The kids took a picture of me
under the waterfall.
I can still remember when I was a child and would play out in the back yard digging holes and trying to build little rivers and streams using the garden hose. I asked my Dad on more than one occasion how we could build a pond. Before I was old enough to know better, I thought that just involved pouring water into a hole for so long that it would eventually stop saturating into the ground. I never mastered that and remember asking my Dad to get some plastic at the hardware store to keep the water in the “pond.” I remember he picked some up and I made a small pond and was very pleased with the experience.
There are also other occasions where I had a fascination with streams and water pools. I can recall visiting our local landscape nursery and always admiring the decorative fountains and trickling water pools they had on display. When I was in 4th and 5th grade I use to love digging trenches out on the school playground after a heavy rain, allowing the pools of water to flow like rivers around the playground. Going to play miniature golf as a seven year old was less about hitting the ball down the green turf and more about walking over bridges and amongst waterfalls that made up the landscaping. And during summer visits to the shores of Lake Michigan, I have fond memories of building sand castles with moats and little streams. All of these memories came flashing back this week as I set out on an adventure to the “Secret Garden!”
It all began on Wednesday. A group of boys who normally hang out in my room well after the bell rings at the close of school, were still lingering around and wanting to play a vocabulary game they enjoy. By that time, I had decided I wanted to go for a walk since it was such a nice day. I asked the boys if they wanted to go with me. They hid their school bags behind the bushes in the front of my house and we were off down the road. Along the way they would stop and break open an o’o, which is a germinating coconut. It has the texture of a sponge, but is a pretty tasty treat.
After walking for about 10 minutes, we reached the first of many streams that lead out of the mountains around my village. At first we were heading for the stream to get a drink of water, but soon we found ourselves walking into the thick brush, and away from the road. The kids were fast on their feet as they walked over the slippery rocks without any trouble. I, on the other hand, searched for a walking stick to support my clumsy body and slowly maneuvered around, and over the rocks which had water rushing over them. The rocks that weren’t under water were covered in a slimy moss and made the trek extra adventurous. One of the boys noticed my lack of abilities in walking up a river and gave me a steady hand.
We only went back up the stream about 50 yards before the kids found what they were looking for. It was a beautiful little waterfall that poured into a deep water pool. They all jumped in without any hesitation while I sat on a rock nearby. As I looked around that’s when those childhood memories struck me. I thought about how ironic it was that I spent so much of my childhood dreaming up how to build a fantasy world of waterfalls, streams and pools in my back yard, and here these kids had grown up with this all of there lives.
The first thing I wondered, was how they viewed it. To me, as a 25 year old who grew up in the middle of the flat corn fields of Michigan, I thought it was pretty darn awesome that these kids have this kind of a “playground” just minutes from their houses. The next thing that went through my head was what dream worlds do they want to create for themselves if they already have something like this.
Unfortunately, I hadn’t planned on going swimming anywhere when we left my house so I didn’t have a suit, and because I hadn’t put mosquito repellent on and we were in the “jungle,” I was getting swarmed by all sorts of mosquitoes. After letting them swim for 20 minutes we decided to head out with the plans of coming back on Friday, and me wearing my swimming suit so I could cool off as well.
Friday morning, they all showed up at school asking right away if I was going to go to the river to go swimming. I said yes and I could tell they were pretty excited. So after school on Friday I prepared myself for our adventure. I had my mosquito repellent, sun block, water, swimsuit, and camera. After we arrived I was happy to see my walking stick from Wednesday was still safely hidden in the tall grass for me to use. Nonetheless, I managed to slip and fall on a rock and almost brought Milo down with me.
Friday’s visit was more impressive than Wednesday’s, due to the fact that on Wednesday night we had a torrential downpour that lasted a couple of hours and thus the river was flowing with a much greater force than earlier in the week. The boys were walking up to a ledge and jumping into the deep pool. I took a plunge and they all laughed. I worked my way over to the waterfall and sat underneath as the water came pouring down onto my head. It made for a nice back massage.
While I was sitting under the waterfall, I felt something dangling around my head. I turned and looked up and one of my students had draped a vine down the face of the waterfall and was prompting all the boys to climb up. The vine could have supported one boy, maybe even two, but not four! In the process of me telling them to get down, they came down—in a huge pile—and fell on to me. Luckily everyone was alright and I made it clear there wouldn’t be any more swinging from vines.
As we were in that pool I kept looking up and wondering what was at the next level above us. That water was coming from somewhere much higher than where we were. There was a safe path around the waterfall that we decided to explore. The boys charged up the hill without any trouble and I brought up the rear. Saulo from my year seven class was one step ahead of me. Saulo is one of my strongest students and has fairly good English. As we were climbing up a steep part of the hill he was giving me commands as to which branches to grab.
I’ve been teaching the kids a number of vocabulary words this year and some of them have been really challenging. As we continued up the hill Saulo made my day when he used one of the vocabulary words in the perfect context. The word was hoist, and as I was looking for my next step in the slippery mud with ants running down my arm, he yelled out, “Grab here and hoist yourself.!” It was nice to know that even under these conditions he was able to recall vocabulary words.
We all safely made it up the hill and found another pool of water from another waterfall. This pool was about twice as large, although much too shallow to do any jumping into. I took a few pictures of the kids and had them take one of me. The bugs were horrendous so we decided to head back down. We revisited the first pool of water for a quick cooling off and then headed back out to the road. I was more careful on my way out and managed to stay on my feet.
As we gathered near the road I tossed my walking stick into the weeds in the hopes that it would stay hidden for my next visit. I felt a bit like I was hiding the key to the Secret Garden. Although most everyone in my village has swam at that same waterfall at some point in their lives, I still left with the feeling that it was something that I had discovered all on my own. Perhaps that’s because it helped to make one of my childhood dreams come true, of having that place where streams rushed over rocks, and waterfalls emptied into deep pools below.
As we walked back in the hot Samoan sun, our suits and shirts started to dry. I was so glad that I decided to go for a walk this week and so pleased at where it ended up.
The boys swimming in the pool below.
Saulo is my student who knew the vocabulary word, "hoist," during our river adventure.