We moved to Bouroum Bouroum when I was around five, a little village with what seemed to me an absolutely huge missionary compound, with three houses and a massive flat concrete foundation in the middle where the first missionary house stood. The compound was like an adventure playground with bugs the colour of rubies, beetles that seemed to be stuck together, trees that looked like they were on fire with their beautiful orange flowers, bats flying between the trees, wasps as big as mice, trees just asking to be climbed, everything was all so new and wonderful.
I wanted to explore everything and go everywhere. But I was told that danger was everywhere, that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do without something bad happening. Evil was at every corner of the compound after all, just outside the pathetic wall, the demons were swarming. It was inevitable that something bad would happen wasn’t it? The demons could get inside the walls of the christian compound if you let them in, with those evil acts, like disobeying your parents.
Don’t climb the trees, my parents told me, you will fall and hurt yourself. And you shouldn’t eat the baobab fruit, you will get sick because it is dirty.I had not yet been fully instilled with the fear of disobeying my parents. They did try to make me afraid and they did succeed at times, but when I thought they wouldn’t find out, I did break the rules and tried things out for myself, not taking what people say as gospel. A character trait that I am very proud of, a trait that people tired to snuff out of me and did for a long time.
It wasn’t snuffed out then! I climbed the trees and I ate the weird fruit. The baobab trees were the most difficult to climb, their branches weren’t low enough to get an initial grab at times and their bark was so smooth. But there was always a way! The lower branches were somewhat accessible and once I got to the fruit, I remember cracking open the nut and pulling out the weird white chunks from the stringy like pith. It did sometimes give me a stomach ache if I ate far too much, but it felt wonderful to be able to pick my own snack from the trees in the garden, eating things I was told not to eat.
But, I suppose some would say that, like Eve in the garden of Eden, I was penalised for exploring and trying something new, something that didn’t seem wrong but others said it was wrong. I fell from a tree once, I fell six foot and landed on my head. The world went black and it buzzed. When I awoke after a few seconds of no longer being in the world, I was confused and tired. The concussion did not last for long, I was lucky not to be penalised with anything worse, like the pain of childbirth… oh wait that could still happen.
During the times that I tested the water and bent the rules a bit, they were probably the most fun that I had. There was an adventurer in me then. An adventurer that has been forgotten amongst the ingrained fear and the religious mud slinging. I miss that adventurer.
When I look back at those days of climbing the baobab and secretly eating the fruit in my den, built at the end of the garden, I am envious of that little girl, who was resilient in the face of disapproval. Resilient in the face of people who had a different way of thinking and tried to convince me that I was wrong. I am regaining that resilience now but it was lost for so long.
If only I could go find a baobab tree and perhaps climb it, or simply just sit by it, the thought makes me smile, the memories of a childhood well spent, trying the new and swinging from the trees.