain, magazine rack, tobacco and candy counter and freshly baked goods. Commissaries that compare with medium sized department stores in the states provide life's essentials. The treaty with Panama forbids any private enterprise which would compete with native merchants or artisans. It limits the government to the selling of only basic necessities to its employees: its commissaries may not sell to persons other than those on the Canal's pay roll. To enforce this regulation, commissary coupon books, rather than money, are used for purchases. Only those with proper credentials may purchase the coupon books. Others may not legally even enter commissary buildings. It is alleged that Panamanians themselves are the most frequent violators of this provision of this provision designed to protect their own merchants.

Ostensibly no profit is made by commissaries or clubhouses save for a small margin of safety. The width of that margin, however, is a popular topic of conversation in the field of unofficial conjecture. Elimination of profit, plus the absence of taxes, together with mass buying, top-shelf credit, and the markets of the whole world to shop in, combine to keep retail costs low. For example, gasoline sells at twelve and a half cents per gallon. A Panamanian merchant of sizable purchasing credit, asserts that his costs on a certain refrigerator appreciably exceed the commissaries' retail price.

"Brat" Life

With perilous pride the local youth born in the Panama Canal Zone have dubbed themselves "brats." The species, they say, has three varieties: Army, canal Zone, and Navy. In the contemptuous sense they are, of course, no more brats than any other cross-section of young Americans.

Their alleged allergy to the assumption of responsibilities has a familiar ring that probably echoes as far back as humanity's first "older" generation. The gradual abandonment of rural life and the rapid advent of a push-button era combine to rob that charge, so frequently made by the aging, of its realism. In all the Canal Zone there is no such thing as a wood box to fill, coal or snow to shove., or even a privately-owned lawn mower to push. The quality of soil and multiplicity of ravenous insects discourage private gardening. The absence of such chores, plus the presence of a maid in almost every household, leave few domestic routines to be assumed by young folk. Even spending money cannot be earned in an area which offers no private enterprise and a very few odd jobs. Doubtless the consistently high standard of family income often encourages a larger weekly allowance than is wise. If these combine to give young Zonians a false impression of life's rigid requirements, let it be remembered that they are but the victims of such circumstances. The absence of a Juvenile Court speaks volumes for the good to be found in Canal Zone homes, churches, schools, recreation programs and the "brats" themselves.

It would be difficult to find a community more conducive to good health. Medical care is excellent and within the reach of every family budget. Houses being built with screens instead of closable windows, one is literally never away from fresh air. Every day of the year playgrounds, swimming pools and beaches are crowded. There is organized recreation even during non-school months. The world offers no better fishing in ocean, lake or river than in Panama. For hiking there are endless trails. No snow? What need for it with slippery palm leaves for a sled?

The school system is accredited by the Middle States Association of Secondary Schools and colleges. In 1944, a survey conducted by that Association resulted in a rating of "superior" for the Canal Zone schools. There are few schools with better physical equipment. That is especially true in science laboratories and library facilities. For example, the Balboa High School alone has 11,000 volumes. A high staff rating requires that High School teachers have a Masters degree, while many of the Junior College faculty possess a Doctor of Philosophy degree. This college enjoys credit reciprocity with Stateside colleges. The two high schools are located in Balboa and Cristobal.

There is neither compulsory attendance in any Canal Zone school nor a truant officer, yet very few pupils "play hookey." The philosophy that schooling is not a requirement but a privilege seems to be practical-at least in the Canal Zone where there are no poor families needing financial aid from employed minors. Contrary to the pattern in most North American high schools, the senior enrollment frequently exceeds that of the sophomore and Junior classes.

Another singular value is the cosmopolitan atmosphere in which young folk are steeped at the Crossroads of the World. Influences from afar plus the local blending of cultures and unusual opportunities combine to eliminate the deadening provincialisms that bedevil our "One World." All this and much more combine to make of local "brats" not only good Americans, but also good world citizens.

The Ubiquitous Chiva

The U.S. Government-owned Panama Railroad's trains rumble from one ocean to the other in eighty-five minutes. The only public transportation in the Zone, beside the trains, is provided by Panamanian concessionaires. Their busses are multiple type, size and vintage, and far outnumber the trade requirements. One never need hurry to catch a bus; the driver will wait if he thinks you might have even remote thoughts of riding with him. In fact, bus drivers waiting for additional passengers at popular stations is a problem that plagues the police. Schedules mean nothing; the driver gears his speed to his own supposed advantage in picking up the most passengers.

Unique among these vehicles is the Chiva. The origin of its name is debated. Those believing it to be an appropriation of the Spanish "chiva" (she goat) have supporting evidence in its amazing capacity and in its unique propensity for butting into hazardous traffic holes. Another theory is that the word resulted from the Latinization of "Chevy" since, at the outset, the Chevrolet chassis was most popular. Some of the chiva bodies are locally constructed and emphasize originality at the expense of comfort and safety. Few college yells are louder than the color choices and combinations of the interior ornamentation. The driver, who is likely to be a part or complete owner, exercises his own originality in decorations. For example, above the wind-shield there may be the incongruous combination of the haloed Christ and a scantily clad Pin-up. Or perhaps he has gone in for family portraiture, exhibiting a Velox parade extending from grandpa to Junior. Through the color of nearly unpainted metal predominates, the exteriors are partial to no particular color of the rainbow but utilize them all.

A radio, blasting out the Latin equivalent of swing, is as an obligato to the vehicle's prophetic coughing and pathetic groaning. The only visible suggestion of safety is a charm secured to the steering post. One harbors the incredulous hope that the charm may prove to be an effective safety device, since the guerrilla chieftains who operate these screaming and swaying traffic missles seems not to give a tinker's malediction for their customers' nerves or safety.

Given reasonable assurance of a tip (and being in a felicitous mood) the driver will blandly abandon his route to give his patron special service, delivering him at the door of his theater or hotel. Should the driver's "Heart throb" be aboard, the paying customers will et extra mileage for their money-unless she happens to be going there way. This lethal, four-wheeled creature with no brakes is also found in Cuba, where its alias is "Guagua." It is to be hoped that no other area of the world may be similarly endangered!

Jungle Life

A major portion of the Isthmus of Panama is covered with jungle growth. Save for excellent potentials in certain raw materials, it is waste land. Native Indians constitute the relatively few human inhabitants. The social self-reliance and economic independence of these people command respect. From generation to generation the remembrance of the gross cruelties of white men centuries ago have been retained. The people are quite peaceful, however, unless they are mistreated. The remote Darien province bordering Columbia has tribes still untouched by civilization, some of whom are tree dwellers.

The Canal Zone itself is little less a jungle than it was when the first steam shovel took its initial bite, save in the localities where people dwell. To avoid the noisy machines and the annoying lights of this intrusive bi-pet, peace-loving animal families have retreated to more secluded areas. Occasionally an envoy, prompted by curiosity, may tour the haunts of great-grandfather. His journey need not be a long one, perhaps no farther than the 600-foot descent of Ancon Hill. In and around Balboa, most populous area of the Canal Zone, the author in the normal course of his duties has seen ant eater, armadillo, coati, honey bear, ocelot. possum, sloth, snakes, and howler, marmoset and white-faced monkeys. He exercises a benevolent care over an iguana family which feeds on his flowers and sleeps on the parsonage roof. Frequently the household is awakened in the early hours by deer grazing on the parsonage lawn, just two blocks from Balboa's shopping center. Black panther, alleged to be of amiable disposition, are frequently reported seen on the jungle highway at night. As this is being written the papers carry stories of hunters assigned the task of exterminating one such animal repeatedly seen on the slope of Ancon hill near the gubernatorial mansion.

The venerable cockroach, whose fecundity and cunning make him in the insect world comparable to the rat in the animal world, is the target of fabulous assertions. Nearly six years of constant residence with him has prepared this author to accept, without the proverbial grain of salt, most any story concerning his I.Q. We have not, however, actually seen him don his horn-rimmed bifocals and read the grocery list with critical eye. Miss Elsie Keyser, veteran Methodist missionary in Panama City, is fond of relating the following experience in an old construction-era restaurant, standing on the site of the Balboa Union Church, she helped conduct religious services on Sunday afternoons. The portable organ became more and more weak by the week, until finally not even a wheeze could be coaxed out of it. Investigation revealed its bellows entirely filled with cockroaches!

Ants of infinite variety, number and destructiveness are everywhere. They range in size from the barely visible to a jungle variety facetiously said to be large enough to stand at a wagon and eat oats! DDT seems to be but a good appetizer in their diet, but a first-class baking tames those who infest one's flour supply. There is a microscopic, colorless specie that, having managed to get into the sugar bowl, becomes so thoroughly amalgamated as usually to be ignored.

Despite the presence of a wide variety of serpents in Panama, death from snake bite is very infrequent. The Bushmaster, one of the world's most deadly, is killed on sight. The Boa Constrictor, despite its being maligned in fiction and cinema, is the most popular mascot of local soldiers. Civilians keep him as a pet, and sometimes as anti-spray-cat insurance. Currently the local press carries an account of a Boa having chosen a goat for his lunch. West Indian children, under whose house the banquet preparations were in progress, pelted the snake with sticks and rocks until he departed in disgust. The Balboa police, finding the goat badly crushed, sent him to whatever heaven awaits his breed.

The most familiar jungle visitor is the buzzard. Because of his watchful eye and amazingly sensitive olfactory nerve, it is difficult to find a dead animal whose bones have not been picked white. These birds attain the size of a grown turkey hen and are whimsically called "The Panamanian Air Force."Since they enjoy rigid legal protection, they have multiplied into millions; they frequently are so tame as to examine the area of one's garbage can with deliberate care. Finding nothing spilled, the beggar will sit on the lid in wide-eyed expectation.

The Canal Zone as Health Zone

Throughout Latin America the Canal Zone is regarded as a health resort and rightly so since it claims the lowest per capita death rate of any area under the U.S. flag. In early days it was a pest hole, breeding malaria and yellow fever so rapidly that a white man was believed to sign his own death warrant by coming to the Canal Zone. The radical transformation was wrought by Dr. William Gorgas and his army of Sanitary Engineers. Each year they cut down five square miles of brush, drained nearly a square mile of swamp land, mowed 6, 400 acres of grass, collected and disposed of 1,300, 000 cans of garbage, maintained the equivalent of 550 miles of drainage ditches, and sprayed human dwelling space totalling 11,000, 000 cubic feet. Never before nor since has mankind's war on the mosquito been so intense, so extensive or so effective.

Theoretically, an epidemic effecting a hundred technicians entrusted with the actual operation of the Canal, could temporarily close that traffic lifeline and paralyze much of the world's marine shipping. As partial insurance against such a possibility it has been decreed that epidemics of any consequence must therefore be avoided. This policy necessitates adequate hospital facilities and long range measures for disease prevention. Moreover, authority must extend outside the Zone. Such a prerogative gives the Health Department freedom to supervise Panama's water supply, its garbage disposal, its market sanitation, and other measures designed to prevent disease.

It would be difficult to find another area of equal population with more or better hospital facilities at a cost within reach of all. In addition to the huge hospitals in the Zone, including those of the Army and navy, Panama has some public and private ones of excellent quality.

Daily garbage collection in both the Canal Zone and the Republic of Panama is a highly effective measure in the prevention of diseases. house flied, for example, are so scarce that the author has seen only four in his own house during nearly six years. Streets are meticulously swept and nature washes them almost daily. In residential areas grass is kept too short to shade tiny pools where the larvae of Anopheles mosquito might hatch. Water in outlying areas that cannot be drained is kept covered with an oil that kills larvae upon coming to the surface for air. To make life really difficult for annoying or disease-carrying insects, the Health Department keeps in constant action fleets of trucks and planes equipped with insecticides. Incoming ships and planes are fumigated. Whatever the cost, these precautions are good economy, since the tiny mosquito kills many more people than all the world's jungle cats and serpents combined.

If the immortal Louis Pasteur could witness the informed confidence placed by modern physicians in the hypodermic needle, it might compensate for any difficulty he experienced in getting medical men of his day to accept and use his revolutionary discovery. For example, during 1949, a dozen natives living in "the bush" suddenly died of yellow fever. The germs, it was discovered, were being incubated by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito in nearby monkeys. Immediately 474,000 preventive injections were flown from the States and promptly administered not only to Zonians but to Panamanians and San Blas Islanders and others in the most remote areas. As if by magic, a disease that might have brought death to thousands vanished. Thus has run the story since the days of the great Gorgas.

Zonians engage in much wailing over "the blood thinning effects of the tropics." A sizable percentage of them believe that they must occasionally be exposed to cold weather or decline in health. Some scientific data, accumulated by Dr. Christopher J. Hamre, Zoological Department of the University of Hawaii, negates this notion. His findings reveal that the hemoglobin count is essentially the same regardless of climate or temperature. For example, the count is 15.10 in Boston. Dr. William Crawford Gorgas, without whole understanding of tropical diseases the Canal could scarcely have been constructed or operated, was sure that save for the dehabilitating effect of tropical diseases the tropics offered a better environment than the temperate zone for the growth of the world's major civilizations. He saw this profound discovery as the Canal's greatest by-product. In fact he felt that throughout long centuries it would far outrun the Canal in its benefits to humanity. His biographers reveal that after departing from Panama in 1914 he spent the rest of his life demonstrating this discovery in other parts of the world.

Woe to the Criminal

Whether he be intent on petty larceny, reckless driving or international intrigue, life is exceedingly difficult for the criminal in the Canal Zone. In constant operation is a bewildering number of police organizations, secret and otherwise. Most obvious are the youthful and grim-faced lads who occupy the guard booths at the entrances of all military areas. Before being admitted any suspect-which includes everybody-may be required to produce a pass or a plausible story. Whether one be held for questioning or motioned to proceed appears to depend upon the mood of the lad entrusted with autocratic discrimination.

The Canal Zone Police match the favorable reputation of the Canadian Mounted Police. Confident that no superior on the Force or in the Judiciary has been bribed or intimidated, they perform their duty without fear or favor. They are trained in courtesy and in the gaining of cooperative goodwill. For example, a teenage youngster related this incident of a 'disgustingly friendly" officer. On a Hallowe'en nigh he stopped his car to inquire what she and her friends were up to. "Oh, just soaping this car window," she replied. "That's fine," said the officer. "Be careful not to get any soap on the paint." With that comment he drove on. "After that it was no fun." sighed the young lady. Surrounded by military reservations and adjacent to Panama's capitol city of 160,000 people, the traffic problem in Balboa is one of puzzling proportions. Yet there are few spots any-where with safer driving or where regulation is maintained with less of the "stiff-arm" method on the part of the police.

The perilous status of the Canal's defenses at the beginning of World War 11 was immediately improved until the Zone became one of the best fortified areas in the entire world. If the authorities lost sight of a Japanese war vessel in the far Pacific, Balboa was notified long before it could possibly reach the Canal. Planes and surface craft operating out of bases scattered from Guatemala to Mid-South America searched the seas until given the all-clear signal. Far-flung radio and radar networks were active day and night. Half of Panama's jungle hills were crowned with anti-aircraft guns. Enormous searchlights were so abundant that a plane, flying from one end of the Canal to the other would be spotted simultaneously by a half dozen of them. Every lock, dam, bridge or other possible enemy objective was protected by heavy wire nets and grim guards. On the shoulders of nearby islands rested the world's largest coastal guns. Navy observation blimps continuously sat over waters suspected of containing enemy submarines. Until the harnessing of atomic energy, the Panama Canal was North America's most important single military tool. Precautions such as these designed for its protection are therefore understandable. Arbitrary monitors were empowered to hear, record or cut any telephone conversation which seemed inappropriate. This was particularly true if one of the conversants was known to be within sight of the Canal. Yet, there was no aroma of persecution. He who had a legitimate mission in the area, with no subversive inclinations, went unmolested throughout the war years.

Some Dates

The following tabulation of dates may be helpful in envisioning the Canal's historical setting.

1501-The Isthmus of Panama was discovered.

1502-Cristopher Columbus landed in Panama.

1510-The Spanish established a colony at Santa Maria.

1513-Vasco Nunez de Balboa discovered the Pacific Ocean.

1521-Old Panama City was founded.

1530-The Las Cruces Trail was completed from the Chagres to Old Panama.

1534-King Charles V of Spain asked for a ship canal running from Old Panama City to the Chagres River.

1540-The Camino Real (Royal Road) running from Porto Bello to Old Panama City was completed. For over 100 years it was a commercial and military highway.

1671-Henry Morgan, English pirate, knight and knave, sacked old Panama city and stole its gold.

1673-A new Panama City was founded on the present site.

1742-Lawrence Washington, brother of North America's first President, together with Admiral Edward Vernon (after whom "Mt. Vernon" was named) destroyed Fort San Lorenzo at the mouth of the Chagres.

1850-The building of the Panama Railroad was started.

1852-The city of Colon was officially founded.

1855-The first Panama Railroad train made the fifty mile journey from one ocean to another in five hours.

1879-With much pomp and publicity Ferdinand Discomte de Lesseps, French diplomat and engineer, landed to attempt the building of the Canal.

1881-Ancon (now Gorgas) Hospital was started.

1903-Panama revolted against Columbia on November third, and three days later was officially recognized by the U.S. as and independent state.

1904-The defunct French Canal Company's holdings were transferred to the U.S. Government.

1906-Washington approved a lock-type Canal.

1914-The S.S. "Ancon" (not the present one) transited the Canal on August 15.

Some Names

The origin of the following names may be of some interest. Elsewhere are a few others.

Ancon-(Anchorage) The name has been applied to the famous Pacific-side hill for nobody -knows-how-many centuries.

Bohio-(Home) First called "Bohio Soldado"-soldier's home. The French intended erecting a dam near this early river village.

Chagres River-Columbus called it "Rio Lagartos," river of alligators. The name "Rio de Chagre," from which "Chagres" evolved. came from Venta de Chagre, the name of an inn located on the old King's Highway at the river crossing.

Corozal-probably derived from the Coroso Palm.

Culebra-(snake) It was the Canal's construction capital and the center of the "Culebra Cut" operations.

Diablo-(Devil) The name may have been applied to the modern village due to its proximity to a railroad crossing which, because it was the scene of so many disasters, came to be called "Devil's Crossing." Another theory is that the name was appropriated from a sixteenth century Diablo located not far from the present one. The fierce inhabitants of the primitive village were known as Cimarrones. Led by their elusive Ballane, they preyed upon the rich caravans that traversed the Isthmus.

Empire-originally "Emperador," emperor. On the old trail that led from Gorgona to Panama City, it was a pack train station. Subsequently it was a large construction village. All that currently remains are a few foundation stones.

Frijoles-(beans) Perhaps construction crews ate lunch there. It is known as the railroad stop where the Barro Colorado Island launch meets train passengers.

Gorgona-probably named for an island near Colombia. Following its days as a river traffic station, it was made the center of construction machinery repair shops. It is now but a memory. It is said that on the Gorgona Islands in Gatun Lake, not far from modern Gamboa, a few evidences of the old construction towns are to be seen.

Miraflores-(see [the] flowers). Also the name of an eminent Spanish soldier.

Panama-(many fishes). There is also the panama tree, found only in local flora.

Paraiso-(Paradise). The American builders maintained a huge locomotive repair shop there.

San Pablo-(Saint Paul). It originally was a tiny native village and was supported for many years by a nearby fruit farm. Subsequently it was the home of a construction labor camp. Appropriately enough, the name was given the short street which passes St. Mary's Roman Catholic and the Balboa Union churches.

Tivoli-The famous hotel of that name, located in Ancon, is said to occupy one hill of an early Italian's farm. To this he had given the name "Tivoli" from a hill in the city of Rome.

Christmas Customs

The Canal Zone, with its annual quota of 365 of Lowell's "rare days in June," lacks no essential to a completely merry Christmas-unless it be snow. Sloppy, messy snow with its impedimenta of streaming scarfs, comical ear muffs, clumsy galoshes, stalled automobiles, cold bedroom floors, too-hot or too-cold furnaces, broken water pipes, greasy black soot, encumbering overcoats, slippery sidewalks, frozen noses and bad colds. Folk in the tropics sing "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" with a nostalgic gusto, perhaps because a faint shiver is the worst possible outcome of a dream-revived frost-bitten memory.

Beautiful young trees arrive direct from Canada long before Christmas. When at last the commissary drags them out of cold storage and announces their sale, multitudes driven by a madness found only in the North American Christmas shopper, rush for an advantageous place in the line, hearing in their ears the parting advice, "Be sure it is symmetrical." But with an aggregation of "angel hair," cheap tinsel, unrealistic "snow" and gaudy balls the tree won't be seen anyhow! Adding injury to insult, the helpless little tree is further encumbered with strings of completely absurd electric lights, serving no good purpose and signifying a sum total of nothing. There is reason to suspect that this temperamental gadget was designed by his Satanic Majesty to quell, in the heart of the slave who must attend them, an semblance of the Christmas spirit.

One Christmas custom thoroughly established in the Canal Zone is the festive community burning of discarded trees. In this wholesome custom-a portion of the Twelfth Night observance-the mainspring of enthusiasm resides in adolescents who usually syndicate their interests. Early in December the potential trees are solicited from householders with enthusiasm and a "sign here" definiteness. probable collection dates are estimated and recorded. In January the stacks of cypress and fir are dragged from places of safe-keeping and heaped into vast pyramids which, when lighted, shoot streams of orange sparks toward the tropical stars. Around the fire children romp and play with glee; neighborhood adults punctuate their chitchat by munching on pickles and wieners. Often the evenings end with square dancing in the street for everyone.

The poinsettia, an increasingly popular symbol of the holiday season, flowers in scarlet profusion everywhere often producing blossoms over twenty inches in diameter. Each flower lasts for many weeks and is at the height of its glory during the Christmas season. To start a plant a short poinsettia branch is placed in the ground; a year later it is a bush seven or eight feet in height, loaded with blossoms. In consequence there are vast hedges of such entrancing beauty.

Of unusual significance in Christmas ornamentation is the Spanish nacimiento. During the holidays one of these occupies a corner in every church and a room in most homes in Panama. Whether the scene is simple or pretentious, the Holy Family is central. The figures, often hand-carved in Spain, are purchased through the years as family funds permit. Their quantity and quality become a matter of family pride and inheritance, even as does table silver in North America. In one privately-owned collection, valued at $8,000, we counted more than 100 figures of human beings. Some of the camel-borne Wise Men were over two feet in height. There were 89 animals and 27 houses and churches scaled to the Palestinian landscape in which they were set. Unfortunately, some Panamanian families have adopted America's overloaded Christmas tree. In blatant contrast it stands, typifying the Western World's adoration of externals.

Miscellaneous Unusuals

The Canal Zone is a place where--

--Yankee life, with its traditions, races, nobilities, prejudices, villainies and virtues are faithfully reproduced in miniature.

--Jungle orchids are cultivated in one's own yard.

--In wet season, shoes, left out of the dry closet forty-eight hours, will grow a mildew "beard."

--A one hundred-mile journey may land one amid tree-dwelling Indians who hunt with poison arrows, and probably never saw a white man.

--Temperature variances are negligible throughout the year, with a mean 80 degrees. The lowest on record in the Government's Meteorology and Hydography observation stations, during a third of a century, was 59 degrees, in April 1920; with the highest at 98 in 1924. Yet the equator is only nine degrees farther sough. Despite this official all-time high , travellers and writers, desiring to tell an impressive story, frequently start with 96 degrees as a minimum for "the steaming jungles of Panama."

--Sunstroke is virtually unknown and serious sunburn is quite uncommon.

--An employee comes "just for a year" and remains for perhaps a third of a century, all the while he is continually planning to leave. His service is terminated at the age of sixty-two. By then he has speculated for a third of a century concerning where he is to retire; yet seldom knows even in which state he will reside.

--The only hat a man owns he has for fishing, while his wife some-times wears one to church.

--In a single day one may swim in both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans and have time for a leisurely dip in one of he world's most important rivers and its second largest artificial lake.

--The "hay" available for young folk's hay rides is shredded Commissary coupons.

--In round numbers and easy to remember rates, the Atlantic tide is eighteen inches and the Pacific tide as many feet.

--The annual rainfall on the Pacific side is six feet, with twice that much on the Atlantic coast only fifty miles distant.

--The 80th meridian swishes past on its way to Quito, after practically bisecting Cuba, Miami, Pittsburgh and Erie.

--The sun rises out of the Pacific Ocean and is visible on the Atlantic side some two minutes later.

--The Atlantic entrance to the Canal Zone is some 20 miles west of the Pacific entrance.

--Government employees may join labor organization but are forbidden to strike.

--An obedient husband wears his coat from the car to the host's door where, if true hospitality prevails, he will be urged to remove it.

--A veritable army of workmen keep hundreds of acres of parks and lawns cut (to discourage mosquitoes, more than for beauty).

--It is well to shake one's shoes as they are donned, lest a sleeping scorpion be surprised into a bad mood.

--The meat in a "chicken" sandwich in nearby Panama may turn out to be iquana meat.

--Alligators are hunted by Army officers in a hellicopter and by adolescents with a lasso rope.

--According to sages, "Once one drinks Chagres water, he will surely return to its valley."

And so ....

A score of volumes have sought to relate the enchanting story of the Canal Zone's unique and engrossing life. But, as the following refrain of James Stanley Gilbert's rhyme indicates, these volumes, with scores of others, would leave much untold;

"Then go away if you have to go,
Then go away if you will,
To again return you will always yearn
While the lamp is burning still.
You've drunk the Chagres water
And the mango eaten free
And strange though it seems,
It'll haunt your dreams--
This land of the Coconut tree."

I remember this well and hope if there is a Heaven when I die I will go back to the Canal Zone.

Howard Linden Clarke, Jr.


 
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Author Dale C. Clarke.
Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Delta One Internet. All rights reserved.
Revised: August 16, 2000.