By Kes Baker
I have never had a child want to hold my hand so badly. Our group walked through the countryside outside of Sigacula village, and the children of the village had accompanied us. The countryside was full of plants, ranging from grass that ticked our feet and ankles to tall trees that did nothing to block the bright sunshine. The kids were all around the ages of six to thirteen and most were barefoot. Their clothes were brightly colored and their eyes were curious.
Almost every child wanted to hold the hand of an American. We were new in their village, in their lives. Holding hands was a way to ease their wonder and almost stake a claim on which American student would be their friend. Back home, my cousins hardly want to hold my hand, and that’s just for me to make sure I don’t lose them. Here, the kids were eager to hold our hands, scrambling for our attention. I enjoyed the attention and wanting to hold hands with someone new. I enjoyed this feeling of being wanted.
After a while of constant hand-holding and sweaty palms, I had had enough. I needed my space back. I had reached my limit of human contact and attention for the time being. I wanted my hands back. I also did not appreciate getting an “Indian burn.” The little boy who had been holding my hand for most of our walk was wearing a blue shirt and would look up at me periodically. Sometimes he would smile and glance away, other times he would stare. Before her gave me the “Indian burn,” he smiled. I wasn’t sure where the kid had picked it up. Maybe it was meant to be funny. I remembered watching kids do that to each other when I was younger, and I remember hating the feeling. I still hated the feeling.
When I had the opportunity, I dropped the little boy’s hand and crossed my arms across my chest. My hope was that the children would understand that this meant “I’m done holding hands now.” Apparently they did not. The little boy with the striped blue shirt and sweet smile tried to grab my hand that was crossed over my body. I immediately pulled away. “No, I am not holding hands.” He did not seem upset or angry with me. Instead, he walked ahead to the next American student and tried to hold their hand. The boy was not offended by my harsh words. He did not cry like my young cousins would when I yelled back home. It could have been because he didn’t fully understand what I was saying, but it could also be because he knew there were other free American hands in need of a smaller black one intertwining with their fingers. Whatever the reason, the child moved on from me and I discovered that sweaty palms and constant contact with someone is not something easily handled for long periods of time. Especially when accompanied by hot sunshine and prickly plants poking at my bare legs.