Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Walking to School in Grenada

Everywhere we went in Grenada, we saw children walking to and from school. They were usually in laughing, high spirited groups. Most wore uniforms. Perhaps some walk to bus stops, but it seemed to me that many of them have quite long walks up and down the very hilly terrain along the narrow, winding roads. We saw moms, dads, and big brothers and sisters leading beautifully dressed toddlers to and from pre-school. What a big time commitment! Education is obviously important.

After a day or two, when we realized how friendly people were, we began offering rides to folks. Many people carry the universal tool-of-all-trades, the machete, commonly called a “cutlass.” Our American sensibilities kept us from inviting people wielding potential weapons to ride with us. We also didn’t feel right offering rides to children, but adults seemed happy to get a lift. It was fun chatting. One young man, living in a remote part of the island, told me he is studying mechanical engineering at a community college. Another wants to be a teacher and asked for my address. I hope I hear from him.

Kids in the states don’t walk much any more, but I was reminded of my own walks to Lincoln and Mystic Schools in Winchester, MA, in the 1960’s. We walked 9/10th of a mile four times a day, in good weather coming home for lunch, totaling about 3 1/5 miles. In winter we brought our lunch, but walked despite the snow and ice. It was also hilly terrain. Luckily it was downhill on the way to school or we would have often been tardy. My sister, Cathy, and I sometimes ran all the way, pretending we were horses. The uphill slog home, lugging books, our clarinets, school projects, etc. could be tiresome. Nobody used backpacks then, so our arms got pretty tired. But on the whole, it was often the best part of the day. Bookworm that I was, I even mastered the art of reading as I walked along the sidewalk, stopping when my peripheral vision noted curbs and intersections. Monday mornings, I brought home bouquets salvaged from the bin behind St. Mary’s Church. In the fall there were fists full of bright leaves. How we loved to kick our feet crisply through them. In the spring I picked masses of lily–of-the-valley, lilacs, and apple blossoms by the old quarry behind the Harwood’s house. When I changed to Mystic School in sixth grade, it was magical walking the brick path next to the Freeman’s greenhouse and pond, exactly like Mr. McGregor’s garden.

I imagine the school children in Grenada, picking fruit and flowers, seeing birds and iguanas, perhaps a mongoose scuttling into the underbrush, passing tethered goats, flocks of foraging hens with puffball chicks, stray dogs, and chatting with neighbors as they pass. There are fishing boats out on the water to watch, perhaps an ancient cannon to visit, careening buses and jeeps to stay clear of. The ubiquitous American school bus has robbed kids in the USA of such good things.

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