I am woken by a human alarm clock around 5am. He walks around the houses yelling for people to wake. Today is a big day. Armila is hosting Juegos Florales (Floral Games), a day of competition amongst various schools in the district.
The human alarm clock is replaced shortly after by a very loud radio blaring the latest in Latin pop. It is enough to send me reeling from bed.
I go for a walk along the beach before breakfast. The day is mild and cloudy. I walk between large hacks of driftwood speckled by plastic bottles and styrofoam. A little further on, past the women washing clothes, the beach begins to stink with an accumulation of trash. It smells like a dumpsite. Trash rolls in from the Atlantic and lands on the shoreline of Armila. It is a double insult to this community who has eschewed so much of the modern world. And in return this is what the world has to offer. Not support for their schools, not cooperatives for the local artisans, but castoffs from capitalism.
After breakfast, a brief chance to connect to the Internet. It’s a dollar for a thirty-minute chance to connect to the world beyond. Subject to the weather in Panama City, of course. Only WhatsApp text messages make it through. Even emails can’t be opened.
We have been invited to observe the school competition. It was supposed to start at 8am, but at 10am, the only thing that’s going on is a drawing competition and a spelling bee. I am asked to dictate 50 words to children, reading them out in English and offering a mangled translation in Spanish. At least I learned a few words along the way!
The competition itself, which takes place in the Congress Hall, a kind of communal community space, is a mix of poetry recitation, singing and dancing acts for kids from four different schools.
Later in the afternoon, we sit with our guides, Luz and Luis, to give them a sense of our plans for the residency and what we would like to achieve or work on.
It would be good to try my hand at sketching, I think, though in the end I might just default to photographs. I’m thinking of making a series of images of found plastic objects on the beach and writing poems in response to them.