There is a place near the beach that is my new home, a small apartment in one of many buildings in the village. Each building has four apartments, and they are built on stilts so they don’t flood during monsoon season and heavy rains. I love floating around, swimming under and through the stilts in the afternoons when the rains come. The rough wooden exterior boards are dark mahogany brown much like chocolate, and they are rough like the shell of a brazil nut. My dad and I each have a bed, and they are as soft as a cloud. My favorite part of my bed is the hand-carved Trukese headboard. I like to imagine living in the stories of the warriors and queens honed into the ironwood burnished nearly black. It is not uncommon for me to find one or more geckos lounging on the walls, their bodies neon green in stark contrast to the white walls. They keep me company during the day.
Outside on our deck I can see the beach and lagoon past the breadth of grass and palm trees. On the other side of the lagoon I see the shadows of small islands like sentinels guarding the horizon. Sometimes the land crabs are out of their burrows scuttling sideways across the grass looking for food or unprotected toes to eat. The magic of the setting sun paints the sky in vibrant colors of purple, blue, orange, and yellow casting the palm trees into silhouette like statues, unmoving against the night. It is a beauty beyond reproach that leaves me wanting more, and I am drawn to sleep with the sun.
There is a place near the beach where the local kids fly free over the land and swim like they were born to water. I don’t speak their language, which makes me miss my friends in Oregon, but I am not lonely. We use the language of childhood – laughter, gestures, and drawings in the sand – to communicate with one another. I have learned “hello” – ran annim, “bye” – kene nom, “yes” – uu, and “no” – apw, and they have learned some English words. They run and play naked, uninhibited and free, their dark skin drawing in the sun and blending into the shadows. I am the tannest I have ever been, the stark contrast revealed when my swim suit slips a bit to show my tan line, as though someone drew a sharp line with a marker. Despite my chameleon-like transformation, amongst my new friends I stand out like a lone caramel in a box of dark chocolate. I was uneasy with their nakedness when I first saw them running around, but I don’t even notice anymore.
I have several new friends, boys and girls, and the mother of one of the girls works as a maid at our apartment and treats me like her own daughter, communicating and understanding through inherent bonds carried by all mothers and daughters. I don’t understand her name, but it doesn’t matter, she is love. She is a welcoming smile in the mornings, and comforting hug when I am missing my mom; her chubby arms wrapping me up in the welcoming embrace. She made me a traditional Trukese dress, and it is a treasure that was painstakingly crafted from a light, airy pink fabric with a pattern of tiny flowers and turquoise ribbon trim. It fits me perfectly though she never took my measurements or had me try it on.
There is a place near the beach where the expanse of white sand meets the turquoise waters of the lagoon. A jetty projects out to the darker waters and is the anchor for the worn, wooden dock that hosts the fishing boats of the locals. To the east, the smooth seam between sand and ocean is disrupted by the carcass of a WWII Japanese naval vessel left to decay and rot after its destruction forty years ago by US forces during Operation Hailstone. Similarly on the rocky shore a short distance away, partially hidden under the outstretched branches of a mangrove tree is a fungus and moss covered shell of a rusted Japanese tank rendered useless after the attack and discarded like an old shoe.
It is here I have made my playground, the old tank serving as the structure of a mighty fortress defended by hundreds of soldiers. Sometimes I hide in the rotted out cockpit of the tank, between the tracks and dig in the sand and dirt looking for shells. We make use of the ship by climbing aboard, jumping from the sides, and swimming through the large gashes in the hull, oblivious to the torpedo that created them.
There is a place near the beach where the dock stretches out like an arm reaching out for it’s lost love. Hidden under the water is a coral reef teeming with life, an undersea world of rainbows, light, and life. Sometimes I take my snorkel and goggles to the dock to lose myself exploring this new, mysterious world. The luminous orange and white of the clown fish catches my eye as it darts in and out of its anemone home. Below the clown fish, sea cucumbers undulate on the silty bottom of the ocean moving in tandem to the rhythm of the waves, scooping up food with their tentacles as they go.
Rising up out of the ocean floor, the coral is a living, bustling city of marine life full of mysterious and scary creatures like puffer fish and eels. I love to float above the reef examining the coral and memorizing it’s shapes and colors. Some are shaped like brains with ridges like a freshly plowed field, and some are shaped like fingers reaching up to hold and protect the lives of the creatures that live within. Their beauty, while intriguing and inviting, draws me in like a moth to the flame, but I don’t touch any of it because for some of the coral, their beauty is deceiving, and they generate poison on their surfaces.
There is a place near the beach where the coconut and palm trees grow, reaching their fronds to the sky. Palm fronds scatter the grounds, and my friends spend time teaching me how to weave the leaves. Their fingers move quickly creating intricate, delicate patterns, and they braid the fronds into beautiful baskets, hats, and other items. When they weave the pattern correctly, they are even able to create baskets that hold liquid.
My friends also teach me how to husk and open the green coconuts to drink the milk. The skin peels off them like the silk on a corncob leaving tendrils of husk behind on the hard coconut shell. The hard, brown ball that emerges is covered in hard, hairy fibers making it rough to the touch, hiding the sweet, juicy meat and milk within. The coconut milk is like nothing I have ever drank before; it is refreshingly sweet and creamy, and it dribbles down my chin as I drink straight from machete-cut hole in the top of the coconut.
There is a place near the beach where I run wild and free, untamed like the mustangs of the American Old West. I play in the jungle overgrowth running barefoot through trees and bushes, sending the condensed humidity flying off the leaves in a misty cloud, my hair damp with it. From deep in the jungle to where the white, sandy beach kisses the sparkling blue water, I find adventure waiting and embrace it with the excitement of Christmas morning and the freedom of spirit that can only be found in a child.
There is a place near the beach that is my home.