I’ve ridden in a donkey cart, legs dangling over the side. Tumbled from a wheelbarrow in a race, rolled on the ground laughing. Caught tadpoles, placed a caterpillar on a branch in a jar, watched it turn into a butterfly, then let it go. Trapped lizards, been surrounded by hummingbirds and butterflies, let grasshoppers crawl over my hands and stared them in the eye. Tormented frogs and listened to crickets sing all day and all night for rain.
I’ve walked on paved and gravel roads without shoes. Stung by marabunta and army ants. Bitten by bête rouge and mosquitoes. Tramped through floodwaters and experienced drowning: The spinning. The tunnel. Endured cuts, bruises, and grazes on elbows and knees. Stepped on nails, followed by the dreaded tetanus shot. Slept under a net. Hidden from cockroaches flying into the house and screamed in terror until someone killed them.
I’ve taunted bulls and cows. Felt the sear of the sun, tasted the warm salty spray of the sea. Built sand castles and ran on the ocean floor when the tide was out to play with crabs, shells and what we called ‘four eye fish,’ then dashed to the shore as the tide flowed back towards the beach. I’ve flown in a sea plane, landed on the river and taken a canoe to the dock.
I’ve seen real poverty. The kind that makes you grateful for what you have. The kind you don’t forget—dirt floors, meals cooked outside of shacks on coal grills in dented pots black from smoke. From a distance I’ve watched children have fun bathing in the rain—the only shower they knew and I wanted to be one of them. Gazed at mothers sitting on rickety steps outside dilapidated houses plaiting their daughters’ hair with crisp colorful ribbons. And wished I had braids and shiny ribbons like theirs.
I’ve breathed in the smoke of burning buildings and cane fields, and seen sky-high flames during riots. Witnessed the hysteria of people scrambling to escape an uncontrolled situation. And the eerie silent disbelief of little coffins of friends lined up by the altar in church.
I’ve skipped rope on the seawall, inhaled cool evening ocean breezes and stared mesmerized at the trees and store windows in town lit-up at Christmas. Ate apples bought from stalls on the sidewalks: a yearly treat. Ice apples we called them because they were from somewhere in North America and it was icy up there.
I’ve been excited and scared at the same time of the Mother Sally parade coming down the street to booming drumbeats and barking dogs. Laid in tall grass and found shapes in clouds. Stared in awe at a star-studded sky. Experienced tropical gale winds and tremors of earthquakes. Heard the roar of torrential rain on the galvanized roof and thunder like thousands iron balls crashing while lightning blazed across the heavens.
I’ve danced at sunrise in pajamas, dew wetting bare toes and collected eggs from chickens. Ate hibiscus flowers, plucked fruit from low-hanging branches and ate them—unwashed. Clambered over fences and gates to picnic on a desolate cricket field. Climbed a mango tree only to get stuck. Drank water from coconuts falling from way up high. Eaten sugar cane from the field and molasses, and dark, raw sticky brown sugar. Drank milk straight from a cow, ate freshly churned cream and butter on hot out of the oven bread with homemade jam. And ice cream stirred up on the back step. And custard ice-blocks.
I’ve scraped the leftover bits from the bottom of the fudge pot. Bare feet on hot asphalt, cup in hand, chased a vendor with a dirty pushcart selling shaved ice covered in syrup. Eaten Indian sweets, bought from the side of the road on a Saturday afternoon.
I’ve run wild and roamed free until the six o’clock cicada bees buzzed: time to go home.