Sunday, March 24, 2019


by Ray Jason

When the world weighs heavily upon me, I find comfort in a modest little cafe that overlooks an even more modest little park, here in the Archipelago of Bliss. Many people would probably describe it as a run-down, dilapidated park. But I love it because it is a refuge from the frenzy and artificiality of El Norte.
       It is full of authentic, ordinary people chatting with friends while their kids play on the swings and sliding boards. They are keeping an eye on their children, but they are not hovering over them like Smother-copters.
       Scattered on the perimeter are benches where Indios from the out islands sell produce that they grow on their little homesteads. The police do not move them along and code enforcement does not ask for their licenses. These officials realize that non-First World folks are smart enough to know how to clean their own vegetables, and that they don’t need the government to sanitize them.
      Every once in a while someone brings a box of baby chickens to sell. The Indio kids are ecstatic 

on those days. When the vendor sells a chick, it is placed in a small brown paper bag and the child then runs gleefully all over the park showing off its new friend to the other children.
       Their unfiltered joy touches me in a deep, pure place. That’s because I realize that this modest purchase is a cornucopia of life lessons for that youngster. They will learn how to care for that tiny animal, and they will understand profoundly that the world can be a dangerous place and that the growing chick must be shielded from snakes and raccoon and hawks.
       And they might marvel at how swiftly a chicken reaches adulthood compared to a human. They will realize that the manure is good for the garden, and that the egg shells have multiple uses. And eventually they will confront the bittersweet lesson that chickens are good for meat as well as for eggs.

       This reverie was interrupted by a shout from the gazebo on one side of the park. It was probably from a couple of teens playing a video game on their Smart Phones. The town officials have installed a bunch of free wifi stations there so that kids can connect to the Web.
       I realize that helping the youngsters learn how to navigate the internet is probably valuable for those who live in or near town. But when I see an Indio teen, who lives out on one of the islas, it breaks my heart to see them seduced by these electronic Addicto-phones. Their lives revolve around the Earth, the Sea and the Jungle, and I hate seeing them ensnared in the aptly-named World Wide Web.
       Some people suggest that I romanticize the primitive simplicity of these relatively poor but extraordinarily happy indigenous families. But I have spent months - adding up to years - immersed in their waters and their culture. And I do not filter my descriptions of their lives through rose-tinted glasses.
       It has been such a blessing passing time with them. There was the day spent watching the children shake ripe mangoes from a tree down to their companions who were trying to catch them in old rice bags stretched into nets. Or the week anchored off a small home as a dad carved a cayuco from a tree, and then took all of the kids for a maiden voyage filled with laughter and song. And how could I forget the encounter with the weathered but noble grandmother who was out teaching her grand-daughter the finer points of rowing a cayuco with strength and grace.
       In trying to discern what makes this mode of living so different from that of the little town less than 10 miles away, I suddenly realized that it is … screens. TV screens and computer screens and Smart Phone screens are major factors in the daily lives of those living in town. 
      Fortunately, they are almost completely absent out in the islands. That is, of course, largely because there is no electricity out there. Indeed, the Indios are so far off the Grid that they don’t know what the Grid is.
       As a result, their lives flow with the natural order of things. The fathers have powerful flashlights for any sort of emergency, but otherwise they sleep with the darkness and rise with the light. The children play hide and seek and tag or they invent games with sticks and coconuts.       
      They don’t watch hip-hop videos or accumulate imaginary “friends” on Facebook. They row their little cayucos to school where they learn basics and essentials. The teachers do not force feed them gender confusion. The big kids help to raise the little kids. They are not farmed out to the television baby-sitter.
       It is just a healthy life of harmony and natural rhythms. And I hope in my heart of hearts that the flickering blue light does not mesmerize them away from this exquisite and elemental way of life.


       The little Indio girl has now been running around the park showing her friends her new baby chicken for about 30 minutes. She approaches me, and I am delighted that even though I am a foreigner, she offers to let me see the little chick.
       She opens the bag and I peek inside. The chicken is vibrantly bright yellow. I ask if she has chosen a name for her new friend. She smiles at me and says, “Yes, her name is Sunshine.” I smile back at her and say, “Perfecto!”