The wonderful thing about babies is that they never feel the need to hide their thoughts and emotions. When I first arrived in my village 18 months ago, Mary Jane was a perfect example of this: she screamed every time I came near her. People would try to tell her that I was her Auntie - her dad's sister - but you just can't fool a 6-month-old and she knew my skin was the wrong color. She was not going to accept that she had a terrifying, pasty relative. I looked different, I sounded different, and by no means was I going to be allowed to come near her. Luckily for me and my mental health, toddlers are also extremely forgiving and willing to adjust their beliefs. You rarely find a one-year-old holding onto a grudge for too long. We've just passed Mary Jane's second birthday and I am happy to say she's now as loving and affectionate with me as with any of her true Aunties.
Mary Jane is built like a little tank - her big head, healthy belly, and sturdy legs give you the impression of a well-grounded square, and when you pick her up it's hard to believe she's only had two years to fill out that solid frame. One of my favorite things is to watch people try to put clothes on little MJ. It is always a tights squeeze to get her massive noggin into the chosen shirt for the day, and perhaps that's why she's much more likely to be found running through the village naked. Not much phases this little one and I've seen her come up dry-eyed from a spill that might have made me cry. Maybe it's her low center of gravity or her substantial figure, but she consistently seems to merely bounce off roots, rocks, and cement stairs. The rare times you do catch tears running down her pudgy cheeks she can easily be distracted and won't stay upset for long. The youngest of five children, Mary Jane lives in fear of being left out and will copy anything one of her beloved siblings does first. The first thing I ever heard her say was her sister's name and long before she could articulate complete thoughts she could point out and name all four siblings. Her easy-going nature makes her easy to have around and luckily for her all three brothers and her sister dote on her - especially 10-year-old Tari.
It's been an incredible pleasure for me to watch Mary Jane grow from a crawling baby to a running, talking, playful toddler. She loves domestic work and will often come keep me company when I was or try to help with the evening meal. MJ has found out that her Auntie Mac has quite a weakness for her and will often take advantage of that for hours of play. She likes hide-and-seek, peek-a-boo, and her own creation, "Butu Sala" (translated as "your shoe's gone!"). In this game the little munchkin will steal your shoe, put it behind her back, show you her empty hands and chant, "Butu sala! Butu sala!" Mary Jane knows only the tribal language and not a word of the national language of Bislama. I am in the process of learning the tribal language also, but currently I probably have about the same vocabulary as Mary Jane and perhaps that's why she feels so comfortable telling me stories about the chicken pecking a coconut, her grandma giving her a banana, or other crucial things that fill up her little world. MJ is not an easy person to win over. Unlike her attention-loving cousing William, Mary Jane needs some time to figure you out first. Even though she's past her screaming-at-every-white-person phase, she will still fix each new acquaintance with a quizzical stare that somehow makes you believe she'll end up knowing all your hidden thoughts. But believe me, it's worth the time it takes to work your way into her good graces. As cautious as she is, once you've been accepted into her circle you are awarded with dazzling smiles, chubby-armed hugs, and a fierce loyalty. If you can count yourself as loved by Mary Jane, you are truly in an elite and delightful group.