Colombia has beautiful colinas: green clouds that go on forever and make you feel as though you can jump from one to the other in a leap. My abuelo has a farm with hills like these and dirt paths that transform you into creatures on the hunt for food and shelter. His granja is a jungle. It goes on for miles and seems never-ending. He has a small one-story casa among the trees and sugar cane shoots, and at once you feel a surreal connection to the earth. He gives us a tour of his prized farm: the platano trees, the coffee fields, the chickens and horses and pigs. The roots of the plants are the roots of my culture, a culture deeply embedded within me. Never in my life had I felt more like a Caleña. For three months I lived the childhood of my mother. I slept where she slept, ate what she ate. In the cooler mornings she brushed the heat out of my hair. Dressed me in her old clothes. Turns out, I too was susceptible to the fevers of the people.
Two days later I found myself pale and weak, lying in a chair at the community clinic. I had lost ten pounds and could not keep any food down. My body dragged like fishing wire caught at the bottom of the ocean. I looked around the room. Many sick people were waiting like me. An old man held gauze to his face while blood dripped down his hand. A woman was rocking her son and whispered an arrullo in his ear. I grew more fearful and gripped my mother’s hand tighter in mine.
A doctor came for us from a side door. We were ushered through sickly colored cubicles where he proceeded to speak to my mother in español. Young and scared as I was, I spoke little and understood even less. He slipped a cold fabric over my hand, it tightened around my arm, and I tried my hardest not to cry out. We stared at the skin. A constellation of blue dots appeared (on my arm) directing the doctor’s course to my symptoms. He began to speak more quickly and with terrible urgency. I looked to my mother for a sign. She stood in the middle of the room, her arms crossed, her brows scrunched, and her lips pursed. I tried not to panic and it took all my strength to remain silent.
“It’s called Dengue Fever,” she said to me. “A mosquito bit you, and now you are sick”.
It was only after we crossed the hospital threshold, out into the heat of the day, that I began to realize the extent of my illness. Vomiting, sleeping, crying, withdrawn, and cooped up inside a bedroom in Cali, Colombia. My recovery consisted of endless blood tests and gaining weight. There were moments when I believed that dengue would never leave me. But one morning, months later, back in my own room, in my own bed, I woke. I put on the jeans that two months ago would have pooled around my ankles. Perfect fit. I went to the window, opened it to sunshine and was transported back to the hills of Cali…
Often times we allow fear to paralyze us. We miss unique opportunities because past traumas or daunting what-ifs taint our memories, they distort the images that we should hold on to. But I can still see the billowing trees and hear the whooshing of the wind through the reeds of the sugar cane. I take a deep breath. It smells of azúcar and worn-out cotton stained with mud. It smells of home.
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