I’ve mentioned in my earlier columns that I had spent a chunk of my childhood abroad, swinging from tree to tree like Tarzan in the jungles of a sizeable island near the land down under.
I refrain from mentioning exactly where I was, not for security reasons, good God no – but to maintain the air of mystery that any unnamed item usually has.
It’s a lot like You Know Who, a.k.a. He Who Must Not Be Named, but for keeping things simple, I’ll just call it The Island.
So yes, I spent four long, wonderful years, growing up in The Island. I have wanted to write about my days there for the longest time, but the lazy arse that I can be, I never really got around to it.
So my mum, younger sister and I moved to The Island after my dad got a job there and had already lived there for a year. Two countries and two transit stops later, we made it to the capital city. The place we were supposed to go to was more towards the south of The Island, and the only way to get there was by a tiny plane which sat a mere ten people, and had noisy propellers on each side. At the end of my stay at The Island, I had ridden those little planes so many times, that I hear a permanent crunch inside my ears every time I swallow. Air pressure from those flights, you see.
So our tiny plane carrying my five year old self, two year old sister and unmentionably aged mum, landed on a long, nondescript concrete patch of an airstrip. A small building nearby (if you can call it a building, it was more like a house), happened to be the airport/customs building. While taxiing towards the building, I saw that a barbed wire fence held off the people waiting for arrivals. Among them, I saw my father’s familiar face, looking grim, but broke into a smile the second he saw us in the plane.
Bundling us all into a jeep, we made our way from the airport to The Town. Crossing narrow asphalt roads around winding hills, with lush greenery on either side, it was a beautiful sight. Back then, The Island was still underdeveloped, and much of its natural beauty was still intact. Needless to say the locals were in a similar state, and we were warned about cannibals, but honestly, we never came across, nor witnessed any such occurrence in all the time we were there.
Entering The Town, I remember the houses and buildings were made of wood and plaster, with slanted corrugated steel roofs. The roads were quite sparse, with shrubbery and metal wire fencing surrounding the buildings. I imagine what they were trying to keep out of the properties. Dogs? Pigs? Cannibalistic demonic vampires?
A small road ventured downhill and at the end of the road we reached a house on the left. It was made of wood and raised on metal poles, which were fastened into a huge concrete foundation. I found out later that most of the houses were made on metal poles because there were frequent earthquakes and this was a safety measure. Wooden stairs led up to the door, and we entered what was to be our home for the next four years.
Inside the floors were made of wood and there were pillars holding up the roof. It was a modest little house, with three tiny bedrooms and a toilet. I was just glad it had a high commode and not a pan. The bathroom even had a hand shower, which to us deshi folk, is a top priority.
When one entered the main door, it led to the open living space front and left, which had a small sofa set, and a dining table right behind it. Leading off the living space towards the right of the room was a fridge and a small kitchen. On the right side of the main door, a small corridor veered right towards the bedrooms and bathroom. My parents took one bedroom, while my sister and I stayed in the one opposite them. The third bedroom was the smallest and used as a storage space.
Most of the windows were glass louvre windows, enclosed in wire mesh to prevent entry of mosquitoes, because The Island was renowned for malaria. In fact, we have had so much quinine in those four years that I can still taste it from memory. Yuck!
The first few weeks went away just converting my father’s bachelor pad into a family home. We put up photos, bought new furniture and curtains. We discovered that, for some odd reason, The Town did not have a salon. I guess the locals just liked to grow out their afros, perhaps? So for the entire time we were there, my mum, sister and I sported a similar “boy cut” or whatever it was that my father could manage. Hence my tomboy stage of life was initiated, which pretty much carried through to later years as well.
The only good school around was the international school, and since it was too expensive to afford right then, my sister and I were homeschooled by our parents until it was financially feasible to do so. Things became better when my mum got a job where my dad worked (they are both doctors), and we didn’t have to look back after that.
I owe a great deal of my learning and personality to my years spent at the international school. I had friends from all over the world and the principal was a foreigner who was a great teacher as well. In fact, it was he who recognized my writing skills when I started writing short stories at eight years old, and regularly encouraged it. I lost all my childhood writing while moving houses, but the memories are still there.
More about my life at The Island next week!