Sunday, March 23, 2008

Entrepreneurial Spirit--Panamanian Style

Someone named Bull posted this great story on the Panama Forum, and I thought I'd share it with my readers (the photo is not the fellow in the story, just a random Panamanian farmer whose photo I found on the web). Read all the way to the end. You'll be glad you did:

His name was Joseul and the clothes he wore would've been rejected by the raggediest scarecrow on the poorest piece of hardscrabble farm land in Lower Alabama but I needed a gardener not a GQ wannabe so we cut a deal sans contract for him to mow my lawn in Albrook Air Force Station family housing for seven bucks a week.

A nosy neighbor told us she'd seen his lineup photo in a book the Sky Cops showed around the housing area and she suspected him of stealing a pair of shoes from her clothes dryer. I told her if they were the shoes I always saw him wearing she needed to go to confession as soon as possible since I was convinced she'd reached a point people smarter than me called a nadir. I added for good measure that I thought Joseul's surname was probably Nadir.

He was so rail thin if he turned sideways I couldn't see his shadow. He lived
in an area called Hollywood situated between the vegetable market where Gaillard Highway almost becomes Fourth of July Avenue and a PCC housing area up on the hill behind it. The best thing you could say about Hollywood was it was waterfront property. Course you wouldn't drink or cook with that agua (browner for more reasons than mud) and if you were a reasonable person driving by it you'd pinch your nostrils together if your windows were down in which case you'd be considered less than reasonable.

Joseul wasn't a standup comic but he uttered one of the best one liners I've ever heard. After a particularly strong thunderstorm he said, "My house blew away but I found it."

During the five years he worked for us and other families on Albrook he endured
the violent and tragic death of his wife, run down by a Diablo Rojo, leaving him to
raise their three young children. To supplement his gardening income he fought boxing
matches he almost always lost and on more than one occasion he was mugged by maleantes who knew he was a gardener paid in cash. Yet every time I saw him he was smiling.

If I asked him "Como esta?" he always replied, "Muy bien, gracias!" This all occurred
from July 1984 to July 1989 when I returned to Phoenix and my old job at Luke AFB. We returned to Panama for a second tour in April 1993 and things had changed considerably.

Our family unit was the wife and me. I thought it was the ultimate vacation until my wife pointed out that one of the establishments we hadn't found yet was a laundromat. We lived in the El Panama Hotel for two months while looking for permanent housing downtown.

Every Friday morning I tossed our dirty laundry into the car trunk and on my lunch hour would scoot from Howard AFB over to Albrook where I used the washer/dryer behind the Bachelor Officers Quarters.

One day I'm driving up to that location when I spot none other than Joseul, standing in someone's yard, overseeing his 16-year old son mow the lawn. I pulled to the curb and got out and it was as Yogi Berra famously said deja vu all over again for both of us. The next time I saw him was two or three years later as I walked to my car in the Howard parking lot and here comes Joseul, resplendent in dress slacks, long sleeved white guayabera, looking dapper and contented as all getout.

We chatted awhile and he told me he had his own landscaping business and he was
certainly the picture of success. We exchanged a firm handshake and fuerte abrazo and as I walked on to my car I could feel a bit more spring in my old feet.


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