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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Break Time & Pony Tails

We have have just returned from Mexico. We were in The Bucerias area, a small town north of Puerto Vallarta. I became quite familiar with the local market while we were there, but one of my favorite things about the market experience became the children. One day while leisurely walking through, browsing, all my senses stimulated as I breathed in this part of the culture, I turned around to be greeted by a small boy and a small girl gesturing me to purchase one of the many purses or bracelets hanging from their tiny dark arms.
Initially my ethnocentric attitudes made me feel badly for these children and the horror they must experience while selling these purses in the sweltering heat, so I bought one out of pity. The next time I returned to the market I was approached by an even smaller child, a chubby little girl with two small pony tails on each side of her head. She was selling the generic equivalent to small packages of Chiclets (the gum). I gave her far more than the 5 pesos she was asking for. I could not get her big dark eyes out of my head.
Later that night at our comfortable, and by some standards luxurious hotel, I could not get the children out of my mind. I thought of them as I turned on and off our remote control air conditioning trying to get comfortable. I wondered where they were sleeping. I thought of the chubby little one's eyes, they were happy eyes, big round happy dark eyes. I thought of her pony tails and how someone must have put those elastics in her hair with care. My plan was to return to the market the next day and get some souvenirs. Maybe I would see them again.

I did, I returned to the market with an open mind and open heart. What I saw was refreshing. I happened upon these children sitting down for a break in a quiet shady crevice of the market. They were playing and laughing and teasing each other and even though I did not understand what they were saying I understood because I had flashes to my own childhood with my older brother teasing me and pinching me for no real reason. I approached them and suddenly they became serious. I gestured to get permission to take a photo and they agreed. I showed them the photo in the camera and they thought that was pretty cool. The little gal in the pink hat then tells me "one photo, one dollar" which I gladly paid her because after all I was cutting into her break time. What I love about this photo is the many emotions captured on their faces, but in particular the little girl working in the background looking over at us cautiously and suspiciously like a worried mother. She eventually joined us and gathered up her group.

After a bit I found the older people that these children belong to and I just sat in that area for a while. There was a calmness there, a strange sense of order. There were maybe six different vendors set up, beautiful mats hanging, purses, and detailed embroidered shirts. Some of these women (they were all women) had babies hanging from their backs as they worked in the booths wearing what seemed to me to be very hot layered clothing (beautiful, colourful and traditional, but hot) Suddenly I admired them, the simplicity of what I saw. The children listened to the adults, there was a quiet respect that I think is missing sometimes in our culture. I saw more children playing and laughing. I bought more purses, sat with the children, laughed, took pictures and shared my pistachio ice cream. I saw the ponied tailed girl in a woman's arms being gently bounced to sleep.

I wondered where the men were. I realized later that they were the vendors on the beach with the the jewellery and the sarongs, the dresses, hats and tee shirts that they carry around all day. The people that sometimes annoyed us with their persistence. What I witnessed that day was a hard working people full of pride that care and nurture their children as much as we do, perhaps in a different way, and by our standards not ideal, but what I saw was women and men full of dignity taking care of their children.

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