Out of the Mouths of Children

Our hotel, the Druk Hotel, is located in the center of Thimphu. Just outside the dining room window you can see the town square. An amphitheater really, it is a large stone apron, maybe a block long, surrounded by shops on one side and, on the opposite side, several concrete tiers spanning the entire length of the amphitheater.

On this particular afternoon townspeople, mobs of them, are seated all along the amphitheater’s length, watching a performance put on by school children from Thimpu's secondary school. They are in uniform, long sleeve white blouses and long gray skirts for the girls, white shirts and dark pants for the boys. Music is being pumped out over loudspeakers just like any concert on the green back home. The music is Bhutanese pop and the movements of the students are toned down hip-hop, a kind of line dancing but without the machismo.

The children dance in phalanxes, squares that are in children’s units, 20 x 15. They move in easy, flowing precision, twiddling their arms, swirling their tiny hips, taking daintily rhythmic steps to the left and then to the right. They are the kind of children my aunt would have described as “good enough to eat.”

I have taken my place among the townspeople, who have moved over to make room for me as if I were a visiting relative. At one point the children perform a 360º turn. Only then do I see that there are signs pinned to their backs. Fortunately, I have my binoculars with me. I’m too far away and my eyes too weak to make out what is written without them. I focus. One sign says, “Sex with more than one partner without a condom is unsafe sex.” Another says, “Sex with one partner who has HIV or STD without a condom is unsafe sex.”

These messages are being brought to the community by children ranging in ages from 10 to 18. After the dances the children put on a skit designed to show that AIDS is transmitted by contact with blood. It’s a barber shop skit. It hinges on an AIDS carrying customer knicked by a razor and a careless barber passing the infection on to the next customer who has the misfortune of being knicked with the same razor. The actors are 12 year olds. While they are performing, dancers with skin colored balloons that, inflated, look like condoms prance around the stage.

As a coup de grâce, clowns in demon masks come out into the crowd and distribute free condoms to the audience. In other words this perfectly fresh, friendly, good-humored, open-minded and health conscious performance by the local secondary school for the benefit of the people of Thimphu and themselves would, if transported to America, cause a riot.

As I accept my free condom from the clown-demon, I'm wondering who to give it to to do the most good.

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