I don’t really know how it happened, but suddenly I was in the water. My day had been pretty ordinary before this surprising event: I woke up at dawn and did sun salutations as the insects and birds began their morning serenade. My sister and I ate a quick breakfast of cold empanadas de queso (cheese empanadas) and steaming, sunshine-yellow mugs of té de mora (blackberry tea) before rushing off to her primary school in time for formación (morning formation). I spent the next hour and a half teaching English to my usual Monday morning bunch of 4, 5, and 6 year-olds. By the time I arrived at El Parque Amazónico in the little green-and-yellow
gondola, the heat of the day was already unbearable, and the sun was beating down relentlessly, as if tasting freedom in the cloudless sky. My co-workers and I were all sweating as we emerged from a sticky morning in the office, and one of them, an Ecuadorian of unusually tall frame affectionately called Flaco (Skinny), playfully rocked the gondola with his feet while we were being ferried across the río Pano. One moment I was laughing along with everyone else as we swayed back and forth, and the next—I lost my balance and was thrown backwards into the river (backpack and all), to emerge sopping and nearly in tears over the sorry fate I was sure had befallen my laptop, which had also accompanied me on my tumble over the edge of the canoa.
At first, I can tell you, I was not a happy camper with my situation; while my computer remained miraculously dry (only the outside of my backpack was really wet), I was completely soaked through. My cell phone was wet as well and my journal and GCY Training notes were running ink at the corners. As I sat on a park bench in the intense midday sun to dry off, my momentary sulkiness faded away and I began to look at the larger picture of my situation. Sure, my phone was seemingly broken, but I had not been hurt and was now feeling deliciously comfortable and refreshed in clothes still saturated with cool river water. I began to think how I would have reacted if such an event had happened just one year ago—I probably would have descended into an entire day of self-pity and general misery over the humiliation of falling into the river and only having a non-functioning telephone to show for it.
Here in Ecuador, however, I think I’m learning much more to “go with the flow” of things (in my river adventure, quite literally!). Not only was I unfazed by my co-workers laughing openly as they pulled me from the water, I was even able to join in the merriment myself. I didn’t feel ashamed of my ridiculous, sopping appearance as I laid out my notebooks, backpack, and clothes to dry in the park, even though several curious people passing by were staring at me openly. A pair of kindly-looking older Ecuadorians joked with me as they strolled past: “Fue al río para bañar?” I laughed and shook my head as I emptied the water from my hiking shoes. How I would feel if I hadn’t fallen in? I asked myself, peeling off my dripping socks. The truth was that it would have been an ordinary, “normal” day in Ecuador (if such a day exists here…), and no fun at all. Instead I was left with another adventure to add to a growing list, as well as an interesting story—how many people have fallen from a gondola into an Ecuadorian river and lived to tell the tale?
In more earnest reflection, this event has strengthened my growing belief that in American society many people sink into complaints and despair at the smallest misfortune. I firmly believe that this is caused by general overstress and uptightness—when one thing happens, however small, every other concern seems to get about ten times worse. If being away from the “go, go, go” mentality of the United States has taught me one thing, it is that nothing is worth the amount of misery that traditionally accompanies the average American “bad day”, or frankly, any petty dispute. I’m realizing that life is much too short to waste time dwelling on unfortunate situations we might find ourselves in—and one’s attitude and a bit of determination can always make every seemingly horrible day a lot better.
Ecuador has also helped me to discover that going with the flow is not only a saner, healthier approach to life in general (and saves a lot of time and energy from worrying) but it also often allows situations to resolve themselves. My broken cell phone, for example, revived miraculously after leaving it submerged in a bowl of dry rice overnight! Whenever I find myself in difficult situations these days—hanging out of an extremely full, speeding bus as I attempt to go home from Spanish class, waking up late and rushing to get to work on time, or falling from the gondola—I remind myself that in the larger scheme of things, not only do these hard times pass by, they are often the experiences that we remember most and are grateful for afterwards. While sometimes it can be very difficult to keep a positive outlook when distressing things are happening, it never hurts to try!
Being surrounded by calm, crystal-clear rivers, and having had such an important experience in one so recently, I feel compelled to close these reflections by offering advice in the form of a water-and-life-inspired metaphor: the next time something awful seems to be happening, just let the situation go, leap into the flow of life, and let the current take you where it will. Life is really too short to live any differently!
Note: Featured Image taken by Welcome Frye; all other images taken by Abigail Hindson