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A Jungle School

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The second Guyanan school we visited, Aranaputa School, sits right next to the peanut factory that makes Rupununi Golden Peanut Butter. Here we met a local celebrity—the little Amerindian girl whose picture graces its label. These children have an innate dignity and self-possessed presence that is remarkable. She wasn't about to get all giddy about it. She just put up with us and our cameras. I wished she'd had the macaw feather headdress on for the peanut butter label shot.
For this visit, the kids were outfitted in what I guess is an approximation of indigenous wear, though we never went deep enough into the interior to find anyone dressed like this, if anyone still is. I'm thinking the Guess T-shirt has probably infiltrated just about everywhere.
I can’t quite imagine Liam and Phoebe being willing or eager to don what amounts to swim gear and dance and sing before an audience of people from overseas. But these kids launched in without a hint of self-deprecation, irony or embarrassment. It was a beautiful thing to witness.
Scarlet and blue and yellow macaw feathers bristled from their headdresses.
I'd been kid-starved for long enough that I wanted to just grab me one and get some kid hugs.
Mike Weedon was missing his little ones, too, so he started some arm wrestling bouts with the kids behind him.
Kevin Loughlin pulled out an eminently portable musical instrument--his hands--and played a few squirky little tunes, filling the open-air school with the music of laughter.
He's especially good on Sousa marches, which lend themselves well to the fruity sounds made by sweaty palms. Yeah! Hearty laughter from all the kids. Way to go, Kevin!

After the concert, we wandered through the school buildings. There were no smartboards here--the big computer screens that enhance my kids' schoolrooms in rural Ohio. There was no electricity.
And yet I entertained the thought that, with a powerline, the Internet and some monitors, the whole wide world could be opened up to these children, too. I thought about them looking up at a smartboard and seeing the same things Liam sees at at his little country elementary school in Ohio.

For now, it's little wooden desks, mildewed, curled up books, and animal skulls on a table. And some loving and capable teachers doing their best with what they've got.
From left, back row, there's a lowland tapir (look at that sagittal crest!); a couple of javelinas -wild pigs- (I think); a capybara (world's largest rodent--see the huge incisors?); a round manatee cranium and a possible manatee jaw. Front row: a water turtle, two dogs, an unnamed rodent (probably an agouti); a mystery jawbone, and a monkey, species undetermined. Boneman, feel free to kick in with alternate ID's.

It's a beautiful spring day here, and I'm writing a column for Bird Watcher's Digest that's due tomorrow. Like so many of my published pieces, it was sparked by a thought first aired--and responded to--on this blog. The kernel: Why don't we ask more of our children? Given a choice, they'll stay on the couch. We must lead the way into the woods. If we don't, we can't complain that they're just not interested in nature.

I'm thankful for you, the readers who give me feedback and help me think.

When it's done, I'm going to make a place for the peas and lettuce in the garden--the reward for sitting still long enough to write the piece. At least that's the plan. Given a choice, I go to the garden! I guess that's what deadlines are for.


There's actually a name for Loughlin's musical talent: it's called "manualism". Here's the wikipedia entry:

...and here are a couple samples from a manualist on YouTube:

Look at the enthusiasm on their happy faces... I'm interested in reading your piece for BWD. Yes, it's pea planting time on Indigo Hill, almost early April, right?

Neato! Looking forward to your piece in BWD.

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