One of the things that I enjoy most in small town Latin America is the evening music. Nearly everywhere I go, the local school band will gather after class to practice right in the middle of the town. Aside from wondering how American children would ever survive without dedicated facilities… and how many snobby American residents would file complaints, I often sit and enjoy the music. The music brings a surreal sense of community to any downtown area. Regardless of how good the band is, culture is brought to life by these children.
These children take great pride in what they do and they practice daily for all to see. Often, I will find the school band sitting in a town square practicing until the sun goes down… without any adult supervision. Half-broken instruments, no music room, no direction, just kids enjoying what they do. Even when they suck I take a few moments to appreciate the effort and pride these kids demonstrate.
The Children of David, Panama
This particular occasion was a little different. The school children seemed to be marching home from school in an almost parade or military fashion. The teachers on the flank, leading effortlessly the children who needed no guidance. Given my poor Spanish, I couldn’t really get the story of what exactly these children were doing. They may have been marching home or going from one facility to another. The reaction of the locals showed it to be a normal occurrence.
I took a moment to watch the parade of children, their band walking and playing as a distinct group. Then I decided to have a little fun with the situation.
I went into my hotel and found the receptionist that I knew didn’t speak any English. Playing the “ignorant American” I asked (in English) why the children were protesting. She looked confused and tried very hard to make sense of the question with her limited vocabulary. I could see that she was about to try to pass the question off on the other receptionist who spoke English (and new exactly what was going on) so I asked my question again in Spanish. She still seamed confused but now wanted to answer the question herself instead of taking the boss from what she was doing, which by this time was chuckling over the situation.
After a few attempts at re-wording the question so that she could be sure she knew what I was asking, a look of embarrassment crossed her face. She passionately tried to convince me that this was not a group of protesting 12 year olds, but a group of students walking. I insisted that they had signs and banners and flags so it must be a protest. This probably could have gone on for quite some time had she not looked back and caught her boss laughing at her.
There’s always next time…