A Gift from God

Joan Hanawi - Ecuador

September 7, 2011

It’s funny how quickly things can change—emotions, feelings, attitudes—it’s all fleeting. Like someone pulled the rug out from beneath your feet, but you’re caught in the space between falling helplessly and steadily keeping your balance. You’re caught in limbo. But I guess what I’m learning is that we’re always caught in a state of limbo. We are always trying to process a transition, searching for a way to facilitate our metamorphosis. We may not always be in as extreme of a situation, like moving to a different country, but if we are growing as humans, we must always be pushing ourselves—learning to adapt, transitioning into our next season in life.

My new season starts with a new name. In my family, names are very important. We believe that names carry a high level of significance, as purpose is spoken over an individual’s life through the meaning of each name. My name, Joan Adeline, means “God’s gracious gift” and “cheerful and noble,” which are all traits that I hope to embody. Walking onto our last flight, from Atlanta to Quito, I met my first real encounter of what the next year will likely be. As I stood waiting to board the plane, I found myself in the midst of a number of Ecuadorians, waiting to return home. Although we were still in Atlanta, still in the United States, I realized I was surrounded by beautiful individuals who did not understand my wonderfully fluent English. So, eager to start learning the language, I quickly tried switching to my broken Spanish, attempting a conversation with the few words I knew. Yet before I had even finished saying, “Hola! ¿Cómo está?,” smiles had already broken across the faces of the individuals surrounding me. Simple greetings were exchanged until we progressed to our seats. Here, I found myself next to Karla, a stunning Ecuadorian woman with three lovely children, none of whom spoke a word of English. Nevertheless, I was still able to communicate to her where I was from, what I was doing for the next year, and why. She shared with me her favorite beaches and vacation spots in Ecuador, kindly gifted me with a delicious slice of pizza saved from an airport pizzeria, and we discovered that we both have familial ties to the Los Angeles area. At the end of our conversation, before we were lulled into a mocking sleep by the drone of the airplane engines, we realized we hadn’t actually formally introduced ourselves. We had been able to communicate and understand each other, but when I replied to her simple question of “¿Cómo te llamas?” with “Me llamo Joan,” I only received a blank stare. My name is a simple, one syllable, four letter word, but I had forgotten that in Spanish, my name phonetically does not make sense. Before leaving for Ecuador and for the sake of not being called “Juan” for the next eight months, some of our Global Citizen Year Facilitators had recommended adapting my name to a more culture friendly title. A new season calls for new understanding, which starts with a new name. But what I found was that just because the name changes doesn’t mean the meaning has to.

“Me llamo Juanita,” I quickly corrected myself. And the minute these words left my mouth, a smile beamed across her lips as she recognized my desire to grasp her culture. She promptly took my hand and proudly proclaimed, “Ah! Un regalo de Dios. Mucho gusto, Juanita. ¡Bienvenido a Ecuador!”


Joan Hanawi