The air still nippy, five year-old me slips out of the mountain of pillows and blankets that is my bed, too hyper to continue sleeping. I creep into the kitchen, drawn towards the warmth from the log fire where my grandmother cooks breakfast. I sit down at the ancient wooden table made of trees from our own ranch. A brown cow moos to my right, almost poking its head into the kitchen as if asking to be milked. The sun hasn’t come up yet, but I can tell the day is going to be a hot one by the way the birds shuffle restlessly in the trees.
It’s my first day of kindergarten, and I am so excited to start school that I slept in my blue and white uniform the night before. I see my cowboy dad saddling up his horse, getting ready to take me on my journey. It’s amazing how all the animals were at ease in his presence, familiar with his touch and his commands. We ride through a tunnel of lush green trees on a quiet dirt road, dust kicking up behind us and my curly hair bobbing up and down in sync with the horse’s steps. I can see the first few colorful one-story houses of town pop up on the horizon, and after what feels like forever I arrive at my little school. I hug my dad goodbye, hearing the words “Don’t be afraid!” as the prickliness of his beard tickles my face, his breathing strong and steady. With butterflies in my stomach and crayons in hand, I walk into school, already in love with the idea of learning.
This is one of my earliest and fondest memories. I lived the first few years of my life on a big green ranch in rural Mexico as a self-proclaimed jungle princess. I had no toys or dolls, but I didn’t need them. I had a whole untamed forest to myself, and that was more than enough for me. I remember running amuck through sugarcane crops barefoot and playing in mud puddles. I slept in hammocks and drank raw milk, still warm from the udders. My favorite thing to do was climb fruit trees and then sink my teeth into a fat mango or guava as a prize for my efforts. I liked to dig for treasure on the riverbanks and collect little insect pets to keep in my room. Hairy, winged, or poisonous, no bug was safe from my chubby fingers.
Growing up as a wild child, I learned something very valuable that some people may not realize until adulthood. I don’t need much to be happy, and not many things in life are worth worrying about. When I find myself complaining about insignificant, materialistic things like “My Netflix won’t load” or, “My charger doesn’t reach my bed” I take a step back to reflect on how spectacularly beautiful my world is. Being the jungle princess that I was, I learned to appreciate the small blessings of everyday life that all too often go unnoticed.
Although these are simple things, I am amazed at how the sun rises and sets every day without failure, and how I can have all the clean water I want with just the turn of a knob. Although I get caught up in the pettiness of society sometimes, I remember the wise words of my grandmother: “Do what makes you happy, because the only opinion that matters is your own. Appreciate your surroundings and the people you have by your side, because there will come a day when they might not be there anymore!”
I realize how truly lucky and blessed I am to be in this very room, and how many people would love to be in my place. I learned to never let a day go to waste, and always find something to laugh about. On that first day of school, my dad could have driven me there in his truck, but he preferred to have me learn that not everything in life was going to be easy. And although I am grateful to say that today I live with all the luxuries and commodities I want and need, I would be perfectly happy without them, and I hope you can all be happy too.
- Iliana Alvarez ’16