beauty is dirt caked fingernails

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

“Beauty is fleeting.”

Red lips pouting at me from the mirror, highlighter catching the fluorescent light and making my cheekbones shimmer subtly, a highly arched eyebrow raised in scrutiny, I gave myself the once-over, attempting to leave no detail unnoticed.

Growing up in a world where beauty is often touted as the ultimate achievement, especially for women, I find it difficult not to care about what I look like, at least to a certain point.

Fortunately, there’s a different narrative.

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Red-ripe Tomatoes…Guess who’s makin’ pizza Friday?!

This morning, I woke up before dawn broke. Kingston’s lights flickered below me, shutting off as the blue of the sky lightened enough to guide my path, becoming a smiling cerulean by the time my farmer’s group and I left for an agropark hours and miles away.

We piled into a van-bus almost comfortably, and wound down the road to Kingston and beyond, my chin nodding from side to side as the melodic rhythm of the road lulled me into almost sleep.

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Watering the Scallion & Thyme 

At the agropark- a large farm of over 500 acres- we saw drip irrigated tomatoes, scallion and thyme planted together like good companions, and a water schedule that looked like the bottom of a multicolored game of Tetris.

After touring the agropark, a Mr. Zaro Jones brought us to a field overlooking Alligator Pond and an azure ocean so brilliant, I had to shade my eyes so not to burn them as I looked beyond the beach. I looked down and saw watermelon ready for the picking, and tomatoes scattered pell-mell, while some still hung from their leaves. We were told to pick what we wanted.

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Before and After

As my host brother raced to and from the van with his choice watermelons, I told him what my brother and I did once with rotten ones: smashed them. He began touching the melons to check their firmness. When he found one too soft for eating, he knocked on it for certainty, than pitched it on a rock, red-pink guts splattering everything, me included.

An hour later the van contained all the farmers, and bunches of watermelon, scallion, tomatoes, and thyme; as I inhaled, I imagined a late night summer dinner lit by candles outside, overlooking a rocky ocean vista, as the cooks brought out fresh pasta with mozzarella for days.

The ride home was long, punctuated by police sirens, passing cars, and two more patties from Juici headquarters (how has Jamaica changed chicken into my favorite meat? I used to dislike it the most! But I digress…).

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My host brother in thyme

Arriving home, I looked in the mirror. Sweat-frizzed hair falling from my bun, watermelon juice a faded pink on my new Peace Corps Oxford, a sheen of perspiration on my face, jeans stuck to my legs while dirt clung to its knees, and armpits that probably no longer smelled of Old Spice, I glanced down at my fingernails to see dirt underneath. I thought about what these dirt crusted hands would make with the watermelon sitting patiently in the fridge, how good it would taste, and how happy that would make me and those with whom I shared it. I didn’t waste a second glance on the dirt, because beauty is dirt caked fingernails, strong from picking tomatoes and smashing rotten fruit on a field where red lips are stained by the watermelon just picked.

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