Everyone has their own world, made up of everything that matters to them. Often your world is made up of family and friends, where you live, your favourite sport, your pets, where you went to school or your preferred pastime. Maybe it’s a special book, a notebook full of random scribbles, a certain comfort food you can always turn to, memories of parties and late nights and secrets and places you’ve visited.
You don’t tend to think about your parents’ world — their stories, their lives. But every so often, you might hear a tale or see a photo from their past. Recently, my parents lent me a piece of their world. It seemed like a crazy story, something they would never do. Through half-finished photo albums, old diaries, letters and stories, they showed me their journey through Central America 27 years ago.
Through half-finished photo albums, old diaries, letters and stories, they showed me their journey through Central America 27 years ago
They pulled out photo albums from behind the Christmas decorations and showed me pictures of Mexico: of their train journey through Copper Canyon; of people washing their clothes in a trickle of a stream; and of startling, colourful murals depicting the history of Mexican workers.
There were photos taken in Costa Rica: of grey-white pelicans diving for fish; of iridescent, shimmering hummingbirds; and a sloth climbing a tree in the green jungle. The sloth was larger than I would have thought. Her face was angled upwards, dark eyes evaluating her climb, while a tiny baby clutched her chest and peered down nervously at the photographer.
My parents turned the page again. There were photos of Honduras: a carefully carved hieroglyphic staircase telling the history of the Mayan Empire; a cracked sacrificial altar in the shape of a turtle; and rough stone pyramids slowly being excavated from seemingly unremarkable jungle-covered hills.
They gave me their memories of hitchhiking in Costa Rica and watching a turtle shuffle up the beach, flicking the sand away with its flippers as it dug a hole to lay its glistening white eggs. They sat underneath an active volcano while it erupted, feeling ash in their hair and seeing streams of lava. They travelled with Sinead O’Connor’s bass guitarist and woke in the morning to the grunting sound of his push-ups at the foot of the bed.
They gave me their memories of hitchhiking in Costa Rica and watching a turtle shuffle up the beach, flicking the sand away with its flippers
In Baja California, they snuck into expensive hotels to use the pools and then slept on the beach. They woke in the morning to turtle tracks beside them in the sand.
But it’s when my parents flip to the pages of Guatemala that I truly fall into their memories. The street I walk on is made of dirt. I splash through potholes. Around me are men wearing sandy-coloured, wide-brimmed hats. They carry bundles of flowers on their backs. I bump into one in the crowd, apologising in my schoolgirl Spanish as I whirl away. “Lo siento!”
I brush up against women wearing rough, embroidered pink-and-red tops, their glossy black hair neatly plaited with ribbons. Between the market stalls, people press around me. The smells of spices and fruit and flowers assault my senses. The buses here are American school buses, faded yellow with old-fashioned sliding windows. Inside and on the roof are sacks and bags, boxes and baskets. Chickens and piglets squeal in the crowded space.
Further down the street, people are dancing. They wear strange masks with brightly-coloured knitted wool for hair, rosy cheeks, pale faces and dark eye holes. A pristine white church looks out of place amongst the earthquake-damaged façades. The steps are littered with people and their wares. There’s even an open fire.
Over the page, I am at a lake in the highlands with a boy called Francisco. I am watching my parents. They look so young and wild, like my brothers, my cousins… like me.
Francisco is posing for their photos, hands on hips, back arched, head thrust towards the sky. He’s wearing a faded blue-chequered shirt over a dirty white one, black hair falling into his eyes, smiling at the camera. He sells my parents a pineapple and red bananas.
Francisco peels the pineapple, sprinkles it with chilli and, at my parents’ invitation, sits down to eat with them
While his friend disappears behind a building to find some change, Francisco peels the pineapple, sprinkles it with chilli and, at my parents’ invitation, sits down to eat with them. I can hear him, his voice shy as he tells them about his life, kayaking across the lake each morning to sell fruit.
Then my parents give him the world. They like him so much they give him their inflatable globe — the globe they had brought with them to show people the faraway island of Nueva Zelanda. And it’s ironic because the boy in that photo, who had so little, whose world was so small, could hold the whole world so easily in his hands.