Zach walked home from school today….by himself! At lunchtime I was talking to another teacher and the children had all dispersed around the school to scoot (Zach), play basketball (Ben), talk to their friends (Katie) and go to the library (Matt) which is pretty much what happens everyday. When it was time to leave I began the usual route around the school to track everyone down and round them up to walk home. I easily found three of the four but it is a big playground with lots of places to hide so it is not unusual to have one missing for a while. We split up to try and find Zach, expecting his cheeky face to pop out from behind a palm tree or dustbin at any moment. But after five minutes the face did not appear so we started to search the classrooms, offices and toilets. Still no sign. After ten minutes of us all searching it became obvious that he couldn’t still be in school. The gate was open and the security guard is on sick leave so he could easily have slipped out. But surely he wouldn’t, would he?
I left Matt, Ben and Katie at school and walked out of the gate and had a good look up and down the road – no sign of Zach. I asked the man who runs the market stall next to school if he had seen Zach – “Ha pasado mi hijo por aqui? Rubio, cuatro anos, una patineta?” “Has my son gone past here, blonde, four years old, on a scooter?” “Si, si, hace cinco minutos” “Yes, yes, five minutes ago.”
Oh crikey. So I set off up the street at a fair old clip to the next corner. Still no sign of said blonde four year old on a scooter. I ran back and asked the market stall holder again, just to check what he had said. I still make lots of mistakes with my Spanish and only understand about a third of what is spoken so he may well have thought I said “Have you sold all your chickens today?” “Yes yes, about five minutes ago.” So I repeated my question and my description again, slowly and carefully to make sure there was no misunderstanding and the reply was emphatically the same.
So I raced back to school to pick up Matt, Ben and Katie and said we all had to run home as fast as we could as Zach was well on his way home, on his own. So we all ran as fast as we could, which isn’t that fast for the four of us carrying heavy school bags, footballs, water bottles and hula hoops but eventually we made it all the way home…just in time to see a blond four year old struggling to hold a scooter with one hand and open the latch on our gate with the other. As calmly as I could, I asked him what on earth he was doing going home from school on his own and why he hadn’t waited for the rest of us.”Well Mummy, you were talking and I was a bit bored” came the innocent reply!
It feels like once again in a few of our recent posts we have had a bit of a downer on Nagua and its inhabitants and the reason for telling this story is because it beautifully illustrates one of the most amazing things about living here. I wasn’t overly concerned when I couldn’t find Zach in the playground as I would have been in the UK. I wasn’t frantic with worry when I realised he had gone out of the school gates and was probably half way home on his own. We walk the route to and from school every day and we stand out a mile so all the shop owners know us, say hello and ruffle the children’s hair so I had no real concerns for his safety. There is one quite busy road that we have to cross on the way home, but we always cross opposite the shoe shop (the one which stocks mostly odd shoes and the occasional pair if you are lucky!) and our friendly shoe retailer often helps us all cross the road so I felt sure that he would have helped Zach across the road. He would not have thought twice about a four year old walking home from school on his own; it is very common here for young children to walk to school on their own. The streets are lined with grandparents sitting outside their houses in plastic chairs, on hand to pick up any one who falls down or help anyone who seems lost. The shops are very small with most of the merchandise for sale on display on the pavement so shop owners also line the streets. In short, there is an amazing sense of community here that we have never felt anywhere before.
Matthew and Ben regularly take the 5 minute walk to the local bakery to buy donuts and lemonade for their afternoon “brain break” or to the supermarket at the end of the road to buy chocolate treats. We wouldn’t have dreamed of allowing this at home but it feels very natural here and it is a little bit of independence that the children really enjoy. They know how much everything costs and love to work out how many pesos they need for their little haul, and how much change they will get if they have to take a big note.
So, rest assured, Zach got a stern talking to and has been threatened with the removal of many precious objects (Harry Potter wand, Batman cape, Lightening McQueen and his collection of Dr Seuss books) if he walks out of the school gates without a grown-up again. But we are glad to be living in a place where, if he does it again, we are not very worried that he won’t make it home safely.