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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Village and City

Early in the morning and again at about dusk, pickup trucks rattle down the road near our house. The cargo areas, fitted with rails, are crammed tight with Ngäbe Buglé men or women. They stand upright, silent and unmoving, facing outward. I watch them go by, looking out impassively at the world, in which I am apparently no more or less to be observed than a tree or a rock. Early on I tried waving to them, but they never react; now I content myself with observing them, not staring, just seeing them in as part of the world around me, just as they see me as part of the world around them. They are teaching me how to observe.

They do not complain about being trundled up to the big farms where they work, like so much machinery, which is just about all they are. From the moment they arrive in some rich man’s

fields they start in at breaking their backs through the day, setting out new onions or tearing potatoes from the earth or picking coffee beans from the bushes, either baked raw by the unrelenting sun or soaked to sodden shivers by the rainy season, all for – if they are fortunate – a maximum of about eight dollars a day. So poor are these people that in the rainy season their raincoats consist of black garbage bags, through which they poke their heads and arms.

In the rainy season it never gets particularly warm in this mountain land. Only in the morning is there usually a bit of sunlight – but it hasn’t quite dispelled the cold of night when the afternoon clouds steal across the sky, then hugging each other close until they pour forth the rain. But even in the dry season the relatively thin air here does not retain much heat. For most of the day in that part of the year, only excepting perhaps the height of the afternoon, the sunlight is warm but the air itself is cold – the light feels good on your face, but the sudden breeze reminds you that it’s hardly more than an illusion. Sometimes too, even in the dry season, the breeze bears that weather phenomenon unknown to me in my previous life – the bajareque, the rain blown down from the mountain heights. More often in the dry season it carries dust or sand; through those months I can sweep the floor two or three times a day to keep it reasonably clean. All year round one scents wood smoke in the air, especially in the morning and evening as people cook their meals.

* * *

As they come to me to be written, new chapters will be added to this blog, so stay tuned! But the blogs up to a certain point are now chapters are now in a book.

So, to read more, you need the book A WRITER IN PANAMÁ.

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