Kiini
Ibura
Salaam

Writings


 



EssayReportTravel Writing // //

Reflections on Fiji – Turn of the Century: December 1999

Posted on 4 December 2012


Fiji is a place that exists on the edge of an East Coaster’s imagination. Maybe for a Californian or some resident of a Pacific Rim nation, Fiji is a familiar neighbor. But for me—a New Yorker—Fiji is worlds away. We don’t share an ocean or a hemisphere, just a dim awareness of each other’s existence. This was, in fact, part of Fiji’s draw for me—its remoteness in relationship to my daily life. For the turn of the century, I wanted to travel as far off my beaten path as I could. In that vein, I came across an odd book—herbal remedies in the South Pacific. It was the cover photo that drew me in. It featured a group of black people, shoulders tilted forward, dancing in unison. Their brown skin accented by greenery—green bushes around them, green plant fronds belted around colorful skirts. Their round afros added a graphic element to the photo. Clearly the image was dated, but my interest was piqued. Who were these people? The caption on the photo said they were Fijian. Fiji. The South Pacific. In that moment, I knew where I would be welcoming the turn of the century.

Flights into Fiji land in Nadi, the tourist center. From Nadi, vacationers access beaches, hotels, or one of Fiji’s smaller, more picturesque islands to revel in the country’s famed pristine beaches, dense lush wilderness, and year-round sunshine. Non-Nadi residents or people who have come in for business hop on a bus or jump in a car to reach Suva, Fiji’s capital city. I was heading to Suva too. On my way to the bus I noticed two things: flowers nestled behind the ears of both men and women, and medium-sized afros crowning many women’s heads. I thought these floral-clothed folk were beautiful, yet I wondered—is this dress-up? Is this a memory of times past, recreated for the titillation of foreign eyes? Surrounded by travelers hell-bent on a beach vacation, I found it impossible to determine whether the Fijians in the airport were wearing costumes for tourists or representing the everyday dress of an average Fijian.

During the four-hour bus ride to Suva, I saw lots of land. Some of the land was empty, some had a few majestic trees, while others were clearly full of crops. Almost every collection of crops included neat rows of spindly papaya trees and wide stretches of a short leafy plant I later learned was called ‘taro.’ By far, the most prominent crop I saw was sugar cane. Everywhere I looked, I saw fields of new cane and fields of old cane. Many of the farms were marked with rail tracks for carts to haul the cane away from the fields. Halfway to Suva, I saw a sight that convinced me that the Fijian dress I saw at the Nadi airport wasn’t wholly motivated by tourism. On the side of the road, a group of men were digging a ditch. One of them—sweaty-backed and sweaty-browed—worked with a beautiful flower tucked behind his ear.

In Suva, my host—a lecturer at the Fiji campus of the University of the South Pacific—picked me up and brought me to the campus apartment where she lived (and where I’d be living for the next three months). The campus was teeming with lush plant life. I was amazed by the diversity of flowers and trees on the campus, as well as the landscape of hills, valleys and wooden bridges. On my campus walks I would see a plethora of trees and bushes, some flowering, some fruit bearing, and some just fabulously green. I saw fichus trees, low-hung branches heavy with jackfruit, both tall and short palms, and fallen coconuts. Sometimes I imagined the campus must be a microcosm of the Fijian nation’s two big islands and 330 tiny islands (about 110 of which are occupied). I was constantly discovering new corners of the campus that brought to mind a rainforest or nature hike.

Among the beautiful flowers and bushes that grow all over Suva there are a plethora of food-bearing plants. In addition to the fruit trees, tiny plots of papaya, taro, and other root vegetables were surprisingly frequent throughout the city. Fallow land in Fiji, it seems, is seen as an opportunity (perhaps even a request) to grow food. If a landowner leaves a plot empty long enough, someone with a sharp eye will come by and start to plant. The resulting crops might even become the basis of a booming fruit and vegetable business.

The Fijian concept of land ownership seems a little more fluid than what I’m accustomed to. If a landowner is absent or doesn’t monitor her/his property, some landless person may decide to build a house on the property and start living there. One man I met in Fiji told me the story of the family that lives on his land. When he bought the house, a portion of the surrounding land was inhabited by a family that was unrelated to the previous owner. The family had found the property unoccupied and built a tin house on the land. Over time, the family forged a relationship with the owner and became caretakers of the land. When the owner sold the house, the family decided to stay. Consequently, the man I met  — the owner – inherited the family with the land. He didn’t have the heart to throw the family off the property—especially since there was so much land, more than he, his wife, and his son could use.

As the new owner described it to me, he not only maintains a working relationship with the family, but he also became something of a godfather, funding the construction of a wood house, pitching in money and advice to help solve economic and family problems, paying school fees, and providing general social support to the family. When I remarked that the relationship was out of the ordinary, he said he had that type of fluid, familiar relationship with the woman who washed clothing for him as well. Growing up in a financially strapped family and currently living a necessity-driven middle class life, the concept of hired help is somewhat a foreign concept for me. Very few of my friends and associates have to navigate the intimate yet professional nature of a patron-client relationship.

The new owner decided to take me to visit a student of his, who—with his family—lived on someone else’s land. On the way to visit the student, we saw a man standing on the side of the road. The new owner slowed down and asked the man if he needed a ride. After we dropped the man off, the new owner explained that it was common for him to pick up neighbors and laborers in need of a ride.  We ended up in the fertile valley of Nabua. The new owner explained that his student’s family was very poor and had, upon finding themselves homeless, traveled around looking for somewhere to live. They found an abandoned house in a small, friendly village, and moved in. The student’s family renovated the house and cultivated the land around it. At some point during the family’s settling in phase, the land’s owner arrived from out of the country. He didn’t get angry, nor did he call law enforcement. He was, instead, rather grateful. A Fijian resident of California, the owner felt he had nothing to lose in the agreement. Not only was his land being looked after, but the family was also improving by the property.

The renovations were impressive. The edges of the property had been lined with driftwood. A gravel driveway led to a pond with lily pads and fish. From the pond, a hand-crafted mosaic footpath led to the house. Banana and other fruit trees surround the house. After a brief tour around the house, the father of the family took us across the road into a tangle of trees and thick undergrowth. Within the dense foliage, the father had created a beautiful space for meditation and contemplation. There were stones lined paths cut through the trees that wandered in different directions. Some wound in circular patterns that led nowhere, others ended at a little clearing with benches, and one led straight to the beach.

As we sat on a bench under the shade of trees, I noticed that the sand underfoot was neatly raked. A cool breeze blew through the leaves. As we talked with family members, the father brought a plate loaded with pineapple slices and bananas. The moment was so perfect, I found myself wondering what it would be like to spend a month or two there. Seeing my appreciation for the moment, the man who had brought me to meet the family commented that the difficulties of their poverty were lessened by the bounty of the land. In that moment, Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place came to mind.

While the “small place” Kincaid wrote about was Antigua, I saw certain parallels  to Fiji. In addition to precise descriptions of the clash between citizen and tourist, Kincaid de-romanticizes what it’s like to live in a small place. She talks about the beauty—the same beauty I was, in that moment, reveling in—of the small place as a prison; the constancy of the small place as a trap. Kincaid posits that everyone is a native somewhere and everyone has the capacity to be a tourist. As tourists travel to escape the dull monotony of their lives, they become ugly people hated by natives. Tourists aren’t hated because they are bad people, Kincaid argued, but because the native can’t afford to be a tourist. The native is trapped in a dull monotonous life from which there is no escape. Not only have tourists temporarily escaped the traps of their own monotonous lives, but they add insult to injury by somehow gaining pleasure from the dull monotonous lives of natives. As if to underscore the fact that I was a tourist and they were natives, the son of the house stopped us as we were driving away to new adventures. He thrust a huge load of bananas into the back seat of my host’s truck. “I’m sick of eating these,” he said, “I get rid of them every chance I get.”

Unquestionably, they key to the successful growth of this poverty-mitigating produce is rain. I arrived to Fiji smack dead in the middle of the rainy season. I had been warned about the severity of the rains, but—citing my history with the rainy season in Bahia, Brazil—I waved off any concerns. How difficult could Fiji’s rainy season be? Well, you know the saying that Eskimos have thirty different words for snow. The way it rains here during the rainy season, Fijians should have thirty different words for rain. My first three days in Suva were filled with rain: pounding rain, sprinkling rain, showering rain, streaming rain, barely-there rain, bone-soaking rain. I spent those days confined indoors, coughing and depressed. Over time, the rains became less intense and less frequent. I began seeing a different approach to dealing with rain. People, children especially, would walk out in the rain, straight backed and smiling. Rather than shun the rain, they took rain baths.

Children were one of my favorite sights in Fiji. I loved seeing them after school in their uniforms, traveling in a exuberant, vocal groups, the girls in their dresses, the boys in their sulus, all with flowers behind the ear. They effortlessly embodied various elements essential to Fijian style. First, the flower behind the ear. In addition to being central to the landscape and so often used to accent a face, flowers were also a crucial design element on cloth. I saw many adult and elderly Fijian women wearing long floral dresses with a floral wrap skirt underneath called a sulu. Fijian men and boys wore sulus too. The male sulu was fitted, often with pockets, in a drab, thicker fabric that stopped about mid-calf. Men donned sulus for official occasions, dressing up, and school or work uniforms.

Another way the school children embodied Fijian style was by wearing their hair in afros. Black people worldwide have conflicted relationships to their hair. Our hair is one of the triad of phenotypic manifestations that mark us as “black.” Every other group of people has hair that grows down, our hair grows up. I’ve often wondered if it is the distinctiveness of our hair that makes it so hated. Our distinctive features are part of what dominant cultures use as proof of our “otherness.” The feedback loop of enslavement/cultural destruction and self-hatred/hatred of black people has made natural black hair an issue worldwide.  A visit to a museum taught me that Fijians were never captured or enslaved. Their ancestors arrived to Fiji by boat and decided to stay. Along with its exhibition of large-scale models of huge Fijian boats, which were incredible feats of construction and architecture, the museum displayed portraits of Fijian men drawn by Europeans who visited the island. The man had extremely elaborate hairstyles that included braids, twists, afros, often all mixed up in one hairstyle. I immediately began to wonder if there was a relationship between the fact that Fijians had not been enslaved and the tradition of Fijian women wearing afros.

As a black American, I tend to think of the enslavement and forced colonialism as a universal experience for people of African descent around the world. SO I was surprised to learn from the placards at the museum that Fijians actually initiated their colonial relationship Britain. European, Asian, and American sailors had long been a presence in Fiji as they passed through the South Pacific with goods for sale and trade. However, when these sailors started settling on the islands, civil disputes grew. Americans in particular did not follow Fijian law and incited disturbances, then threatened to call in the American marines to ‘protect themselves and their property.’ Rather than fall to the whims of others, Fijian leaders requested that Britain annex Fiji. Fiji became a British possession in 1847, at a time when slavery was falling out of favor in the West.

In addition to willfully going under British rule, there were Fijian groups who chose to convert Christianity out of a sense of politics, thinking it might put them in a better position for survival and growth. Years after Christianity was first introduced to Fiji, the majority of Fijians are staunchly Christian. I find the somersaulting acquisition and relinquishing of beliefs and practices when cultures meet fascinating. Here is an example of how nations around the world can honor their traditions and maintains ancestral pride, yet wholeheartedly adopt another faith. A vivid depiction of the transformative power of cultural change hung in the museum. It was a simple, two-panel cartoon, that deftly demonstrated the religion. The first panel was dated 1835. It showed European missionaries wearing shoes, hats, long sleeved shirts, and dresses. The missionaries held bibles while pointing at two native Fijians—a woman and a man—both of whom were wearing nothing but short leaf skirts. The missionaries issue the natives a two-word demand: “cover up.” The next panel was dated 1978. Two Fijians are modestly dressed, proudly sporting afros, pointing at European tourists—a woman and a man—who are barely covered in shorts and bikini tops, issuing the same two-word demand—”cover up.” The words that once judged the culture of traditional Fijians now condemned bare-skinned Europeans.

When Britain began large-scale cultivation of sugar cane in their new possession, they brought in a slew of East Indians as indentured laborers. After indentured servitude ended, Indo-Fijians became merchants, running businesses and building wealth. As the Indo-Fijian minority became more economically powerful and—through continuing generations—more entrenched in Fiji, they sought more representation and voice in politics, an area that was governed (by Constitutional right) by ethnic Fijians. In objection to larger Indo-Fijian participation in the political arena, three coups were staged in Fiji in the short time span of ten years. The current government is the result of a fourth coup that is purported to have been staged in attempt to create more fair laws and practices surround Indo-Fijian participation in government.

I’m not clear on the details of interpersonal racial tensions, but I do know that the tensions between ethnic Fijians and Indo-Fijians run high. Once, while I as drinking at a bar, a Fijian man looked at me and shook his head as if pitying my people’s race constructs. “You hate white people,” he said. “We don’t have that problem in Fiji. We hate the Indians.” He said this to me as if his rationale was superior. As if one hatred makes sense and another is baseless.

Indo-Fijians aren’t the only ethnic group that experiences hatred. Race hatred cuts against ethnic Fijians as well. One of the first distinctions I learned was the difference between being from Fiji, the country and being Fijian. While people of many ethnicities make up the Fijian nation, only black people are called ‘Fijian.’ I learned this when I called a friend Fijian and she immediately responded, “I’m not Fijian” with such emphasis that I was taken aback. It took me a second to sort out my mistake. She was born and raised in Fiji, why wouldn’t she be Fijian? Then it hit me, she is not ethnically Fijian—which to my race-calibrated American ears seemed to suggest an unspoken distaste for ethnic Fijians. Her tone of voice seemed to protest that I had wronged her by calling her Fijian, I might as well have called her black.

Ethnic Fijians are what Americans would consider black. They are brown skinned, kinky haired, with familiar phenotypic variations on that theme. Non-ethnic Fijians, or the other people who make up the Fijian nation, range in ethnic makeup and cultural background. The second largest ethnic group after Fijians, are Indo-Fijians, consisting of Hindus and Muslims. There is also a highly visible community of mixed race people, European and Pacific Islander being the most common mix. People from other Pacific Island countries also live in Fiji: Tongans, Samoans, Cook Islanders, and others. Traveling to Fiji opened my eyes to an entire region that I had previously been ignorant of. Whether meeting people with Tongan parents, taking a dance class and learning movements from the Cook Islands, or reading a piece of cloth that said Bora Bora, Tahiti (and being shocked that Bora Bora was a real place, not just a colloquial phrase for ‘somewhere far away’), I gained an interest in the rest of the islands that comprise the South Pacific. I fantasized about chartering a boat and exploring each island at my own pace.

The common language in Fiji is English. Many Fijians, ethnic-Fijian or not, posses an at least passing knowledge of the Fijian language. My inability to speak Fijian was the thing that outed me time and time again on the street. People would approach me and greet me in Fijian. I would respond with the few Fijian words I knew. Apart from the initial greeting of bula, the only Fijian I knew was na ka, which means thank you. When people would continue speaking to me in Fijian, I would have to confess the truth. I would tell them, sadly, that I did not speak Fijian, was not Fijian. If I needed to walk up to a stranger and, unintroduced, ask for directions or some other help, the most common reaction I got was a confused stare.

I was always tickled by the confusion because it meant that I had passed for Fijian. I could almost see the person’s brain rifling through questions and answers, assumptions and expectations as they reconfigured what they know about people who look like them. I would imagine their thought process: What the hell did she just say? She isn’t Fijian! Well, what is she then? That was English, wasn’t it? She isn’t Fijian? But she looks just like me. I relish these moments of travel because the make me feel like a fiber in the common weave of humanity. I enjoy the odd contradiction of seeing foreignness inside a mirror image, or vice versa, finding mirror images in a foreign land.

For some reason, the rub of foreignness in a mirror image is doubly disconcerting for people of the African diaspora. Perhaps it’s the deep sense of isolation born from being labeled as a minority, treated as other, and institutionally marginalized in so many countries. Maybe it’s the perception that the world’s stakeholders—the world’s wealthy, the world’s travelers and decision makers—being white. Whatever the reason, black people in the countries I’ve visited seem to have this sense that they are anomalies, and hence, the only people like them on Earth. Even when we know better, we are shocked to meet someone with the same skin and hair as us but doesn’t speak like us. It’s like a circus trick or a magician’s sleight of hand. It’s an illusion that your mind refuses to accept.

My first experience wrestling with foreign mirror images was in the Dominican Republic where I was an exchange student. The sight of black people speaking rapid fire Spanish confounded me. I found it so difficult to accept that these people could look like me, but not be like me. Conversely, most Dominicans had a hard time believing that I wasn’t Dominican. In fact, they refused to believe it, accusing me of putting on airs when I spoke English. In Brazil, an acquaintance stared at me and my friend when he heard us speaking English together. “You speak it so fast,” he said in amazement, as if he could accept that we learned this bizarre foreign tongue, but he could not accept that we actually had fluency in it. When I commented that he spoke Portuguese very quickly, he brushed off my observation. Speaking Portuguese wasn’t a novelty to him, he thought it only natural—because to him Portuguese is the language that black people speak.

By the time I reached Fiji, I was well versed on the shock of coming face-to-face with a foreign-tongued black person. So after speaking, I would just smile and wait as the Fijian stranger stared at me, confused. I knew there was not a failure of comprehension; I knew it was an issue of preparation. Seeing this Fijian looking woman didn’t trigger the necessary preparations for the twists and turns of strange-sounding foreign tones. So I waited. I’d watch for signs that the person was regrouping. When the person’s face settled back into a receptive expression, I would start to speak again. The more curious among the strangers would invariably ask me—having realized that I am speaking ‘American’—are you ‘an’ African American. The ‘an’ struck me as strange. It made me feel that the speaker was drawing a line between us, subtly signaling that I was from a different species, rather than akin to the speaker. Like anybody else, I don’t think of myself as different, but I suppose there weren’t that many African Americans who had made it to non-tourist Fiji. My chest puffed up with a feeling that wasn’t quite pride. Perhaps it was duty, yes it was a sense of mission. If I was seen as some foreign being, then I wanted to represent my people as best I could. So I would answer, yes, I am ‘an’ African American.

I seemed to be less of an anomaly to the people I ended up spending time with. Living on the university campus and socializing with the university lecturer’s community, I ended up befriending artists and intellectuals that made up my host’s community. They were either well traveled enough to have met black Americans before or were cosmopolitan enough to hide their surprise. Though there were many similarities and differences between us. The most immediately apparent difference between us was our style of speech. On a continuum of hardness, the enunciation of British English is a ten. Of course, in Britain there are a number of accents that blend and vibrate the standard enunciation in hackneyed or other variations. However, in its “proper” form British English is as sharp as English comes. American English is a deeply devolved (or evolved, depending on your perspective) version of the same mother tongue. Fijian English is somewhere in between. It is a softer variation of British English, way more precise than the lazy pronunciations of my American tongue.

Hanging out with my Fijian friends made me very aware of how “round” I speak. Sometimes, I felt like a hick, straight out of the South (which, some may argue that, as a New Orleanian, that is exactly what I am). When my Fijian friends (or rather friends from Fiji) spoke, they pronounced almost every syllable and many of those syllables were pronounced differently than I would pronounce them. Their proper tones softened, however when they wanted to tell jokes or be bawdy. On those occasions, they would slip into broken English, exaggerated accents, and grammatically “incorrect” phrasing. It was a language shift I was very familiar with because where I’m from, we do the same thing. Whenever I heard this colloquial version of Fijian English, I would get the same warm, at-home feeling I get from hearing black American colloquilisms.

Our shared practice of using broken English did nothing to help us communicate with each other when my pronunciation was too lazy or theirs too precise. Sometimes we found ourselves in a feedback loop where they couldn’t understand what I’d said and I couldn’t understand what they’d said. Once while shopping, I pointed to a dress and said, “This doesn’t look like cotton.” “What?” my friend asked, clearly confused about what I’d said. Hoping to clarify, I repeated myself. Still confused, she repeated herself. I repeated myself again. Finally she figured out that I had said ‘cotton,’ and I finally figured out that I hadn’t said ‘cotton’ at all. I’d said: ka-un. I’d neglected to pronounce the two “t”s in the middle. To add insult to injury, my ‘o’s weren’t ‘o’s—they were ‘ah’s and ‘uh’s. “Oh god,” I remember thinking, “I can’t speak!”

One of my most memorable experiences of not being able to understand other native English speakers was in London. I would struggle so hard to understand what my friends were saying but they seemed to understand me effortlessly. One day, out of frustration, I asked a friend, “How come you can understand everything I am saying, but I can’t understand what you’re saying?” He looked at me like I was clueless. “Because all the movies, television shows and music are from America,” he said. This little moment of cultural imperialism education happened in London, a place—one could argue—that is the site of some of history’s masterful examples of imperialism. Yet, my accent itself is an instrument of cultural domination.

As a middle class black American, I occupy a bizarre place between oppressor and oppressed. I am both discriminated against and privileged. I have the power of the passport and the dollar (a power that seems to be rapidly shrinking). I also have the worldwide symbol of second-class citizenship: my skin. English as a mother tongue comes with a certain amount of built-in benefits, and American English comes with a level of cultural cachet. I’ve been in hotels in the Dominican Republic and, in the midst of being been treated like crap because the staff assumed I was Dominican, suddenly become a valuable client when I opened my mouth and spoke “American.” The sound of my tongue won over the color of my skin, but if I never left the United States, I would never know such a dichotomy was even possible.

Traveling, especially for Black Americans, is like living in a koan. You go somewhere new and experience it through your eyes, through the lens of the social mores and conventions of your upbringing. How deeply you experience another culture depends on how far you break out of your worldview—a worldview you may not even be aware of having. Traveling has radically changed the way I view myself. It was on foreign soil that I recognized myself as and began to call myself an American. Before then, I always qualified my Americanness—I was a black American or an African American or an American of African descent. At the time, I didn’t believe in the contradictions inherent in American identity—in all identity, for there is no country on planet Earth that loves all of its children.

Traveling taught me that nationality is messy. It’s messier than flag waving, or feeling accepted and loved at home. Staring into the faces of black Dominicans showed me that my place of birth is an accident. I literally could have been born anywhere; I could have been another woman. Staring into the face of my Americanness while surrounded by the British in London showed me that I have been whittled and formed by the country where I was born. I am a product of the unique experiences of America, of blacks in America, of women in America, of southerners. I am American.

When you travel you are constantly confronted by the person that travels within you. You may feel yourself holding fast to what you know and believe. You may find yourself shaking off that which has always defined you and seeking another way of being. Regardless you must navigate the friction of individuality and nationality rubbing up against one another. That friction makes some of us numb and it rubs others of us raw. Under the best circumstances, it polishes our vision until gleaming and allows us to see the world anew. As travelers, may we always be willing to meet the truths that lurk around the next bend, may we always embrace the complexities that are waiting to join up with our existing contradictions. May we always be brave enough to look ourselves and others in the face and fearlessly feed the multiplicities that live within us all.

A postscript about small creatures:

In Fiji I spent a surprising amount of time negotiating various small creatures that inhabited the apartment where I lived, the homes I visited, and the ever-present foliage around the island. In the city, ants made any speck of spilled juice, glob of peanut butter or jelly, or crumb of bread dangerous. It only took a morsel of food to attract a dedicated and voracious battalion of ants. Cooking and eating surfaces had to be wiped frequently, trash had to sealed tight or left outside, and anything edible left unrefrigerated–such as cough medicine or a cake, had to be raised on a kitchen-made moat. We would put the edible items on a bowl or a plate and balance the bowl or plate on top of a glass that was placed in a bowl of water. Only then could we be sure of keeping our food ant-free.

Red millipedes were constantly underfoot. Sadly, once they got into the apartment, they didn’t seem to be able to find their way out. They would wander around the house until they died, leaving behind their stiff black carcasses for me to throw in the trash. In more rural areas, geckoes were often overhead. At night, they would crawl out of cracks in the walls and roam the ceilings. They had translucent skin and made loud clicking noises that almost sounded like someone knocking on a door. They, like bugs, were attracted to light. It was a nightly occurrence for about twenty geckoes to gather on the ceiling around the porch light.

The bugs were different in the country somehow. The mosquitoes more vicious, the ants more violent. Watching ants while I was a guest in a friend’s summer house would sometimes give me the chills. They were single-minded and ruthless. They didn’t mourn their dead, they just rerouted their path around the fallen comrade and continued their task. They lack of compassion for other insects. If a cockroach fell on its back or fell ill and couldn’t get up, the ants wouldn’t wait for it to die. They’d march right up to the immobilized bug and start detaching a leg or two.

There were huge brown moths that—at rest—displayed bodies that were aerodynamic wonders. Toads that found a cool resting place in the toe of one of my sneakers. Bats that squealed and darkened the sky at sunset. There were insistent wasps that made homes in whatever crack or cranny they could find in human habitations. There were worms attached to leaf-shaped cocoons or crawly things that at first appeared to be a crack in the bathtub. In leafy surroundings or the shadowy corners of rooms, things often weren’t what they seemed.

My favorite by far were the frogs. When it rained, little frog heads would peek out from cool resting places. They would leave their shelter, hopping toward some destination unknown to me. It was a strangely beautiful sight. Frogs large and small, hopping across wet lawns, then pausing to sit still in the middle of the rainfall. Then they’d hop again. Hopping and waiting, hopping and pausing. In this way they made their slow journey to their secret rain place. From my vantage point, the frog pilgrimage looked magical. First there would be still grass. Then rain would fall, and before I knew it, the lawn would be alive with the slow movement of frogs.