The Calm During the Storm

Joan Hanawi - Ecuador


November 15, 2011

I don’t think I fully understood the definition of the word “rainforest” until I moved here. I’ve quickly learned that the rainforest is aptly named because it does, in fact, rain every day. As a Southern California native, my idea of rain is a ten minute drizzle storm that stops traffic and makes the top story of the 6 o’clock news. I think we get more rain in one day here in Tena than we do in a year in my hometown. But just as suddenly as the torrents of water can fall, the days here reflect the opposite sentiments of the rapid, heavy rains. The days are filled with an entrancing tranquility that is almost unheard of in the States. And it is exactly this quality that has been the most difficult to adapt to. I’ve been able to eat opossum, shower with beetles, and jump off a waterfall, but the pace of days here has been one of my biggest learning lessons. We had countless trainings about the pace of life here, but I had brushed them all aside, arrogantly thinking that for some reason, that would be the least of my problems.

It wasn’t until one rainy Sunday afternoon that I finally started to understand the pace of life here. This lazy Sunday afternoon, I had taken a siesta, lulled to sleep by the now familiar taptaptap of rain on our tin roof, when I was suddenly awakened by the childish shrieks of my nieces and opened my eyes to utter darkness. Somehow, as is common with the developing world, the combination of heavy rains and slippery roads had led to an accident that knocked out the power in our neighborhood. The kids were a flutter in their excitement of a black void for night as the adults slowly started to congregate in my sister’s room. “Ven aca, Joanna!” they beckoned and called me to join them. As we sat in the darkness, the room was only illuminated from time to time by the headlights of passing cars. It was during this afternoon—an afternoon that epitomized tranquility, an afternoon that lacked even the presence of electricity to distract from the simplicities of life—that my mom, my brothers, and my sisters began to share stories of Kichwa tradition, tales of childhood, struggles of adolescence, and moments of unforgettable pride. English, Kichwa, Spanish—language was no longer a barrier but had become a gateway for conversation and learning as the ultimate cultural exchange took place in the middle of a pitch-black room as we were serenaded by a symphony of raindrops, rolls of thunder, and cracks of lightning.

It was in this moment that I finally started to understand the concept of time here and the meaning of community. The focus here isn’t always on results because a greater value is placed on relationships. And with this difference, life sometimes runs differently than the agendas of Western nations. In myself, I see that my words are flowing a little slower, my steps are growing a little more thoughtful, and day by day, I’m learning that life takes on such a different feel when you finally learn to live in the present and be present where you are instead of reminiscing about the past or looking to the future. For the first time, I’m taking things day by day and I’m learning what it truly means to be content in all circumstances. And day by day, I’m learning to welcome the rain.

Joan Hanawi