Fairy Dust to My Ears

"This summer ya going Trinidad with yagrandmudda and ya Aunt Lynette." The words drifted from my mother's lips to my little ears as if a fairy were carrying them, leaving a trail of glittery dust behind. I was elated. Super excited. I could almost feel my sable eyes grow large from the excitement. It was the summer of '92 and I'd be taking my very first international trip to Trinidad, my father's birthplace. My older brother would be going as well of course. I wasn't too thrilled about enduring his teasing abroad any more than I was at home.

That's what this experience was to me, an adventure. It wasn't a 3-week getaway on an exotic island with sand castles and huge water slides that emptied into the Caribbean sea. This was an adventure I was very happy to take, but I would soon experience a shock that many people, especially 5-year olds, know nothing about.

A Dutiful Mom

Mom was so dutiful when it came to raising us. Before our departure, she took us shopping at JCPenney and purchased enough clothes to fill our suitcases. We'd be traveling in style. Our beach toys were from the local Dollar Tree. It was a sunny afternoon when mom took us to pick out goggles, inflatable toys and I can't remember what else. My concentration on the isle full of plastic trinkets was broken when I heard a girl say joyfully, "Hi Auntie Erica!" It was my big cousin, Lisa. She spotted my mom before me and my brother. Lisa was at the dollar store with her three siblings getting swim goodies as well. After what may have been a few minutes of simple chatter, we learned that they too were going to Trinidad. It was not just going to be my brother and me.

I have no memory of my reaction to the news, but I don't think my reserved and territorial nature was a great fit for their companionship.

The Arrival, The Shock

It's night time. Our plane landed and I could barely hear anything because my ears popped during the descent. My granny wouldn't let me reach for the bubble gum I had in my pink Barbie backpack. I didn't even remember leaving Baltimore. How long had it been? Was I asleep most of the flight? As a matter of fact, everything from the airport to the house was a blur.

The place where we stayed was a house, but not like any house I had ever step foot in. In Baltimore, the homes had carpet, pretty lamps for lighting, TVs with bright screens for cartoon-watching, backyards with green grass for playing games. This wasn't like home; it was a scary place. Where were the big pretty palm trees and beaches? All I saw was a barren fixture that looked like it was there for a long, long time before I was born.

My cousins and I made it into our assigned bedrooms and set down our bags. There were only two bedrooms, so that meant five people in one room! At home, I had my own room with my own bed and pretty blue walls, stuffed animals, and my favorite—The Little Mermaid comforter set. I didn't see anything like that here. I wanted to go home and be in my room and get tucked in by my mom. I thought of her. I missed her. A lump grew in my throat.

I wandered away from the small chaos of everyone trying to situate themselves. I ended up outside onto the porch. I looked around; there wasn't much to see, so I looked up. There they were. Iguanas on the roof. Maybe five or six of them. Their almost neon green skin stood out on the charcoal gray roof. And their eyes glowed in the dark. At first very frightened, I began to yell out for my brother. But I didn't complete his name. I don't think I made a sound. The sight of the creatures brought about a sense of tranquility. With a confident stillness, they just peered down at me. Now feeling settled, I looked away, seeing only a few barely standing homes and the faraway hills.

A Change of Heart

The morning after I saw the iguanas, we were awakened by the call of a robust rooster who roamed the area on the side of the house. Another new experience that triggered a brief sense of shock. But soon, the feelings of discomfort went away and Aunt Ruthie, my granny's sister, would make us cream of wheat with coconut milk. and then we'd go swimming in waters so clear, you could see straight to the bottom, and we'd catch tadpoles from a nearby pond, and I'd learn how fortunate I am to have experienced another culture abroad—before I could even spell culture.

I now consider what was a culture shock to be a privilege. When we are thrust out of our comfort zones, a path for open-mindedness and leadership is created. Our understanding of our surroundings is not about us, but rather an infinite experience that builds us.