Panama's Girls

Contributor: Sydney Boles

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Ngöbe girls don’t wear shoes, Mama tells her.
What do we wear, then, Mama?
We walk the way our ancestors walked, with their dust between our toes.
Mama strokes the girl’s dark hair, runs a finger down the wide, dark flank of her nose.

Ngöbe girls don’t speak to White Men, Mama chides with her finger.
What if it’s important?
Don’t play their game, Little One.
But what if a White Man speaks to me?
They came to our land and took everything, Little One. Don’t let them take your voice, too.
Mama smiles at the little girl’s wide lips: my mother’s lips, she thinks. My mother’s full-moon eyes.

Ngöbe girls weave rope bags out of plant fibers.
But Mama, did I tell you about this white girl I saw with this pretty blue bag?
Hush. Our way is the way it has always been.
Mama guides the girl’s fine-boned fingers through the ancient process.

The parade is coming!
The little girl flaps out of the mud town and slogs through the formerly-a-river and crosses that cranky old man’s farm and hurries into the White Man’s City. Cars here, and sidewalks, and telephone poles, and advertisements for bottled iced tea. Buen es Bien, Muy Bien es Mejor. The little girl can’t read. Everybody must be so smart, with all those signs and information everywhere.
The parade is coming!
The music! The drums! The people! Everybody is wearing beautiful tight clothes. So many pretty shoes! So many wonderful hats and bags! Vendors sell freshly cooked meats, shaved ice, even cotton candy! The little girl wonders if you can beg for cotton candy like you can beg for coins.

But there, coming into view, are the white girls, their hair clean and curled, lips darkened, cheeks rouged, skin smooth and clean, no pimples, no scars, eyebrows like birds silhouetted on the heavens, matching white outfits, hips tipping, inviting, youthful breasts thrust out, feet arched like swans in shiny high heels, batons twirling. Here they are, these paragons of youth, these bright lights of our future, Panama’s joys, these glistening, smiling, perfect little ladies, march on! Dance on our streets and bless them with your presence, you queens of tomorrow, let us clap and cheer for you as your pass in your elegant heels.
The little girl smooths her dirty hand-made tunic.
But look! How lovely the Panamanian girls, watch them! Lust after them, men, their small waists, their thighs, even their youthful, noticeable knees. Lust after Panama, because these white-clad girls and their batons, they are Panama!
The little girl licks her fingers and scrubs dirt from her dark-skinned cheek.
Their glistening cheeks, men, their shining eyes! Do you see how proud we are of Panama?

Ngöbe girls don’t wear their hair like that, Mama scolds.
But Mama, how will I ever be beautiful?

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