Monday, January 15, 2007

Losing the Bear


Laura and I went for a long walk today after dinner. It was cool and breezy, and every now and then the sky sent down a little mist, just to keep us fresh. Salma rode in her stroller, talking to herself and playing with her stuffed toy, a small, pink Beanie Baby bear named "Cure". The bear is a breast cancer toy (the proceeds go to breast cancer research) and was given to Laura by the parents of Trinity School, when her mother developed breast cancer a few years ago.

We did a long circuit, along Calle Los Millonarios, down to the hot springs road and then back along the main street. As we walked, Laura listened to a Spanish instruction cassette on a walkman, and passed the phrases on to me, both of us repeating each sentence several times.

We took a shortcut, a small dirt road over a bridge, and discovered the Gaital Tennis Club. It was quite busy, with a gaggle of teenage girls getting a tennis lesson from a man in his thirties. A sign proclaimed it to be a members only club.

We came around to the main road, and pulled the hood over Salma's stroller to protect her from the dust devils kicked up by the winds. As we neared the house, Laura stopped and said, "Where's her bear?"

Indeed, it was gone. She must have dropped it out of the stroller, something she's learned to do recently. I told Laura to go on to the house, and I would backtrack. So I walked back, watching the road. About halfway I began to tire, and I slowed down, taking my time and practicing Spanish sentences.

Walking along the hot springs road, I saw something I did not like. First let me explain that it's summer here in Panama (i.e. the dry season), and the kids are off school. El Valle is full of families who are summering here, many of them wealthy landowners with large estates. Their kids zoom around town on little ATVs, golf carts, motorcyles, and horses. And I mean the children, many of them as young as seven or eight, actually pilot these vehicles themselves.

Ahead on the road, an elderly woman walked slowly with a cane, carrying a purse and a shopping bag. From her dark skin and hair, and colorful clothing, it was clear that she was an Indian woman, an indigenous person. A golf cart came zipping up the road, driven by four girls, none more than twelve years old. As they neared the old woman they swerved in her direction and honked, then swerved away and continued down the road.

I know they would not have done this if she were not an Indian. I also know that children do not develop such prejudices in a vacuum. What is it about people with money and power, that they think it's ok to despise those who are less fortunate? Then they pass these sick values on to their children, and the cycle of injustice perpetuates itself...

I did not find the bear.

1 comment:

Laura in Panama said...

The children summering in El Valle ARE out of control. Wael is not exaggerating regarding the ages of children out and about on the streets in their, mostly, motorized play things. During the same walk (before we lost our bear) we witnessed a group of pre-teens driving wildly around a field which they had entered from the street--a private property.
I agree this problem seems to be given its legs by the ability of families here to purchase such "toys", but I also believe the small size of our town is a factor. The diversions for young people are limited for most of today's youth.