Children’s Christmas In Casco Viejo
A few nights before we departed Panama for our holiday visit here in the States, we assembled in Casco Viejo for Jackson’s Christmas spectacle.
Our son Jack, 12, attends the French school in Panama City. L’Ecole Paul Gauguin is a small school, with about 200 students in total, many, surprising to me at first, Panamanian. Why would a Panamanian family, living in Panama City, choose to send their children to a French-language, French-curriculum school? I still don’t know the answer to that question, but the result, for us, is charming.
On stage that evening last week in the 300-year-old Teatro Anita Villalaz in the center of Casco Viejo’s Plaza de Francia was as eclectic a collection of small children as you might ever find. They come from Panama, but also from France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Britain, Ireland, the United States, China, Japan…
Some have names I can’t pronounce even after Jackson repeats them for me three or four times. Finally, embarrassed for me, he gives up and suggests that, if I have something to say to that particular child, he’d be happy to relay the message for me.
Some have lived in three or four other countries already, though they’ve only barely begun their little lives.
Most speak Spanish and French; others also speak English, Italian, and, in one case, Japanese. They manage to communicate among themselves cheerfully and with far less misunderstanding than you might expect.
Over the hour-and-a-half of the evening’s spectacle, this small but worldly bunch performed Christmas songs in Spanish, French, and English, including some we recognized and many we didn’t.
“Children in Palestine and children in Israel, children from the Americas and also from China, this day, let us think only of Christmas,” began one song in French.
At Jackson’s birthday party last month, I had a chance to speak with some of his classmates’ moms. Some have husbands working with the UN and other international organizations who have posted in Panama for a year or two. Others are here for work related to various of this country’s many infrastructure projects. They and their children have migrated to Panama from Mexico City or Caracas, Buenos Aires or Santiago, Paris or Madrid…
Lief and I worry sometimes about the life Jackson is living. Born in Ireland, he’s since lived (and gone to school) in Paris…and now Panama City. He’s an American by birth, but Irish, too, with the second passport to prove it, yet he’s neither American nor Irish.
Jackson is a little guy without a country but embracing the world. And, at the French school in Panama City, he’s found 199 other little guys and girls just like him who, one evening last week in a centuries-old French-colonial theater, filled the tropical night with song.