A drop of sweat trickled down my back, dampening my green, long-sleeved church shirt. It was only 8:30 in the morning, but the Amazon sun was already streaming through the church's newly screened windows, making the lacquered floor glow caramel-brown. It had been only six months since my family and I had last worshiped in this building, but so much had changed, I almost didn't recognize it as the same place. The missing steps had been replaced, the chairs had been painted orange, and one side of the room had been transformed into an ample stage with a large pulpit.
I surveyed the room from my seat. Up front, the pastor's son, Charles, was going through his usual guitar warmup out of view behind the new pulpit's shiny, wooden bulk. Behind me, a cluster of young women I had never met whispered in the back row. Teenage boys I had only seen on the soccer field talked and laughed on the benches to my right, and older villagers sat silently among the usual crowd of children, waiting patiently for the pastor to arrive. This was a place I had loved and in which I had felt like I belonged. But today, I suddenly felt like a stranger.
I lowered my head and my sight rested on my bare feet splayed on the sanctuary floor. A pair of smaller, darker feet dangling beside my own caught my attention next, then a pair of wide, muscular feet across the aisle. As my eyes wandered the church floor, I realized that the room was full of feet: big and small, soft and callused, brown and white. In this church, the feet were as free as the worshipers. By the time the pastor's wide, leathery feet emerged at the top of the stairs an hour later, and padded through the doorway, I knew again why I belong in Zábalo. I couldn't help but wiggle my chubby, white toes and smile.