A Voice from Above

Bar Mitzvah Caption Contest Time!
 Submissions in comments, please.

Today I taught the obligatory “Hey, you’re Jewish! Would you present something to my class?” lesson. I don’t mind at all; it’s been my Hebraic duty since I was nine years old to represent the teachings of the tribe for an audience of goyim, and I’ve got the show down to a science. This time though, it was something new: a talk about my Bar Mitzvah with a friend’s ESL class of Chinese fifth-graders who, in addition to speaking little English, didn’t really understand the concept of God, or religion, or how it might be different from citizenship. Every question started “In your country…” and I had to gently remind them that not everyone in the US is Jewish. (Oy!) What is a prayer, they asked? What does “holy” mean? I shifted gears and went into the universal language of food: challah, birthday cake, wine. Ooohhhhh.

You’ve all been to a baseball game, right? You know that voice, echoing through the PA system, calling out pitching changes or announcing the singer of the national anthem? The deep smooth voice full of love for the game? It turns out that the voice lives here in Caracas, and at 3:30 each school day, it appears for dismissal at Escuela Campo Alegre, as red-shirted nursery kids line up obediently on the benches in our courtyard, and white-shirted elementary students and blue-shirt middle schoolers check their BlackBerrys for urgent messages. (This is a BlackBerry country–no iPhone service yet.)

Above the din, booming out from loudspeakers hidden among the international flags, is the voice of Felix, who has been a security guard here for 17 years. He knows every car lining up to meet kids, every parent, every driver. He knows all the 650 students here by name. When a car pulls up into the on-deck spot, Felix calls out the kid’s name (echoing Andres, dres, es) and a red, white, or blue shirt detaches itself from the mass to get in the back seat. Most days, I head down at 3:30 just to see the show, hear Felix’s baritone, and recall cool summer evenings at the ballpark. Now pitching…..

Not my photo. More shocking in real life.

Last weekend was the annual new-faculty trip to Tortuga Lodge, a semi-private beach reachable only by boat trip through a mangrove lagoon. While there was plenty of opportunity for the “turismo de contemplación” their website promises, the best part was an evening birdwatching tour, where we saw hundreds of coracora, or scarlet ibis, returning from their day’s fishing. The bird’s color is so ostentatious, so obscenely on display compared to the lagoon’s green and muddy brown, that it’s like a twelve-foot-tall horse, or a bear with zebra stripes. Sure, it assaults your eyes, but mostly your sense of reason: how could such a thing exist? Somehow, they do, and they paint streaks of blood red in the sunset as they flare their wide wings and glide to rest among their cormorant cousins.

The posada. Electricity available after 5pm,
 running water after 6.

On the way home from the beach, the bus driver compensated for our late pickup by driving at least 25 percent faster than every other rusty vehicle on the highway, never staying in a lane longer than a few seconds. He accelerated wildly towards a wall of traffic, hoping for an opening, swerved to the shoulder when there was none, braked frantically and then stabbed the accelerator to gain a few meters on a gas truck. We staggered off the bus sunburned, dehydrated, grateful for our lives. A few happy teachers even prayed to the God of the Jews–or maybe it was just to Felix.


3 thoughts on “A Voice from Above

  1. Thank you, Ben.This is certainly a Blackberry country but I-phone service it's available! In a more colorful subject, Though I've heard "coracora" I would say "corocoro" is more common.About the photo… are you the one with the glasses and a moustache?

  2. Loving the tales of Venezuela! I like to imagine you at the front of the class teaching everyone to say "challah".Anyway, sounds like you're settling right in. You are missed in Seattle but I hope you're enjoying the ride!

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