Bin Laden Alive and Well (but has really cleaned up his act)
Founding editor of this website; Canadian Sydney Tremayne, was just finishing his epic journey from the Canada to Panama. It was October 2003, late at night when he arrived at the border town of Paso Canoas. He needed two things, help with crossing the border into Panama and after thousands of miles of road travel-he needed tires for his car. A friendly taxi driver knew just the man for the job. As Sydney sat in the taxi the driver wound down the window and yelled, “Bin Laden!” Out of shadows came a thin gaunt looking man with a long straggly beard. This was Kenneth Icaza, also known throughout the border region as Osama Bin Laden. Kenneth resembled his infamous namesake so closely the name stuck - the Panamanian border guards still call him by that name to this day.
Kenneth Icaza should be in the Guinness Book of records for the number of times he has been deported from Costa Rica to Panama. So far he has racked up 21 deportations from Costa Rica to his home country Panama - once he even managed two deportations in the same day. Kenneth used to have a problem with drugs.
Unlike his Al Quaida namesake, Kenneth never ventured into the world of international terrorism. Most probably, he wouldn’t know one end of an AK 47 assault rifle from the other. However, he did know how to survive on the rough-and-ready streets of the Panamanian border town of Paso Canoas.
After 20 years of substance abuse and sleeping on park benches and in the gutter, his life may have ended in the same way as many of his contemporaries- face down, in some alleyway, dead from an overdose. That’s when his fate took an unexpected turn.
Writer and journalist Tremayne featured Kenneth in one of his first articles on the fledgling website: Yourpanama.com Kenneth, told me recently that he credits that Internet article with being a turning point in his life. Kenneth’s family and friends read the article and were surprised to learn the prodigal was still alive. They contacted him and he learned sadly that his mother had died of lung cancer and that his father had undergone 2 heart bypass surgeries.
It was this that gave him his life changing wake up call. He vowed he would meet his father again - but only when he was clean and sober.
Kenneth checked himself into a tough -love rehab center called the “Cave of Adullam.” Bible readers will know that 1 Chronicles 11, verse 16 mentions it as a place “hard to approach.” Kenneth agreed that it wasn’t the place you could easily slip away from. This helped the people there to stay focused, stay with the course and for some to come back to a life of sobriety.
Kenneth, did meet his father again and as he promised himself, he was clean and sober. In a strange twist of fate, the same tire dealer that Kenneth took writer Tremayne to some 10 years earlier, gave Kenneth a job as desk manager in Paso Canoas’s finest hotel. I met Kenneth on a warm sunny day in August of this year. He was bright, energetic and friendly and there was a cropping of his once long and straggly black beard. He showed me a picture of the love of his life; Lucretia -a woman who I am sure will do much in ensuring that “Bin Laden” will never return to a life of waste and drug abuse.
In early September of this year Kenneth finally had a reunion with the now-retired writer and journalist in Tremayne’s mountain home of Volcan. I talked with Tremayne this morning and he was pleasantly surprised at how things turned out. “I didn’t think the article would have that effect,” he said. “I just wrote article but it was Kenneth (Bin Laden) who did the work.”
Journalists world wide have a bad reputation for not following up on stories. I am happy to say that in early October I chanced upon Keneth Icaza (Bin Laden) and I am delighted to say he is still clean and sober. Even more wonderful he was in the arms of his now wife Lucrezia and his grandson, Vincent, was at their side.
So many lives are lost to drugs these days and many wonder if the problem can ever be solved. This is not a solution story - but it is a happy ending story, and it does offer some small glimmer of proof that with God’s help lives can be turned around.