Three Kings Day is a religious holiday I had not heard of before this year. It is widely celebrated throughout Latin America and in various European counties. Three Kings Day is the 12th day of Christmas, occurring on the 6th of January. It celebrates the Three Kings that came to Bethlehem to visit the baby Jesus.
The local custom here in Panama is for the children to put their shoes outside the front door of their house before they go to bed. It is also common for them to leave straw for the King’s camels. In the morning, the shoes contain small gifts. A trail of straw is left to mark the trail to the larger gifts as camels are notoriously sloppy eaters. Sound a bit familiar? Customs vary throughout the world. If you were in Greece, for example, the Priest would go out into the Mediterranean on a boat and throw a wooden cross overboard. As the cross is thrown, the men of the village dive into the water and swim toward the cross. He who gets to it first gets good luck for the New Year.
The Christmas season here in our little community of Los Altos de Cerro Azul, means used clothing and cash is collected from the residents and doners. The cash is converted to food which is then packaged into hampers. The target of the aid is a small remote poor community further up the mountain road called Altos de Pacora. This operation involves many but is spearheaded by our local Vecinos Vigilantes (Neighbourhood Watch) organization. The National Police, arrange for the delivery and distribution of the aid to needy residents of Altos de Pacora with the help of the teachers at the local school.
Altos de Pacora is a community of around 250 people. There is an all grade school, a couple of general stores and the odd church and that is all! The community is about 12 kilometers or a one hour drive further up the mountain on a joint river bed and road, depending on the weather and season. Four wheel drive is a pretty good idea although three government vehicles that made the trip with us were two-wheel drive. In the wet season, even a four-wheel drive would be taxed to make this trip. The roads are steep, narrow, and rutted deeply in many places. There are no services that you do not bring yourself.
Pacora is poor due to the remoteness of its location. There are very few jobs in the area so many of the men leave the community to work elsewhere, returning when possible. An intermittent bus serves the area once daily, but not reliably due to weather and the road conditions.
Police service, provided from Cerro Azul, is restricted much of the year due to the inability to negotiate the road. The community is pretty much on its own for a large part of the year.
This year, on Three Kings Day, or the 12th day of Christmas, an event was very capably planned in Pacora by the local school teachers. They prepared a list of people most in need of food to make sure the food hampers are delivered to the right people. The used clothing is picked over by the local women and adopted by the new owners. This year the local government representative purchased new toys, soccer balls, bicycles, and TVs, which were also distributed to the community. The head of the National Police for the district, attended, bringing a meal of rice and two large cakes for the people.
Our little five vehicle convoy from the Cerro Azul police station headed up the mountain with all the food and gifts aboard.
I found it particularly interesting to photograph. I usually shoot events full of happy people, with lots of smiles. Today, some of the photos are like that but there are some that show a sadness that comes from the helplessness these people experience. Hopefully, the food, clothing and gifts delivered on this 12th day of Christmas will help reduce this sadness just a bit.