In 1993, when my family moved from San Bernardino, California to More Tomorrow Village in Belize, it hadn’t occurred to me that this new place would allow me to deeply experience the rawness of the natural world. We moved to a village because my mother wanted to go to the most remote place and show us—her American children—that a different world existed outside of suburbia. “You need to see how I lived as a child,” she’d often say.
My mother, older brother, two sisters, and I lived in a small room. We shared one bed, a portable stove, a kerosene lamp, and a small bucket hidden in the corner — our new indoor toilet. “We are living here until our real house is done,” my mother said. We didn’t know she’d begun purchasing materials for a house even before we left San Bernardino. Clearly, she planned on staying in Belize, and until the “real” house was finished the single room was our abode.
The grainy cement walls kept out large slithering creatures and other wild animals. Most nights we could hear the sobbing snarl of a panting jaguar. My mother would light a solitary candle and the flame flickered enough to see its prowling silhouette in retreat. We heard snooping men of the bush. Their hushed voices near our windows and their rubber boots being sucked sloppily by the muddy ground. Spop! Spop! Spop! I listened as the sounds retreated further and further away and I cradled myself under the mosquito net.
Thankfully, the only creatures that entered our room were flies and bats. The latter silently swooped in and tucked themselves into the cracks of the bumpy grey ceiling. I assumed this happened earlier in the day whenever we left the door ajar. Came dusk, the sky changed colors to match the red mud of the village. The bats were swooping and throwing their black bodies in the air, flapping noisily. Even though the bats beat the air like helicopters, if the sky wasn’t pitch-black, we had to ignore the bucket in the corner and use the outhouse. I pretended like the fluttering bats didn’t cause me to run.
The outhouse was wooden and decrepit, and of course, smelled like shit. Tons of human waste had piled on for years and years, until frothing tiny bubbles burst in the rank air, creating a stagnant immovable funk. For days, the odor lingered on my skin like a foul spirit.
The small shack sat near the river bank and leaned backward, as if one finger could push it over. The interior, separated into two small sections by a soggy plywood wall, had one area for bathing and the other held a gaping, wooden, toilet seat—clouded by flies. Home to many flies: house flies, horse flies, doctor flies, sand flies, dragon flies, short jacket-flies, the occasional flying cockroach and millions of mosquitoes that constantly buzzed, buzzed, buzzed. As I sat and listened to their song, my droppings splash into thick slush. Once, I curiously glanced into the hole.
The red tinted muck was moving. My eyes zoomed in and tiny strings of life had immersed themselves into the sludge. Worms and flies, tiny black specks, bathed in it; they lived their entire lives in that hole.
Several times, I tried squatting in the bushes instead, but that wasn’t always best when Belizean cow-itch gave a painful rash. So, I endured the fly-fly songs, the engulfing spoiled egg smell, and worried that if I fell in, then Shaytan, the devil, would be there to clutch me and pull me under the water.
Adjacent to the outhouse was a rain-water vat. Wobbly gutters streamed water into the large cylindrical basin. The blue-green paint curled, revealing rusted dots. Vibrating-burps of frogs resonated within the vat. At night, the long and low pitched chants boomed like praying monks. Myooooooon! Myooooooon! Sometimes, when I listened closely, they sounded like a car that zoomed by really fast. Myooon! Myooon! Or kittens. Myoon! Myoon! The faucet, for the vat, was rusted and close to the ground. When we twisted the nozzle it spat green slime and brown water. It caught the rain we couldn’t drink.