Wednesday, February 09, 2011

kidding around

Why are these children smiling?

Maybe I should tell you a little bit about them before I let you start guessing.

For the last three months, I have been working with my local doctor and some resident Americans at the local Indian school.  Not the type of Indian school we think of in Canada or The States -- where Indian children were taken from their parents to be raised as young Europeans.

These are the children of Mixtec Indians from Oaxaca.  The families are migrant workers.  They follow the crops.  In our area, they arrive in early winter and stay through May.  Until the crops need no further tending and picking.

Fathers, and some of the wives and children, work in the fields during the day.  The rest of the families stay home.  Home for most of the migrant workers families are below primitive.

Some are lucky enough to stay at the Indian school.

There are living quarters for sixteen families.  A communal living area.  A kitchen where food is cooked by the school for the children. 

And classrooms where six assigned public school teachers teach the children in the evening -- when they return from the fields.

It is basic living. 

But, at least, they have the basics.  While they are here.  In May or so, most of them will move on.

Lack of education and skin color have kept the Mixtec and other Indians low on the economic ladder in Mexico.  And the Mixtec have had their share of problems.

They were a proud nation before they were enslaved as a vassal state by the Aztecs.  They thought they were going to be delivered by the Spanish when the Aztec were conquered.  But they ended up on the bottom of the social heap as slaves in mines and as peons on haciendas.

Like most Indians, Independence, Reform, and Revolution meant only that someone else ran the show. 

And if Mestizos prayed that their babies would have light skin and the hope of a better future (as they still do), the Indians know how they would be treated because of their brown complexions. 

The pervasiveness of discrimination by skin color seems to permeate world cultures.  Even in bleeding heart Red Cuba.  Mexico is no exception.

The fact that the older children must work in the fields to help support the family is not a good omen for future.  That is why the night school is change they can believe in. 

Children, who could speak next to no Spanish, are learning arithmetic, Spanish, and that amazing door that opens a whole new world of possibilities: reading.

And the reason for those smiles?   Here he is.  A bit of entertainment.

I had stopped by to see my doctor -- the same doctor who volunteers a good deal of her time at the school.  She invited me to come out to the school one evening.  A clown was going to be there.

So, I drove through the back roads on a dark evening -- dodging the usual array of domestic and wild animals.

It turned out the clown was American.  From Portland, Oregon.  Whose Spanish was minimal.  But a young woman was there to translate for him.

He did all of the low comedy magic tricks and pratfalls.  And the children loved every minute of it.  Each corny joke was welcomed as if Oscar Wilde had just flown in from Bloomsbury.

It was obvious he had previously worked with children of mixed ages.  The type of groups where the youngest crush to the front to be part of the show -- and the pre-teens hang around the periphery because they are too cool to be pulled in by the mere presence of an infant-entrancing clown.  And too interested to leave.

So, he started off teaching a young boy the old disappearing ball trick.  Of course, the balls ended up on the boy's nose and ears -- turning him into a mini-clown. 

His friends shrieked with laughter.  And he beamed -- being a star with the clown.

The next group up was a mixture of two girls and a boy -- just a little older.  This girl's eyes say more than my prose could.  Pure wonder.

As does the laughter of all three of them.

Then came the hard part.  Three pre-teenagers, who had been skulking in the back, were chosen to do what every performer knows can be a disaster. 

Not only were they asked to stand in front of their peers.  They were asked to use a wand to catch flying rings thrown by the clown.  It was a great exercise.  They had to trust the clown's throw and their own ability.

They missed some of the rings.  But everyone laughed.  No face was lost.  And when they each caught their respective rings on the final throw, they each looked as if they had just scored the winning football goal.

And then the grand finale.  No clown show is complete without spinning plates.  But, at this show, the clown only demonstrated the technique.  This young girl got to be the star. 

Blindfold.  Three plates.  And a priceless smile of accomplishment.

I had considered skipping the event.  Kids.  Clown.  Driving at night.  Not my favorite mix.

But, like so many other things in life, I need to learn that saying "no" is just another potential adventure lost.

So, who enjoyed the evening?  

It is too bad you cannot see me holding up my hand behind the camera.


mcotton said...

What a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing it with us. May God's blessing be on those who are giving of their time and talent to be a ray of sunshine in the life of those who have so little.

Felipe Zapata said...

Excellent. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Steve Cotton said...

My pleasure. Moments like this are always the answer to why I live in Mexico.

Steve Cotton said...

And it because they have sio little that they can appreciate the small gestures. This was another moment in Mexico that reminded me of growing up in Powers.

Mexican Trailrunner said...

Oh Steve, this is my favorite of ALL your posts!!! Please do, and write about more of this kind of stuff. There is such a need here for just a smidgen of joy, it costs nearly nothing, and it can change lives. More, please.
Bravo to you for braving the night driving, meandering cows, and . . . the unknown. Find a need and fill it - I didn't make that up, Henry J Kaiser did.
Great photos, Steve, you captured the moment in those faces.

Merida Mikey said...

Heartwarming post. Beautiful children. Hats off to the clown and the guy who reported on the event!

tancho said...

Great story Steve, so are you going to volunteer to be part of the act?

lauriematherne said...

I add my kudos to all the comments below. Good work. And your photos are getting better with each post.

Steve Cotton said...

The energy at that gathering was soul-warming.