(This post is a departure from our norm — it’s all Mark! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. ~ Valerie)
In many ways the streets of Panama bring my thoughts back to the days of my youth growing up in Camden, N.J. The streets of Boquete, as well as those of Bocas Del Toro, are always buzzing with the activity of young people.
Maybe I am proselytizing from the viewpoint of a somewhat cantankerous “growing old” man but the streets in Panama are bustling with a level of activity that seems to be a thing of bygone days in the U.S. In my experience, far fewer adolescents in the U.S. today gather together at the spur of the moment to set up street/sporting events. Most physical activity for young people seems to be centered around organized events within the structure of highly formalized teams and leagues. The practice of kids walking out of their front door, into the street, and spontaneously choosing sides for that day’s chosen event, or events. appears to be lost.
NOT IN PANAMA!
When it comes to creativity regarding the implements and venues of street games, city kids of the sixties have nothing on the Panamanian youth of today. Earlier this afternoon, I was walking through the park and spotted a group of teens playing soccer in the gazebo. Instead of a soccer ball they were using what appeared to be a water jug! It made for some crazy looking caroms.
I immediately reflected back on similar experiences in my youth and one in particular was in the forefront of my recollections. In the late 1960’s the NHL (Flyers) came to Philadelphia. This brought the excitement of a new team and group of players to follow and emulate. As far back as I can remember I participated in neighborhood baseball, football and basketball games. However, no one yet had the requisite hockey equipment to play that game. Or, in our own way, did we?
Like the kids of Boquete playing in the Gazebo and fantasizing about their Panamanian soccer heroes, we were going to make due. Lacking ice, sticks, skates, helmets, real goals, or anything else necessary for hockey we transformed the fallout shelter at our grammar school into our own arena. Using our feet as sticks, flattened milk cartons as pucks and milk crates as makeshift goals we divided into teams and determinedly set out to score more goals than our opponents. We called it hockey and the Panamanians call it soccer. Either way, it is adolescents taking what is available and coming up with an activity which leads to good natured competition.
During our stay in Panama, we have witnessed many more instances of creativity among Panamanian youth as they attempt to stay active. One day, as we walked up one of the mountains, we came upon a group of indigenous youths playing a brand of stick ball. As kids, we used sawed off broom handles but these kids were using tree branches. However, the real catch (excuse the pun) is that these Ngobe Bugle were not using a ball. No, they were using oranges that had fallen from nearby trees!
Once again, reflecting on my youth, I appreciate the value of improvising in an attempt to make sure that the game goes on. We spent many, many hours each spring and summer fishing balls out of dirty, stinky sewers with wire coat hangers. Whoever hit it down the sewer got the honors of fishing it out. So, we all got our turn and it was a dirty job!
Yes, we went through great effort every day to make sure that we had a ball to play with. The local hardware store was kept in business by selling us electrical tape that we almost endlessly wrapped around balls long after their original rawhide cover had been pulverized. Now that I think of it, maybe we spent more on the tape than we would have for a new ball. Oh well. I didn’t say we were all that bright. Just pretty creative!