Stories from Friends of Casa Asilo
By Nicholas Corea
“Stories from Friends of Casa Asilo” is a new series where the Bocas Breeze will interview the Friends of Casa Asilo. Who are the Friends of Casa Asilo? They are the residents, the nurses, the volunteers and basically anyone who finds themselves at the Asilo de Ancianos (Elderly Home) on Avenida Norte and Calle 8, right there overlooking the sea from Isla Colon. The Bocas Breeze encourages you to get involved with the Friends of Casa Asilo. You can make donations of rice, bread, water, soda, toilet paper and diapers. Most of all: YOUR TIME! Come spend an afternoon with the lovely elderly folks of Casa Asilo.
Duke Roberto Ellington Straud was born in January 24th, 1946 in the city of Colon. The hospital was within the Panama Canal Zone part of the city. His father was from Jamaica and had come to work building the Panama Canal. He met Duke’s mother, an Afro-Panamanian woman living from Colon and they lived in the worker’s housing in the Canal Zone; where Mr. Duke was born.
“I born in Colon, live in Colon and get blind in Colon,” recalls Duke. So at the very beginning of the interview, Duke opened right up to me and told me the heart-wrenching tale of losing his vision at 44 years old. He wasted no time addressing his condition. He also wasted no time in showcasing his bravery and winner’s attitude: “I live 27 years without worrying this. I don’t worry it and it don’t worry me. Twenty-seven years blind and I don’t let it bother me.” In his early 40’s his vision started to deteriorate, so he sought optometry specialists in Panama City. He had a few tests and procedures done to his eyes, which Duke is sure made his vision worse and he eventually lost his vision completely in 1990. With the sad stories out of the way, Duke and I delved into all the fun stuff.
Duke worked as a carpenter in Colon and ended up taking his talents to Bocas del Toro in 1968 when he was 22 years old. (Editor’s note: Coming to Bocas at 22 years old is something the editor and Duke have in common.) He came to Almirante to work in the machine shop for the Chiriqui Land Company in the construction department. Duke would rarely come to Isla Colon but he would come every September for the famous Feria del Mar (Maritime Fair ). He was married twice (once in Bocas) and has four children. He returned to Almirante in 1997 when his nephew Renaldo King retired and wanted to take care of his uncle, who had been blind for 7 years at this point. If you’ve ever visited the Casa Asilo and spent time with Duke, you will know that he’s very mobile and self-sufficient, never wanting help, so you can imagine how he felt about his nephew taking him in: “I don’t wanna give nobody no problem. I’m a blind man and I’m happy my way. I don’t want to disturb nobody.” He stayed with his nephew until 2000 until Duke moved to the Casa Asilo, where he’s lived here for the last 17 years. Whether Duke can be considered the longest standing resident at the Asilo is quite the funny topic of debate…
Prado, who is sitting next to us during the whole interview, claims to have been living in Casa Asilo for 25 years, longer than Duke’s 17. However, Prado did leave the Asilo for 7 years. Duke went on to do some very solid math and jokingly argue with Prado and went onto add “Another thing,-when he [Prado] came back here, I was 62 years old. And when he came back, he tells me that he was 62. When he left here he was 3 years older than me and when he come back? He was 62 like me! Something funny, ya?” Something funny indeed…but that’s fine: the folks at Casa Asilo love to laugh.
The Bocas Breeze had a great afternoon with Duke, Prado and all our friends at Casa Asilo and we encourage you to visit as well! Duke had this to say about how much everyone at the Asilo will appreciate your visit: “We like when people come! When the visitors come here, everybody feels happy. It keeps everybody active. When they get active, they feel better. If you have a sickness, with the activeness that you get, it release part of your sickness and you’re not worrying and thinking about it.”
A special thanks to Duke for the interview and Mark Johnson of Paradise Found Real Estate for his support during the interview.