Wednesday, March 30, 2016
Little White Dots
The men of the Ngabere Comarca, a Panama reserve for an indigenous people, are strong, handsome, and cheerful. Compact as welter weight fighters, they incessantly carry loads of rice, beans, crops, and water up the trails and roads that connect the village like capillaries of the circulatory system. They are lean and weathered and do not suffer fools, complaint, or laziness. They talk to me about water, droughts, wind, seasons, crops, families, and money. They like a good joke at my expense, my ignorance of tying knots on a loaded pack horse. Just what good are you their looks say. The boys want to know how many push ups I can do, how fast I can carry a seven gallon water jug up the ridge below the house. I help them with language homework using the expensive headlamp I brought with me. I see them puzzle over the strange concepts of nouns, verbs, personal pronouns, temporal pronouns: bizarre and irrelevant homework that pushes them to quit school so their time can be better spent clearing "monte" for the family crops. I invite one of them to join us for dinner for his 15th birthday. He never shows. When we walk down the trail to the pools deep in the quebrada to swim and cool off, I see that they have lines of white dots punctuating their backbones. The dots look like little stars set in the dark umber of their skin. I wonder if they are the result of some bite or condition and ask about them. The older boys go silent, but "Veijo," a seven year old, tells me in a matter-of-fact frankness that they the scars left after burns with the sharp end of a red-hot nail. The burns are the consequence of laziness. Men have no room in their days for laziness. Boys need to learn that early on. I think about that as we scramble down to the pool where we will play, for a few moments, after a day swinging a machete, avoiding snakes.