Help!  Which Way to the Canal Zone???
by Jean A. Liebner

Getting lost was very easy for me.  Not that I was happy with this particular talent, but it was a fact of life that I had lived with during my 22 years. 

Before I began teaching at the Fort Kobbe Elementary School in September 1958, I had a job interview with Instituta Pan Americana to teach during the summer months. My husband, Don, was a PFC and assigned to the 62nd MRU at Ft. Amador.  We needed the additional income!!!  At the time, we were living in Diablo in vacation quarters which we had rented from a Canal Zone teacher who was away  enjoying  her summer vacation.

As I maneuvered our 1953 Mercury onto the road that lead out of the Canal Zone,  I tried to restrain my fear of getting lost and focus on my job interview with Instituta Pan Americana in Panama City.  This was my first time in Panama by myself since arriving in the Zone only two months earlier. The map carefully drawn by my husband was guiding me to my interview for a three months teaching position with the Instituta Pan Americana, an elementary school for Panamanian children.  For $120 a month, I , who had a Spanish vocabulary of about five words,  would be teaching  Fifth Grade children History, Grammar and Bible in the English language.

After finding my way without difficulty to the job interview and accepting the job assignment, I felt pretty confident as I now began to use my map to get back to the Canal Zone and home.  Alas, I found it happening again, the creeping fear that comes over me when the names of streets on my map do not appear on the street signs.  When I found myself having to reverse my driving directions, I became TOTALLY confused in determining "Which Way to the Canal Zone."

I stopped twice for directions. But when I tried to follow them, instead of seeing something familiar, I found myself engulfed in a sea of vehicles whose occupants were honking and yelling as we all inched our way in what appeared to be a road that traveled in a circle.

Cars would dart off this circle intersection and disappear down a maze of crowded streets.   By now my tears were flowing freely as I implored  my Savior to show me the "Way to the Canal Zone" and home.

Two La Guardia National Officers, who must have had a death wish, stood in the middle of this melee blowing their whistles.  As I passed one of the officers, I yelled, "Which Way to the  Zone?" I couldn't understand his words but the message, I knew, would not be acceptable in polite society.  Desperate, I continued around the circle to the second officer and yelled my same plea, "Which Way to the Zone?" Although his message seemed to be the same as the first officer, he did point to a street.

Finally,  as I was clutching the steering wheel with white knuckles, I came upon a street that I recognized. It was the road into the Canal Zone and home.  With a huge sigh of relief and gratitude, I had found the "Way to the Canal Zone."   What a BEAUTIFUL place!!!

March 20, 2000

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