It was the beginning of November. Two months prior, I had moved to Quito, Ecuador, with my husband, who had accepted a three-year placement with the Canadian Embassy. I immediately enrolled in a basic Spanish course. One day, after a few weeks of classes, the teacher asked us to get into groups with people from our home countries. Our task? To write -- in Spanish -- about one of our country's most important historic dates.
A woman from Manitoba (the one other Canadian in the class) and I sat down together. We hemmed and hawed and looked at each other with blank faces, and desperately wished we had paid more attention in high school history. “OK,” I finally said. "Why don't we do Canada Day? Confederation was July 1, 1867â€¦ or was it '57? Do you know the year?"
"Um, no," she said. Pause. "Well, we could do National Aboriginal Day."
"Perfect! When is it? What's it all about?"
"Oh, dear, I'm not too sure," she said. "And I'm aboriginal."
The Belgians were furiously writing about their important date -- with complete time lines. So was the group from France. We were struggling -- this was not going well.
That's when my eyes landed on the red poppy. Our embassy had received a whole box from Ottawa, and I had pinned one onto my jacket.
"Remembrance Day!" I said. A date we knew: the annual ceremony held on Nov. 11 at 11 a.m. -- the month, the day and the hour peace was declared. In rudimentary Spanish, we wrote about the Canadians who fought for freedom and the First World War medical officer, Dr. John McCrae, who composed "In Flanders Fields."
When it was our turn, we proudly made our presentation and showed our symbolic poppy. Our teacher asked, "On Remembrance Day does everyone really wear poppies in Canada?" We said that, yes, everyone wears poppies -- teachers, parents, politicians, schoolkids.
We offered to recite "In Flanders Fields," but the teacher reminded us that it was a Spanish class and suggested that we translate it for homework, instead. We sat down, disappointed. But a woman from Belgium asked if she could hear the poem anyway. French, Japanese, German, British and American -- all the students wanted to hear it.
And so, south of the equator in a small classroom surrounded by mountains and palm trees, people from all over the globe bowed their heads and listened quietly as we began.
"In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on rowâ€¦"