Photos by Lindsey Culver
I was born in Accra, Ghana on Halloween 2004 to Mari, a health worker. My mother is of Nigerian and Ghanaian descent. I was passed on to my maternal grandma and aunties at the age of 3 because my mother had to travel abroad because of a better opportunity she received. I lived at Zongo, a place resided by many Muslims, and other groups of people. Zongo is a highly populated area. Many people earn low incomes, and they do not benefit from taxes as people in the suburbs do. I had many friends in Zongo. Kids roam around the streets freely. Church is attended every Sunday, and children can eat and stay at other families they are familiar with for some time, either to play with their kids or to help with any household chore.
At the age of 5, my family and I moved to Spintex, a very popular residential area in Ghana. At Spintex, everyone fends for him/herself and they are not really bothered about your whereabouts. My family and I happened to stay in a compound home composed of five other families including ours. There were many kids in the community I grew up in.
My grandma was quite rigid and did not want us to visit people’s homes or leave the house. She seldom allowed us to go out to play also. I remember watching from the windows, seeing all these different kids play games of all sorts like tag, hide and seek, and soccer. After turning on the TV for about an hour, my grandma would say turn it off because she felt as if we would develop medical conditions from watching long hours of TV. By the age of 8, I was already reading books with no pictures in them because I had nothing to do.
There is a particular week I can never forget about. When my grandma helped an old friend into an accommodation owned by her friend, we received a call saying that he had been placed in jail for stealing the landlady’s daughter’s laptop. We went to the police station to see what the issue was. I was petrified because I had never seen a jail cell and the treatment given to the inmates. They were treated as though they were not humans. Ironically, the lady had no proof that the man had stolen the laptop, but she was still pushing that he did it. I remember asking the superintendent on what basis he was being kept in jail. He told me that I was a kid and I had no knowledge of what I was saying. The landlady was being overdramatic; she kept bawling her eyes out, wailing and screaming as though she had lost a kidney. It made me realize how evil individuals are. In the long run, the man was released from jail because the laptop had been found in the daughter’s closet.
I must say that my childhood was not quite as fun as many people’s, but I got to spend more time at home with family and make many memories. Even though I had some terrible experiences, I do not let it determine who I am. It also gave me more time to focus on my school work.
-Princess Laila Yakubu-Tanko
The last day of eighth grade I remember we sat on the steps of the school since the rest of the class was playing a game with a Frisbee. My English teacher was playing “New Light” by John Mayer on his speaker, and I stared at the school. I started crying a bit because it hit me that I wasn’t a kid anymore.
-America Valencia Torres
My dad and I went for bike rides together down Broadway Street, and my favorite part would be when the grand oak trees would form a sort of ceiling in the middle of the road. The sun rays would flitter through the heavy green leaves and create a beautiful atmosphere for riding. You have to crane your neck to see that from a car, but not from a bike. Nature is always around you on a bike, when there are no dividers, such as windows and doors. They can open, but they do not allow you to see the full picture that life has to offer.
When I was around 5 years old, a tree fell on my house, and my mom and I had to move in with my grandparents until the house was fixed. My grandmother was in the later stages of her cancer when we moved in, so a lot of my mom and grandfather’s attention was focused on her. I barely knew my grandmother. Seeing her bald, bedridden and barely able to speak scared me. I kept my distance from her, which meant I spent a lot of time alone. I was almost angry at her for “taking my mom away,” when she needed her more than me. My mom tells me that the night my grandmother died, she woke me up to tell me and I responded with, “I really don’t care.” Hearing that scares me. I look back at myself then, and I still can’t tell if I was being selfish or if I was just a kid who missed her mom. But because of this, I have learned to have compassion for all, whether that be the lonely child or the dying woman.
In Enrichment at Shades Cahaba, I learned not only math, science and English, but life skills like leading, persevering and failing. Quite often it seemed like we were challenged with very hard tasks, some of which we would fail. And being able to accept failure is a skill that’s hard to teach because no one likes it. So, as much as I hated doing those brain-teasers and other seemingly impossible tasks, I know they contributed to the person I am today.
When I was maybe 9, I saw a homeless person on the streets with no money or anyone to care about them. People just walked by like if they were not an actual person. I felt so badly because I could not imagine someone not caring about me. I had $2, and I gave them up because I had seen my mom do it before, but it never hit me how important it was to the man. I will never forget the look on his face; he was happy over $2. Now every time I see someone asking for money I try my best to help them because I believe in karma, and I feel like if I keep being kind to others when I need help people will help me too.
-Cristal Sanchez Arbaca
As a little kid I didn’t fully understand that my parents had to work a lot to provide for me and my brother. I would be jealous of all the other kids when their parents came to school events. The only important event that I remember them being there is fifth-grade graduation. I could describe how I felt, how it smelled outside and how bright the sun was that day. I also have memories of my brother and I taking care of ourselves at a young age. We would make our own food and clean the house while we listened to music so our parents didn’t have to worry about it. We also did the laundry—well, mostly my brother—but I was helping too. I would go around the house and do everyone’s bed and make sure every room looked clean. These experiences made me the person I am today by teaching me about being independent and understanding. I knew my parents had to work a lot to provide for my brother and me. I understood why they had to make many sacrifices.
-Sarahi Perez Martinez
Editor’s Note: Thanks to Homewood High School Pre-AP English teacher Melissa Dameron-Vines for encouraging these students to submit their essays about their childhood memories to Homewood Life. Each of these is an excerpt from a longer essay they wrote for her class.