I follow my papi to the Eucalyptus tree. My feet fumbling up the hill as I stagger through the loose dirt, a train of dust forming at my heels. There is no train at my dad’s feet, instead he moves easily, cutting through the sand and dirt. We stop at the base of the tree where the younger shoots are sprouting. I watch as my dad carefully cuts the young leaves then ties them in a little bundle. Huele, smell, he commands thrusting the bundle towards my face. I lean in and breathe in the pungent aroma, and smile; reminded of the bottle of Vic’s Vapor rub sitting in a cabinet in a far off place. We are preparing the herbs for the water that I will soon bathe with.
We walk back down the hill towards our little brick house. I look up and pause to soak in my surroundings. Having lived only three days in my community, the landscape is unfamiliar but brings me a deep sense of comfort. Rolling hills of muted browns and lush greens rise out of the valley, smiling at the river bellow. The land is striped with rows of crops and dotted with cows. Splashes of magenta and turquoise cover the valley, hints of the liveliness of traditional clothes.
Here, my three-day-old eyes are amazed. Amazed at the efficiency and skill of my sisters as they harvest Quinoa or knead dough. Amazed at the beauty of the straw hut my family constructed, in only four days, for the kitchen. Amazed at how strong mi abuela is when she puts a huge pot full of water on the fire or how tough and different her feet are from being bare-footed her whole life.
I rush down the hill to catch up to my dad. He has added the herbs to a pot of boiling water and left it in the bathroom for me to bathe with. I peel off my clothes and squat beside the bucket, using a bowl to scoop the water and pour it over my body. The warm water rushes out of the little cup to my tilted forehead and down the back of my neck. Suddenly, I am transported to a memory of my white tub in Chicago. I am squinting at my mothers face as she pours warm water over my tiny head. She is singing and using a little brown measuring cup to run the water behind my ears, neck and back.
With each drop of Eucalyptus water I am reminded of the presence of my mother. Reminded of where I come from and the path I have walked to get where I am today. Even in a place so distant I am still finding the threads of connection to weave together my past and present, creating a cloth that I wear, proudly, like a sash across my heart.