Friday, December 22, 2006

Night Time Parade in El Valle de Anton, Panama

If you read the last post you remember that I was eating at Nina Delia as the school Christmas parade took shape outside. I had left the front doors of the house wide open in the hopes that a trapped hummingbird might make its escape.

The parade itself took a long time to arrive, as things are wont to do in Panama. It's not unusual for a parade to begin hours after its scheduled starting time. No one is upset by this. They wait, talk, and sit quietly. They are the real sabireen.

For about a half hour I ate my dinner and listened to the drums approaching. Finally the first car arrived and I stepped outside the restaurant to watch. In actuality the restaurant is a large open air, palm-thatched bohio, so it's just a matter of taking a few steps to the edge of the bohio.

The first car was a fire marshal's pickup truck with a siren wailing and blue lights flashing. It carried a large display with Santa on one side and a Raggedy Ann on the other. At their feet were recreations of what looked like white seals frolicking.

Behind this car was a four wheeler ATV driven by Mark, the tall fellow from Tennessee who rents these electric golf carts here in town. Mark wore a Santa cap and smoked a cigarette as he drove, slouching in the seat. In the back seat several children waved to the crowd.

Then another fire truck, the occupants throwing entire bags of candy to the crowd, children in the streets scrambling to retrieve them. In fact I saw my waitress scurrying to get some.

At this point the parade halted. A little ways down the street a squadron of drumming boys continued to play.

I went back into the restaurant and ordered a piece of carrot cake. I brought the cake outside and stood on the grass, eating my cake and waiting for the parade to resume. As usual, it was a long parade. Girls in knee high boots and skirts marching and twirling batons, other groups of girls playing Christmas music on xylophones, squadrons of as many as forty boys drumming, a group of children in nativity costumes... and all of them wearing flashing lights on their caps and shirts, making the whole thing ridiculously festive and almost surreal.

At one point a small girl who could not have been more than three joined the marchers, twirling her own baton. Her mother came out to get her and she ran between the marchers, leading her mother on a chase, swinging her baton, determined to be a part of the parade. I pointed at her and laughed out loud, and said to no one in particular, "Panama is so funny! Panama is a trip."

And it really is.

When I got home, the doors still wide open and the lights out, I found that the hummingbird had gone to sleep in the loft. So I left the doors open all night, hoping the bird might wake up and find its way out.

It did not. The next morning it was still there, but when Adam came by to resume work he climbed up to the loft and caught it in a towel. We took it outside and set it free in the yard just as Rosa was arriving for work. She saw me open the towel and a small bird shoot into the sky, and watched with a startled look as it flew away. Life is a precious thing, subhanAllah, so fragile but so resilient.

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